By Kristi Hawthorne
As Oceanside turned 50 years old, it was reaching new heights in development and growth. The headline in the January 6, 1938 Oceanside Blade Tribune read “Around $85,000 In New Building Under Way Here.” Project included construction of a new wing at the Oceanside-Carlsbad High School, several new houses and two “cottage courts” being erected, improvements to the Oceanside Beach (formerly the El San Luis Rey), and additions to the lumber yard.
Our growing city was in need of a new modern hospital and construction work on a new $16,000 hospital began in February of 1938. The contract was awarded to local builder Charles Rieke with the building to be completed by May 1st.
The Oceanside Hospital was made possible through the efforts and foresight of a registered nurse, Golda Lester who came to Oceanside in the 1930s and started a small hospital on North Freeman Street. In 1936 she purchased three lots at Fifth and Horne Streets with the intention of building a larger hospital which she was able to accomplish by gaining support of area doctors and the community who helped with donating funds. Golda Lester married one of her patients, Ellis Zahniser, and was one Oceanside’s leading businesswomen and figured prominently in the progress of the city.
In 1939 San Diego Gas and Electric built a new District office building designed by San Diego architect Frank Hope. It was located at 620 Second Street (Mission Avenue). Al Whisler was the manager of this office and hired Pauline Tyler Larsen to demonstrate ironing in front of the large picture window of the store. Appliances such as irons and furnaces were sold at the gas and electric office until local merchants complained that this practice was hurting their businesses!
Hiram and Edna Huckabay opened Huckabay's Department Store in 1939 at 501 Second Street (Mission Avenue). This popular department store was a fixture in downtown and remained in business until 1969.
Two notable car dealerships were established in Oceanside in consecutive years. Charles B. Weseloh, Sr., started a Chevrolet dealership in Ramona in1925, moved to Escondido in 1935 and then opened in Oceanside in 1940. In 1946 they built a new building at Hill and Topeka Streets, which was described as “one of the most modern Chevrolet agencies in all of Southern California” and “a distinct asset to the Oceanside business district.”
Homer Heller opened his Ford dealership 1941. In 1947 Vince Dixon partnered with Heller to form Dixon-Heller Motors. The dealership was located at 229 South Hill Street.
In 1940 Oceanside’s population was 4,651 but that would soon change with world events and the advent of a combat training base at Rancho Santa Margarita Rancho. As World War II intensified the historic rancho was taken over by the United States Navy to be used as a training base for the Marine Corps.
20,000 marines and civilian support flooded the base and dramatically changed Oceanside forever. Oceanside was hard pressed to meet the need for housing and other essentials the military and civilian personnel demanded. Oceanside's population more than doubled in five years. Restaurants, schools and hotels were bursting at the seams.
The city and chamber of commerce urged homeowners to rent rooms to military personnel or their families. It was common for people to knock on doors and ask for a room to rent or a place to sleep. Out of town property owners were contacted by the chamber and asked to rent their summer homes to help with the housing crisis. Many families opened their doors and hearts to servicemen and their families and thus began a long lasting relationship between Oceanside and Camp Pendleton.
Detached garages in the rear of many downtown homes were converted to small houses or apartments to accommodate the growing population. Trailer parks that were once used by tourists and summer visitors now were used as permanent homes due to the housing shortage. The owner of the lot behind the 101 Cafe on Hill Street (Coast Highway) brought in small trailers and rented them out to servicemen and their wives. John and Pauline Spangler, owners of the 101 Cafe, had to live in the back room of the restaurant because of this shortage.
A federal housing unit called Sterling Homes was built in 1944 in response to the housing demand by the influx of military families. This housing project was built within the city limits of Oceanside with entrances from Mission Avenue and Lemon Street.
In 1940 there was just over 600 students enrolled in Oceanside schools, that number nearly doubled by 1946 and classrooms were bursting at the seams.
The Southern California Telephone Company had to enlarge 4 times in four years to keep pace with the mounting demands. The business office was moved to the DeWitt Hotel (now the Dolphin Hotel) to accommodate workers.
In 1946 Oceanside’s new public library was completed, at a cost of just over $34,000. Located on North Nevada Street, this was the library’s first home apart from other city offices, such as the city clerk, since its inception in 1904.
Oceanside’s quaint little Santa Fe train depot built in 1888 was no longer adequate and on December 7, 1946, it celebrated its new "modern concrete depot", designed by Santa Fe architect, H. L. Gilman. The $100,000 train station was described as having a "stucco exterior, concrete floors and foundation, a wood frame with asbestos shingles, marble floors and wainscot in the main waiting room, colorful asbestos tile flooring in the main office, and fluorescent lighting."
At that banquet Leo E. Sievert, General Counsel for the Santa Fe Railway, remarked, "Oceanside, the gateway to San Diego County, is an important station on our main line and its growing importance is exemplified by the building of the station we have this day dedicated to the further service of your happy land of flowers, swaying palms, attractive homes, productive farms, progressive and outstanding businessmen."
In 1946 two airports were approved by the city council. The Hi-Hi Sky Ranch airport was located just south of present day Oceanside Boulevard, east of Crouch Street. Kenneth Nill, owner/operator, was a senior test pilot for Boeing Aircraft and a civilian director of flight training for the Army in Denton, Texas. His wife Coyle Wellman was a flight instructor at the Hi-Hi Sky airport which took its name from a boy’s home located nearby.
The second air field was on city-owned land adjacent to the San Luis Rey river below the Rosicrucian Fellowship. The land was leased to William Lake and James Carr for a ten year period with an option to renew. This airfield was later designated Oceanside’s municipal airport in April of 1946.
In the late 1940's plans began to relocate Highway 101 east of downtown Oceanside. Even before the war years, Hill Street was widened to four traffic lanes to accommodate traffic. For years, businesses along the coast route prospered with the business that literally came to their doors. Not all of the traffic was welcomed, however. In 1944, Trustees of the Oceanside Baptist Church were authorized to move the church, which had stood on the corner of Fourth and Hill streets for nearly forty years simply because the location “had become too noisy and busy.”
Bumper to bumper traffic through downtown Oceanside was common, especially on the weekends. In 1947 plans to re-route Highway 101 began and by 1953 the first phase of the new highway was opened. The new Highway 101 was later renamed Interstate 5 in the 1960s. In 1998 the City of Oceanside renamed Hill Street to Coast Highway and also helped to declare it as part of the historic 101 Highway.
The Oceanside Athletic Club held its grand opening on July 30, 1949 with a Main Event that featured a heavyweight championship wrestling show. Marie Middlekauf was the owners and savvy promoter of the Oceanside Athletic Club and was one of the few women in the wrestling and boxing industry and a "protégé" of James J. Jeffries, a heavyweight wrestling champion. During the week the public could roller skate while the arena was used as a roller rink. Every Friday the building was converted from a rink to a stadium, as the bleachers that sat thousands were set up every Friday for the wrestling matches that were to be held that night.
Erwin Sklar purchased property at the corner of First (Seagaze) and Freeman Streets in 1950 and built the Crest Theater which opened the following year. It was the one of the largest movie houses in San Diego Count and continued operation up until the late 1980's.
Population figures tripled in ten years, with Oceanside residents numbered at over 12,000 in 1950. The demand for housing was always high. In 1952 Walter H. Potter began construction of seventy-three houses in his new sub-division between Stewart and Hunsaker streets. These houses later expanded throughout South Oceanside and were promoted as having "stucco interiors with hardwood floors and attached or detached large single garages. Rooms consist of living room, dining area, kitchen with nook, three bedrooms and bath." These houses are still referred to as "Potter Homes" and South Oceanside continues to be a desirable place to live.
By the mid to late 1950's housing developments had spread down to and throughout the San Luis Rey valley. "Henie Hills" was named after Olympic skater Sonja Henie and her brother Leif Henie who purchased property in Oceanside in 1943. Leif Henie and his wife Gerd bought their acreage from A.M. Dunn and built a large 3,629 square foot home. Together Leif and Sonja Henie also purchased much of the surrounding acreage which was later sold to developers and portions were used for Tri-City Hospital and Mira Costa College.
Marty Schroder was one of the first businessmen to build in the valley with Marty's Valley Inn in 1955. Schroder's vision of the future proved wise as Oceanside's development continued eastward.
Fred Siegel built the Star Theater in 1956. Its first feature was "Moby Dick" starring Gregory Peck. One of the largest theaters in San Diego County, the Star seated 960 people. The marquis, a large neon sign, was created by the Electrical Products Company of Los Angeles and is considered unique in its “googie” styling.
Mission Square Shopping Center at Horne and Mission was the first shopping center in Oceanside, built in 1960 by Elm Glaser. The following year a second shopping center on Mission and Canyon began construction.
In late 1959, groundbreaking ceremonies took place for Tri-City Hospital, the first public hospital in the north coastal area serving Oceanside, Carlsbad and Vista. The original hospital building was 4-stories, including basement, with an 88 bed capacity, and built at a cost of $2,500,000. The project was completed on July 16, 1961 and ready for new patients.
In 1961 groundbreaking for the new Oceanside Small Craft Harbor took place was touted as “a day of hope and promise" by Mayor Jerome Jones.
Population figures nearly doubled from the previous decade and Oceanside’s building and growth continued. Our city ended its 75th year optimistic about the future.
By Kristi Hawthorne, President of the Oceanside Historical Society