A Review of ‘San Diego’s Sunset Cliffs Park, a History’

by on October 13, 2020 · 2 comments

in History, Ocean Beach

Bridge on the Cliffs commissioned by Albert Spalding.

by Bob Edwards

This month has seen the publication of a wonderful new book, San Diego’s Sunset Cliffs Park, A History. Published by The History Press, the book tells the complex and interesting history of Sunset Cliffs Park. Written by Kathy Blavatt, local author, historian, photographer and garden columnist for the OB Rag, the book provides a detailed history of the park and includes dozens of photos, many from the author’s private collection, complemented by additional pictures from the OB Historical Society and family photos from local residents.

photo by Bob Edwards

The book includes a chapter on the park’s animals, marine life, and habitat. Other chapters discuss the prehistory of the Point Loma Peninsula, the changes once Europeans arrived, and the string of events that followed when an assortment of visionaries, real estate developers, politicians, community activists, surfers, and others put their stamp on what eventually evolved into the Sunset Cliffs Park we know today.

The first efforts to create a park-like setting along the cliffs began in 1915 with gazebos and quaint foot bridges placed along the cliffs by sporting goods magnate and former major league baseball star Albert Spalding. Spalding was a follower of Madame Katherine Tingley who founded Lomaland, current site of Point Loma Nazarene University and past home of Tingley’s Theosophcial Society. After years of neglect and the demolition of the bridges in the 1950s, community support grew and Sunset Cliffs Park was finally dedicated in 1983.

Lomaland – Vintage postcard from the collection of Bob Edwards

Up until now there have been three key books that tell the history of Ocean Beach and Point Loma. One, the classic Beach Town (published in 1975) by Ruth Varney Held, documents the history of Ocean Beach to 1930. The other two are Ocean Beach (2014) by the OB Historical Society and Ocean Beach: Where Land and Water Meet (2018), also written by Kathy Blavatt.

The newly published book perfectly complements the others and provides many new insights and additional information that will be of great interest to beach area residents. It includes 16 pages of color photographs, a welcome contrast to the many fascinating black and white historical photos also in the book.

The Tower House Then – Black and white photo of Tower House from the new book which published it “Courtesy of the Ocean Beach Historical Society”

There is a wealth of interesting anecdotes and features in San Diego’s Sunset Cliffs Park. Many were unfamiliar to this reporter, such as the fact that the Tower House on the cliffs was originally developer John Mills’ real estate office and provided a public drinking fountain and restrooms for visitors and potential home buyers.

Tower House Now by Bob Edwards

The author collected personal reminiscences that describe life at Azure Vista, a “four-hundred-unit housing project for military and defense workers” located above the cliffs between Hill and Ladera Streets from 1941 to 1957. Before now, I had only been vaguely aware of this project. The neighborhood had its own community center, post office, daycare center and elementary school!

The Devil’s Pot – Vintage postcard from the collection of Bob Edwards

Other facts and features abound in the new book. Who knew that there once was a spring along Talbot Street that provided the native Kumeyaay with a water source? Though I’ve been up and down Talbot many times, I never knew this interesting bit of local lore. The book also includes an invaluable map of Sunset Cliffs Park’s beaches, rock formations, and surf breaks.

One of the most charming things about the new book is the author’s personal connection with Sunset Cliffs Park. There is a vintage picture of her grandmother as a young girl dangling her legs off the cliffs. The author describes her family’s move to Sunset Cliffs to live the California Dream and reminisces about a childhood spent in this little piece of paradise. She even includes some words about and photos from her 1980 wedding (Happy 40th Anniversary!) to Ray Blavatt at Villa Surf, the artistic estate and residence built in the Fifties above Garbage Beach by the ‘flamboyant” local, Dan Dixon.

A must have for locals and anyone interested in beach area and San Diego history, the book is available for purchase on Amazon.

Editordude: You can also order directly from the author; go to: www.blavatt.wordpress.com .

 

 

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Kathleen Blavatt October 13, 2020 at 3:17 pm

Bob, I like the items you wrote about from the book and your nice contrast photo of the tower house. It feel great to have this book out since it was going to come out in May, then July, then August, finally October… All due to COVID! Thanks, Kathy

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Avatar Debbie October 13, 2020 at 5:43 pm

Congratulations Kathy on another great book! I am looking forward to reading it and seeing all the interesting photos.

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