A Page from History: On the couch at The In-Between
A look back at The In-Between in Ocean Beach, a place on Newport Avenue where young people could hang out or find support.
The 1960s were a time of societal upheaval. Popular social and elected leaders were shot down in broad daylight. The only thing about the the U.S. involvement in another war in the Far East that could be deduced with any clarity was that we did not seem to be winning. (Feel free to insert your favorite Country Joe and the Fish lyric here.) An air-raid siren went off every Monday at noon as a not-so-subtle reminder that nuclear annihilation was a very real possibility that might well go down in the middle of any balmy San Diego afternoon.
In the second half of the decade, a groundswell of disaffected young people decided to try something different. They wanted to give peace a chance. That, or hang out and get stoned, whichever came first. So it was that an estimated 100,000 young Americans — flower children in training — gravitated to the Left Coast and rendezvoused in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park for what was known as the “Human Be-In.” It was the summer of 1967, which would be remembered as the “Summer of Love.” “Peace and love,” preached the hippies, as they came to be known.
In San Diego, 1969 was a remarkable year. All year, it was the city’s 200th birthday party. Remember the “Warm Lights of Welcome”? The orange and white Christmas lights? We certainly had ours up; maybe that’s why I remember.
In 1969, the San Diego–Coronado Bridge opened to vehicle traffic and the San Diego Padres were reborn as a Major League Baseball team.
In 1969, a man from Earth first walked on the surface of the moon, and that summer, some 400,000 hippies and 32 bands spent a muddy three-day weekend on a hillside in Bethel, N.Y.
Meanwhile in Ocean Beach, community concerns bubbled and fizzed about the doings and denizens of an erstwhile teen center on Newport Avenue.
Some headlines from the time:
“In-Between in OB site of experiment” — Peninsula News, March 30, 1969
“Padres sparkle in debut, Selma beats Astros, 2-1” — San Diego Union, April 9, 1969
“Troop withdrawal called peace key — Viet Cong kill 46, wound 137 in camp raid” — San Diego Union, April 22, 1969
Before it even had a name, what became The In-Between had its genesis as a Christian outreach ministry for young people in Ocean Beach. In 1966, the group originally met in a basement room of Point Loma United Methodist Church on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. That venue was quickly abandoned when it became evident that the teenagers who congregated on the street and near the beach were unlikely to make either the three-block hike or drop in at what was obviously a church. Come on, man.
The group soon refocused on finding a space near the beach where a coffeehouse could be set up. Such a space materialized in the form of a vacant, however tiny, former cafe between two bars on the north side of the 5000 block of Newport Avenue. It was “in between” the church and the beach and is currently the home of Cow Records. Teen groups from the Methodist church and Westminster Presbyterian helped clean up and paint the space. The electricity was turned on, the coffee urn plugged in and the In-Between was in business.
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Three evenings a week, adult volunteers chaperoned some Christian fellowship, a little music, you know there had to be some rap sessions, and all were welcome. It was a safe place to hang out and talk or just a place to be — off the street, where you could stay out of trouble, particularly if you didn’t want to go home.
“Council board wants youth center moved” —The Sentinel, June 22, 1969
“Hippie probe slated in Ocean Beach — Residents fear area may become a Haight-Ashbury” — San Diego Union, July 2, 1969
“14 booked in fracas at Ocean Beach” — San Diego Union, July 7, 1969
“Police step up patrol of area hippie haven” — San Diego Union, July 11, 1969
Not that the first couple of years were quiet at The In-Between. Some nights, 40 to 50 kids would crowd the tiny joint. But there wasn’t much real trouble.
However, the demographics of that congregation began to change almost from the beginning. The straighter Christian youth group-type teens were becoming outnumbered by longer-haired pre-hippie kids, as well as a growing number of transient wanderers. A couple of big-time confrontations between OB young people and San Diego police in the summer of 1968 served to further polarize the community. A Fourth of July standoff that included some rock and bottle throwing presaged a very bad scene on Labor Day as an ultra-crowded conclave on Long Branch Avenue resulted in dozens of arrests.
Law enforcement practices of the period frequently tended toward the overtly confrontational. Resentful hippies often purposely antagonized officers who were only trying to keep the peace. While most peace-loving hippies certainly bore no criminal intent, neither did they relish being actively policed. Yet, vagrancy was still a crime. How was a well-meaning cop supposed to differentiate between a vagrant and a hippie? It was a serious conundrum.
The In-Between played no role in the unpleasantness on Long Branch, but that didn’t prevent the group from feeling a backlash from the community. The coffeehouse soon lost its lease.
“Girl bites officer during disorder” — San Diego Union, July 20, 1969
“Sen. Kennedy survives crash killing woman” — San Diego Union, July 20, 1969
“First photos of first steps on moon” — San Diego Union, July 21, 1969
“800 youngsters at decency rally — Smut denounced” — San Diego Union, July 22, 1969
This would not be the last time The In-Between would have to close its doors and/or relocate. But fortune again smiled on the group as the former Greeson’s Hardware building across the street — a significantly larger space — became available. I know what you’re thinking: “Wait a minute, isn’t that where The Black is now?” Well done, you’re exactly right. In fact, that is where The Black has been for more than 50 years. But The In-Between called it home temporarily.
What had become a drop-in center, sometime crash pad and general hangout was now supported by four churches: Point Loma United Methodist, Westminster, Bethany Lutheran and St. Paul’s Episcopal. Yet, the mission of The In-Between had morphed significantly with the times. Christian ministry and fellowship had given way to social service-style counseling, including job placement assistance and drug and draft counseling.
The larger facility attracted more drop-ins — upward of 100 visitors some evenings. Additional volunteers and counselors were needed, and additional funding was sought. Young peer counselors were trained and proved to be very successful.
Environmental chemist Michael Stewart was both a customer and a counselor at The In-Between. “I remember being a punk kid in the ‘60s and hanging out at The In-Between,” he told us. “I was well-known there, a regular, and eventually they asked me to be a peer counselor and I took them up on it. They had about four peer counselors at that time, and we received a small stipend. The idea was that a 16-year-old kid might open up to an 18-year-old peer counselor, as opposed to an adult professional.”
Stewart stayed with The In-Between for several years, becoming head counselor and program director.
“There were a lot of people on the street in those days getting into trouble,” he recalled. “We provided a neutral space where people could get off the street and maybe avoid being stopped by the police and interrogated.
“We weren’t proselytizing, we weren’t pushy — people would just drop in. It was whatever we could do to give them some support, and it was mostly emotional support.”
‘Hippie invasion’ problems are association’s program subject” — San Diego Star News, July 24, 1969
“In-Between gives help as just ‘a place to be’ —Volunteers lend hands to young” — San Diego Union, July 24, 1969
“‘Respected’ citizens launch offensive against hippies” — San Diego Free Press, July 25, 1969
In early 1969, just as Newport Avenue business owners were becoming less and less tolerant of The In-Between and its clientele, some members of the congregation at Point Loma United Methodist had become convinced the time had come for the church to disentangle itself from its coffeehouse. Congregation youth leaders remained committed to their “difficult though much-needed ministry to sick-at-heart kids.”
Meanwhile, the group had been forced to relocate once more. On this occasion it found a home just down the street at 5041 Newport Ave., formerly William’s Newport Liquor and now OB Brewery. The time also had come for the group to reorganize as a private nonprofit corporation.
While sentiment among OB business owners was that The In-Between should move somewhere off Newport Avenue, a group calling itself Peninsula Aroused Citizens was pushing for the coffeehouse to be shuttered permanently. The group’s spokesman, OB securities broker Mark Insko, had been one of The In-Between’s founders. Insko, having been sold a copy of the San Diego Free Press — which typically included a fair amount of X-rated content — by a teen In-Betweener, had made it his mission to close down “that cesspool.”
“‘Goodbye, ferry’ — 11,000 autos cross bridge first 12 hours” — San Diego Union, Aug. 8, 1969
“Leap onto freeway blamed on LSD” — San Diego Union, Aug. 29, 1969
“Ocean Beach greets freeway and tide of hippies” — San Diego Union, Oct. 13, 1969
Already a lightning rod for controversy, The In-Between conducted business as usual, afternoons and evenings, while kids outside on the sidewalk were accused of drug use, lewd behavior, foul language and aggressive panhandling.
John Lewin, owner of Newport Cleaners, had been in business next door to the new In-Between location for more than 20 years. In 18 months, he saw his business take a 35 percent dive. “My customers are scared to come in,” he said.
The Ocean Beach Town Council soon circulated a petition to 78 OB businesses calling for The In-Between to be closed or moved off the avenue. All but three signed.
The San Diego Police Department considered The In-Between a magnet for troublemakers and joined the chorus calling for its closure. The building then went on the market and The In-Between seemed to be out of luck. But through some creative financing and a fundraising drive, which included the sale of building notes, the group was able to buy the building.
Stewart remembers being overjoyed that the group seemed to have acquired a permanent home. “We had a band play on the roof, like the Beatles,” he said. “We thought, ‘This is our building, we can do what we want!’ It was OB; nobody had a problem with it.”
Ultimately, in an attempt to appease community opponents, a compromise was reached in which The In-Between reorganized and began to operate as a by-appointment social services center under the banner of Ocean Beach Community Services. The group attracted support from several local charities, maintained the support of beach-area churches, and found funding from the United Way as well as support from San Diego County. The SDPD adopted a less-confrontational, old-fashioned beat cop-style approach, with two officer patrols walking the beat.
“Beach citizens move against In-Between — Town Council holds petition” — Peninsula News, Nov. 27, 1969
“Plans for picketing church are canceled” — Peninsula News, Nov. 27, 1969
“In-Between to shut down” — Peninsula News, Feb. 27, 1970
The days of The In-Between as a drop-in and hangout center were over. In November 1972, the three full-time staff members of OB Community Services were dismissed. Stewart said the board of directors “didn’t understand what we were doing. They weren’t getting the traffic they thought they might get by appointment. It just wasn’t as popular. We were doing crisis intervention, and people really can’t schedule crises.”
The agency closed to reopen with a smaller staff and no real ties to the old In-Between. Stewart said the way it went down left a bad taste in his mouth, “just to have it all disappear.”
In 1983, OB Community Services merged with a Golden Hill agency, San Diego Youth and Community Services, and subsequently other social service agencies joined forces under that umbrella. That legacy is continued today by San Diego Youth Services, which has an office on Wing Street in Point Loma.
Woody Woodward, a longtime board member of OB’s Loaves & Fishes food pantry and a church trustee at Water’s Edge Faith Community (formerly known as Point Loma United Methodist Church), is a Vietnam vet who returned to OB following his discharge in 1969. The term PTSD wasn’t in the lexicon at the time, but “I had some combat issues,” he said.
“I was looking for some loving people and I happened to wander into The In-Between,” he continued. “I sat down on one of those couches and I was greeted warmly. It was a place to hang out, but they were part of a network of groups in San Diego that might offer help to guys like me. I was thankful that it was there. If The In-Between hadn’t been there on Newport, I might not have found it.”
“There but for fortune may go you or I.” — Phil Ochs, 1963
Eric DuVall is president of the Ocean Beach Historical Society (obhistory.org). Historical Society board member Kitty McDaniel contributed to this article. Basic membership in the Historical Society, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is $15 annually, tax-deductible.