The OB James Gang Rides Again into Their Legend and Lore

by on November 22, 2019 · 5 comments

in Ocean Beach

The James Brothers Pose Post-presentation: Mike, Pat, Ron and Greg.

By Bob Edwards

“The Legend and Lore of the OB James Gang” was presented at the Ocean Beach Historical Society’s November meeting, Thursday, November 21st, all at Water’s Edge Faith Community on Sunset Cliffs Blvd. The program covered the business and personal histories of the James family whose printing business – The James Gang – and community involvement has had major effects on the Ocean Beach community since the late 70s and early 80s.

It was one of the most humorous and touching presentations yet provided by the OBHS and appeared to be thoroughly enjoyed by the near capacity crowd at the church. The camaraderie, love, self-deprecating humor, and shared laughs among the brothers often reminded this reporter more of the Marx Brothers than the James Brothers!

All photos by Bob Edwards

After an introduction by OBHS president Eric Duvall, the James brothers and sister-in-law Susan James were introduced. A video created by Mike James was shown. It recounted the history of the brothers and their family members, employees, and associates. The video had vintage photos and footage of parties, OB landmarks and street scenes, early firework displays, street fairs, and holiday parades.

It also recounted the family’s pre-Ocean Beach history as a Navy family with two loving parents who kept it all together as they moved the family around from sunny San Diego to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska to Redding in Northern California. It was the warmth of San Diego and the vibe of the Beach Area that eventually drew the five brothers (Ron, Greg, Rich, Mike, and Pat) to Ocean Beach. Ron was the first to move back and by 1976 Pat became the last to repatriate to San Diego and join the business.

After the video was shown, a panel discussion and Q and A featuring the four surviving brothers (Rich sadly passed in 2008) took place. One of the brothers recounted how their first job was doing some printing work for a bar in North Park. The job turned out well and the money started rolling in. Unfortunately the income from that first job only covered the bar bill! By 1980 the business was in three locations and had 15 employees.

A Classic OB Graphic Produced By The James Gang

Over the years family members were involved in the creation of the OB Merchants Association, the Historical Society, the Fourth of July fireworks, the Community Mural Project, the Street Fair, and the Holiday Auction, Tree, and Parade.  In addition, family members have served on the Planning Board and Town Council.

SD Tribune Article, Xmas Eve 1980 Showing The First OB Tree

Interesting origin stories for many of the above institutions and traditions were shared. It seems like many of the family’s best ideas had their genesis in local watering holes and it was at Sunshine Company where they had the inspiration to bring a tree to OB for the holidays. Rich James initially came up with the idea to get a 20 foot tree, but with each round of drinks the proposed tree became larger and larger and ultimately the Gang brought a 70 footer down from Shasta County.  An impromptu kazoo parade upon the tree’s arrival and placement at the foot of Newport was the beginning of the Holiday Parade.

One Of The Controversial Chargers’ Shirts

Another interesting anecdote was shared involving the time the printing business produced some unlicensed San Diego Charger inspired T-shirts that were given away as a promotion by a local radio station. The James Gang were subjected to a cease and desist law suit from the Chargers and the NFL. The NFL brought out lawyers from New York City to work with the Chargers local legal team. The James Gang’s casual local representation proved to be no match in the courtroom to this cabal of legal heavyweights. In victory, the avaricious NFL wanted to confiscate not just the Charger shirts but also ANY orange-colored shirts in the store but the judge wasn’t willing to go so far.

Throughout the presentation the brothers credited other family members (especially the supportive women in their lives) and the staff and crew at the printing business as well as the current owners of the James Gang Company. They also paid tribute to the many community members who from the beginning and through the years have kept the traditions and institutions going with a special acknowledgement for the people from outside of OB who move here by choice and bring “a new vitality to the community”.

At times the program became quite emotional as when Mike James reminisced about Rich and his humorous imperfections, mellowness, and wisdom.  “I’m too blessed to be stressed” was Rich’s motto, Mike said. At other times the presentation veered into the slapstick as when Pat James sprouted a Ron Burgundy/ Pancho Villa mustache mid-program.

Display of James Gang Memorabilia and Scrapbook

Kudos to the OBHS for providing us with this great program and to the James family for sharing their inspiring stories.

In other OB Historical Society news, ballots were passed out for the election of upcoming officers. This reporter asked one board member if the person with the most votes would win or if it will be like the election of the U.S. president, but no answer was forthcoming.


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie November 22, 2019 at 11:33 am

That’s an excellent photo of the 4 James bros at the top, Bob. That has to be the latest in their family album.


Harpo James November 22, 2019 at 2:15 pm

Thank you Bob for capturing the evening so well. It was great seeing past employees, old friends and sharing our story. Let’s do it again in 4o years. See you at the parade!


Bob Edwards November 23, 2019 at 11:14 am

Harpo? Really? He was the silent one and none of you guys seem particularly silent, hahaha. I’m more thinking Groucho with a knowing leer, raised eyebrows, and bad puns. Thanks again for the great presentation and thanks to OBHS for getting it all together!


Pat James November 22, 2019 at 5:44 pm

Nice article Bob, It was nice seeing you and many other long time friends out last night. The mustache was always one of our trademarks. It was nice reminiscing about our time spent in OB. A very special place.


Colleen Dietzel November 22, 2019 at 9:09 pm

What a wonderful night! I cherished my years in the 80’s with Rich and his wonderful family. I even got to reminisce with my friend Linda, who was Rich’s wife in the 90’s. Thank you James Gang for all that you have done for this community!


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