The History of Ocean Beach

by on April 11, 2018 · 6 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Delaney Mowers

The clock on the wall of the archive room in the church read 9:00 o’clock AM.  The volunteers trekked up the stairs into their room in the church at 10:00 AM Friday morning, their usual meeting time every other Friday.  Perhaps it was fitting that the volunteers entered into a room that purported to be an hour behind the times, as the room functions as a microcosm example to Ocean Beach’s history and antiquity.

Located in an upstairs room at the newly established Water’s Edge Church at 1984 Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92107, the archive room of Ocean Beach’s history is filled to the brim with files, photographs, and antique objects that combine to tell a spasmodic history of Ocean Beach.

The archives are collected and maintained by the Ocean Beach Historical Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to maintaining the history of Ocean Beach.  The mission statement of the organization reads:

“The purpose of the Ocean Beach Historical Society is to research, collect, preserve, and make available to the public all information, artifacts, art, and memorabilia related to the history of Ocean Beach.”

The volunteers huddle around an aged computer, attempting to sort out their tasks for the day.  Comprising of three retired librarians, the ladies of the archives know the ins and outs of the room in a way that is reminiscent of their days in the workforce.  Clearly more comfortable among the paper and print archives that line the walls of the room, the ladies spread out and began sorting through the archive, in search of leads for the day.  Mary Allely, clad in a white sweater and blue necklace, looks at a box of files through her glasses, while Barbara Busch flips through pictures.  After a few more minutes at the computer, Heather Reed joins the group at the main sorting table.

“The society is very lucky to have three librarians,” Allely said, motioning around at all the information in the room.

“That’s because of you, Mary,” Reed said as she sorted through her files.

“Well, I did get you into it,” Allely responded, laughing.

“I had no intention of coming!” Reed said, joining in the laughter.

The main project on the table is to find out information about the church in Mission Valley, San Diego, from which the Water’s Edge Church is an offspring.  A Methodist Church, the facility has its own archives, and the historian in charge is seeking to find out more about the history of the church.  The volunteers find a pamphlet from 1957, which they set aside to give to her when she comes over to the archives in a few days.

The OBHS volunteers. 2017

“This is really as good as it gets,” said Eric DuVall, the President of the Ocean Beach Historical Society, who helps the volunteers in the archives on Fridays.  “All these women are working to help a woman who isn’t even here.  This is what we do.”

DuVall understands the value of the archives, as he grew up in Ocean Beach himself from the year 1959, when he was four years old.  He lived on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard with a historian as a mother.  Friends got him involved in the society about 5 years ago, and he became interested in the archives from there.

“We are just trying to preserve little bits of our history,” he said.  “We want to make it easier for people to do research, and to spread the word about the history.”

The archives began with Allely, who decided that people needed a place to donate their memorabilia, documents, and photographs for the purpose of history.

“I was one of the original charter members, and people began asking me, ‘What are we going to do with all this stuff’?” Allely said.  “I had worked with archives before, so I got excited and started these archives.”

“Mary is the only reason the archives are as good as they are,” Reed said.  “She’s the one who knows how to do all the archives and organization.”

“Stop, you are embarrassing me,” Allely said, picking up a new file from the back wall to sort through.  With all three librarians at the table, the research is in full swing.  The day brings to light some of the problems involved in archival research, as there are many leads among the archives, but often not enough specific information to reach conclusions.  Nevertheless, they keep at it.  Allely brings over a piece of mylar, a special preservation technique for archival records, to preserve an old listing of churches.

“Laminating is a no-no,” Allely said.  “This is an archival thing-you can also take it out then if you want to.”

Busch brings a church directory over to the table, a listing of churches form the year 1928 and up.  A copy of the San Diego Union-Tribune turns up, talking about the history of San Diego.  The librarians report that most of the original churches in San Diego started downtown, and can be found in old directories.

They continue to trace the history of Water’s Edge Church, back through its change from Point Loma United Methodist in early 2017, which combined the two congregations, to the early building of the church.  Last year saw a new remodel, and a blue and white sign labeling Water’s Edge Church sits out front of the building.  The archives have been held in the church for the last ten years, and the new pastor allowed them to stay in order to allow the church to be a part of the history of Ocean beach and maintain community.

The research kicks up a notch inside the building, burrowing into little used corners and drawers.

“One of the things we preserve is delicate things like this,” Allely said, attempting to pull out old photographs from a bottom shelf.  It sticks, jamming as she pulls.

“When you use that drawer, the second one, you have to sit down,” Busch said.  “It really jams.”

DuVall comes over to help Allely, opening the drawer for her.  With the influx of archival material the society has been getting, space is becoming limited in the archive room.  Despite this, the society is actively seeking any information they can find.

“I am having this issue myself because I have inherited a lot of stuff myself,” DuVall said.

“We can serve as a repository for people who don’t know what to do with it.  I saw an interesting photo of two couples having tea on Bryton Street on a lot they purchased before a house was built.  It was from the teens.  The lady who donated it said her grandparents were in the photo.  She found it in her mother’s stuff.”

Stories like these keep the archivists going, who like to focus on the process of how history is evolving.  In a place like Ocean Beach, this history is dynamic and the archivist often run into a new story.

“The archives are a place to preserve our history because we do have a long and interesting one,” DuVall said.

“Even though when it was founded it was hard to get here, people did find it, especially once the trolleys started.  Even though it was off the beaten path.  I think that is why it is important to preserve the history.  You don’t pass by Ocean Beach going somewhere else.  You have to come here specifically.”

Reminiscing about his childhood days in Ocean Beach, DuVall remembers asking his parents as they drive home if they were there yet.  He would hit Tecolote Field, and be mesmerized by all the palm trees in the air, every time he came home.

“Those were the good old days,” Duvall said.  This nostalgia pulls him to the archives, and gives him an interest in the history of the society.

The Ocean Beach Historical Society began with Ruth Varney Held, who is the founder of the Ocean Beach historical Society.  She was one of the original collectors of the archives, and has written the book Beach Town Early Days in Ocean Beach in 1930, which the society still sells today.  Other main early leaders of the archives is Carol Bowers, who was on the board at the society and began collecting member’s memorabilia and records.  She was a long time member of the Ocean Beach community, and owned the Tecolote Press, where she wrote a book and many articles about Ocean Beach.

“She really was the push person,” DuVall said.

Currently, the Ocean Beach Historical Society, and the three librarians that keep the archives running, are trying to carry on the spirit of these two women in order to carry history forward and help members of the Ocean Beach community discover their roots.

DuVall, who worked as a journalist in his early career, is interested in putting forth the real facts about Ocean Beach’s history.  He wants to give people a place to go to find information, and create a space free of slanted information.

“This is part of why I do this,” DuVall said.

“If you are trying to do the background on any story, if there is a place you can go specifically, imagine how helpful that would be.  Depending on the topic, you may have to search and can’t always find it.”

The society seeks to make sure this does not happen, and opens the archives up to anyone who wishes to do research or learn more about Ocean Beach.  They help people in the archives, and set up booths around the community for people to learn more about the archives.

This past fall, Busch set up a booth at a craft fair on Newport, where a man stopped by and asked if the society happened to have a picture of a specific sail boat that washed up on shore in the 1940s.  They found a photo, and have tried to contact the requester multiple times.  Months later, they are still trying.

“We are going to do the craft fair again, so hopefully he will come and find me,” Busch said.

In the meantime, the upstairs room at Water’s Edge will continue to do what it does every other Friday: connect people to their history, and find meaning in the paper and print that tells the stories of so many people.

Published with permission of author, Delaney Mowers – a student at Point Loma Nazarene University. A shorter version appeared at

Editordude’s Note: Be sure to check this out: Thurs. April 19, 7pm Book Premier Ocean Beach Where Land and Water Meet, By Kathy Blavatt, at Water’s Edge Faith Community, 1984 Sunset Cliffs Blvd., O.B.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Molly April 12, 2018 at 8:40 pm

Superb writing Delaney. Congratulations – you are a very good writer. Keep it up.


editordude April 12, 2018 at 8:42 pm

Dear readers: please give our guest writers from Point Loma Nazarene Univ a round of applause. We’re trying to promote connections between the campus and the surrounding communities. And encourage budding journalists.


Ol OB Hippie April 12, 2018 at 8:49 pm

Clap clap clap clap. In the late fifties and early sixties the audience would click their fingers after performances, so click click click click.


Mary April 15, 2018 at 7:50 pm

Great article Delaney! Wanted to mention that Ned Titlow was an OBHS founder and also stored a lot of archives materials at his home until the Society obtained an official space for them. He was a significant member and donor to the Society, the business community in Ocean Beach and a continuing supporter of the Society until his death. Two other important collectors and keepers of archival materials are Susan and Pat James. Pat was President of the Society for a number of years and Susan, the Secretary. Both are still very involved in the Society’s work. Many others are involved but these participants deserve special credit so thank you.


douglas haugen June 22, 2019 at 1:31 pm

could you provide the previous name of Sunset cliffs blvd?


Frank Gormlie June 23, 2019 at 10:08 am

Defoe Street.


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