Collier Park Riot Picnic, March 27th 2011

by on March 28, 2011 · 7 comments

in Culture, History, Ocean Beach

Over forty people were in Collier Park Sunday, joining the potluck picnic commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Collier Park Riot of 1971.  We have written about this, go here for our earlier post.

With Dave Rice’s mastery of the grill, with Patty’s awesome potato salad, Frank’s popular chicken, Doug’s savory deviled eggs, and everybody’s elses food and drink, the picnic god shined the sun on the gathering that lasted happily into the late afternoon.

With horse-shoes clanging in the background, the pleasant blare of Sixties to early Eighties music on the boombox, dogs, kids, and locals mingled with veterans of the Collier Park Riot and OB Ragsters. Two TV news stations showed up to cover the event, and the music was turned down for a few informal speeches.

Gormlie gave a historical background to the days of community involvement to get the park established, and described the riot itself.

“We’re not glorifying violence,” he said, “in celebrating the riot and its aftermath, but it’s important to understand how it affected Ocean Beach.”

He described how after the riot, positive changes occurred in OB; environmental consciousness took a strong hold in the community; young people – who had suffered a wide prejudice from police and merchants – were no longed ignored, and that they were leaders in many projects, alternative institutions, and businesses that were created in OB.

Gormlie also briefly discussed how “progressive politics” and the “politics of being against the Vietnam war” became the norm in the community, how there was an influx of young people into OB because of what happened 40 years ago. Finally, he wound up by saying the riot and its aftermath gave a jump start to a whole host of community groups and alternatives, such as a free school, the food co-op, Ecology Action committee, the OB Planning Board, and even the OB Rag.

One of the reasons for the picnic, he said, was to raise awareness of Collier Park itself. Gormlie mentioned that even local community leaders didn’t know where it was. He also spoke of the current neglect, low-key maintenance, lack of kid’s play equipment, or even a public restroom at the park today.  He urged people to contact Councilmember Kevin Faulconer’s office.

Solidarity statements from Dickie Magidoff, Katy Franklin Marsh, Pete Bohmer and Mike Williams – all former OBceans – were read by Patty Jones, and then Mary Cairnes – whose brother Tom had been an organizer for the original protests and who had prompted us at the OB Rag to hold some sort of commemoration of the event – read her brother’s descriptive statement.

Colleen Dietzel, owner of the Green Store on Voltaire, spoke on the good things that come from community activism, and how the riot and its aftermath gave space to people like her who got involved later. And Larry O’Brian gave some history on David C. Collier – the good-hearted early San Diego developer -who gave the land to the City for what is now Collier Park.  Turns out that Collier was instrumental in forming Balboa Park. Citing the re-naming of things that once were named after him, O’Brian called for the establishment of a “Remember David Collier Day.”

The afternoon of good vibes, delicious food, and a little Ocean Beach history came to an end, and the last partisans walked away with smiles. But not before a little hi-jinx in the porta-potty.  The OB Rag wants to thank all who attended, who cooked or brought food, and who donated to the costs involved

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page March 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm

I had planned to attend this gathering on Sunday but forgot that I had a previous committment and could not make it. I live a half a block from the park and have since 1987. I wanted to personally thank anyone who was a part of the effort that lead to keeping the park because it was a big part of my kids lives growing up. My son is a senior at SDSU and my daughter is a senior at PLHS. They and their neighborhood friends played in the park all the time. When they were little, we took them to ride the swings, slide on the big slide, and ride the seesaws, none of which remain today, unfortunately.

As they got older, they had fun with whole groups of friends playing ball or doing the slip-n-slide thing. I’ve watched hundreds of people enjoy that little piece of land over the years; it is everything a neighborhood park should be. Anyone who was a part of this deserves a big thank you from all of us who have enjoyed the park; this is a lasting legacy to community activism.

Whenever anyone gets pessimistic about trying to fight for something and says, “Why bother,” they can be pointed to examples like Collier Park and the stubby jetty in OB and the 30 foot height limit and other successes. You don’t win them all, that is for sure, but you do win some and that makes it worth the fight. It took far too long, but this kind of activism eventually helped end the Vietnam War. There doesn’t seem to be enough of this kind of passion anymore for the big things, perhaps it just seems too difficult. But, that shouldn’t affect the smaller battles; we can still have some passion about, and some effect on, what happens in the world right around us. Maybe it’s a tree to save, or a development to fight, or park that needs attention. Whatever it is, get involved and maybe someday you can look back 40 years and be proud of something you helped come to being, like a Collier Park, too.


Citizen Cane March 28, 2011 at 3:24 pm

On the way home I was thinking about the possibilities of an annual Collier day. All of the debatable land use decisions occurred after his death. So I think the best remedy is to bring him back to life for one day each year, sort of like Frosty the Snowman. We could wind our way through OB with a New Orleans style funeral procession. Then crack open his coffin when we reach Collier Park. Of course it would be an actor playing Collier. He could tour his former property and grouse about the current state of things….ask the pointed questions. Maybe hold a press conference. Each year could be different. For example one year he could arrive downtown by hearse, and have his coffin opened up on the Broadway sidewalk. From there he could stomp into city hall, and place a lien on the school property. There may come a day when the property is no longer needed for a factory style school. It would be good to keep alive the idea that the property should revert to parkland for the children of San Diego when it’s no longer needed for a school.


annagrace March 28, 2011 at 6:15 pm

With all due respect to David Collier, I think his recognition should occur on the day of the Collier Park riot. His civic virtue was philanthropy. The people’s civic virtue was an activism that was successful in preserving a small portion of his intended gift. How about the Collier People’s Day?


Dave Rice March 28, 2011 at 7:31 pm

I could buy into that, but then again I was ready to when the idea was first floated during the speeches yesterday. I especially like Citizen Kane’s guerrilla theater ideas…


Pat March 29, 2011 at 9:48 am

Was out of town… or would have been there for sure.
OB history rocks.
Thanks to all those who cared enough to stand up for what they believed in.


Dickie March 29, 2011 at 11:49 am

Same for me, Pat [disclosure: I live 12 hours away] and for sure OB history is amazing. Aside from Frank’s inspiring analysis of the significance of Collier Park, I think the comments that folks have made after the three articles about Collier Park represent significant deepening of the story, and some awesome storytelling . . . and of course the Collier Park story is a bit of metaphor for OB as a whole. Somewhere in here is a great book, sharing the complex and special history of a very special community [disclosure: designing and producing books is what I do] and a case history of people in a community finding a bit of power in unity and vision. OB history really rocks!!


Debbie March 30, 2011 at 8:13 am

That party rocked!

When time allows I am going to see what I can find out about Mr. David Collier. A day of recognition is a terrific idea and bringing awareness to the park and it’s need for TLC and play equipment for children is important. Maybe organizing a petition for the parks needs and presenting to Faulconer is an idea (the OBTC, PCPB, OB Historical Society could help get the word out). And certainly whoever wants to be our next council person should be concerned about this beautiful pocket park.


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