Last month, Point Loma-OB Monthly highlighted Ocean Beach’s Mural Walking Tour; this month, OB’s Historical Walking Tour gets the spotlight.
Seven sites around OB are marked with a historic plaque, which tells the story of that location and describes its significance.
“I always think it’s good to know your roots,” Denny Knox, executive director of the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association (OBMA) told Point Loma-OB Monthly. “Especially when things change so quickly on the street. It’s always nice to remember where we all came from and what was here originally, and celebrate that so it’s not completely lost.”
The OB Historical Walking Tour is a project undertaken by the OBMA with help from the OB Historical Society and Ocean Beach Community Foundation. The first round of plaques was installed in 2009, and the second round came in 2011.
To take the tour, view the brochure online at bit.ly/obmahistoricaltour
According to the printed guide, here’s what you’ll encounter along the way:
1. Ocean Beach Library, 4801 Santa Monica Ave.
Originally built on Abbott Street in 1916, following the fundraising of $200 by OB Elementary School’s principal, this branch of the San Diego Library opened as the fourth of its kind on Oct. 5, 1928.
Robert W. Snyder, who studied under renowned architect William Templeton Johnson, designed the building in the Spanish-Monterey style, popular among designers at the time. His design for the OB Library won him an award.
Margaret Rankin, an OB Elementary grad, became the branch librarian in 1921 and remained so until her retirement in 1959.
In 1962, the branch expanded to its current size and now boasts a circulation of about 136,000 items per year.
The two large urns sitting in front of the library’s front doors contain time capsules with items from the 1990s, and have replaced earlier urns that were damaged. The urns are scheduled to be opened sometime in the 2040s.
The San Diego City Council designated the Ocean Beach Library “historic” in 2002 for its architecture and contribution to OB’s cultural landscape. (Read about expansion plans in upcoming issues of Point Loma-OB Monthly.)
2. Bank of Italy (now Starbucks), 4994 Newport Ave.
The Bank of Italy opened in March 1927, and became Bank of America by 1930, introducing chain branches to San Diego.
Renowned architect William Templeton Johnson designed the building in the Spanish-Eclectic style popular in OB at the time.
During the 1970s, this building served as housing for the Left Bank bookstore, meeting places for activists, and offices for one of OB’s local newspapers: the OB Rag.
During the 1990s, the building was an open-mic coffee shop, Java Joe’s, where many musicians got their start.
3. Kraft Building (now OB Corner Store), 4991 Newport Ave.
The Kraft building was built in 1927 and housed medical and dental offices upstairs, with the Kraft Drug Store and a soda fountain downstairs.
Fred Kraft, owner and operator, later became a state senator.
During the 1960s and ’70s, the building was home to the Seaside Grill, and was said to serve the best pies in town.
Local legend states Charles Lindbergh ate sandwiches at Kraft while waiting for his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, to be finished at nearby Ryan Aviation (near the site later dedicated as Lindbergh Field).
4. Ocean Beach Elementary, 4741 Santa Monica Ave.
D.C. Collier, deemed by many as the true father of OB, built OB Elementary in 1909 as a two-room school for students in grades 1-8.
The first class of just one student, Arthur Hansen, graduated in 1910.
In 1912, three more students graduated, including long-time OB librarian Margaret Rankin.
When the school was first built, some parents expressed concern about it being too far away from the 100 or so residences in OB at the time. The building was renovated after the Long Beach Earthquake in 1934 to the style seen today.
On Nov. 19, 2009 the Ocean Beach Historical Society gathered former students to commemorate the school’s 100th anniversary (their ages ranged from 5 to older than 100 years old).
Today, local families continue to take great pride in their connections with this school, and still attend OB Elementary reunions. In fact, many students have parents who attended the school a generation ago.
5. The Strand Theater (now Wings), 4948 Newport Ave.
The 600-seat theater opened its doors Nov. 6, 1925. The Strand showed silent films until 1927, when “The Jazz Singer,” the first “talkie” (a film with actor conversations, music and other sound effects), wowed audiences world-wide. Audiences flocked to The Strand, excited to hear the actors and sing along to the accompanying piano.
In the 1950s, the theater catered to children and grownups alike: kids enjoyed serial matinees every Saturday, always trying to guess the next cliffhanger, and adults enjoyed Saturday nights with a new movie billed every week.
While the films varied, everyone enjoyed “black and white” sundaes (chocolate sauce on vanilla ice cream) for 10 cents at the Strand Sweet Shop downstairs, run by Alan Belmont and Clifford Harrison.
As the audiences changed, so did the theater. The Strand counts among the first theaters in the country to feature “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and later “Woodstock,” “Endless Summer,” “Gimme Shelter,” and “Rust Never Sleeps.”
After a run of seedier films in the 1980s, The Strand shut its doors in 1998. Many local citizens and organizations tried to save The Strand and turn it into a community art center or an establishment with its original character intact.
6. Pearl Hotel (now USA Hostels), 4961 Newport Ave.
In the 1890s, during a real estate bust, a local maid visited OB on her day off and bought seven lots for $35. To this day, the identity of that maid-turned-entrepreneur remains a mystery.
By 1990, the unlikely landowner opened Pearl Hotel (turned Newport Hotel around 1914), which served as OB’s first — and for a while, only — place for visitors to stay while checking out the local dance halls, merry-go-round, skating rink and saltwater plunge.
Many who stayed at “The Newport” ended up moving to OB and used the hotel as a base while shopping for a home to call their own.
The demise of OB’s “Resort Era,” however, dwindled the number of newcomers. The hotel fell into disrepair and became “home” to Hell’s Angels during the 1970s. (The local 1980s marked another dark time for this building with frequent police raids.)
True to its original character, though, the hotel bounced back in 1995 when John Asher bought the building, cleaned and refurbished it. He then reopened it as the Ocean Beach International Hostel. This historic site now hosts travelers from all over the world, attracted to this little beach town on the Pacific.
7. Silver Spray Apartments, Hotel and Camp Holiday (now a sand pit, plaque under pier)
William Dougherty built a hotel in 1919 on the legendary site of the 1800’s shack of OB’s first “homeowner” Captain Thomas.
The hotel held its Grand Opening May 1, 1919 and thrived during the resort days of the 1920s, as guests and locals alike enjoyed the spa, skating rink, dance hall, and hot saltwater pool that drained to the ocean. The pool featured high vaulted ceilings and two diving boards.
While the public enjoyed the hot saltwater plunge, some serious athletes trained here: English Channel swimmer Florence Chadwick; the first female surfer in San Diego Faye Baird; and one of the first water ballet groups in San Diego.
In November 1919, the vacation bungalows located next to the hotel, called Camp Holiday, opened and advertised rooms for $1.25 a day, $6 a week and $16 a month.
In its early days, the bungalow row served as an auto camp for the newly popular car travelers. Visitors simply pulled their cars right next to their rental cabins for their stay in OB.
In 1927, single apartments rented for about $35-$40 a month and included free use of the saltwater pool, where swimmers occasionally encountered some wildlife accidentally pumped in.
Today, the building serves as residential apartments. Some of the residents say they keep the lights on in the old ballroom to “keep the ghost quiet.”
Legend has it, the ghost of Joyce Swindle, a young bride in 1964 who was shot along with her husband of three weeks on the walk near the hotel, haunts the halls with her cries and footsteps, looking for her husband.
— Most of this text was taken from the OB Historical Walking Tour brochure, available at the OBMA offices, 1868 Bacon St.
— For more Ocean Beach history, visit obhistory.org For more about the OBMA, visit oceanbeachsandiego.com and for more about the OB Community Foundation, visit wesupportob.com