Originally posted March 3, 2010 – and reposted by popular demand
by Nate Hipple
Carlos Dominguez and Antonio Santillano came to Ocean Beach Tuesday morning to replace a damaged fence. The fence, which surrounds the now-defunct saltwater pool, was knocked down last month during a day of large waves and high tides. Carlos and Antonio work for South Bay Fence of Chula Vista, the company in charge of the project.
The saltwater pool is also known as ‘the Sandbox’ (because it’s currently filled with sand) or ‘the Plunge’ (as it was originally dubbed in 1917). What remains of this once-glamorous attraction appears to have been hit by a bomb. Concrete rubble coexists with splintered wood and public supervision is sparse at best: it’s the kind of place you might witness a fistfight or step on a shard of glass. But I love the pool, despite the fact that the fences are washed-out regularly. The Plunge is a treasure, a relic of bygone era when Ocean Beach yearned to become a ritzy waterfront wonderland.
I can’t help being impressed by the crazed entrepreneurial visions of William Doughtery, who chose the mussel-infested tide pools as the perfect spot to build the Plunge. (Just think for a moment about the absurdity of building an indoor saltwater pool essentially on top of the ocean.) But, he built it. And according to a historical marker beside the pier, serious athletes trained here including the famous English Channel swimmer Florence Chadwick, San Diego’s first female surfer, Faye Baird, and one of the first water ballet groups.
These days, OB is a far cry from the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club aspirations of Doughtery. For that, I’m grateful. Would it be terribly un-San Diegan of me to admit that I prefer contemplating the waves as they crumble against the old saltwater pool, over an afternoon of tennis? I apologize for the following nostalgia. But isn’t there something about restoration projects (whether it’s mending fences or refurbishing a vintage Gerry Lopez surfboard) that inevitably conjure up memories of the past?
1917: William Doughtery begins construction on the Silver Spray Apartments and Plunge .
1919: The Silver Spray hosts its Grand Opening. The Treaty of Versailles officially ends WWI.
1920: Prohibition begins. Ocean Beach enters its legendary resort era. Camp Holiday’s row of bungalows serve as an auto camp for newly popular car travelers. Silver Spray and Camp Holiday become the center of activity. Guests and locals alike enjoy the spa, skating ring, dance hall and saltwater plunge. Apartments rent for $30-40 per month (which includes access to the plunge).
1925: The Natatorium, a saltwater pool, opens in Mission Beach.
1939: WWII begins.
1957: Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth, is launched in The Soviet Union.
1959: Vietnam War begins.
1965: The first episode of Gidget airs on ABC.
1966: The Ocean Beach Pier is built, much to the lament of local surfers who remember when the point was a single, uninterrupted wave, which on a good day, would allegedly break all the way to the end of Cape May. (Uninterrupted, of course, as long as nobody else dropped-in on said wave.)
1970: The first issue of the OB Rag is published. Development and land-interests press for the development of Ocean Beach’s waterfront, with plans for tourist-oriented resorts, hotels and a marina prepared in the Precise Plan.
1972: The passage of the 30 foot height limit.
1975: With the re-writing of the Precise Plan, the commercial assault of the OB waterfront is defeated.
2002: Chuck Fisher, owner of the OB Pier Cafe, surveys damage from a large wave. The wall between the dining room and kitchen moved three feet.
2009: A historical marker commemorating the Silver Spray Hotel and Plunge is placed on the pump house. The area continues to serve as a public walkway, linking Sunset Cliffs to the boardwalk.
2010: March 2nd, Carlos and Antonio have finished replacing the damaged fence posts. The beams and banister were painted a very bright shade of white, and they stand out from the others like unblemished new skin. I know the remnants of the old salt pool can’t last forever. They are assaulted daily by the endless movement of the ocean and the slow corrosion of sunshine and saltwater. But it’s nice to sit and enjoy the past while it’s still here.
- Ocean Beach Main Street Association
- Ocean Beach Community Foundation
- Ocean Beach Historical society
- Letters at the Silver Spray Apartment Office