Historical Society Takes Trip Through Time With New OB Book

by on December 19, 2014 · 9 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, Ocean Beach

OB History photo book 2014By Matthew Wood

Take a beach stroll through time in our fine neighborhood with a new book from the Ocean Beach Historical Society.

The publication, part of the “Images of America” series, shows rare photos from the beginnings of OB, following through its growth into a destination spot as it finally settles in as the sleepy beach community we know and love.

Knowing that it is part of a number of publications highlighting neighborhoods throughout the country gives the book a bit of a cookie-cutter feel. But you can’t argue with the content, which is mostly photographs with sparse but descriptive captions that give bits of history along with explaining what you’re seeing.

Most of the focus is on the first half of the 20th century, but it manages to give a glimpse into the future that will be with a smattering of updated pictures to show a contrast between past and present.

You may know the history and you have possibly seen some of the photos that dominate the book, but to see them all together paints a clear picture of how we came to be in OB.

Seeing photos of the beach and surrounding area from as early as the late 1800s shows just how desolate the area was. It’s fun to look at pictures of rolling hills and nary a human in sight, then imagine that same space as the bustling and jam-packed neighborhood of today.

There is also some great trivia about the ‘hood that will impress anyone in the know. Casually refer to Sunset Cliffs Boulevard as “Defoe Street” — its original name — and you’ll earn bonus points from OB history buffs. Ask an old-timer (maybe not that old?) about the Ocean Beach Bowl or Piggly Wiggly and you’ll surely get a wistful look.

A chapter on “Early Ocean Beach Homes” tempts any neighborhood resident to find the house they live in, or at least the location. No doubt you’ll at least find a photo of something close to your block. It includes some of the famous landmarks of the area — including one of the original homes of the “Ocean Beach People’s Rag” on Cape May

The segment on the Wonderland amusement park shows just how glitzy and glamorous OB could look, packing 35,000 people into the corner of Voltaire and Abbott for opening night. It makes you wonder just how different our neighborhood would be if the “Coney Island of the West” didn’t go under after just two years.

Pictures of Newport and Bacon avenues in the 1920s and ’30s show a bustling business district similar to the one we see today. In fact, a number of buildings — including those that house The Black and South Coast Surf Shop today — can be seen.

And any OB book wouldn’t be complete without pics of the beach. It’s amazing to see the development of that area, from a vast swath of sand sans pier — and pretty much anything else — to the numerous iterations of businesses and excursions for residents and tourists. A before-and-after picture of a group of buff surfer dudes in the 1940s is revisited 50 years later when the same guys pose for the same pic, some with their same surfboards.

You can also get a glimpse at the vast devastation to the area from storms coming off the water. Let that be a lesson to all of us: Don’t mess with the ocean!

The book is recommended for history buffs who can still find something new about the area. It’s a must-read for any OB newbies who want to learn more about the humble beginnings and vast history of their amazing community. [There’s even a photo at the end of the book of editordude standing with other grassroots candidates for the first OB Planning Board election in 1976.]

It’s available at the Green Store at 4843 B Voltaire, and in some other stores in Ocean Beach for $20 or on Amazon ($17.83 for paperback, $11.49 on Kindle).

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

obracer December 19, 2014 at 11:34 am

After providing the cover photo and many other rare photos in the book I was shocked and saddened to see that no credit was given to me, instead the historical society took credit for the photos. Live and learn.


OB Mercy December 19, 2014 at 1:27 pm

The book is fantastic! Historical society did such a great job putting this book together. The info and the pictures are so much fun to see and learn from. Great Xmas gift!!


Dave Rice December 19, 2014 at 10:50 pm

Curious to see how this stacks up to the must-read Beach Town via Ruth Varney-Held – though, knowing it’s basically a cookie-cutter format, not quite $20 worth of curious…


Kathleen Blavatt December 19, 2014 at 11:29 pm

Thank you OB Rag for the review on the “Ocean Beach” book. It was quite an experience researching, interviewing, writing and scanning in hundreds of photos in creating the book. I have always loved this community, but learning it’s wonderful and colorful history, especially from the long time residents, made me appreciate and cherish this beach town even more. The book was done completely by unpaid volunteers and the money made from it goes to the Ocean Beach Historical Society in helping preserve Ocean Beach and it’s history. I do want to give a big thanks to Vince Adame for the donation of the McElwee photos, the extraordinary cover photo and background materials. I was so impressed with the the McElwee’s and major contributions they made to OB’s history. So many of the founding families have incredible stories and I am thankful to those that want to keep the memories alive. The book helps people understand the fabric of what has made our community special. Talk to the OB old-timer and hold on to that history it is important in preserving the past and future.


rchalmers3 December 20, 2014 at 3:57 pm

I may have mentioned it before, but I discovered that the Merry-Go-Around from Wonderland still exists! It was salvaged from the washed out amusement park and had a long career providing rides and entertaining people for a century up through various cities in the state. It currently resides about 15 minutes outside the city of Berkley. I rode the former Wonderland Merry-Go_Round this summer and had a victory ice cream afterwards! How many of you can say that?


OB Mercy December 20, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Oooh, that is SO cool! I read the carousel was up there, but that is so cool you got to ride on it.

The Steampunk group I belong to has been making a circuit of riding all the carousels in San Diego and even at Griffith Park in LA, because it’s a very Victorian thing to do and Steampunk is all about that time period with a time traveler edge thrown in. Maybe someday we will get to ride the old Wonderland carousel too.


Susie December 21, 2014 at 4:32 am

I wonder if the unsolved murder of the honey moon couple at the end of Newport area was included in the history ? That is part of OB history too. I am sure it’s not in there.

Carousel…. 15 minutes outside of Bezerkeley ? Where ? That could be in Contra Costa county, Marin County, can we have the location ?


Frank Gormlie December 21, 2014 at 11:08 am

I do recall that murder. And yes, I’ve seen the carousel. Let’s ask Dickie or someone we know who either lives or frequents the Bay Area.


rchalmers3 December 29, 2014 at 4:53 pm

The area where the Merry-Go-Round is located is in an area of the East Bay, called Tilden Park. Here is a memo from the local news about the carousel, with a few up close photos:

The park website does not have many photos:

Best to do a photo search sing the terms “Tilden Park Carousel”

Happy New Year y’all!



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