Origins of the First OB Rag

by on September 14, 2020 · 0 comments

in History, Media, Ocean Beach

The Etiwanda house as it looks today via google maps.

How and Where It All Started

Fresh off the campuses of the University of California, three young friends in their early twenties decided to publish an “underground” newspaper for Ocean Beach, the hippie area of San Diego. John Lyons and Frank Gormlie – from UCSD – and Bob “Bo” Blakey – from UC Berkeley – had all just graduated and had moved in together in an old house on Etiwanda Street in northeast OB. Gormlie and Blakey had known each other at Point Loma High School and both had been involved in student government; Blakey had been Senior Class President and Gormlie had been President of the Student Body. Lyons and Gormlie had cut their activist teeth on the radicalism at UCSD. All three had been deeply involved just months earlier in the anti-Vietnam war movement on their respective campuses.

The war still raged on – despite the May 1970 student rebellion that had shut down the country’s higher educational system. Gormlie had decided that college students were just too transient a base from which to develop an on-going anti-war movement and that if the war was going to be stopped, the pressure had to come from the communities of America. And Ocean Beach was just a community where anti-war sentiment was already strong. Gormlie’s idea was to get involved in community organizing in OB and publish a small newspaper as a way to reach residents.

The Etiwanda House

Gormlie and Blakey had moved into the house on the 2300 block of Etiwanda with their significant others in the early part of the summer, dug a vegetable garden in the large backyard, and were playing the hippie-couple collective.  John Lyons, San Diego native, joined them and lived in his mobile step-van parked in the driveway. As the resident artist, Lyons used Gormlie’s ideas for a masthead logo, and drew the first “OB Rag” design – a version of which is still in use today.

This was the initial publishing core of the first Rag. Gormlie would take the lead in making it happen as both Lyons and Blakey had full-time jobs – Lyons at Scripps Institute and Blakey at General Dynamics. The plan was to publish the OB Rag and gather donations to fund the next issue.  Standard fare for that era of underground newspapers.

Staples and Mimeograph Machines

These first issues of the OB Rag were printed on both sides of 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper — to soon be enlarged to 14 inch, stapled together, printed first on mimeograph machines and then on an old web press. It was distributed around Ocean Beach – all for a donation of 25 cents. Throwing mainstream journalistic techniques to the winds, the early Rag was used as an organizing tool, as it took on greedy landlords, the police, and the local town council, using a particular flamboyant and irreverent journalistic style, employing the jargon of the street.

Inspired by the first editions, a number of people joined the core: John Porter, another UCSD student who moved into the Etiwanda House (who eventually earned a doctorate in math); Marilyn Maquire, another local (who later became an RN and went on to organize nurses at area hospitals); Nora Nugent, an early advocate of gay rights (who would go on to work within government as an open lesbian); and Ruth Astle, a grad student from UCSD that Gormlie had known (who later became a judge in the Bay Area).

Often the process of putting out the next issue of the paper involved late-night scenarios, sweetened by incense and the new, all-music FM radio stations. Gormlie worked on his articles, Lyons penned his graphics, and Blakey – who took on a late shift at the factory – would come home and finish up his assignment. Occasionally a police car would slowly drive by, brushing the house with it powerful search light. Meanwhile, the typewriter clattered into the night.

Personal Changes At Etiwanda

The original idea of a house collective had started off well, and a garden was dug in the back yard – which was one of Gormlie’s spouse, Susan’s area of expertise. But after the death of Janice Joplin – Blakey’s SO, Chris’ heroine, Chris became disillusioned and their relationship fell apart. By September, she had moved back to the Bay Area. Almost as soon as the Rag started publishing, Gormlie’s marriage also fell apart. The couple decided to separate, and Susan moved into one of the studios on the large lot.

The boys were finding that their personal lives and political lives were not meshing. But with the influx of a few new people, the energy to keep the Rag going was renewed.


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