A Page from History: Remembering The Beach News on its 100th anniversary
The Ocean Beach Historical Society’s collection of OB’s first community newspaper chronicles local developments between 1922 and 1947 and is now available digitally.
This column is known as “A Page from History.” A page. In this episode, however, we are going to go very large and consider no less than thousands of pages from our local history.
No exaggeration at all, as this month we commemorate the centennial of our great early community newspaper, The Beach News. In 1922, Kirk and Katherine Smith came to remote Ocean Beach, moving into a modest bungalow on Saratoga Avenue. Buried in the San Diego Union on Nov. 19 of that year was this brief paragraph: “Ocean Beach is to have a local paper at last. The first copy of The Beach News, a four-page weekly, will be published Friday by Kirk Smith, an old newspaperman formerly with the New York Sun. Smith, who is a resident of the Beach, says the paper will look to the interests of all the towns of the Point Loma Peninsula. Those who have long desired a local paper are awaiting the first issue with keen interest.”
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Kirk Smith was most effusive in his initial salutation to the community. In Vol. 1, No. 1 of The Beach News on Nov. 24, 1922, he declared: “Already it is a source of great gratification to chronicle the fact that the progressive business constituency of this grand and glorious beach and bay section of San Diego has seen fit to shower mighty cheerful encouragement with a most substantial evidence of their hearty cooperation.”
By this, Smith simply meant the paper had sold sufficient advertising to make the prospect of a second edition more than likely. “Hence, the most sincere gratitude is herewith extended to our many patrons for making The Beach News a reality,” he continued. “This paper belongs to you. It is not controlled by any clique, clan, faction, creed or special interests. By way of paraphrase, it may be well to say that it is a weekly paper for, by and of our own home people. It will never be a chronique scandaleuse. It will be kept clean and wholesome, and, in the recording of community doings and sayings, it will be made gingery and peppery enough to keep everyone alive to the prosperity, progress and best interests of this blessed, heavenly favored seashore section of sunny Southern California. We greet you!”
The first edition of The Beach News was not a full-size newspaper. By the second edition, on Dec. 1, it had been enlarged to a five-column paper featuring several ringing endorsements from local businesses whose small ads in the paper’s inaugural installment had brought excellent results. Indeed, from the outset, The Beach News’ penchant for unbridled community boosterism was a badge the paper wore proudly. “Always boosting the business of Ocean Beach and the entire Point Loma Peninsula” was one of its many slogans, as was “Promoting the prosperity of Point Loma and the beach and bay districts of San Diego.”
Katherine Smith served as clerical staff for the fledgling publication and authored the newspaper’s first recurring feature. “Kate’s Kollum,” soon rechristened “Katherine’s Kollum,” was to be a collection of news and notes geared toward the town’s female population. Kate debuted with a poem:
You find the world a joyous place,
Because you make it so.
You’ve helped to set the merry pace,
For all our feet to go.
The song and laughter that you hear
Are echoes of your own.
‘Tis thus, through many a coming year,
You’ll reap the joy you’ve sown!”
While it may sound corny to our ears a full century down the road, that little rhyme was emblematic of optimistic times. The Great War was over, things were looking up, and verse was to be a mainstay of The Beach News for decades. The work of many local poets was featured over the years, including the sonnets of local historian and author Winifred Davidson. Davidson’s groundbreaking local history column, “Loma Lore,” was another popular feature of The Beach News, as was her “Book Notes” column.
The Beach News was an unqualified success. To be sure, radio was coming, but in Ocean Beach, everybody read The Beach News. By April 1923, the paper had become an official six-column newspaper, sometimes publishing eight-page editions.
Self-promotion was another key to the growth of The Beach News. From the beginning, the paper advertised that it was “Endorsed by the Ocean Beach Chamber of Commerce” and frequently featured the slogans “Community spirit upheld” and “Circulating in every home.” The paper liked to describe the beach town as “Where the sunset turns the ocean’s blue to gold.”
A 1924 item headlined “Extraordinary improvements,” with the subhead “Many leading merchants at the Beach begin to see the happy handwriting of plentiful prosperity,” reported that “The song of the hammer and the swish of the paintbrush echo throughout the business section of the Beach these glorious days. All of the leading merchants are as busy as the proverbial bees in making alterations and improvements in their premises and enlarging and remodeling their business places on the main streets.”
The story went on to detail the commendable actions of G.H. Faber, proprietor of Faber’s Ocean Beach grocery stores and a conspicuous Beach News advertiser.
By 1927 the paper was billing itself as “The most widely read weekly newspaper in San Diego County.” This claim was later enlarged to cover all of Southern California. The paper also frequently boasted a local readership larger than all the other San Diego County newspapers combined.
Without question, The Beach News was fun. By the mid-‘20s, the paper carried national wire service features, serialized adventure stories for adults and children, and even a half-page comics section.
Many local landmarks date from the 1920s and ‘30s, and their development and completion were chronicled in The Beach News. The purchase of the Chatsworth Boulevard property, the hiring of Point Loma architect Edwin T. Banning and the subsequent construction of Point Loma High School was a story followed closely by The Beach News in 1924. The opening of the new Strand Theatre, the new Bank of Italy and the coming of the San Diego Electric Railway’s high-speed Beach Line were other significant additions to the community covered by The Beach News in the ‘20s.
By the 1930s, the paper’s name had been changed to The Ocean Beach News and editorial responsibilities had transferred to H.H. Hartvigsen. The paper’s headquarters had moved from the Smiths’ bungalow on Saratoga Avenue to a storefront office at 1922 Bacon St. This would be the home of The Ocean Beach News for 25 years until the paper merged with the biweekly Point Loma Light to become The Peninsula News in the early 1950s.
Occupying a prominent shelf in the archives of the Ocean Beach Historical Society is our collection of 14 volumes of The Beach News and The Ocean Beach News. Six of the years are complete or nearly complete 52-week volumes. The collection chronicles the development of the community from the early Jazz Age through the Great Depression and on through the end of World War II. We have 1922-27, 1934-36 and 1943-47.
The collection is a very representative sampling of a quarter-century of seismic change and upheaval, both internationally and on the home front. Some of the years are in large bound volumes and some are on microfilm. All once belonged to the San Diego Public Library and were heroically rescued from the scrap heap of history. They are fascinating, fragile and falling apart.
If you have been following along with us at home, you will surely be aware that we have happily used this collection to our splendid advantage in the preparation of some of these historical yarns. The reporting in The Beach News is found to be the first and last word on some of these stories — accurate, incisive and enthusiastic. While the reporting is quite a boon to the local historian, the ads, columns and cartoons are not only a hoot but offer a looking glass reflective of the times and the outlook of this community 75 to 100 years ago.
California Revealed (library.ca.gov/services/to-libraries/ca-revealed) is a digitization program for historic preservation sponsored by the California State Library. Originating in 2010, the program helps organizations with limited financial resources digitize parts of their collections.
California Revealed focused exclusively on digitizing audio-visual materials in its first six years. The feeling was that anyone could pick up a book or periodical and read it. Whereas if the medium involved a tape, a cassette, a record, a film, a video or microfilm, you would need some kind of a player, projector or reader to access that material. In other words, barriers to access for almost everyone.
We spoke with Liz Seeley, print digitization and preservation manager for California Revealed, who told us that the program was enlarged to include print and photographic media in 2016. “We saw how intense the need was for all types of archival material to be digitized, so logically the program needed to expand to include print media,” she said.
She mentioned that small local newspapers such as The Beach News “are very popular preservation candidates. They are one of our most common nominations.” The small local papers, covering news specific to their regions, are frequently the only record of many stories from that locality. In sharp contrast to a history book, which retells and interprets events from the past, “in a primary source, the reporting is in real time about events that were happening at that time.”
The staff of California Revealed has grown from only two to just eight in 22 years. They are all independent contractors, not state employees, swamped but trying to make do on an annual budget of just $1 million.
Seeley said a lack of funding and resources allotted to the humanities and historic preservation is the norm across the country. “I don’t know if we will ever be able to fulfill all the demand that is out there,” she said. “We are just treading water. At some point we would love to be able to pull ourselves up onto the boat.”
California Revealed currently has an estimated three-year backlog of materials waiting to be digitized. An extended COVID-related closure of the California State Library put the program on long-term hold. That’s the bad news. The very good news is that the Ocean Beach Historical Society’s collection of The Beach News and The Ocean Beach News, nominated and accepted for digitization in September 2019, is now beautifully digitized and newly available for your perusal on the Internet Archive — the massive digital public library — at archive.org/details/oceanbeachhistorical?&sort=-week&page=6, or just go to the Internet Archive and search for “Ocean Beach Historical Society” or “The Beach News.”
OBHS is very excited to announce that 536 weekly editions of The Beach News and The Ocean Beach News, covering an exciting 25-year period in the development of the beach community, may now be read by anyone with a mind to. We hope that will include you.
Seeley says she hopes that at some point the members of the California Revealed staff will be able to step back and appreciate what they are doing. “If you like us, tell your state representatives,” she said. “We always need more funding.”
Eric DuVall is president of the Ocean Beach Historical Society. Membership in OBHS, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is $25 annually. Visit obhistory.org.