A Review of the District – and a Photo Essay
The Ocean Beach Planning Board is holding its annual election on March 11th. In light of our analysis that the Village of OB is at an historic development crossroads, we have begun a series of examinations of the different planning districts within the Ocean Beach Community Plan Area.
We are doing this in hopes that the series will encourage interest in and education about OB’s planning issues, the Planning Board and the election among OBceans. (See the first part of the series on District 1)
District 2 – The Heart of OB
Here, we present a look at District 2 – the virtual center of the community – and indeed it’s soul and heart.
Positioned within the northwest sector of the community along with District 1 to its north, District 2 consists primarily of residential units, homes, apartments, cottages and houses. It has about 12 blocks of residences along its 3 major streets, Long Branch, Brighton and Cape May Avenues; Brighton and Cape May have the awesome distinctions of being a few of the OB streets that end in the sand.
With the northern boundary the alley between Muir and Long Branch and the southern the alley between Cape May and Saratoga, the District runs from Sunset Cliffs Boulevard all the way to the beach. And it includes the major arteries of the north-south streets: Abbott, Bacon, Cable and Sunset Cliffs.
With very little business in the District, it does have some beach and park land on the western end, plus it is the main neighborhood facing “North Beach” – making it the entryway onto the beach.
District 2 – being the “Heart” of OB – is also the most dense district within the Village in terms of people and housing. It is even denser than District 1 – because compared to the northern neighbor – District 2 is highly residential with little tourist and hotel-motel facilities.
It has its share of 2-story apartments – especially near the water – but there are many small cottages and houses snuggled within those neighborly blocks of primarily one story buildings.
There are older stock housing, some Craftsman, some of which may be called “beach shacks”, Spanish revivals, with representatives of each decade and style of frame. Lots of white-fences, a few large Cypress trees, a real mixed area.
And because of its high density and congestion, District 2 has all those attendant problems: traffic, noise – with parking a big one. Obvious pressure due to its proximity to the beach, the neighborhood gets crushed during those sunny summer days with tourists and visitors – and parking spaces during that season are impossible to find.
Other than that, the District includes many younger, working people, students, retired hippies, and is by far a mostly renters’ district. It’s a very friendly, neighborly area of OB, where neighbors know each other – and look out for each other.
The “War Zone”
Along with District 1, this District also has the distinction of being OB’s “War Zone” – a title earned over decades of being the “rougher” section of town, with high numbers of college kids, surfers, bikers, sailors and hippies living and existing. It’s where the hip first met the surf in the late Sixties.
The area has been and still is the “low-rent” area of OB, as there are many beach shacks, cottages and cheap housing for the young, old and poor. It’s what made OB one of the last beach towns of Southern California where poor and working people could live at the beach.
Back in the day, however, with the low-rents came a higher crime rate, more drugs, more confrontations between young people and cops. And the District also became one of the principle centers of the 1970’s radical movements that helped transform OB and made it what it is today.
The 5100 block of Long Branch became the epi-center of battles between OB’s youth and police officers. The 1968 Labor Day “Riot” certainly comes to mind for old-timers. It wasn’t just rock and bottle throwing and baton time, it was also drug deals and experiences, rock and roll music, bands playing in backyards, and a sense of freedom from traditional social constraints.
Plus there was the infamous “Red House” over on the last block of Cape May – a center of anti-Vietnam war activism during the heydays of OB’s radicalism.
That same block of Cape May – the 5100 block – also was known to house many grassroots activists, including the Cape May “Barracks” – a quatro-plex with each unit the home of several activists, including a number who worked on the original OB Rag. For a while, the Rag was run out of an old shack in Red House’s back yard, and at the same time, it had a dark room in one of the garages at the Barracks.
The block also was the site of an “underground” day care center run by activists. And at one point, a local historian counted 26 activists who lived on that one block during the mid-1970’s.
Over-all the District also got its reputation due to an extremely high turnover rate of its residents. An early Seventies survey run by a team of San Diego State professors and students found that the area that included what’s now District 2 had an annual turnover rate of 25%. That meant that within one year, one-quarter of the residents of any particular block would move or change. Activists then always found it tough to develop grassroots organizing with such a fluid human environment.
Whether due to its density or just to its nature, this District appears to be very neighbor-friendly, where neighbors look out for one another. A sign attached to a City stop sign warns that Thursday street sweeping is severe.
Someone else placed a pole with doggie bags near the beach for passersby and their canine wards.
There are hidden treasures of grand houses behind fences; rows of pastel cottages with white-picket fences; rehabbed courtyards that turned debilitated shacks into cutesy cottages – these are what make the District what it is.
Again, the Planning Board is having its yearly election this March 11th. Currently, District 2 is represented by C. Kevin Becker and Barbara Schmidtknecht. Barbara is the current treasurer of the Board is has been on the panel long enough to recognize key issues, whereas Kevin is relatively new to the Board.
Come with us for a pictorial essay of District 2 – the Heart of OB.
Rob Quigley – the famous architect who designed San Diego’s new Central Library – got his start in OB. Working under the then “new” OB Precise Plan, Quigley designed and built a 4-unit, 3-story building, with each unit is different.
Built in the mid-seventies and since re-stuccoed, this building was designed and built for four units – 3 of them smallish -, all uniquely designed, with different floor plans, and several were multilevel. Three of the units have decks. The apartments are two-bedroom, two-bath and are 885, 931, and 1,059 square feet. One unit is 1,246 square feet with three bedrooms and two baths.
It’s still there, over on the 5100 block of Long Branch Ave., but certainly Quigley is long gone. In 2011, it sold for a cool million.
Across Long Branch from the Quigley building is an un-named, old building that has been around for ages. It’s still got a peace sign on it.
Before Sunset Cliffs Boulevard was itself, it was named “Defoe Street” for Daniel Defoe, and to fit in line with the other alphabetical streets, Bacon, Cable, Ebers, Froude, etc. (See more on OB street names.)
There are all kinds of hidden treasures in terms of great old houses or cute new cottages or rehabbed Craftsmen throughout OB, and especially in District 2. Behind this or that fence, around this hedge, across the street, down the alley.
Or hidden courtyards of rehabs.