The Oceanside Chamber of Commerce celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2021. Established in 1896, it is the oldest business in Oceanside. Over its long history, its role as a business and community advocate continues to be an important one.
Leading business owners met at the South Pacific Hotel on May 8, 1896 to discuss the formation of a business organization to promote the city, establishing the Oceanside Chamber. Since its inception, the Chamber has helped to shape the development of our City.
While the Chamber’s purpose has evolved and changed over the years, its partnership with the City, businesses both large and small, and the community at large, has become increasingly more important. The Chamber has taken the lead on a wide variety of issues that have helped to enhance and improve the City in which we live.
As Oceanside grew and prospered, housing became more in demand. The Chamber went into action and sought to help remedy the housing shortage by raising money to build two affordable homes in the downtown area. In a short time $10,000 was raised and construction began on a 5 room home on South Hill Street (South Coast Highway). The Chamber encouraged others to do the same to answer the housing crisis. The result was a building boom in the 1920s because of the Chamber’s leadership.
To help promote tourism and provide those visitors with adequate facilities, the Oceanside Chamber managed Tent City in 1920. Tourists would often “summer” at the beach, rather than visit for just a day or weekend. Later that year the Chamber purchased a site for a public auto park in response the constant demand.
Guy Wisdom was Chamber president the following year in 1923. During his tenure the chamber adopted the slogan, “Oceanside, Where Life is Worth Living” which was popular for many years.
In the 1920s 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. The Chamber stepped up to ensure that beach goers were safe from rip tides and other dangers by purchasing a rowboat for water rescues and other life-saving equipment, as well as to help hire a beach lifeguard in the summer months.
E. A. Walsh took the office of Chamber President in 1925 and that year the Chamber moved into new quarters in the I.O.O.F. building on Second Street (Mission Avenue). The City was focused on building a new pier and the Oceanside Chamber spearheaded efforts to gather 400 signatures for a petition to vote on the issuing of bonds for $100,000 for a new pier and improvements on the beach.
During the Depression the Oceanside 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.
With the influx of military personnel, it was the Chamber who sought to establish a USO in downtown Oceanside on behalf of the service members stationed at Camp Pendleton. The Chamber also sponsored a victory garden in response to the war effort.
While many service members were living in barracks on base, the need for housing for military and civilian families was urgent. John Steiger of the Chamber Housing Committee urged homeowners to rent rooms to military and civilian personnel based at Camp Pendleton to help relieve the housing shortage, while the Chamber sought help from the Federal Housing Administration and requested that no less than 300 homes be built to help offset the need. With the Chamber’s persistence, a Federal Housing project was built in 1945 on Mission Avenue, with 648 units for military families.
The Chamber moved into its new home at 510 Fourth Street (Civic Center Drive) in 1953, a building it still owns today. The catch-phrase that year was “Oceanside, where the mercury never goes crazy.”
In 1954 the Tri-City Hospital Association was formed with Chamber President Eugene Geil as one of the founding members. As chairman of the Association, he led the Oceanside Chamber to partner with the Vista and Carlsbad Chambers to form the Tri City Hospital District. This collaboration brought to fruition Tri-City Hospital which opened in 1961 and continues to serve the community as Tri-City Medical Center.
Under the leadership of the Oceanside Chamber, in 1959 County offices were built at Mission and Barnes Street, which included a Municipal Court, Agriculture Department office, Department of Public Welfare, and Department of Public Health. Adding these County offices enabled Oceanside residents to receive services locally rather than having to travel down to San Diego.
In 1960 the Chamber sponsored the first Harbor Days – even before the Harbor existed at the Del Mar Boat Basin. The Mayflower II, a 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 Oceanside residents to contribute $1 each for purchase of the first $1,000 bond in the $4 ½ million bond issue to finance harbor construction.
Mary Steiger became the chamber’s first woman president in 1977 and started publication of the first monthly newsletter. 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 to address the need for a solution to beach erosion. A video was shown of Oceanside’s ravaged beaches and this Chamber meeting resulted in Oceanside receiving the first funding from the government for dredging and sand replacement.
In 1988 Marva Bledsoe became President of the Chamber and during her tenure marked another important milestone. A vacant building was moved from its original location on Third Street (Pier View Way) to 928 North Hill (now Coast Highway) to serve as both the Chamber office as well as the Visitor’s Center.
In 1999, the Oceanside Chamber sought designation for its Visitor Center as an official California Welcome Center. The following year it was successful in gaining that status, making it the eighth California Welcome Center in the State and the first in San Diego County. The Chamber hired a Director of Tourism to oversee the Center.
The Oceanside Chamber established “Operation Appreciation” in response to 9/11. First held on Armed Forces Day in 2002, this event was specifically created to support and thank active duty military and their families based at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
In 2008 the Oceanside Chamber was instrumental in keeping the area code 760 in place. The Public Utilities Commission was proposing to change the area code to 442 which would have created hardship and expense for area businesses. Pressure from the Chamber resulted in the Commission’s reversal of the plan with a 5-0 decision, making this a win for local businesses.
Leading Oceanside’s 125th anniversary celebration, the Chamber was actively involved in the planning and coordinating Oceanside’s 125th years as a City. Bringing several organizations together, the Chamber published a history of Oceanside, placed 125th banners along Coast Highway, and sponsored a cake cutting ceremony at the Civic Center on July 3, 2013, the anniversary date of the City’s incorporation.
In 2014, the Chamber began publishing a magazine featuring the best of Oceanside, arts, culture, food and drink. The Best of Oceanside publications continue in a Quarterly Journal, Map and Community Guide.
In 2020 the Chamber focused on helping to elect business-friendly candidates to local office. The Chamber’s Business and Community Political Action Committee (BACPAC), along with Chamber Staff and Board Members, spent much of 2019 setting up a strong framework for endorsing business-friendly candidates in 2020. The Chamber endorsed Peter Weiss and Ryan Keim for council seats in Districts 3 and 4 and both were elected.
With the onset of COVID-19 and the shutdown of many businesses, large and small, the Oceanside Chamber took an immediate lead to advocate for business, providing up to the minute information and resources. The Chamber has been tirelessly supporting businesses and those in our community impacted by the shutdown. From facilitating small business grants to providing meals via gift cards to hundreds of families in Oceanside, the Chamber seeks to assist businesses through this crisis while supporting the community at large.