OB Planning Area District 2: “The Heart of OB”

by on January 30, 2014 · 5 comments

in Culture, Economy, Environment, History, Ocean Beach

OB Dist 2 Map

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.

OB Dist 2 LongB 5100 02

The infamous 5100 block of Long Branch Avenue. (All photos by Frank Gormlie)

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.

OB Dist 2 Abbot

Very few businesses in District 2; Abbott Street liquor store is one of the few.

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.

OB Dist 2 grasspk

OB Dist 2 ResMix

The residential areas of the District are mixed with single family homes and apartments.

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.

OB Dist 2 apts

All cement and apartments at the end of Long Branch and Brighton.

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.

OB Dist 2 stopsigns

District 2 neighbors take care of each other. (The stop sign used to have a “Stop the War” message.)

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.

OB Dist 2 RedHse

The infamous Red House – center of radical politics in OB during the 1970’s on Cape May Ave. Currently owned and recently repainted red by Tom and Jane Gawronskis.

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.

OB Dist 2 CapM gard

Ye ol’ Cape May Barracks – every unit was home to OB activists. The Barracks were sometimes called “Cape May Gardens”. Today it has it own garden and some of the folks here have memories.

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.

OB Dist 2 CapM st

The 5100 block of Cape May was OB’s “radical” center during the mid-Seventies.

OB Dist 2 dogbgsIt’s all mellowed today, of course, although there are occasional complaints of loud music or neighbors, and partying way too late into the night.

Barbara Schmidtknecht OBPB

Barbara Schmidtknecht is one of the reps for District 2.

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.

Kevin Becker OBPB

Kevin Becker also represents District 2. (We apologize for not having better pics.)

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.

OB Dist 2 QuigleyThe “Quigley Building”

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.

OB Dist 2 Old LB HseOld Long Branch Building

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.

OB Dist 2 DefoeDefoe Street – What?

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.)

 Hidden Treasures

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. OB Dist 2 treasur

Pastel Cottages

OB Dist 2 cots pastl 01

Or hidden courtyards of rehabs.

OB Dist 2 Brightn cot 2 District 2 has alleys – and people live in or off of alleys in OB.

OB Dist 2 alleyThere is gentrification occurring in District 2 at the beach.

OB Dist 2 lrg hse bck 02District 2 is a friendly place.

OB Dist 2 signs2beac

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Tyler January 30, 2014 at 11:02 am

I love most aspects of living in district 2. My one complaint is how poorly some renters/owners treat their properties. I’m all for having no HOA and the uniqueness that comes along with it, but for being a district with a history of being very progressive, why is it that a fair amount of properties in district 2 treat OB somewhat like garbage, environmentally and aesthetically speaking? Many homes of older residents are becoming dilapidated and trash builds up outside the aging and broken fences. Certain properties on Bacon and Cable, as well as some in alleyways leave their trash bins out all week without ever taking them in (I’m looking at you the cottages at Cape May and Bacon), and trash ends up strewn about the district, particularly heading into storm drains. There are certain properties that I just know when I walk by them will be strewn with trash everywhere, and I find myself having to clean up after them because they sure won’t.

Has it always been like this? Or is that a recent trend in the last decade? I’ve only been in District 2 for 5 years. We don’t need gentrification, but we need people to respect where they live. Grungy pockets in the district become hang-outs for transients because they feel like the owners/renters don’t care, so what does it matter if they make an even bigger mess? I’ve seen it with my own eyes dozens of times.


Susie January 31, 2014 at 1:00 am

I have been here 20 years & sadly, it has been like exactly like you say.
I will write more later re this .


bodysurferbob January 31, 2014 at 3:12 pm

some of my best friends live in this land-based mesa.


nostalgic February 1, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Is there a list of what Planning Board incumbents are required to seek re-election in this election, are any currently seats vacant, etc? That might help candidates decide if they want to stand for the position.


Aaron February 9, 2014 at 9:43 pm

That itty-bitty little district cutout along Long Branch is my house… Very cool.

We bought about 9 months ago, and I gotta say, I was nervous moving here from the comfort and (relative) quiet of the 4900 block of Santa Cruz. Parking issues aside, being as close as we are to Dog Beach certainly has its perks. We’ve definitely grown to love the… different aspects of our little section of District 2.

OB’s history (and its future) continues to be a source of fascination for me. Thanks for the informative articles!


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