By Kristi Hawthorne
The Oceanside Chamber of Commerce was established in 1896 and its impact for over 110 years has played an important role in the promotion, tourism and business development of our city. Reading through the roll call of past presidents is walking along a historic timeline and a virtual listing of the movers and shakers in the community and those who helped to build and shape Oceanside and promote it a variety of ways.
The Oceanside Chamber worked in conjunction with the City Council (or City Trustees as they were called years ago). It was involved in everything from life-saving equipment on the beach, to tree planting, to rebuilding each new pier, beautification of the city, to cemetery upkeep, putting on parades, fireworks and beauty contests, along with catchy slogans promoting the city.
Leading businessmen met at the South Pacific Hotel on May 8, 1896 to discuss the formation of a business organization to promote the city. The Oceanside Chamber of Commerce was established with Joseph Lewis Sharp, a member of the City Trustees, appointed as the Chamber’s first president. One of the first accomplishments was submitting promotional material to be published in a popular magazine of the time "Land of Sunshine" and ordering 6,500 leaflets advertising Oceanside as a summer resort and delivered to inland areas as well as Arizona and New Mexico.
Early records are scant but it appears the organization adopted a new name around the turn of the century as “The Board of Trade” but this change was only temporary.
In 1903 Thomas C. Exton was elected President of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce. Exton was a prominent businessman and was co-owner of the Exton and Nichols Drug Store. Exton worked “tirelessly” to promote Oceanside and was instrumental in the planting of palm trees along Hill Street, as well as and many other species of trees that beautify the city. He also served on the City Trustees for several years and helped to establish the Oceanside Building and Loan Association.
In 1913 the Oceanside Chamber ran a slogan contest and asked folks to send in their suggestions, the prize being $3.00. The winner was Mrs. Hugh Bradley with a not so catchy phrase: “Oceanside, Twixt Vale and Tide.”
Over the years the Oceanside Chamber has used many slogans to advertise and promote the city including "Oceanside, California's Best Kept Secret"; "City of Opportunity" and "Your Host on the Pacific Coast" and “Oceanside, the Gateway to San Diego”. James Van Rensselaer was appointed president in 1914 with Mrs. J. E. Jones, as vice president, Miss Alice Manning, secretary and J. E. Jones, treasurer.
One of Oceanside’s early slogans “The Carnation City” and in 1915 the advertising committee of the Chamber of Commerce arranged for a display of carnations to be delivered to the San Diego Chamber of Commerce. One hundred blooms were sent each Wednesday with a card attached with the inscription, "Carnations from Oceanside, the Carnation City. Forty-two miles north of San Diego on A.T.S.F. railroad and state highway. Three branch railroads. Fine summer and winter resort. Best bathing and fishing on the coast. New and up to date Tent City. A thousand square miles of back country."
Also that year, the Chamber of Commerce paid to help promote Oceanside by hiring C.W. Fait of the Great Western Film Co. to film various parts of the city that were “destined to play a prominent part in advertising Oceanside.” Views included interior and exterior scenes at the Mission San Luis Rey on Easter, a bathing scene on the beach at Oceanside, the tennis court, El San Luis Rey hotel, Second Street.
In 1917 members of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce came up with an answer to Escondido’s popular Grape Day. Our city celebrated Bean Day. Lima beans were a plentiful crop which was grown in and around Oceanside, the San Luis Rey Valley and Rancho Santa Margarita. The celebration was held September 17th near the pier. The committee of 11 people had the daunting task of providing and serving free food on the beach for over 2,000 people.
The Oceanside Chamber managed Tent City in 1920 to help accommodate tourists who would summer at the beach. Tent City was located on the 600 block of North Strand. Later that year they purchased a site for a public auto park and sited a constant demand due “to the immense auto travel through the city”.
In 1921 Malon Littlefield was appointed president of the Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Littlefield was manager of the McCormick Lumber Co. in Oceanside for several years and was also secretary of the Oceanside Building and Loan for a period.
John Franklin Martin, an Oceanside resident since 1901 was president of the Chamber in 1922. He and his family owned and operated Martin’s Meat Market, one of Oceanside’s longest running businesses which continued until the early 1980s. Martin was active on the city council and was Mayor of Oceanside. During his term as President the Chamber held another slogan contest. They chose the phrase "Oceanside, California's Pride" which was “to be used on all advertising literature on business stationery and in every way utilized to spread the advantages of Oceanside broadcast to the world.”
Guy Wisdom was Chamber president the following year in 1923. Wisdom was a business owner. During his tenure the chamber adopted the slogan, “Oceanside, Where Life is Worth Living.”
George McKeehan, Chamber president in 1924, was an Oceanside banker and during his tenure the Oceanside Chamber took up the issue of beach safety after the city attorney stated that it was not the duty of the city to maintain life-saving equipment.
E. A. Walsh took the office of Chamber president in 1925 and that year, along with the city office and public library, the chamber moved into new quarters in the I.O.O.F. building on Second Street. The city was focused was on building a new pier and the Oceanside Chamber spearheaded efforts to gather 400 signatures for petition calling for an election to vote on the issuing of bonds for $100,000 for a new pier and improvements on the beach were filed with the city council last night.
Ygnacio R. Carrillo, brother of actor Leo Carrillo, was president of the Oceanside Chamber in 1927. Carrillo was one of Oceanside’s early dentists and upon retirement, sold his practice to Dr. Melbourne and bought the bait shop at the end of the pier. That same year Oceanside celebrated the building of its 4th pier. After Oceanside’s 4th pier was built in 1927, the Oceanside Chamber announced the construction of a public dining room under the municipal pier. This was a direct result of a chamber of commerce committee which collected pledges.
In 1928 Roy Hoover became president of the Oceanside Chamber. Hoover came to Oceanside that same year the Bank of Italy (now Bank of America) was built where he was president. Oceanside experienced a building boom that same year. Curbs and sidewalks, as well as The Strand was paved.
In 1929 the Pier Swim began, which was originally sponsored by the Oceanside chamber of Commerce and continues to this day. That year the chamber published a letter in newspapers in Southern California and beyond, extolling the benefits of living in Oceanside which included the following:
“Oceanside offers: A near approach to climatic perfection; an abundance of pure water; good soil with a full year of growing season; homesite locations with unobstructable ocean and mountain views; fine churches and schools; transportation facilities; an active Chamber of Commerce; a Beautification Club; service clubs and trade organizations; excellent fishing facilities; golfing; many scenic drives from the silvery, shining Strand to pine-clad cliffs of Palomar; last but not least, it offers the welcome of a progressive citizen who are determined to build a great coastal city.
“We invite you to Oceanside, “Where Life Is Worth Living.”
In 1931 Oceanside’s population was just over 3,500 and the Chamber welcomed Harold Beck as its newest President. Harold Beck and his brother Paul were owners of the Oceanside-Blade Tribune and were big promoters of all things Oceanside. Paul Beck served as president of the chamber in 1934.
During the Depression years the Chamber was instrumental in providing work projects for the unemployed. Laborers were paid $2 a day on a six-day-a-week schedule and preference was given to men with families. Work included clearing and improving streets, alleys and sidewalks.
In 1938 President Ray Wilcox and the Chamber took the lead in celebrating Oceanside’s 50th anniversary with a beach opening and a parade.
Elmer Glaser came to Oceanside in 1936 and three years later he was elected President of the Chamber in 1939. Glaser opened a shoe store on Hill Street, a mainstay in downtown Oceanside for decades. In 1960 he built the Mission Square shopping center on Horne Street.
Under the direction of Chamber President Leo Mies in 1942, the chamber helped to secure a new Santa Fe Train Station for Oceanside and establish a municipal airport. John Steiger of the Chamber Housing Committee urged home owners to rent rooms to military and civilian personnel based at Camp Pendleton to help relieve the housing shortage in November of that year. The chamber also sponsored a victory garden in response to the war effort.
David Rorick, Jr. became president in 1945. During his tenure the chamber purchased property on Fourth Street (now Civic Center Drive) to build upon but it would take years before that was finally accomplished.
In 1947 the Chamber had a membership of 302 active members and moved its location to the USO building (formerly Borden’s Department Store) at the corner of Tremont Street and Third (now Pier View Way). Howard Butler served as Chamber president from 1946 to 1947.
Gene Geil served as president of the chamber in 1953 and during that time the new highway was of utmost importance and the impact on the business district. By April the freeway was open from the San Luis Rey river bridge to Mission Avenue. The chamber reported at the end of the year that Hill Street traffic was down 25 percent. Also that year, the Chamber moved into its new home at 510 Fourth Street. The catch-phrase that year was “Oceanside, where the mercury never goes crazy.”
In 1954 the Chamber advertised Oceanside as a “Riviera in California.” Half page spreads detailing the history and amenities of our city were published as far away as New York.
Robert Coon served as President of the Chamber in 1959 and one of the many issues the Chamber focused on was downtown parking. Dean Howe, Chamber representative at City Council meetings, helped to bring about a bond issue to purchase four lots that were then used to help alleviate, but not solve, the downtown parking problem.
In 1960 the Chamber was led by George Hillam. That year Oceanside Junior Chamber of Commerce sponsored the first Harbor Days – even before the Harbor existed at the Del Mar Boat Basin. The Mayflower II, the only U.S. commercial blimp, owned by Goodyear Tire, floated over Oceanside on the evening before the Harbor Days illuminated a 10-foot high message publicizing the event, it was announced today.
During that year, the Oceanside Chamber held a Harbor Bond Day seeking one thousand Oceansiders to contribute $1 each for purchase of the first $1,000 bond in the $4 ½ million bond issue to finance harbor construction. Ben Weseloh and James Ellis were the heads of the Harbor Bond Committee.
In the 1960s the chamber implemented one of its most well-known slogans: “Tan Your Hide in Oceanside.” This slogan was on bumper stickers, letterhead and billboards. While it fell out of vogue in the 1980s, this vintage slogan and 60s artwork is now considered retro and the Chamber has reintroduced it to the delight of long-time residents and locals.
In 1966 John Steiger served as President of the chamber and under his leadership the chamber sponsored a citywide Clean-up Campaign, erected a new highway billboard near Yuma, distributed 5,000 “Take Pride in Oceanside” bumper stickers, implemented “Try Oceanside First” and that year’s Independence Day parade was the biggest in the city’s history.
Randall Mitchell became president the following year followed by Harold Carpenter, Henry Butler, Sam Priestly and Howard Gladstone.
In March of 1969 the Oceanside Convention and Visitor’s Bureau was established with chamber manager Lyle Swigart serving as the director.
In 1976 the Chamber shed its slogan “Tan Your Hide in Oceanside” for “Take Pride in Oceanside” and turned an eye towards business development rather than tourism. John Cosh served as president and the chamber helped to celebrate the nation’s Bi-Centennial.
Mary Steiger became the chamber’s first woman president in 1977 and started publication of the first monthly Chamber of Commerce. Mary invited the commandant of the Marine Corps General Lou Wilson to address the chamber at a sold-out event. On another occasion Steiger invited Senator Alan Cranston, the majority speaker for Congress, to a chamber breakfast, another sold-out event. At the breakfast held at the El Camino Country Club, video was shown of Oceanside’s ravaged beaches and this meeting resulted in Oceanside receiving the first funding from the government for dredging and sand replacement.
Before her term of presidency even began, Mary visited other chambers around the southland to find out what their most successful events were and how they gained membership. The Palm Springs Chamber informed her that their most successful event was a "mixer" each month sponsored by a major hotel in town. After approval of the board, the first Oceanside Chamber mixer was held at the Normandy bar and restaurant downtown and because of the proximity to the beach Mary suggested that the mixers were called a "Sundowner" a term used for over twenty years.
Tom Missett, publisher of the Blade Tribune, served as president in 1978 followed by Frank McCarthy and Charles Daniels.
In the 1980’s chamber presidents included Melvin Smith, Larry Hatter, Colleen Richardson, and David Hadsell.
In 1988 Marva Bledsoe became President of the Chamber and during her tenure marked another important milestone. Doctor Hoskins’ building was moved from its original location on Third Street to 928 North Hill (now Coast Highway). This building served as both the chamber office as well as the Visitor’s Center. The new slogan implemented by the Chamber was “Oceanside, the Wave of Tomorrow.”
Tim Aldrich served as president of the Chamber in 1989 followed by Sam Williamson, Jr. and Jim Schroder.
In 1996 the Oceanside Chamber celebrated its Centennial year with Tom Hartley as president. Hartley served two terms and was followed by John Lusignan, Ken Chriss, Marvin Mick and Ollie Speraw.
David Shore took office in 2002 and that year Oceanside Chamber helped to establish Operation Appreciation in response to 9/11. This event is in its 12th year and is specifically geared toward active duty military and their families. Held on Armed Forces Day military service members are treated to free food, entertainment and carnival rides.
In 2003 a new chamber building designed by local architect Ken Chriss and was built directly across the parking lot from the Visitor Center on Coast Highway. Jerry Kern served as president and that year the chamber rented a billboard west of Interstate 5 just north of the Coast High that read "Oceanside...Take a closer look."
Jan Gardner served as president in 2004, Jerry Salyer in 2005, George Brown in 2006 and Liz Rhea in 2007.
Bruce Tait was appointed Chamber president in 2008 and that year the Oceanside Chamber was instrumental in keeping the area code to 760. Plans were in place to change the area code to 442 which would have created hardship and expense for area businesses and the chamber was successful in its efforts to keep that from happening.
Allen Coleman served as president in 2009 followed by Debbie Allen in 2010, Chip Dykes in 2011, Jerry Salyer in 2012, Don Reedy in 2013 and Jan Ritmeester in 2014.
In 2012 the Oceanside Chamber reached out to the chamber in Oceanside, New York. After Hurricane Sandy, the city with whom we shared a name had suffered greatly with flooding, power outages and many of its residents had lost their personal possessions. The Oceanside Chamber started a Facebook campaign to help raise money and solicited donations from chamber members and friends. Within a few short weeks more than $8,000.00 in donations was raised to help Oceanside, New York.
Today, the Oceanside Chamber continues a military outreach with our Military Affairs Committee and three events: Operation Appreciation on Armed Forces Day, an Enlisted Recognition Dinner and Golf With a Hero. Opportunities to promote North County businesses and chamber members include the Business Expo, North County Health Fair and the Senior Expo. A tradition for over 50 years, the Oceanside Chamber proudly presents Oceanside Harbor Days every September, one of Oceanside’s largest events showcasing our beautiful small-craft harbor.
By Kristi Hawthorne, President of Oceanside Historical Society