Collier Park


(continued from “The First Circle“)

The Collier Park Battle

vol1no14p8.jpgOne of the first major issues the Rag jumped into wholeheartedly was to join up with a new OB environmental group, OB Ecology Action, and lead a fight to save Collier Park, an urban patch of land in northeastern OB. Ecology Action, fresh from its victory against the jetty the previous summer, was led by Tom Bailey, the Ferris’ – a young professional couple who lived on Worden, and David Diehl, a young lawyer who had helped push the legal front against the jetty. Within the Rag staff, Blakey had convinced Gormlie that gearing up a campaign to save the park would be an excellent organizing tactic. Blakey had been a veteran of the People’s Park battle up in Berkeley — a campaign that had galvanised the entire campus community. Not coincidentally, Gormlie had been at the take-over of “Chicano Park” on April 20, 1970, when the Barrio Logan community physically occupied a vacant piece of Cal-Trans land, turning it into a park.

Here in OB, the land that was to become Collier Park was only a block away from the Rag’s Etiwanda house. When Blakey and Gormlie took walks on the unfenced property at night, they could see that a boarded-up two story building — the old Door of Hope, an unmarried young women’s home, — stood in its last decrepit and sad days. The old home was protected by a line of pine and eucalyptus trees, and stood at the top of a slight hill that dominated the area. Of course, Gormlie enthusiastically agreed the land should be saved. It was time to move on the park issue. Plans were made to team up with the environmental group and use the Rag in a campaign to “Save Collier Park”.

Collier Park – or at least the western portion – was the battleground. It was part of a large section of land that had been dedicated to “the children of San Diego” by a turn-of-the-century developer, D.C. Collier. According to the OB Rag (Mid-January 1972, Vol. 2, No. 4):

The land, which had been donated to the city of San Diego by David Charles Collier with the express purpose that it be turned into a park “for the children of San Diego”, was dedicated for park use in 1909 when the City Council passed ordinance 3664. The park, however, was not developed and in 1956 proposition L went on the ballot and voters passed the proposition for what they thought was the transfer of some property from Collier Park to the San Diego Unified School District. The deceptive wording on the ballot had, if effect, “un-dedicated” the park land. At the time the city promised concentrate on building another park at Robb Field.

With the electoral “authorization”, the City of San Diego carved up the land, tearing a boulevard through the middle, handing off a good-sized section for the creation of Collier Junior High (later Correia Middle School), another chunk for the YMCA, and the western portion would be sold off by for the development of apartments. In the meantime, the land was vacant and unkempt. The Rag, in issue after issue, using photos of apartments juxtaposed with views of parkland, pushed the fight to save the parkland.

Opposition to the Sale of Collier Park Grows

Opposition to the sale of the land had been growing. In May 1970 the OB Town Council passed a resolution to pressure the city council to re-dedicate the land as park. The Rag began to spread the word in its pages with the December 1970 issue. In mid-January of the new year, OB Ecology Action jumped into the fray, as a campaign developed for parks for both the east and west portions of the area. The Peninsula YMCA and the Point Loma Garden Club climbed on the park wagon. At the January 21, 1971, meeting of the Town Council’s Board of Directors, then director Ray Perine, declared if any apartments were built in Collier West, “the town will rise up” and force their removal. (OB Rag, Late January 1972, Vol 2, No 5.) Yet, there wasn’t consensus throughout the community.

However, not all OB residents were working for the combined land to be park sites. In early February (1971), it became clear that Peninsulans, Inc., the Point Loma/ OB business-realty advisory group to the city council, headed by Helen Fane, was attempting to sabotage the movement for a Collier West park by intimatating (sic) and threateneng (sic) OB Ecology Action nad (sic) the Point Loma Garden Club into withdrawing their support from the western side. Fane, as president, dictatorially squashed discussion of Collier West in Pen.,Inc. meetings.

On February 18, the OBTC passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on any sales by the city on portions of Collier West.

Tensions were rising. In early March, the city property department recommended to the city manager that the City sell or lease the western side. In response, the Ocean Beach Recreation Board voted on March 10, to recommend that both sides of the Collier land be designated as park.

Three days later, on March 13th, an all-night vigil was held in Collier West by residents, trying to bring more public attention to the pending sale or lease. Under intense community pressure, the City of San Diego’s Park and Recreation Board on March 17th voted to retain both sections as natural park land. Finally, the issue went before the City Council. The Council ordered the City Manager to make a recommendation, who in turn, ordered the Recreation Department to do a study. The issue was to return to the Council in early April.

Campaign Becomes a Riot

The campaign to save the parkland was brought to a head, when on March 28th, San Diego police attacked a demonstration in support of the park. A large demonstration in support of the park — but also against the Vietnam War was planned – for weeks. Rag staffers and Ecology Action teamed up with a group of anti-war students and faculty from San Diego State to play this duel demo: it was to be an anti-war rally, then a march up to the park, where free food was to be distributed, music provided by a local band, and everyone was supposed to then lend a hand and clear the park area of debris.

A forecast of subsequent events, the day started off when Rag staffers attempted to hang a banner announcing the rally – to be held at the beach – along a southern fence of the city utility yard adjacent to the park open space. Two motorcycle police officers showed up and grabbed the banner.

Hours later, on the grassy area next to north beach, hundreds of people gathered for the event. After speakers, guerrilla theatre, and some songs, the crowd very peacefully got up and began a march up the sidewalks of Voltaire Street to the park. It was about a mile from the beach to the intersection of Soto and Greene Streets. As the hundreds of people filtered into the park, the free food line and a rock band were setting up.

collierpark1.jpg collierpark3.jpg

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Without warning, a platoon of San Diego Police officers arrived in force, forming a skirmish line at the top of the hill. Organizers were told that it was an illegal assembly because the streets were being blocked by the demonstrators. The streets were then cleared. The lead officer. Lt. Crow, then picked up on his bullhorn and announced that it was in an illegal assembly, and ordered the crowd to disperse within 30 seconds. The crowd stood there, stunned. Hundreds were silent. Suddenly, three quart-sized beer bottles came flying out from the rear of the crowd, smashing on the asphalt in front of the police.

Lt. Crow gave the order to charge. The skirmish line of brown and black uniformed officers began to trot toward the demonstrators. It was chaos. Hundreds scattered in all directions but one. The police were charging with billy clubs swinging. It was the famous “Collier Park Riot” – an event all but now forgotten, when hundreds of young people stood their ground metaphorically, and resisted the over-reaction by the authorities.

Most of the crowd fell back down the hill in the direction of the beach, all the while, pelting the officers with rocks. It was a full-fledge police-community riot and skirmishes between cops and residents and young people became a crazy dance that sashayed all the way down to the beach. At least one cop car was burned, fifty people arrested and one officer seriously injured; scores of young people were injured – including one man found unconscious on the grass in front of the Fire Station on Voltaire.

OB Rag “Special Riot” issue - early April 1971

In the aftermath of the riot, the OB Rag published a colorful broadside, “the Riot Special”, listing incidents that had occurred during the fighting.


(click on the image to see a larger version)

The riot was on a weekend. That Wednesday, a picket line circulated in front of the OB police store front on Newport, protesting the police attack. On the following Sunday – April 4th, a week after the riot, several hundred people returned to the vacant land with shovels, picks, wheelbarrows, flowers and plants and finally cleared the park of debris and started a park.

Text & photo montage, OB Rag Vol 2, No 8 - early March 1972Over the months, as trials of those arrested wound through the courts, as rumors that the City was going to sell the west portion persisted, the dust from this dust-up eventually settled down, but not before more suspicious maneuvering by the City. The Rag reported later, ten months after the riot (Vol. 2, No.5):

After the demonstration/riot the city dispelled any talk of sales or leases and OB was flooded with rumors that our government had finally come to the conclusion that Collier West should be a park. Part of its fence was taken down and children began to plan (sic) on the land.

In August, four months after it was due, the city manager made his report. The only advice given was for the eastern side to be designated a park site. Collier West was noticeably absence (sic) in any recommendation. The council so designated Collier East. Collier West remained in limbo, in a ‘hold’. No plans for a western park were made. In fact sometime around November of ’71 the sale of Collier West almost became a reality. The details of this are known to only a select few.

OB Rag Vol.1, No. 13 - late April 1971

The next issue of the OB Rag (Vol.1, No. 13 – printed late April 1971) published a commentary, entitled: “why riot?”.


Eventually, the City relented, and built a park. A huge grassy lawn was put in. Donated playground equipment – since eroded and removed – was installed. And to this day the park exists, in northeast OB, a block north of Voltaire and bordered by Soto and Greene Streets – next to the Community Garden, and adjacent to the Native Plant Garden.

(continue to “New Blood“)

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Amber Forest McHale November 14, 2007 at 10:16 am

You covered the Collier Park riot! Excellent! That’s the night we set a cop car on fire (well, my step dad was involved, I was home nursing my wounds from falling down as we ran from the cops) . . . I remember
that when the cops got on the scene and the brick throwing started, folks were opening the front doors to their houses so that the folks who were being chased had a refuge. My mom and I were sitting in a strangers living room looking out the windows as complete chaos ensued. And all because we wanted to plant some trees and flowers. Amazing.

Love this blog, Amber*

*who was there the first day we opened People’s Food Store, and now works there when we open daily as People’s Food Co-op!


avatar JAMES H. SMITH February 5, 2008 at 12:56 pm

The “alley cats” was the name of the band that played that day.I was in that band an I remember there being a little more time between the large force of offecers arriving and the start of the riot. A captian in the force aproched me and said “You can play your music if if you stop blocking the street”. At that point I annonced over the p.a. his request which got a mixed recation from the crowd.He actualally came back a second time to to try it again to no avel.As he walked back is when the two beer bottles hit, which didn’t start the riot. Seconds after the beer bottles hit A half of a brick came crashing down hitting an elderly police man right above the eye missing the sheld he was wearing an spliting his head open.Upon seeing this the whole force moved and drove to the ocean.I look back on it with mixed feelings but it was a glorious time .


avatar Frank Gormlie February 5, 2008 at 1:28 pm

James – wow! Great to hear from ya! I remember the “Alley Cats”! I also was there, and was involved in clearing the streets, which we did; but for some reason that wasn’t enough. James – I can remember with perfect memory-vision that day – even tho- I may not remember what I had for dinner last night – but I can clearly see the 3 bear bottles – they were quart size, and fairly full – that’s what was impressive – I can see them smashing on the asphalt street just up the hill abit from where the band was playing. You were playing off a small porch on that corner house at Greene & Soto. Before the police charge I had gone into that house to use the phone as they had a local radio stadium on the line, and I explained the situation. When I went outside, the situation had deteriorated. But I do know that we cleared the street.
Also there were injuries to both sides that day. One guy was knocked out cold and was found laying on the grass in front of the Fire Station. Yes, one police officer lost an eye – and that injury was disclosed to each jury of those who went to trial for what happened that day. In other words that one injury was used in each trial to inflame the jury – whether that person had anything to do with it or not. There were 50 people arrested that day. Lots of people were convicted and plead to charges to settle their case.
Great to hear from you. And what ever happened to the Alley Cats?


avatar JAMES H. SMITH February 5, 2008 at 9:22 pm

Frank, Thank you , it’s nice to know people still remember and care about events from those times.We did have an effect on the history of O. B. as well as other areas of the country.At times it seemed the “Pigs versus the Heads” characterization would be all anyone remembered about our legecy which would be very sad considering our goals and aspirations were much more sophisticated than that. I would’nt trade one second of my time spent in O. B. for anything! As for the Alley Cats, well if you remember during that period we also played for the “Save the Jetty” concert on the north side of the jetty in the sand. A producer from L.A. happended to see us that day and brought us up to L.A. in hopes of getting a record deal.I was evading the draft at the time and the two FBI agents assigned to my case were starting to be a bother so it seemed a good move.We never got a record deal but I had alot of fun an wound up working at Capitol Records where I met my wife of 15 years now.I live in the valley an have two wonderful kids ,six and twelve.I hope they can have opprotunities like we did to stand up for thier beliefs and question authority when it is obvious the authority is wrong. Thanks! Jimmy


avatar copcar November 19, 2008 at 6:19 am

I was completely sucked in from beginning to end reading this…. I am amazed… and then reading the comments too? Wow.


avatar steve ottinger January 11, 2010 at 5:02 am

March 3, 1971 I had just turned 6yrs old. I don’t rememer a thing about my birthday as much as I remember what happened on the 28th. My family lived at 2387 Seaside St, about two block from the park. It was the big house on the corner across the street from Nimits Towers apt.

Although young at the time, my memory is quite well! I remember it was a big day for a lot of us in the neighborhood and beyond. I was at the park with my older brother and sister who were teenagers at the time. When the shit broke out I really didn’t understand what was happening, I was just a little kid playing and having fun.

I remember standing there by the corner of the park and watching as the shit got bad. I watched as people tore down the old lady’s brick wall across the street at the top of the hill, and used the bricks to throw at the riot cops that were marching up the hill in full riot gear and triangle formation,if I remember right! The cops were chanting something as they marched up the hill.

Anyway, what happened next I’ll never forget as long as I live! That’s when a 6yr old little boy from OB stopped calling cops Policemen and knew them only as Pigs!. When those bastards finally reached the top of the hill billyclubs in hand,they started beating every one in site, man,woman,and teenagers. Wow! with a big crowd around me! I stared looking for my big brother, and saw him running like hell with two pigs on his ass, and my sister was no where in site. By this time I’m being pushed by the crowd towards the pigs,or the other way around I’m not sure. About that time a cop ran up and hit this poor girl in the fuckin face with his billyclub. She couldn’t have been no more than 19-20 yrs old and wasn’t doing a thing but standing scared and in disbelief just like me. The cop didn’t stop there, he continued to beat her with that club while she laid there screaming, and I remember her looking up at me one time, as if she were begging for help. But what could I do? I was only 6yrs old! Anyway, the cop then grabbed her by her hair and started dragging her away. I saw her face again at that moment and it was completely covered in blood.

I was so scared shitless. I started to run and found my self right in the middle of all the shit . I was squeezing between people trying to find my way out,when a man reached down and grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and yanked me up from the ground! It was two sailors,or swabbies,as we called them. They asked me where lived, and I told them, and those two guys carried me out of all that shit and got me safely home,where my mom was standing on the sidewalk scaredd and watching for all her children.

I think my brother and sister hid out with Mrs Mott’s who lived a half a block from the park at the time. My mom was so grateful for those two sailors as was I. I will always believe that those two men saved my life from being trampled to death that day. And I sure would like to thank them for what they did. The real screwed up thing is when those two sailors left our house they were picked up by the cops and arrested for – guess what?! putting that cops eye out with a rock. Those two went to trial, and my mom testified for them,one of them got off, and one of them was convicted for a crime he did not commit!.

The real person that threw the rock that put the cops eye out was a teenage kid from the neigborhood,one my brother knew well – although I’ll leave him nameless, I will say the dude never was any good and years later died of overdose. It was pretty intense for a 6yr old, believe that! and at 44 yrs old I can still see that poor girl’s face! and as bad as it may sound, I hope that cop is rotting in hell today! And to the chick he beat,I’m sorry I wasn’t older at the time, I really am!! Wow! A place to tell my story, unreal!!……….Thanks.


avatar Frank Gormlie January 11, 2010 at 9:00 am

Steve – a truly amazing story! Thanks so much for adding your memory to the other memories of that memorable day! I remember Mrs Mott and her son. And believe it or not – I too remember that girl that you so vividly recall. It was an intense day – and a day that OB should not forget.


avatar steve ottinger January 11, 2010 at 5:15 am

And I’m sorry for the misspelling, but it’s still intense,just remembering!


avatar jeanie February 4, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Steve and Frank
Would Mrs Mott be George’s mom? I knew a Mrs Mott from OB in the early 70’s and wondered if this is her.


avatar Frank Gormlie February 4, 2010 at 10:09 pm

jeanie – yup, must be her. Her son George, always on his bike, and she were constant observers of the local neighborhood in northeast OB in the early seventies.


avatar jeanie February 4, 2010 at 10:21 pm

I remember George’s friends being Scott Whitney, two brothers named Stoney and Jimmy Roth. They were probably 16 yrs old during the time of the Collier Park riot. I knew all these people real well and think of them at times. Loved living in OB!


avatar Steve ottinger February 20, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Jeanie, yes, George was the only one of her kids that the first name didnt start with “M” LOL.


avatar steve ottinger July 29, 2010 at 9:29 pm

something I also want to add!! after a lot of thanking!! all my life I have never tolerate’d violence against woman in any shape or form. And I would allways nutup with extream violence my self against anyone who pulled that shit in my presence!! not just for the fact that I was raised “old school”, but I do beleave what I witnessed that day, stuck something in my head for the rest of my life!! Now Im wondering if thats all it did!?


avatar Mary Cairns December 8, 2010 at 10:43 am

Someone should inform Principal Ladd (, Correia Middle School, that the “Correia Junior High School” was not built in 1958 – Collier was! This almost insults those of us who have lived (and attended Collier) in the area (or our families) since the 1930’s and 1940’s, to not recognize the gift of the land and the original name and history of the school. How sad, and they say they want to teach our children history and politics – NOT!


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