The Strand Theater of Ocean Beach – Part 2 – Memories from the Seventies

by on September 14, 2010 · 35 comments

in Culture, History, OB Time Machine, Ocean Beach, Popular

Strand Theater plaque 002-ed-sm

The original Strand Theater. (Image from plaque on exterior facade.)

Here’s Part One

Mention the Strand Theater to an OB “old-timer” and a smile instantly embraces their face. And probably a laugh too.  Now I don’t mean “old-timer” in the classic sense (the stooped-over scraggly white-haired old guy) – I mean somebody who experienced the Strand in its heydays of the Seventies. The Strand does brings back good memories to them. Funny memories. Incredible memories.

Things happened in the Strand that you’d think would have never happened in other theaters across this country. Wild parties during the showing of the weekly “Rocky Horror Picture Show”, motorcyclists roaring up the aisles, pot joints being passed from stranger to stranger during films, … a lot of it was just outrageous and crazy.  Plus there were the edgy films, the surf films.  There were the hot, summer evenings, and there was more booze being drunk by patrons than by the actors in some of the steamy movies.  It lasted nearly three-quarters of a century, from 1924 (or 1925) to the official final curtain in 1998.

Perhaps there’s a few newbies to Ocean Beach who haven’t realized that the culturally-barren tourist store Wings sits in the great cavern that once was this beach town’s only movie house.  Yes, the theater was once there; it closed in 1998 and Wings opened 5 years later after the interior was gutted, and except for the great hull of a building, there is no evidence that a movie house once existed in that space.

Strand Theater plaque 001-ed-sm

The Plaque.

There is a reminder outside, however.  Glued to the exterior facade, a plaque sets the record straight, and gives a quick history and meaning to the building for both tourist and newbie alike:

Original Use: Strand Theater

Date Opened: November 6, 1925

This local theater of Ocean Beach catered to children and grownups alike: the children enjoyed serial matinees every Saturday, always trying to guess the next cliffhanger; grownups enjoyed Saturday nights with a new movie billed every week.

While the movies were different, everyone enjoyed ‘black and white’ sundaes (chocolate sauce on vanilla ice cream) for 10 cents at the Strand Sweet Shop next door, run by Alan Belmont and Clifford Harrison.

As the audience changed, so did the theater. The Strand counts among the first theaters in the country to feature The Rocky Horror Picture Show every Friday and Saturday night, and later evolved to show films such as Woodstock, Endless Summer, Gimme Shelter and Rust Never Sleeps.

The Strand officially closed in 1998.

(This plaque was sponsored by the OB Historical Society, the Mainstreet Association, and the OB Community Foundation.)

In Part 1 of this short series about OB’s once-coveted movie house, I covered the successful campaign in 1982 that stopped the Strand from becoming a porno theater, a Pussycat Theater.  It certainly was a victory for the community and it halted any trend into OB by the then X-rated entertainment businesses that were being forced out of downtown San Diego.

It can be easily stated that in the era before the multiplexes, before VCR players, before DVDs, having a local movie house was really a big deal.  Ocean Beach was very fortunate to have our own. La Jolla had its own theater, Coronado theirs, PB theirs, Kensington, a few other communities throughout San Diego were so blessed.  In contrast, for years Point Loma didn’t have a theater outside of the two drive-ins that ringed the Peninsula, until the grandiose Loma opened in the late Fifties.

The Strand had opened in the mid-twenties showing talkies, with 700 seats (some say 600) and two aisles. It was originally one of the largest buildings on Newport.

Over the decades the Strand provided the village with one of its centers of culture – bringing the movies to OB. It later morphed, briefly, into being a center of the counter-culture in the mid-Seventies. And as we said in the earlier post:

By the late 1970’s, the Strand had become a “second run” movie house – that is it played fairly recent films that were no longer being shown in the more mainstream theaters for about a quarter of what the “first run” houses charged. The Strand also showed some indies that probably wouldn’t have been shown anywhere else. Beginning in 1977, on Friday and Saturday nights, the main event was the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

Over time, it struggled and faltered as times and technology changed, it survived the campaign against the Pussycat. It closed, then re-opened, and then finally closed for the last time at the end of the Nineties.

As the plaque describes, the Strand provided OBceans and their families with cheap, fun-filled entertainment, with Saturday matinees, movies for kids, teenagers, adults.

As a teenager living in Point Loma, the Strand was golden. It provided an escape from overbearing middle-class parents, a place to meet your date, a rendezvous point for love.  Parents would drop their teens off at the front, and the youngins would bounce in, grab their popcorn and disappear into the darkness and away from stunted lives.

Once inside, you felt at ease, at home.  There never was a more down-to-earth movie theater than the Strand. Never pretentious, always friendly, homey … and warm during the summer – it didn’t have air conditioning as I recall. Of course, the seats were worn and some tattered, the floors were painted with the effects of gum, shoes, and the spilled sodas from fifty years.  It always had a certain smell – partially – I’m sure – from decades of cigarette smoke (tobacco used to be allowed in theaters).

The small stores and ‘hole-in-the-walls’ attached to the Strand building have over the years also been treasures. There was the sweet shop. Back in the early Sixties, I recall a hamburger joint in one of them, that sold 5 burgers for a buck! Much later, the famed BBQ House moved in and acquired its own reputation that followed it as it crossed Newport to its current location.

By time the hippies “arrived” in OB, the Strand stood to gain even a greater reputation, as the community evolved into a “youth-ghetto” – as it was nearly the only cultural venue or revue for young people in town. There just were not that many places for people to go to at night in OB. (This was a time before youth-oriented bars, clubs, coffee-houses, and restaurants dominated the business district.)  The Strand provided one of the few outlets for young people, and as the young people changed into young hippies, the Strand became their scene.

By the early 1970′s, it was not uncommon for marijuana to be openly smoked once the lights went out inside the Strand. Joints were passed from person to person down the rows. Strangers sitting next to you would take a hit, and then pass it to you, and you’d do the same, and pass it to the next person. It wasn’t like there was this huge party going on, people jumping in and out of seats, making a loud noise, no.  It was as if it was as normal as having a soda.  Often you’d hear bottles rolling down the sloped floor, having been kicked over. They’d roll until they hit the stage, setting off giggles.

At one point, a new owner took over the Strand.  He was an ex-police officer but very friendly to OB longhairs, activists, and to the young in general.  (No one seems able to remember his name, either “Gary” or “Mike.”) The new owner gave the staff of the then OB Rag – the paper version that lasted over 5 years back in the Seventies – the okay  to move the paper’s office into the loft upstairs.  In terms of offices for the alternative underground paper, this was the high level mark.  The Rag was on Newport, in an upstairs really cool place!  There was even a hand-made wood sign hung on the door, announcing to all: “OB Rag – office”.  (We still have the sign and it’s attached to our current office door.)

One of the reasons the new owner agreed to do this was because of one of his janitors. We’ll call him “Bobby” – Bobby was a staff member of the Rag, and worked as a janitor at the Strand for about a year. Bobby got the owner-manager to allow the upstairs loft to be used for media work.

ob-rag-vol-4-no-3Bobby remembers the Rag office:

The OB Rag loft, above the box office, had windows looking out on Newport. It had a few desks, a couple couches, a huge light table made by Bruce G. for laying out each issue, and an IBM Selectric typewriter for setting” the type that was then cut up and rubber cemented to the large sheets of paper we took to the printer to be made into printing plates.

Marathon meetings to discuss editorial content took place in the loft, fueled by beer, wine, and other consumables. We had a key to access the loft at any time and it was not uncommon for people to be working up there for 24 hour stretches. I remember working on the OB Rag all the way through the night, greeting the dawn, grabbing some coffee at the Townhouse restaurant, and then starting the janitor gig. Ah the energy of youth.

Another Rag staffer at the time, Dickie Magidoff, also has fond memories of those days.  “A classy old theater” he muses, “with cheap seats.” Dickie’s memories, however, also include being hassled by cops while he sold Rags outside the theater. These hassles were in the form of field interrogations (FI’s) – San Diego cops then had authority to stop and question anyone for any reason and demand identification (this was later ruled unconstitutional).  Dickie told me:

Memories of FIs outside the Strand while selling OB Rags . . . encounters outside the Strand with chauvinist types while selling the Rag with the report of the women’s counterattack on the date-raper . . .  And of course the OB Rag being inside the Strand… must have happened at least 3 times around the Strand in, probably, 1973 . . . maybe 1974.

Austin, an OB Free School teacher from the Seventies remembers:

We took a bunch of free school students to see a Woody Allen triple header. The entire group stayed for all three films. I’m pretty sure the movies were Sleeper, Bananas, and everything you wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask.  The kids ranged from 6-10 years old.

Rocky Horror Picture ShowKaty Marsh Franklin grew up in OB and was a teenager in the Seventies.  She remembers:

Lots of ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW nights! … and of course the night a Hell’s Angel who was sitting behind me guzzling Red Wine puked all over me and my pal Lisette … I was wearing a brand new sweater … such things you never forget, (unfortunately).

Pat James of the James brothers was too young to see much of the Seventies, but he does remember cleaning up the next day outside his family business all the refuge from the late-night Rocky Horror Show crowd.

Bobby, the Rag-staffer/ Strand janitor shares more of his memories.  Cleaning up afterward, he would find many interesting things:

Found lots of stuff after the shows, ie, joints, small bags of weed, lots of opened and partially consumed liquor bottles (which I discarded) and lots of unopened beers and the occasional pint of tequila/whiskey/etc. that hadn’t been opened which I brought home to share with folks in the Cape May Barracks. The best “party favors” were usually found after surf flicks and music-themed films, ie, Mick Jagger in “Performance”, “Gimme Shelter”, “The Harder They Come”, etc.

Some of the more popular films that we showed again and again (and especially at the Midnight Movies) were “Harold and Maude”, “Easy Rider”, “Five Summer Stories”, the Hendrix flicks “Rainbow Bridge” and “Jimi Live At Berkeley”, and “Monterey Pop”, and “The Exorcist”.

I would show up mid-morning and clean up the bathrooms and mop the small lobby before tackling the auditorium. Runners (knocked over sticky sodas that ran the length of the sloped floor) were the bane of my existence. I used to explore behind the screen and up in another loft that was back there where there were old signs, advertising materials, etc.  Today you could probably could sell that stuff for big bucks on ebay.

More than being a janitor, Bobby would also be on hand for film deliveries and free afternoon showings by the projectionist – who had his own style:

Every Wednesday I would accept delivery of the large cans of film for the new movies that would open that evening. Nowadays movies switch on Fridays, but back then the new ones started on Wednesday. On the day the film cans arrived, I would often hang out and watch as the projectionist would show the films in the afternoon to an empty auditorium to make sure no reels were missing and to mark the ends of the reels so he would know when to flip the switch that would turn off one projector and start the other projector with the next reel.

He would also make sure there were no breaks in the film. The projectors used an electric arc to create the super bright light needed to project the film. There was a bucket of sand up there to throw on the projector if the film caught fire.

When the projectionist wound the film on the reel to prep it for the performance, he would wind up about twenty feet of film and then put a coin on the film and wind the rest of it up. Then, as the reel ran out, the coin would drop on to a metal pan under the projector with a big “clink” and awaken the projectionist if he had happened to nod off and alert him to make the reel change.

It wasn’t all pleasantries and mops for Bobby, however. There was the ugly side:

I remember that the most appalling thing was the 25 gallon drum of “butter” which was put on the popcorn. It was a thick, bright orange, lardy concoction with crystals of God knows what floating in it. They scooped that shit out and melted it to drip on the freshly popped popcorn which was prepared for each performance. There was really no vermin or cockroach problem there during my employment because of the liberal use of Raid and rat poison that management provided.

The End of an Era

When the Strand did finally close its doors for good in the late Nineties, many saw it as an end of an era, an era of neighborhood, classy theaters.

Its doors closed, the great hall of a building laid fallow for half a decade. Homeless camped inside, as its emptiness was a symbol of the times.

Late in its existence, the theater was finally designated a historic building by the San Diego Historical Resources Board in December of 2002. The Strand received the designation partly because it was one of the first commercial buildings constructed on Newport Avenue, the business district, and by drawing patrons to Newport, it helped build the commercial district.

There was one last flurry of community excitement. It came when the Strand was sold to new owners in about 2002.  Los Angeles-based SDH Properties Inc. had acquired it. They were approached by Shaul & Meir Levy Partnership, a real estate developer and operator of Wings – a spread of some thirty tourist stores mainly on the East Coast – with one store in Mission Beach.  The Partnership purchased the building for $525,000, records showed.

The new owner announced that they are in real estate to make a profit and were going to renovate the building, restore the original facade of the theater. In March of 2003, the owner said renovations would cost $300,000, and would begin that Spring.  The ceiling would be removed to expose the original wooden trusses, and the glass panes of the front windows divided by bars as shown in historic photographs.

Strand theater gutted

From inside the gutted Strand. (Photo: OB Rag.)

When locals heard the new owner was going to replace the theater with a souvenir retail outlet, they were outraged, and there was a flurry of activity to try to change directions.  Residents insisted on keeping the  theater as an entertainment venue.  Gerrie Trussell, then executive director of the OBMA told the Union-Tribune:

“The only thing the community will support is entertainment. We don’t need another Anywhere U.S.A. store.”

Trussell said the merchants association understands the 7,000-square-foot structure cannot compete with multiplexes, but the owner can add a twist to conventional film showing and come up with a profitable idea.  Trussell added:

“I believe in protecting property rights. What I am saying is: Think out of the box. See if you can make it a venue for dinner theater, live music, plays, recitals, weddings and community theater.”

Trussell also expressed frustration and said the new owner hasn’t talked to the community or the association.  The then head of the OB Town Council, Jere Batten,  said the community wants the theater to retain its original function.  She said:

“We don’t want to see part of Ocean Beach’s history removed.”

Here is the link to this last stand at the Union-Tribune article from March 2003: Last stand at the Strand

When Wings did open in July of 2003, there was a last-minute attempt at mounting a consumer boycott of the corporate store.  See this: Strand Theatre is stage for controversy again

It was all for naught. Wings opened … and it still stands there today, fueled by the green cash of tourists and other visitors, although I still have not found a local that shops there.

The grand dame of OB is gone, but it’s not forgotten – at least not by us “old-timers”.

I close this with the last stanza of a poem about the end of the Strand by Rio:

Movies played and children came

and went, the movie broke

sometimes, the best five

bucks I ever spent! For Daniel! For

Daniel! for brother Daniel! Lest

we never forget the true OBecian

spirit! They can run us out and tear

down the buildings but the spirit

will stay. Forever in you forever in

me! Scream loud brothers and

sisters! Save OB!

(Here’s the entire poem.)

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Frank Gormlie September 14, 2010 at 5:15 pm

There’s two articles about the old Strand Theater in “The Passing Parade – True Tales of Ocean Beach History” which is sold by the OB Historical Society.

The first, “Memories of the Old Strand Theater” by Ruth Varney Held – OB’s preeminent historian, is all about the Twenties – some really great history. Ruth also reminds us that the Strand was not OB’s first theater, that another has that title: the Ocean Theater built in the “teens” located near the foot of Newport. The movies there were silent.

And then the second, “Stranded Again” by Carol Bowers – OB’s current excellent historian, briskly covers the forties to the nineties. Carol says that the Loma Theater in Point Loma opened in 1946! Yikes! Was I that off? I do recall seeing “The Bridge Over the River Kwai” in 1958, just before my family took off for Bangkok.

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avatar Patty Jones September 14, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Great stuff Frank, I loved reading everyone’s (especially Bobby’s) memories of a place I never had the pleasure to visit (as a theater, that is)!

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avatar Frank Gormlie September 14, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Thanks. “Bobby’s” memories filled the post, and without his story, there would have been a pretty slim history.

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avatar Lorna September 14, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Frank,

This is a wonderful article on the strand theatre and a great way to share community history. I did not have the pleasure to watch a movie here, but in the 1970s, I worked for the Strand Theatre in San Pedro, California. While the crowds were not so rowdy on a regular basis, I recognize much of the story. Al Lee who owned the Stand–San Pedro was successful in buying up a small closed poster shop next door and he added a “mini” theatre where films that were more adult in nature played. The main movie house served the general community much the same as the Strand-OB. Overall, these were good times! I had not thought about this in a long time. Last, I saw, my strand theatre was a church.

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avatar Frank Gormlie September 14, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Apparently there’s Strand Theaters across the country. Do you have any info on what that was all about?

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avatar Dave Sparling September 14, 2010 at 10:51 pm

In Phoenix in the 40′s the Strand Theater was the old Cowboy Movie theater.

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avatar Pat September 14, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Frank,
I was 19 in 1976 when I came to live and work in OB with my brothers, it was probably more my state of mind than my age that makes my memory of the 1970s a little fuzzy. After all I used to go to the Strand. Thanks for stirring up the memories.
By the way the Ocean Theater sat where Sapporo sits today

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avatar Sarah September 14, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Frank,

I love this story! One of the reasons I was initially drawn to The Rag was for the historical perspective on my new home town.

Thanks.

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avatar dave rice September 16, 2010 at 11:13 am

That’s what caught me up back in ’07…nice piece again, Frank!

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avatar Abby September 15, 2010 at 1:49 pm

It breaks my heart every time I walk by Wings, what a waste of what was a wonderful theater.

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avatar Andrea Lawrence-Stuart September 8, 2011 at 12:49 pm

When I first visited OB in the early 70s I went to the Strand Theater and loved it. The multiple theatre complexes had such small screens but our Strand had a massive screen. When I moved here in 1976 , I went every week. People were enjoying only second-runs by this time but it was cheap, the popcorn was good…it was old fashioned (yet I was yet to feel nostalgic). I remember in The Strand’s last days, the fruitless efforts of a few OBceans to keep our theater (remember buy a seat for $30) but not enough locals even cared enough to help preserve The Strand. I remember seeing a sign while the venerable old theatre was being gutted which gave me a momentary ray of hope, it said “Helping to preserve Ocean Beach’s Historic Buildings.” But what happened? Wings. As if there aren’t enough of those tourist traps. It could have been prevented. But no one cared quite enough and another very disappointed friend told me, “We got what we deserved.” Villages such as ours deserve better. We are better than that.

It made me so sad and disappointed in our locals who could have saved it if they cared enough. Some of us did our best. I remember. But now, I for one have never and never will set foot in Wings. I can’t walk by it without a pang of regret and anger. What little we did to try to prevent it just wasn’t enough.

I have lived in Ocean Beach since 1976, and lived in the same Pescadero Drive rental since Dec. of 1980. I am happy there, and would stay there indefinitely, no matter what. I always believed and still do that if I ever come into a windfall or win the Lotto I would do two things for Ocean Beach: Buy a space in Ocean Beach and outright give it to Keith so he could reopen another OB Books. A village without a used bookstore is missing part of its heart. I would buy Wings (make them an offer they couldn’t refuse) and restore The Strand, in fact, make it a beautiful Art Deco theatre inside and restore it for first-run movies and Saturday morning cartoon matinees for the kids.It would be cheaper than those multiplexes. On special nights the stage could be used as a live theatre or for special civic events. The theatre would have an old miniature Egyptian Theatre look, like the one I visited up in Corvallis, Oregon, which was a a little jewel in that city’s crown. The Strand was about the same size as that Theatre and it too would have a balcony. I read that Strand Theatre was once a very lovely theatre in its heyday before it was painted over in a rather dull blue during its last years and went downhill. I still hold out hope that some philanthropist has the bucks to want to restore The Strand. If anyone has any original photos of the inside of The Strand in the 20s I’d sure appreciate it and they could e-mail me the info. Of course I’m dreaming, but perhaps someone who is super-rich may donate his or her own money to return our Strand Theatre to Ocean Beach. Then we could get our Village feel back again.

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avatar Charley September 15, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Great Article…i remember standing in line to watch Rocky Horror back in college, it was a party the SDPD occassionally broke up – people in costume running everywhere to keep from being arrested, then re-forming to go in and watch the movie. Great memories !

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avatar Wireless Mike September 16, 2010 at 1:43 am

I remember going to The Strand with my friends when we were little kids. One of our moms would drop us off and go shopping on Newport. That was the early 60s. The Strand wasn’t fancy like the Fox Theater downtown, but it was ours and it had its own unique “funkiness”. I hate to see a business that caters to locals be replaced by a business that caters to tourists, but it happens all the time.

We also had the Midway Drive-In at Midway and West Point Loma (where CVS and Souplantation are today) and the Frontier Drive-In at Midway and Kemper Street (where Vons and Sport Chalet are today).

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avatar Frank Gormlie September 16, 2010 at 7:58 am

You don’t know how many times my good friend John H had us pile into the trunk of his old chevy and cruise into the Midway Drive-In “unannounced” by a ticket purchase.

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avatar Wireless Mike September 16, 2010 at 5:20 pm

I remember five of us kids sitting in the back seat of my neighbor’s mom’s ’59 Cadillac at the Midway watching The Unsinkable Molly Brown and The Long Ships. That would have been in 1964, I was eleven. Good times. And the coolest car I have ever ridden in.

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avatar Pat September 16, 2010 at 9:07 am

If your interested in local history you may want to attend tonights meeting of the OB Historical Society. Tonight we’ll feature Richard Carrico, his talk tonight is Who’s Buried in Presidio Park? More info at http://www.obhistory.wordpress.com .
You don’t have to be a member to attend.

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avatar Frank Gormlie September 16, 2010 at 9:26 am

Great reminder, Pat. We also placed a notice of today’s event in our OB Flashes posted this morning.

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avatar Nancy September 16, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Wonderful history of a neat place. I came to OB in ’71 and probably saw over 100 movies over the years it was operating; mostly went on Friday nights as a way to unwind from the work week, and it was only minutes away and no need to dress up.
Usually saw 2 movies that we missed in the first go-round in the “other” movie houses.
My husband and I still say “wish we still had the Strand.”
Unicorn Theatre in La Jolla was another gem.
Thanks for the memories, Frank; great job.

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avatar Doug Card September 17, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Great Strand theater article of historic, political, economic, and social interest.

Here are a couple of my own vague memories of different experiences with the Strand back in the ’70s, which both point to the significance of the Strand to the OB community then:
—OBCPG rented it for an afternoon as a fundraiser; while I remember running around and putting fliers on the windshields of all the cars around OB, I don’t remember the movie, nor whether we pulled in enough tickets on a sunny OB Sunday afternoon to cover our costs. Do you remember, Frank?
—As I was teaching soc at CW/USIU out north at the Elliot campus, I decided our international students out there were missing a good American cultural experience, so I organized a field trip by bus for them to OB. First, we ate dinner at the Filipino restaurant facing the beach. Delightful, great peanut butter sauce.

Then we went to the Strand for a double feature, one I’d picked as it included some great cultural movie which I’ve forgotten. Unfortunately, the other movie was one of those really violent “revenge” things with guns and blood all over the place, which greatly embarrassed me for the sake of those young “foreign” students.
To my dismay, on the way back on the bus, I discovered that it was the brutal movie and not the “cultural” one which had delighted our students.
But they loved OB.

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avatar Mike James September 18, 2010 at 9:15 am

In 1974 I had just graduated from high school in Redding, California. Needing to experience the world outside of my hometown, I decided to stay the summer with my brother Ron in South Mission Beach.

At 18, living 1/2 block from the beach and two doors down from the Beachcomber Bar was awakening in itself.

Yet my journey into adulthood was furthered expanded by my first trip to O.B. On one friday night we headed to the KGB Midnight Movies at the Strand Theater. I immediately knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

This was not like the Cascade Theater I frequented in my hometown, the familiar smell of stale popcorn was replaced by the aroma of burning herbs. The featured movie was “Fritz the Cat” was quite unlike the Disney movies I grew up with.

The dialogue was definitely different, at least what I could hear between the catcalls and the beer bottles rolling down the aisles. I can’t say if was the contact high or just enjoying the irreverent freedom I saw be exhibited, I had great time.

Little did I know at the time that I would spend many wonderful nights at the Strand and that Ocean Beach would become my true hometown.

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avatar Kathryn Rogers October 20, 2010 at 6:10 am

I remember going to the Strand in the late 50′s all the way till the early 70′s when I finally moved out of the area. We’d go catch a Saturday matinee after loading up with candy from mom and dad’s candy counter at Homers. They played double features that started with a news reel followed by cartoons. Between the features they would have all kinds of prizes donated by local stores for the free advertising. My parent’s store donated toys for the prizes. The goods were arranged up on the stage and were given away by calling out your number on your ticket stub and you’d run up and give out your name. I never won a prize though. Dang it!
We’d watch war movies, westerns and loads of great creature features.
I remember going to Midway, the Unicorn, the movie theater at the base on Rosecrans that you payed a dime to get into, the Loma with it’s wonderful Deco fittings and endless playings of The Sound of Music (how did they ever stay in biz?) but it was always The Strand that was my favorite!

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avatar Mike October 21, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Frank,
I had the good fortune to spend the best summer of my life in OB in the summer of ’72. I remember graffitti all over saying “free Frank Gormlie”. What was that about. I have always wondered and now I came across this web site and was floored to see your post. Glad to see you are freed!

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avatar Frank Gormlie October 21, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Cool! Welcome, and thanks for sharing memories with us.

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avatar Frank Gormlie October 21, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Whoops, forgot to answer your question. After the Collier Park riot in March of ’71, 50 people were busted, some went to trial, jail, etc. Fearing that I could not receive a fair trial – a well-founded feeling from those days – I skipped town. Arrested later, I did go to trial and was found guilty of assault. Somebody spray painted that around OB acouple of places. Somebody actually X’ed out the ‘free’ in one of them, and wrote ‘hang’. I later met that guy at the Inbetween. He was sort of creepy, as he as an older guy, was trying to hit on some of the street women.

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avatar Mike October 21, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I forgot. I too remember fondly The Strand. Saw ‘The Last Picture Show” there w/ my new found California girlfriend from Mission Beach. Being from Texas it really resonated w/ me and to this day I can’t see any of the new “stars” from that film w/out remembering OB. And there were many. Not a day goes by that I don’t regret not staying in OB…

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avatar Sandi October 22, 2010 at 10:12 pm

I fondly remember going to the Strand as a college student in the mid-70′s. My most vivid memory was in Fall of ’77 going to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show complete with Rocky Horror look-a-likes all around us. We smuggled in all kinds of stuff unmentionable in today’s world. OB was a wonderland of cool hippies just living the dream in San Diego. Loved every minute I lived there.

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avatar Maggie Mouse October 23, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Was reading comments of Rocky Horror & remembering every moment of around the same time frame you recalled. Tim was the projectionist during my time spent in OB (sorry about sending 12 Hawaiian pizza dude). I was one of four drunken, drug fueled, anything goes girls called Kinky Mice or (Kinkey as we sang it). I think often & fondly of many fellow Rocky Horror look- a-likes and the individuals who invented their own persona. I miss them more than they know. The many types of drugs, alcohol, and chances we took then seem unreal by today’s standard. It was a unique snap shot in time when being free was the norm.

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avatar julie July 26, 2014 at 9:34 pm

OMG I was a kinky mouse as well. I was Julie Mouse (Lewd according to my Mouse ears). Had a great summer back in 77-78 at Rocky Horror with Linda,Roberta,Katie and Maggie!

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avatar nicole January 14, 2011 at 7:06 am

Austin, an OB Free School teacher from the Seventies remembers: i was one of the free schoolers who went to the woody allen tripple feature at the strand i remember it well

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avatar Anne February 16, 2011 at 8:16 pm

In the early 60′s, I went to the strand one time for a party and films. There was even a master of ceremonies who passed out candy and prizes to a full house of kids. Also in 68 or 69 there was a showing of the “Night of the Living Dead “, around Halloween. I wasn’t exactly a kid anymore but I had a bad case of the “willies” walking up the hill to Guizot and Brighton to get home

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avatar Colleen Cavin February 17, 2012 at 6:32 pm

The Strand holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons……My family lived on Muir Street in the mid to late 50′s. We were as free as birds roaming the beach and discovering all the holes in the coves. But the Strand was special because my father was one of the Motion Picture Projectionists who worked there.
We went to the movies theater ALL the time. I’ve taken many a nap in the booth and went to more Saturday matinees than I can count.
The entrance was the small door to the right of the ticket booth. The stairs were immediately inside the door and at the top was a mounted marlin head. The owner of the theater (I can’t remember his name unfortunately) had caught the fish and had it mounted and hung there. The owner was very nice to us and always allowed us to not only get in the theater at anytime, but stay as long as we wanted and gave us FREE POPCORN! On Saturdays we stayed soooo long for the old movies, serials and cartoons that when we stepped out into the sunlight we were blinded temporarily by the glaring contrast.
The Strand was great! And so was O.B.
The Strand did hit hard times yet I have memories of the good times.

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avatar Roger February 3, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Last time I ever went was to the midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show. But I grew up going to the theatre in the fifties. Matinee was only a quarter, and thursday nights were drawing nights to win prizes. I won a Schucco race car once. I even saw a couple of 3-D movies there. Remember the glasses? Polaroid lenses.

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avatar Mark Phillips May 13, 2013 at 9:34 pm

The opening montage of Cameron Crowe’s wonderful “Almost Famous” ends with young William Miller and mom exiting the Strand at xmas time after seeing “To Kill a Mockingbird” there. There’s a Santa out front ringing a handbell. That’s so exactly how it was.

I saw Rocky Horror there a couple of dozen times. You’d park in the bank parking lot around the corner and stand in line with all the people dressed as characters. Saw The Who’s movies there many times; Gimme Shelter; Woodstock. There were three great theaters in San Diego in the 70s: the Strand, the Ken, and the Unicorn. Lots of culture for sleepy little San Diego!

Thanks for the awesome article.

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avatar Eric Welsh April 3, 2014 at 11:44 am

I was a young teen when the Rocky Horror craze hit, and so The Strand provided the perfect venue for counter culture underage debauchery. My friends and I would tell our parents we were going to hit the early evening films, and then we’d instead get drunk and high with hippies or sailors down on the beach.

At midnight, the real fun began, as the freaks (and I use that term with affection) would show up (from where I do not know) and Newport would become a rocker/biker/LGBT street fair of sorts. Oh the people I met! It all felt so grown up, so underground, so very hip…I had found a scene, even at that young age, made up people I felt I could relate to.

After 90 minutes of dancing, screaming, and all sorts of undignified behavior, we’d stumble back out and happily make our way home, eagerly awaiting Monday morning at Point Loma High (or Dana) when we’d brag of our escapades to our more straight-laced classmates.

But there was one unpleasant Rocky experience. Once as we waited in line, a local “street” character named Shorty stumbled up the street in a stupor, staggering back and forth. We watched in our own fucked up haze, sensing trouble. Soon enough, some dude (clearly from another hood) got pissed off at Shorty, got into a scuffle, and ended up punching Shorty unconscious. As Shorty lay bleeding on the sidewalk, my bud and I started to get seriously grossed out by this major buzz kill. What had been a fun night partying had suddenly turned into a violent, seriously un-Rocky-like experience. We got the hell out of there and didn’t return for a few months.

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