Chapter on Collier Park From Future Novel on Ocean Beach

by on March 27, 2015 · 1 comment

in Civil Disobedience, Culture, History, Ocean Beach, Politics

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Collier Park today in northeast Ocean Beach.

Editor: Here below is a chapter from a draft of a novel in part about Ocean Beach. This chapter involved a fictionalized version of the events surrounding the Collier Park riot and includes fictional characters, some of whom have vague similarities with actual people.  The main character is Jack Moseley, an OB activist.

CHAPTER 3 – THE PARK

Jack and his roommate Blake were picking their way through the piles of wood by moonlight, making their way towards the front door of the old, dilapidated two story building that once was the home for unwed mothers, the Door of Hope. It had closed years ago and lay in ruins at the top of the hill.

It had been a short walk from their house over on Etiwanda Street. Blake had proposed that they take a look at it, and Jack had jumped at the chance to have a small adventure. He took a drag and handed the joint to Blake.

“Wouldn’t this be a great place to have a ‘people’s park’?” Blake asked him, coughing slightly as he handed the joint back. Jack was grinning.  Blake filled Jack in on some of the details, as he had met with some local OB ecology militants while Jack had been out of town at a Black Panther convention in Washington, DC, and had gotten the scope on the land.  The City was going to demolish the old Door of Hope, clear the land and then sell the huge plot to private developers who will be making apartments here.  But the kicker was that years ago, back in the teens or so, Col. DC Collier had donated the land – and a much bigger slice actually-  to the City of San Diego for “the children of San Diego”.

Over the decades, Collier’s tract had been sliced up. A big chuck went for an expanded Nimitz Boulevard; another went for a school – originally called Collier Jr High – then Corriea. Another piece went to the YMCA, another to a church.  And the remaining piece on the western section of Collier’s tract lay on top of the small hill just south of Nimitz. And sure enough, the City had already sold one chunk and wanted to sell the rest. If allowed to happen, there would be no parkland from Collier left on this side of the Peninsula and in OB.

“We could do a ‘people’s park campaign’ with the Rag,” Jack said. At this point, the OB Rag – not a newspaper yet – in was the late fall of 1970. simply consisted of printed legal size sheets stapled together and distributed mainly at major markets and street corners. The house project, the OB Rag, an alternative newsletter published every couple of weeks had been in circulating for several months now.

Blake was all gung-ho for a ‘people’s park’ in OB. That spring, he had returned from graduating at UC Berkeley, where he had been an activist in the fight for Berkeley’s “People’s Park”. The struggle for a park out of university land had become a hallmark battle at the UC campus. After a large student crowd had torn down fences surrounding the land to liberate it, UC cops firing teargas and eventually National Guard troops had be brought in to quell the street fighting. Numerous people had been injured. One – James Rector – had been killed by Sheriffs’ projectiles. With his dark, long hair and beard,

Blake had been part of that scene as a member of SDS, Students for a Democratic Society, the national anti-war student organization.

Now, here was Blake, trying to galvanize Jack. Here was a great issue with which to do community organizing.  That, after all, was the reason for the OB Rag – it was Jack’s brainchild to be used as a vehicle for organizing in the community.

“Try to imagine,” Blake said, “what it could look like without this building, and cleaned up.”

Jack, as an undergraduate at UCSD, had followed the battle for Berkeley’s People’s Park closely. In fact, he and his student wife, Sarah, had taken a plane trip up there right after the big riot and major confrontations on the streets surrounding the park. They also wanted to get up to the East Bay city to check out all the political and cultural commotion which was playing like a giant magnet for the two.  Sarah was the PSA rep for the campus and was able to score some free tickets for the couple.  The trip, just over a weekend, but a weekend at the end of a turbulent week, was illuminating for Jack, opening up a whole other world for him, a world where community solidarity and street fighting and park saving were wonderfully all rolled into one. At this point in his life, he was not yet politically astute or active.  But he sensed that here in Berkeley was something else.

The way people opened their houses and bedrooms for complete strangers, strangers who were comrades now in saving People’s Park. The way a professor and his wife took Jack and Sarah into their living room with about another half dozen students, pouring them excellent and chilled white wine, wine that Jack had never tasted before. He was 21. Sarah was 19. The way the volunteers at the Berkeley Free Clinic operated on behalf of the community, helping the injured, those who were teargassed or beaten by police batons.

So, yeah, Jack thought, now, over a year later, a people’s park right here in Ocean Beach, right here a block away from our house.  Right there, high on some Mexican pot, in the moonlight, with Blake beside him, Jack decided that he would help lead the battle for this park, Collier Park.

Jack would meet with the OB Ecology Action, a group fresh from their successful fight the previous Summer with the City and Army Corps of Engineers blocking a jetty in north OB – that was defeated and whose rump sits there at the water’s edge. They were all set to fight for the park as well – so the OB Rag and the ecologists banded together. When local anti-war activists who lived in OB caught wind of the ‘save the park’ campaign, they proposed a joint effort – an anti-war rally and rally to save the park all in one.

___________

Jack wasn’t thinking of any of this, months later, as his community erupted into a riot after police attacked people. His street was part of the scene of the rioting. All their campaigning and organizing had resulted in this rock throwing melee, and as he stood there on the sidewalk watching a column of brown-shirted San Diego cops trotting down the hill from the park, being led by a tall motorcycle cop – he was several yards out in front of the column when the kid ran up and heaved that chuck of concrete that fell almost-humorously short of its target.

Without thinking, Jack grabbed the shovel and ran at the two in the middle of the street. He ran up and around the tall cop, as the cop belted the kid with his baton, and coming up from behind, Jack raised the shovel and walloped the cop on his motorcycle helmet. The cop staggered, seemingly dazed, and turned around to face Jack.

The cop raised his baton and swung it at Jack.  Jack met it with the handle of his raised shovel as he now gripped it with both hands. The baton bounced back and the cop stepped back. Jack had had a little martial arts training in the Army and so it was with this training that he and the cop did a duel in the middle of Greene Street. Meeting his match on the baton, the cop began upholstering the gun on his belt. Just then, the kid – realizing his opening – got up and began to dash away. Seeing this escape attempt, the cop turned to his right to try to grab the kid and was bent over reaching for his young limbs. Jack once more took his shovel and raised the blade part so it was flat, and brought it down on the patrolman’s back, causing him to sprawl out on the pavement. The kid ran.

Jack was running too. Soon as he hit the cop, he took off fast, not looking back. As he hit the sidewalk that led down the block to his house, he dropped the shovel in someone’s grass. He ran right up to the front of the Etiwanda House, leaped over the steps and through the open door.  By time he reached his bedroom at the end of a hall, a couple of people had followed him in.  Blake said something like ‘now, I know why you were jogging all the time.’ A good friend of the house, fellow-UCSD student John Hoagland came into the back bedroom slinging his camera, with something between genuine amazement and ‘I told you so’ look.

Jack was changing his clothes. He wanted out of the bright whites and into something less noticeable. He just knew he would be recognized by someone out there, if not by some cop that knew him then by some Town Council member that didn’t like him.  Jim Loggins came into the room.  “Come on, I’ll take you outta here in the van,” and with that, Jack followed Loggins back outside but out the back door, around the house, and into the van that was parked in the long dirt driveway.

“Where we going?” Jack had time to ask, as they scrambled into the truck.

“UCSD”, Loggins replied.

“Why there?”

“You can stay with Lenny Bourin.” Lenny Bourin had been a fellow anti-war activist on campus who was now a resident advisor, one of those upperclass students who have their rent paid by the campus for being the “adult” in the dorm building watching over and advising the freshmen. Potter jumped in, and the three gripped the insides of the step van as Lyons gunned it out onto the street.

After successfully evading the police in OB, Loggins brought the truck up to the UC campus, and dropped Jack off near Bourin’s residence hall in the eastern sector of the school, way out there, not close to anything. Jack would be safe there. Loggins and Potter were heading back to OB.

Jack would find Lenny, who gave him some acid, which Jack took the next day and after listening to The Who, he wandered down to Black’s Beach, to try to figure out what to do next.

But Jack was shell-shocked. Everything had happened so fast. One minute he’s trying to clear streets and being responsive to the police, and the next he’s a fugitive wanted for assaulting one of them.

That entire weekend was like a dream for Jack, not just because he took acid, but because he felt cut-off from his friends, his house, his community – stuck out here next to the freeway, surrounded by strangers. Lenny wasn’t around that much. He had brought Jack some food the night of the riot from the dorms’ cafeteria. And he had offered him his stereo. “I have the new Who album,” Lenny had said as he left for his morning classes the next day, after the riot.

Jack didn’t know it then, but despite a small two-inch ………? …..article in the next day’s daily, The San Diego Union, the riot at Collier Park had been the most violent day in the history of Ocean Beach, where literally hundreds of young people fought with cops for hours, for over nearly a mile from the Collier Park hilltop down all the way to the beach. And into the night.

Fifty people were arrested that day.  A cop lost an eye from a rock thrown from the crowd, a fact that was intentionally brought up in every trial of those arrested. Many others – civilians – were also seriously injured by police. During the fighting along Voltaire Street, a man was found unconscious laying out on the grass of the OB Fire Station. A patrol car was lit on fire and burned uncontrollably.

The police had responded violently to an unpermitted march and gathering at Collier Park. No cops were ever cited or sanctioned for their actions during that day.

Eventually, the land was saved for a park. The lot was cleaned up, grass and watering systems were installed by the City, with playground equipment, concrete picnic tables and a horseshoe pit added. It became a neighborhood pocket park, and still is there today nearly half a century later – although somewhat weathered; the playground equipment fell into disrepair and removed.

Yet, ……to this day, the park is used, nearly a half century later.

 

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Nancy Witt March 31, 2015 at 9:16 am

Wow! What a detailed history of a momentous happening! I missed it by a few mon. as came to San Diego in Feb. ’71 and rented the front 2 bedroom of a duplex on Greene St.
Didn’t know anyone when my first husband and I arrived so went to a realty office advertised in the paper and was shown a big map of SD. The man in charge pointed out the different areas and said OB is where the “now generation” lived, so that sounded good to us, and I’ve been in OB every since.
Thanks for your article.

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