In the early seventies Gary Gilmore found ‘heaven’ and he’s been in Ocean Beach ever since.

by on October 26, 2010 · 30 comments

in History, OB Heroes, Ocean Beach, Popular

Gary Gilmore 1972

Gary Gilmore in 1972.

Gary Gilmore – Newport Avenue’s goldsmith par excellence – is proud of the fact that he arrived in Ocean Beach in 1973 with nothing else but the clothes on his back, his guitar, and his leather tools.  He had journeyed across the country and had found heaven. And he’s been in OB ever since. His is a true classic rags to riches story. Yet it’s an OB hippie version of the classic. For Gary Gilmore certainly looked like a hippie when he arrived 37 years ago.

Gary’s love for OB is so evident that it’s almost difficult to get him to talk about anything else. This was all apparent as we took our seats for a lunch at the quintessential OB restaurant – the Old Townhouse – featured prominently in the current television series “Terriers” which was filmed in OB.

It was Monday and as Gary’s gold and silver shop is closed that day, he had time to give me an interview.  He’s closed every Monday and Sunday.  “I get more done on Monday than all the rest of the week,” he said almost apologetically.

Gary Gilmore 10-25-10 003-smGary told me he does all the custom work that his shop does, but he does carry the wares of other craftspeople from all over the country.  Only about 15% of the items in the display cases are his, he said.  And even though he complains about the current economy hurting his business, he told me  “life is good.” He made it to Newport Ave years ago and has been involved in improving it and the surrounding community over the decades.

He’s been in his current location on the 4800 block of Newport since 1996 and it’s quite obvious he’s doing quite well, thank you.  He’s got Steve Correia’s glassware on one wall, silver and gold jewelry and other works in the display cases, artsy photos on another wall, antique bowls from the Americas on counters – the place ensues quality.  (Go here to see his website and examples of his work.)

His clients these days are the well-to-do, the folks who can afford to care about superior craftsmanship.  One of the last times I visited his shop, Michael Turko of “Turko Files” walked in looking for his wedding rings.

It hasn’t always been that way, however.

It wasn’t that way when he arrived in 1973, and it took a while for Gary to make it to Newport Avenue, his goal.

Gary was born in Pittsburgh, PA. His dad was Scottish and his mother Brazilian. And when he was 10 the family moved to his mom’s birth country, where he got to know Rio and Sao Paulo while growing up. As he talked about those days in Brazil, Gary’s eyes sparkled – hinting of old memories from that part of his childhood.  He has one sibling, a brother Scott, who is 4 years younger. At some point, his parents split up, and his dad – a school teacher – took the boys to Florida.

Around 1964, Gary picked up the guitar and started playing. He was in a small folk band for awhile – the “Lonesome Travelers” – the kind of band that plays after the well-known ones have already finished.

“We were playing about coal mine disasters, and the other bands were playing ‘Louie-Louie.’ ” He laughed. “We mainly played for our friends and girlfriends.”

Gary finished high school in Florida, began college, but then he moved to Port Huron, Michigan to try college some more.  This was in 1970 – a crazy time for the nation’s college students and young. He was sporting long, curly locks and a thin beard by then. ‘Tune in, turn-on, drop -out” was one of the mantras of the hippies.

After 9 months,  Gary did drop out of college and he became a leather craftsman.

“There was only 4 hippies in Port Huron,” he said.

He opened up a leather shop in an abandoned building and only paid $50 rent. He slept there also, taking showers at friends. This was the way it was back then.  “I was living outside the system.”

Becoming a focused craftsman in leather, he made belts, hats, vests, watch bands (who didn’t have a leather watchband back then?) and purses “with a lot of fringe.”

The building didn’t have any heat, and one winter night it dropped down to 18 degrees, he remembered. His sleeping bag was only good for 20 degrees. That’s when he decided to move.

At that point, brother Scott was living in Coronado attending a local school of fine arts. So Gary came out west to check out the San Diego scene, and like so many others those days – became enchanted and ended up staying. He had his clothes, his guitar and his leather tools. It was late 1972.

Once he settled in a bit, Gary hitchhiked around San Diego, and one day, a guy picked him up and told him about his shop on Voltaire Street where he was a manager.  The store was called “Baba Yaga” and it was one of OB’s first hippie antique shops, plus it had silver and turquoise crafts on consignment. They didn’t have any leather though – so Gary ended up joining them, and he set up a a corner of the shop for himself , agreeing to hand over 25% of his take to Baba Yaga’s owners.

Baba Yaga was one of the first stores in Ocean Beach to be run by hippies. The place later became the site of  “Angie’s Cheesecakes”, and eventually was torn down and replaced by the building that today holds the “Dog Beach Dog Wash”.

At first, Gary didn’t have his own place, so in order to save money, he slept up on the roof of Baba Yaga, a single-story building, along with some of the other craftsmen. There was an old mattress,” he told me.  They slept up on the roof until late Fall.

It was the Gary’s first stake in the town he would call his own.

“I had landed in heaven,” Gary said about his arrival in OB. “OB was the place where I could flourish. OB was it.”

So, the  Spring and Summer of 1973 found Gary was working and selling his wares at Baga Yaga. After a few months in the leather game, he found it was a fading fad, so he switched his skills to making jewelry, especially silver and turquoise.   Yet it was fun times, he also said, hanging out on the roof, flirting with girls, partying. “Back then,” he added, “you’d just ask strangers to party.”

Gary Gilmore 10-25-10 006-sm

Beth and Gary Gilmore.

Gary also met his future wife during those days. Beth – hailing from Indiana – was hanging out with the gang at Baba Yaga, and was working at “Rare Comforts” – a hippie-type clothing store on Newport.  Finally, at a concert with her, it dawned on him that Beth was his one and only.   They got married in 1976 and moved into a cottage on the alley between Newport and Santa Monica. “We could see the ocean and it was only $175 a month,” he told me.

Somewhere around the Spring of 1974, Baba Yaga fell apart.  Gary joined several others of the craftsmen who sold wares there and moved into the upstairs space above what’s now the 99 Cent store, on the corner of Newport and Bacon.  Then it was Adler’s Pharmacy. (Gary later learned that Baba Yaga had been a front for big time pot dealers.)

It was mostly wholesale at this new place, as it was tough to get customers to climb the stairs. A lot of Gary’s work was being taken to Arizona and New Mexico for sales. He was making silver wares, bracelets, pennants, rings, and branching off into other stones.  This lasted a year, and by that time there was only two of them –  Gary and Steve Mackres.  The two moved together into Scrim Shaw Square over on Santa Monica.  There he could do retail again. He and Steve had their own work but split the overhead.

About four years later,  some large space on Newport Avenue opened up. It was 1978 and Gary jumped at the chance to move into 4919 Newport – and the time was right.

“I always wanted to be on Newport. Newport was big time. I had arrived.”

It was a big place, Gary said. “I did so well, better than imagined,” and he had to hire his first employees – someone to do repairs and he needed help at the counter. The silver and turquoise fad was then fading, so he went into gold. Gold was then selling at $200 an ounce.

The price of gold is something Gary knows very well, and he and his wife and co-worker Beth check it each day. It’s obvious why – their shop revolves around the cost of the precious metal.  During that part of our interview at the shop, Beth came by and informed Gary what the price was today. It was over $1300.

Some of his favorite memories of those days back in the late Seventies, after he had opened up on Newport, were working alongside of and mingling with the James brothers – the band of brothers – Rich, Greg, Ron, Mike, and Pat –  who swept into Ocean Beach and who were opening their own T-shirt making business. “I loved their energy,” he smiled.

“There was a buzz in the street. Now I had comrades,” Gary said. “There was a camaraderie with other business people … they were encouraging, supportive – there was a lot of give and take.”

At that time, Gary still had longish hair – it had been trimmed, and he had a mustache instead of a beard.

But as one of the first “hippie” businessmen to open a shop on Newport, he now had – with the James brothers – other young merchants, who if not hippies, at least were hip. And funny and energetic. And did I mention young?  There was a new feel on the street, changes were occurring.

When I told Gary that we used to call the new hippie merchants on Newport and around OB “the hip-oisie” – he laughed. “I like that,” he said to the play on the old term “the bourgeoisie.” Actually, the petite-bourgeoisie, I added.

A significant milestone in his life, Gary told me, was the day he went to meet the landlady who owned 4919 Newport. He wanted that space so badly, he could taste it. Trouble was, the James brothers had first dibs on it, as they knew the landlady. Rick James was there negotiating for the brothers as they wanted the place – but they weren’t sure they could swing it. They knew Gary and they knew he was was dreaming of it.   Then, Rick turns to Gary and tells him he can have it.

“All of a sudden,” Gary told me – remembering that moment – he knew this was it – “it was like moving to the Major Leagues from the Minors” he said.

His other fond memories include being part of the first OB Christmas Tree and the first holiday Parade along with other merchants. He was also involved in ensuring that OB had fireworks for the Fourth of July.  “Those were heady times,” somewhere around 1980, 1981 …

About that time, Newport merchants formed an organization for themselves, and Gary was very much part of those efforts. Around 1980 there was the first election to the board of the newly formed Ocean Beach Merchants Association.   “Mike James was elected president and I was elected vice-president,” he said. Gary Gilmore has been involved in the merchant group ever since – for 30 years.  To this day, he sits on the Board of the now- OB Mainstreet Association. The name was changed a while back in order for the group to form a business improvement district.

Meanwhile, he and Beth had moved to Niagara. Then around 1980 they bought their first house “for a song” over on Rosecrans. He was doing well enough to afford a small down payment.  They moved in … but over the next 7 years they were burglarized five times.  So, they had to move again.

By then, the Gilmores had two girls – Alex and Vanessa – born in 1983 and 84.  They went to all the local schools, Cabrillo, Correia, Point Loma.

Beth and Gary found a place on Tustin Street – just north and down the hill from what’s now Dana Middle School. It had some good views from its second story.  And over the years, they built it up, refurbished the kitchen, built on the deck –  and they’re still in it.  The girls could have gone to Dana but it was closed when they were ready for middle school.

Gary Gilmore 10-25-10 009-sm

Today's shop of Gary Gilmore goldsmith.

Gary opened his latest shop – where he is now – in 1996.  He had a chance to buy it and he went for it. And these last 14 years have been good years, he says.  And he runs a family business. Beth has been working with him since 1978, and the girls started working for him when they were 3.  I chuckle.  Now they all still work together. Gary also has a man who does torch work and repairs. He hired a Malaysian refugee – who is now, Gary says, “the embodiment of the American dream.”

He had moved one block  from his other shop – but that move turned out to be a good one – as his shop became more up-scale, and was serving a changed clientele, one that was older and “more into feathering their nests,” he said.  He sees a lot of wealthy Pt Loma people, Point Loma high society I added.

Gary loves his trade, his work. He has considered himself a craftsman, an artist. I asked him to describe himself, and he said, “seasoned, knowledgeable,…” – and I also added modest, and generous. “I think I make interesting designs,” he said.  The custom work is what consumes most of his time. And he does all of it.

One of the funniest moments that Gary recalls of his days of running a business was in 1990, when he was summoned to the store after hours by the police. They had been notified by the alarm as apparently a guy had tried to burglarize the place – but he got stuck in the vent, and was half in and half out. When Gary came in, the guy was dangling from the ceiling – and screaming his head off.

Gary is Newport Avenue’s biggest cheerleader.

“I don’t foresee any changes on Newport. There will always be mom and pop stores here. You’ll never see the ‘big boys’ here” – meaning the corporate chains. “There’s Starbucks, but that’s about it. It’s the demographics,” he explained, “there’s too much competition (for the big boys) from the Midway – Sports Arena area.”

“Newport Avenue is very healthy right now,” he said. This optimism despite the recession. “The vibe that OB gives off is very positive.”

He summarized: “San Diego is very proud to have Ocean Beach.”

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar OB Joe October 26, 2010 at 11:24 am

In 1972 Gary looked like Jesus Christ with glasses!

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avatar Frank Gormlie October 26, 2010 at 1:05 pm

He swore he wasn’t Jewish (you know Jesus was).

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avatar Sunshine October 26, 2010 at 11:50 am

have you seen his OB logoed jewelry? its beautiful!!!! Gary is one amazing stand-up guy! (hey, OB Joe, i think he’s still wearing those same glasses today.) his love for his craft, OB, and fellow OBceans has always shown brightly on Newport Ave. Thank you, Gary, for being such a wonderful asset to this community over the years. wishing you much prosperity in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.

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avatar Sarah October 26, 2010 at 3:55 pm

I love the OB logo jewelry and met Gary and his wife when I went in to buy a pendant for a friend who had to return to Oregon. I had a great talk with Gary and his wife. As a matter of fact, I’m still trying to find a satisfactory answer to the question Gary posed that day. “Just who was the first King and who made him it?”

Oh, and Gary, thanks for suggesting “The Tudors”. They did know how to behead a girl back then.

Sarah

PS: Now I know where to go have my mom’s old silver jewelry resurrected!

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avatar oBdaDa October 26, 2010 at 12:47 pm

TheSe TiD-biTs oF OB HisTorY aRe DelighTfuL…..
Gary Gilmore iS aN iNspiraTioN foR ALL peopLe….
BLeSSiNgs aLL aRouNd.

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avatar OB Dude October 26, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Great article! Many wishes for more years of success!

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avatar ss October 26, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Gary
Thanks for being in OB we deserve each other

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avatar Pat October 26, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Frank,
Great article.
There you go stirring up memories.
It’s hard to believe it’s been all those years.
In 1976 we (The James Gang) started our business up above Adlers Pharmacy in the Kraft building.
We’ve known Gary and Beth for all these years .
It’s It’s been a pleasure, and a trip, being part of such a cool community and knowing and working with people like the Gilmores.
Even though OB hasn’t changed that much I still get very nostalgic for that era.
Oh to be young, energetic,and hip…

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avatar Frank Gormlie October 26, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Pat – so you guys started in the same space as Gary? Or just later? or are there several spaces up there, it’s been so long since I was on that second floor.

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avatar dave rice October 26, 2010 at 8:16 pm

There don’t exist enough kudos for Gary and his wonderful creations. I certainly wouldn’t have called myself “well-to-do,” when I visited Gary a few months ago not long after being laid off and asking him to create an engagement ring for me, but I will say he sat patiently through several sessions with Christina and I and the results are brilliant and something I hope she’ll treasure forever. Whenever we can afford some wedding bands to go with I know where we’ll be headed.

Sarah – Gary also did a wonderful job sizing and freshening up a ring Christina’s grandmother left when she passed on. I can’t give any higher accolades to his service.

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avatar Seth October 27, 2010 at 10:30 am

Great, article. Really enjoyed hearing their story. Great service at his shop, too.

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avatar John Koca October 27, 2010 at 11:47 am

What a great guy Gary is, He made my wife’s wedding rings, I am honored to call him a friend. perfect attitude for OB, Pat James also. Love both those guys.

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avatar Pat October 27, 2010 at 1:02 pm

John,
Thanks the feeling is mutual.
Frank, again vague memories, plus my brothers had started printing shirts nearly a year before I moved down. There where several spaces up there but I can’t remember if Gary was up there when I arrived.
I do have a story that wasn’t funny at the time, but now I can laugh about it. One day Gary was back in our printing area, at this time the shop was really busy and a mess.
I think maybe he was choosing ink colors for a job and ended up with ink on his beautiful black suit. What a nightmare ! I don’t know if we ever got it out.
Fortunately Gary was cool about it.

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avatar Frank Gormlie October 27, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Gary had a suit back then??!! Must have been for funerals.

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avatar Pat October 27, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Frank,
Yes he did, this was after we both moved to Newport.
It was around 1980. Our shop was 4905 Newport and gary was right next store.
Before us Horn TV and Furniture occupied both locations we moved into the funiture side and Gary moved into the appliance side.

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avatar Frank Gormlie October 27, 2010 at 1:47 pm

That was a funny comment you made a while ago, that at least you were “young.” I know I made a big thing of it in my post but … it was all true. There was definitely a generational gap – huge at times and different places – like at your parents’ dinner table, or on the job, or …. you name it. It was a cultural divide – much more than has been experienced among American generations for years.

Sociologists have been studying this counter-cultural phenomenon for years – at least since I was in college and that was many moons ago. What I have not seen described, titled or identified is the trend among new generations to follow in the – for lack of a better word – footsteps of their counter-cultural parents. In plain terms, my daughter’s generation – she’s 22 – is more in sync with my generation’s cultural icons, ideals, etc. than my generation was with my parents’ generation. Any sociologists out there? What do you call that?

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avatar Goatskull October 27, 2010 at 6:23 pm

I pretty much with that. What’s kind of common you see these days are hightail aged kids big on “retro”. Now you see teenagers sporting Beatles, Doors, Stones, etc t-shrits. Me being 49, that’s the equivalent of my generation wearing clothing advertising our love Benny Goodman or Woody Herman in our high school days. The ironic thing about that is there are also cliques of 20 somethings who in fact DO love swing music, jump blues and all that. While in come ways there very much is a gen gap and there always will be, it has narrowed a lot from the 60’s and 70’s. In my opinion anyway.

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avatar dave rice October 28, 2010 at 7:50 pm

That’s because most music from the last decade has kinda sucked…my mom raised me on the Beatles, my dad the Moody Blues, Stones, and Beach Boys,and when I found my own style it was mostly punkers that were still hanging on but started out before my time…taking Christina to her first Social D show in a couple months.

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avatar Goatskull October 29, 2010 at 5:44 am

Ahhh yes Social D. An example of some music from the last decade that DOES NOT suck and one of my favorite all time bands. I don’t totally disagree with you but as you probably know, there is a lot of good music out there that does not get played on the radio. If you are a punk fan you may have gone to http://www.awesomefest4.com in North Park. If not you missed a great event but it will be back next year. I wish OB would have a little more of a punk scene but we’re getting off topic.

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avatar Frank Gormlie October 27, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Well, Gary said you guys weren’t hippies, and even I had cut my freak flag by the late Seventies.

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avatar Scott Gilmore November 6, 2010 at 7:50 am

Great article. I’m a pretty lucky guy; Gary was a great brother when we were growing up and to this day is my best friend.

OB, you’re lucky to have him.

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avatar Gary Gilmore November 9, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Thanks Scott!! Maybe I shouldn’t have been so mean to you when we were kids…

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avatar Anne February 16, 2011 at 9:51 pm

To this day I’m literally still wearing the earrings and chain that my husband Don bought from Garys store the year he opened. We had married in 75 and the jewelry was a gift for an anniversary. Last week we celebrated our 36th anniversary…Sweet memories!

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avatar frances mullins April 25, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Gary and Scot, I thought I recognized you from FP Fl-long long ago. We rode the bus together and I invited you guys to dinner at our house. Do you remember me. frances mcdaniel in those days. I have thought about you two many times over the years. Glad to see you are doing well. I recall that you were aching to move north during your senior year. Glad you made it out of town. So did I. Not so far north but out of Fl.

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avatar Gary Gilmore April 27, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Hello Francis! Yes, I do remember you. Try going to my Facebook page & leave me a message. I’ll write back
Cheers!!

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avatar frances mullins April 28, 2011 at 8:51 am

I invited you to my facebook –
I had closed my fb account months ago but opened it again so we could catch up.
my last name is mullins

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avatar Scott Gilmore April 27, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Lordie!, yes, I would’ve given anything to get out of FP FL in `68. Hi Frances!

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avatar frances mullins April 28, 2011 at 8:53 am

hi. It was so good to find you two. I re-opened my facebook account. frances mullins. let us catch up on the years on fb

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avatar Kirk Howes May 4, 2011 at 5:59 am

I just visited the OB and nearby.
I too hailed from PH at one time
Sorry I missed you.

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