By Kristi Hawthorne
Oceanside began its 75th year with expectation but the 1960's were not only a time of growth, but a time of change that few could anticipate.
With the opening of a new Small Craft Harbor in 1963 residents were delighted and proud of this new recreational location which drew thousands of visitors. Harbor Days became an annual event that at one time featured fireworks, log rolling and bath tub races.
In 1964 the Oceanside-Carlsbad Junior College moved to a new 121-acre location on property once owned by Olympic skater Sonja Henie. The Junior College began on the grounds of the Oceanside-Carlsbad Union High School in the 1930s. Over 1,500 students enrolled for classes on the new campus on September 21, 1964. John MacDonald was named superintendent, a position he held for 18 years, until he retired in 1982. The name of the junior college was changed to “MiraCosta,” Spanish for “behold the coast.”
The retirement community of Oceana was developed in 1964, situated just east of El Camino Real it was the first in Oceanside for persons 55 years and over.
Also that year, Ted Vallas, along with actor Preston Foster, established the El Camino Playhouse. The playhouse was located in the original Baptist church building on Fourth Street (now Civic Center Drive). After $60,000 of renovations transforming the building to a place of worship to a theater and replacing wooden pews with 290 theater seats, the Playhouse opened December 3rd. Comedian Phyllis Diller performed at the playhouse, but it lacked community support or interest and closed after two seasons.
The City of Oceanside voted to approve the annexation of North Carlsbad of approximately 338 acres, more commonly referred to as part of the Fire Mountain neighborhood. It was once a rural area planted with avocado and citrus groves, and consists of customs homes, many of which sit on large lots, some offering views of the Pacific Ocean.
In 1965 it was announced that Oceanside’s historic Colonial Inn (formerly the El San Luis Rey and Beach Hotel) located at 314 North Pacific Street would be torn down and replaced by a $2 million commercial, recreational and apartment complex. Jerry Maler purchased the hotel from Paul Beck and Elgin Lackey in 1963 with plans to redevelop the block with stores, professional offices, a convention center complex and apartment units. The hotel was eventually torn down in 1966 but the land was never developed and stood vacant for over three decades.
The San Luis Rey Valley continued to grow and develop and in 1966 Deutsch Electronic Components Co. opened a new plant. Also that year, the Mission Valley Drive-In was built, initially with one screen, and additional screens being added in 1970 and 1974. Robert and John Siegel, who also owned the Crest and Star Theaters in downtown Oceanside, built the $520,000 Drive-In in the San Luis Rey Valley. It featured the newest type of screen, reflecting “three times the brightness of an ordinary drive-in screen” and provided space for 1,300 cars and included a cafeteria, which served “complete meals.”
In 1968 the Oceanside Police Department moved from its cramped quarters at 305 North Nevada Street to a new facility at 1617 Mission Avenue.
In 1969, the City welcomed a newly-created Convention and Visitors Bureau and celebrated ground-breaking ceremonies for A.C.D.C., a new electronics plant in the San Luis Rey Valley. However, all across the United States shopping malls were becoming increasingly popular and when Plaza Camino Real shopping mall opened in Carlsbad it had a tremendous impact on Oceanside not felt by other smaller coastal towns. Department, clothing, shoe and jewelry stores eventually made the exodus from downtown Oceanside to the mall and left a void. Empty store fronts were filled with military surplus and tattoo parlors.
The Viet Nam war also uniquely impacted Oceanside due to the close proximity of Camp Pendleton. Once a welcomed neighbor, the military base was now the focus for protests staged in downtown and at the beach amphitheater. Residents and business owners on both sides of the debate braced themselves for volatile demonstrations. Angela Davis, an outspoken UCLA professor and activist, spoke at a rally held at the beach stadium along with members of the Black Panthers. Demonstrators clashed with residents and riot police were in full force. Downtown businesses languished as residents and shoppers avoided the area.
The MDM ("Movement For A Democratic Military") was headquartered in Oceanside at 519 South Freeman Street, where Jane Fonda, then referred to as "Hanoi Jane" was a frequent visitor. The MDM was associated with "The Green Machine", which served as a "G.I. Aid Center" operated by Kent and Pat Hudson. One April night in 1970 the house was riddled with bullets, and one person was wounded, a Marine deserter and the unknown sniper never apprehended.
The last combat Marines returned to San Diego on the USS St. Louis, in July of 1971 marking the end of an unstable and explosive time for the country and a turbulent time for the city of Oceanside.
In 1970 Oceanside’s population reached 38,000. That year the historic Mission San Luis Rey received National Landmark status. Other developments included a new Fire Station on Thunder Drive, the opening of Joe Balderrama Park in the Eastside Neighborhood, the paving of Oceanside Boulevard from El Camino Real to Thunder Drive and plans for a 300,000 square-foot shopping center in the San Luis Rey Valley were approved by the planning commission located at the intersection of El Camino Real and Mission Avenue.
The landscape of the business district in Oceanside continued to change with the departure of car dealerships such as Weseloh Chevrolet, Dixon Ford and Rorick Buick and others. Car Country Carlsbad opened in 1972 and eventually nearly every new car dealership would make the move from Hill Street.
1974 welcomed the opening of “one of the nation's first planned residential estates community”: Henie Hills Estates. The development offered 112 home sites on 60 acres which were advertised as “estate-size lots averaging one-half acre with views of the sea, mountains and golf fairways in the valley below”. Homes ranged from 1604 to 2693 square feet, and were priced from $54,000 to $81,000.
In 1975 the Oceanside city council unanimously approved a redevelopment plan calling it the “greatest thing in the world that will ever happen to Oceanside.” It would take more than a decade to see the transformation of downtown Oceanside.
Oceanside dedicated Heritage Park in the San Luis Rey Valley in 1976 as part of the country’s Bicentennial. Planning began in the early 1970's and a site was selected just behind the Mission San Luis Rey. The old city jail, the Libby School house and the old Blade newspaper office were moved to the site and became the nucleus of Heritage Park. A later addition was the home of Soren Johansen who came to Oceanside in 1886. This building also served as the early post office.
In 1976 a new shopping center at 78 and El Camino Real began development. Originally Gemco, the shopping center now houses Target. Also built that year, Marina Towers, a high-rise condominium project overlooking the Oceanside Harbor and providing panoramic ocean views.
Oceanside’s population doubled by 1980 with 76,000 residents and the 1980s ushered an era of “out with the old and in with the new”. While industrial development and neighborhoods continued their expansion eastward into the sprawling valley, attention focused on downtown redevelopment.
In 1981 Bank of America built a large new building at Mission and Nevada Street and in turn demolished an earlier structure which was located on the northeast corner of Mission and Ditmar Streets.
The entire block on the east side of Mission Avenue from Cleveland to Hill Street was torn down. Plans for a new shopping center never materialized until the 1990s. Also succumbing to the wrecking ball was Borden’s Department Store at Third and Tremont Streets.
In 1983 the Oceanside Transit Center was built south of the existing Santa Fe Train Depot and when the train depot was torn down in 1987, the Transit Center became the focal point of public transportation. The unsightly railroad switching yards were moved from downtown Oceanside to Camp Pendleton which freed up 22 acres for development. With the removal of the yards and the train depot, Mission Avenue was opened beyond Cleveland Street to Pacific Street to provide easy access to the beach and pier from the freeway.
Oceanside Community Service Television Corporation (KOCT) was formed in 1984. Robert Bowditch was the creator and visionary and through his efforts the Oceanside City Council was one of the first councils in Southern California to allow its proceedings to be televised. Bowditch viewed the station as an "electronic tool of democracy." KOCT’s programming later expanded to include coverage of community events, political debates and a weekly talk show called the "Voice of Oceanside." It has filmed documentaries on the Oceanside pier, Mission San Luis Rey, the Americanization School and the building of the Civic Center and has played an important role in documenting the history and present growth of our city.