Is Ocean Beach Really 125 Years Old?

by on August 22, 2012 · 6 comments

in History, Ocean Beach, Popular, San Diego

Horse carriages converge at the beach in Ocean Beach, circa 1890.

Local OB Groups Gear Up for the Village’s 125th Birthday

As part of the village gears up to celebrate OB’s 125th “birthday”, we raise the question: is Ocean Beach really 125 years old? Was the year 1887 really the village’s birth year?

Several local organizations – such as the OB Mainstreet Association – are prepping up for the 125th celebration; the logo has been established, T-shirts have been printed up, arrangements have been made.  But is OB really this old or really this young? There are different theories.

The main theory, as everyone in the know, knows by now, it was OB historian extraordinaire Ruth Varney Held who wrote about OB’s history and taught us all about the day in April 24, 1887 when local developers Billy Carlson and Frank Higgins staged a land-rush sale of lots in Ocean Beach, and that they named their sub-division “Ocean Beach”. Obviously, some in OB use this date as our “birth date”.

And everyone agrees that Carlson and Higgins named the town. No question there. OB had had various names up to then, like Mussel Beds, the Dunes.

But was their sub-division the first sub-division in Ocean Beach? And the answer is “no”.

It so happens that another guy, a lawyer, J.M. DePuy, laid out the original sub-division in the area, called it “DePuy’s Sub-Division” and included the streets and plots of northeast Ocean Beach – the area bounded by Seaside to the west, Soto to the east, Valeta to the north, and Greene Street to the south.  Definitely Ocean Beach as we know it today.

Higgins and Carlsons’ map of Ocean Beach was filed May 28th, 1887 and had a map number of 279. Yet DePuy’s map was drawn January 16, 1885, and filed on April 22nd in 1885, and had a map number of 30 – decidedly earlier.  This is two years before Higgins and Carlson’s map.

We know all this because of the research done by Rhonda E. Kruse – who actually worked as a librarian at the OB Library for a spell – who in the Fall of 1977 published “Mystery Man of Ocean Beach” in the Journal of San Diego History.  In her carefully crafted project of chronicling Ocean Beach street names, Kruse came upon the “DePuy Subdivision” adjacent to Carlson and Higgins’ “Ocean Beach” subdivision.

She uncovered the dates and found out that the first development planned for OB was by DePuy. But not much information is known about him, except that he was a lawyer, a land developer, and had been in San Diego at least by 1884, as DePuy was recorded as having purchased over a dozen blocks of the north end of Horton’s Addition along with a partner named Charles B. Van Every that year.

Kruse surmised that the only clues left by DePuy were the names he gave for some of OB’s streets, “Aliso” – now Valeta, “Sea Side”, “Etiwanda”, “Soto” and “Alvarado” – now Greene.  (The OB Rag covered this in a post from July 2009.)

If this is true – and it appears to be so – OB was actually born – on paper at least – with DePuy’s subdivision in 1885, two years before the masters – Carlson and Higgins – got involved in land trade for Ocean Beach.  So, according to this count, OB is really 127 years old.

Smilin’ Billy Carlson – the Boy Mayor

Although we don’t know much about DePuy, we do know an awful lot – too much actually – about Billy Carlson.  We do know that Carlson got an early start in developing land and over the course of his life, led quiet a checkered one, including being elected mayor of San Diego for two terms – promising voters everything from high wages to electric street lights – , and while mayor he was deeply involved in efforts to get a railroad into San Diego, although all were unsuccessful.  Yet allegations of fraud and hucksterism continued to follow him around and he ended up going to prison for 4 years for mail fraud.

If Ocean Beach is to consider – as it already does with some – Billy Carlson as its founder – then we ought to look a little closer at him and his partner Frank Higgins, and where the siting of Ocean Beach as a development fits into the historical and economic conditions of the day.

Much has been written about Carlson, from various articles from the Journal of San Diego History, to Ruth Varney Held in her book on OB, “Beach Town“, to Dennis Doyle – who wrote about him in the original OB Rag in 1974.

Just How Old Is OB?

In her article, “How Old Is O.B.”, in the little booklet published by the OB Historical Society, “The Passing Parade”, Ruth Varney Held says this:

“In 1887 Ocean Beach was named. Young Billy Carlson and his partner Frank Higgins bought up 600 acres of wild hillsides, put on a big promotion, sold a lot of lots, but it died the next year. …”

She mentioned D.C. Collier about his efforts to provide a good streetcar line to OB:

“… in 1909, Col. D.C. Collier gave us a good streetcar line that made OB possible. …”

“May 1, 1909, was the day the Point Loma Electric Railway really started OB. So, now, in 1994, we have Streetcar Day to celebrate our 85th birthday.” (Emphasis ours.)

So, at least in this article – which originally appeared in the Beacon in 1994 – , Held was stating that in her opinion, OB really didn’t get started until the streetcar line put in by DC Collier in 1909, and OB was 85 years old by 1994.  Using her counting, then, today OB would be only 103 years old.

Who Is OB’s Real “Founder”?

In her article entitled, “Our Founder: Smiling Billy”, also published originally in the Beacon and in “The Passing Parade”, current OB-historian Carol Bowers returns us to the 1887 date as our birthday and to Carlson as our founder:

“As we near April 24, 1997, the 110th birthday of Ocean Beach, it is appropriate to reflect on the life of our founder, William H. Carson, the man who put us on the map.”

This is the subject of the part two in this series on OB’s rightful birthday and founder.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Citizen Cane August 22, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Maybe we should call it what it really is…125 years of real estate sales in Ocean Beach.


Old Hermit Dave August 22, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Of course there is the laid back hippie thank you for the 1916 FLOOD that shut down Wonderland, preventing any chance this could now be called little Anaheim.


Kathy Blavatt August 24, 2012 at 11:36 am

The Ocean Beach Historical Society would love to have copies of the earlier maps and records if anyone finds them. We know the Indians were here first, so why don’t we just say we are running on ” OB time”! We all know OB loves a good reason for a party, so let’s celebrate our wonderful community and vibrant history.
This year we celebrated “OB Woman Surfers” and “OB Poets” . In Nov. The Ocean Beach Historical Society program is celebrating the “40th Year Anniversary of the 30 FOOT COASTAL HEIGHT LIMIT”. Now that is something to celebrate. Please come join us.


Frank Gormlie August 24, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Kathy – yup, you’re right. Our main interest is in sparking interest in OB’s early “white-man” development, only because we are still living on their good and bad ‘graces’. And when it comes closer to November, the OB Rag will certainly showcase your program and celebration.


RB August 24, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Kathy, I don’t know anyone in the OB Historical Society so I don’t know if anyone needs information about the old carousel that operated here in about 1918?
The carousel that use to operate here in OB is still in operation and just celebrated its one hundred year birthday (fifty years in the hills above Berkeley).


Wireless Mike August 24, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Is this carousel the same one that was located next to the lifeguard station, where the parking lot is today? I remember as a kid seeing the old dilapidated building that had once housed a carousel. There is a picture of that building on this webpage, about 3/4 of the way down:

There was also a carousel at Wonderland.


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