Just Who Is Eric DuVall, President of the OB Historical Society?

by on October 20, 2022 · 9 comments

in History, Ocean Beach

Eric with granddaughter Aurora.

Eric DuVall, the president of the Ocean Beach Historical Society, agreed to an “email interview” with the Rag. Eric emerged out of the volunteer ranks of the Society a few years ago to take hold of the leadership baton of one of the most respected and favored organizations in the community. Not only does he lead the group, but he also occasionally writes wonderful stories about the Peninsula’s history. And he has proved himself to be one of best writers in Ocean Beach — although he humbly denies it. So, just who is Eric DuVall?

Q: Eric, tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Glendale, CA in 1954.  My folks lived in Montrose, and I absolutely remember that little house up in a canyon.  The 210 freeway goes through there now.  When I was two we moved to Santa Barbara and lived across the street from Peabody Elementary School.  I liked some of the bigger kids that walked by our little house on Calle Rosales.  It was a pretty place.

In 1958 my dad, Tom, a Mechanical Engineer, got a job at Solar Turbines in San Diego and we moved down here.  We lived in Loma Palisades until we moved to Devonshire Drive, across the street from some of our cousins.  That is where I grew up.

Where did you go to school?

I started kindergarten at Sunset View School.  I went to both Collier and Dana Junior Highs, and graduated from Point Loma High in 1972.

I swam, ran cross country and played basketball at PLHS and was the editor of the yearbook, the El Portal.  That was my first experience in publication design, and we were not just winging it.  I went to yearbook camp one summer at UCSD.

Your parents – what did they do? Siblings?

As I said, my dad, Tom, was a Mechanical Engineer. My mom, Lucy, was a homemaker at the time, but had a history degree from UCLA, and later got her MA from USD and worked for twenty something years in the History Department at UCSD as the Graduate Secretary. I have a little sister Sharon, six years my junior.

Eric, left, and cousin Brian Buffington on the rocks at Luscombs c. 1960.

What was growing up on the Point like for you?

Nothing bad ever happened to kids in the ‘60s and I never got into trouble, so I had a ton of freedom and a bunch of friends.

We would regularly walk down to Homer’s to get a couple of pixie stix and a comic book in the second or third grade, twelve or fourteen blocks, no problem.  We always came back.  We would sometimes attend Saturday matinees at the Strand where you could get in for six coke caps.  Eight kids, no adults, it was fantastic.

We combed the west side of the Point from way south of Pink House, north to the flood control channel. I was fascinated by Azure Vista, which was half built in those days. There were steps that went up to walkways that led to . . . nothing.  What had been there?  I had no idea.

At Sunset View we had textbooks that were stamped Azure Vista School.  I just thought that was the former name of the school.  We walked all over, rode bikes, and flew kites.  Kites were the thing in OB in the ‘60s.

We invented skateboards on my block.  You can look it up.  I started bodysurfing at OB using some hand-me-down extra-small Duck Feet.  I made surfboards, kneeboards and bellyboards.  I was a terrible shaper but a decent glasser.

We used to swim the flood control channel as a short-cut to Mission Beach.  Well, we did that one time.  I don’t recommend it.

What else do you remember? Were you involved in Scouts? Your church? Sports?

I was a Y-Indian Guide, a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout.  My Dad was the Scoutmaster of Troop 512, the hikingest, campingest troop ever.  I still tie knots and make campfires.

Our family attended All Souls Church on Catalina Blvd. every Sunday.  My folks were very involved there.  My Mom sang in the choir and my Dad was on the Vestry.  We were Episcopalians, in the parlance of T.O. DuVall.  I was an alter boy there, which we called Acolytes.

I played Little League Baseball for four years at Point Loma Little League but quit Pony League after the first try-out when I saw that the same hideous adults who had ruined it for the kids at PLLL, were again involved at OB Pony League.  What a dirty trick.   We played a ton of Over-the-Line in the street on Devonshire Drive.  I never even heard of OMBAC till many years later, and take it from me, they didn’t really play it right in Mission Beach anyway.

Did you have any jobs as a kid?

I had a bunch of jobs including a couple of years as a paper boy for the Peninsula News when I was probably 12 and 13.  What a great job that was, having the whole neighborhood to yourself at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning was always great.  Everybody got that paper unless they specifically didn’t want it in their driveway, and our few subscribers paid $.50 a month out of the kindness of their hearts.  You had to go collect that fifty cents though if you wanted to get paid at all.  Fifteen cents was a very credible tip, and maybe a quarter at Christmas.  On a good month a kid could clear fifteen bucks.

Hey, those stingrays didn’t come cheap.  One Sunday morning I flipped my bike going down a hill in the rain, did an endo onto the palms of both hands, my papers went everywhere, and my bike ended up on top of me.  That wasn’t too good.  And one evening I literally ran into the back of a parked stationwagon on Novara Street when I was “collecting.”  I sailed over the roof of that car bounced off the hood and landed in the street.  Thank gosh nobody saw me do that.  Of course the bike wouldn’t roll at all!  I had to pick it up and make a run for it.  I only broke four fingers and didn’t even get yelled at, so it could have been worse.

Later I washed dishes, delivered chicken dinners and was, infamously, a soda jerk at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor on West Point Loma.  Man, that was an embarrassing job.  Kids I sort of knew would come into the place after a football game or something similar.  All the ice cream you could eat though.  Everybody there got over that almost immediately.  I spent a couple of summers unloading Albacore boats on Shelter Island.  That was a ton of fun, and one summer I worked for OB tree trimmer Clarence Barker.  Clarence didn’t mind if a kid had long hair, as long as he worked hard and wore a hard-hat.  I could do both.

What about college? Where did you go ? What did you study and what was your major? Any interesting stories from the ol’ college days you’d like to share?

I went to Lewis & Clark College in Portland as a freshman, which was where I first got into radio.  I worked at the campus station there, KLC.  I couldn’t actually afford to go to that school as it turned out – whoops, slight miscalculation.

As a Sophomore, I was able to transfer to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as a Journalism Major.  I worked as managing editor and later Editor of a bi-weekly tabloid we put out there known as the Outpost.  That Editor position was a paying gig with an office in the “J” Building.  Across the hall from the Journalism Dept was the Graphics Department, which at Cal Poly was a semi-public corporation known as UGS, University Graphics Systems.  It was the largest publisher on the Central Coast by far.  We produced several local newspapers and a couple of magazines, plenty of annual reports etc.  There were many paying jobs at UGS for Cal Poly students.  The motto up there is “Learn by doing.”

In all departments at Cal Poly most of the professors are pros from that field.  The Journalism Dept was no exception.  I took photography from a guy who had been a Sunset staffer for many years.  I studied Media Law taught by the Editor of the Telegram-Tribune.  I worked at the campus radio station, KCPR, calling myself Chuck Roast, Rip Randell, and Judas Priest.  This was a few years before there was a rock band by that name.  I worked at the local public radio station, KCBX, downtown in an upstairs studio above Bull’s Tavern.  When we signed off at midnight, I would lock the studio and walk downstairs to leave the keys with the bartender.

I worked at a start-up commercial FM rocker called KZOZ.  Initially the station was automated.  My first professional gig in radio was babysitting three large reel to reel tape players, and changing the tapes every few hours.  KZOZ became Number One on the Central Coast soon after we went live, and I became the News Director.

True story.  We were visited by Peter Frampton one time (we had played the hell out of his records) and for years I got Christmas Cards from Jethro Tull.  We brought Neil Young and the Eagles to a big old barn at Cuesta College.  On the Border had just come out.  We brought Arlo Guthrie, Hoyt Axton and Father Sarducci to The Rose Garden Ballroom in Pismo Beach, and we brought Spirit to the National Guard Armory.

At KZOZ I originated the Rock & Roll Bowl for the Special Olympics, a crazy radio promotion and successful fund-raiser for the local Special Olympics team who we were able to send to the state meet in LA.  The concept as a fund raiser for Special Olympics – my senior project at Cal Poly – was widely imitated in large markets.  That’s ok fellas, it’s a good cause.

I graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in journalism in 1976.

Q: What did you do after college? What kind of jobs did you get into? Did you stay in radio?

I had a brief gig as a news writer at Channel 39 when that station was still the ABC affiliate in San Diego.  I worked for the morning show which was the local segment of AM America, called AM San Diego.  I had a positive experience at 39, and benefited from the mentorship of local reporter Dave Owen.

Dave Campbell, later one of the Padres radio announcers, was just out of baseball and was working as the second-banana sports guy there.  He wasn’t too crazy about me using his desk the couple of times he showed up in the morning.

I entered grad school at SDSU and got a weekend job at KPBS FM.  I worked shifts Saturday afternoons and opened the station Sunday mornings.  I got a night job as a desk clerk at The Beach Cottages in Pacific Beach.  I worked there for ten years, became assistant Manager, and then Manager of that Motel, right on the boardwalk just south of Crystal Pier.  I got married, had two kids, and never finished grad school.

Eric, with daughter Nickie and former wife Janice outside the ruins of the former Trolley Car Barn on Adams Avenue, now the site of the Trolley Barn Park in University Heights. 1983

Where did you live those days?

My former wife, Janice, and I bought a little bungalow on Madison Avenue in University Heights just a block south of the ruins of the old San Diego Electric Railway Trolley Car Barn on Adams Avenue.  We had a toddler at the time, and we thought that big piece of property would make a great park.  In fact we called it “the park.”

One day Janice called me at work, wigging out because they had parked some big earth moving equipment at the Trolley Barn site.  “They’re going to build something at ‘the park!”  she told me.  False alarm. They were doing some road work on Adams Ave.  But we did learn that a developer had plans to build two five story apartment “towers” on the site.

This is the part where we printed up some alarmist flyers, took them door to door, and convened a well-attended and riled-up community meeting at Alice Birney School.  With the help of some more seasoned community activists from Normal Heights this became the genesis of the very successful University Heights Community Association.  I served as the first President of the UHCA.

A couple years later it became evident that we had a need for a fiscal entity to attract grant funding. With the help of my kindergarten pal and well known OB attorney Dave Smedley, we formed the non-profit University Heights Community Development Corporation.  Dave was also newly married, fresh out of law school and living in University Heights at the time.

The UHCA got some backing from council members Gloria McColl, and Leon Williams, and later from Ron Roberts and Mayor Hedgecock, and we basically shamed the San Diego City Council into spending some Park and Rec dollars “south of 8,” a very rare event in those years.

The 3.5 acre parcel was purchased, and eventually the very popular and Orchid winning Trolley Barn Park opened in 1991.  That only took nine years.  By that time, we had long outgrown our little pad on Madison Avenue and had moved to a much larger domicile in wilds of Squaremont.  The UHCA and the UHCDC are both still going strong 30 years later but evidently, they are not on speaking terms these days.

At that point, what kind of jobs were you doing?

I left the Beach Cottages after ten years and we started a graphics and printing business out of our garage in Clairemont.  I wouldn’t do that again, but I had two presses, a cutter, a folder and a full dark room in that place.  I had a big vertical stat camera and shot a zillion negs and made film positives for screen printers.  I had an old photo-optic console typesetter into which you could load four fonts at a time.  The fonts were clear thick glass about the size of two decks of cards.  This was before computers of course, but the code you had to punch into this thing was the forerunner of what became html.

That rig printed beautiful clear type but at one point it became obsolete all of a sudden.  I had a big steel light-table which I worked at for a decade, ruining my eyes squinting through a loup, opaquing negs.  We had good years, lean years, and printed a ton of newsletters.  The little University Heights Community Association Newsletter,  which we started in the ‘80s later morphed into a great little community newspaper in much more capable hands.  I’m happy about that.  We printed anything and everything including 4 color process CD covers on single color presses.  I know that may sound like fun, but trust me, give it a miss.  I ended up doing all production and almost zero design.  I figured, Hey, Ben Franklin was a printer, right?

And you had kids?

Our kids, Nickie and Gweny, went to Sequoia Elementary School, right across the street, Standley Middle School and UC High.  I was involved in quite a few PTAs and coached several softball and even one girls basketball team.  Yes, there is plenty of crying in girls softball and basketball.  I worked for four years on UC High Grad Night, which is a very big deal up there.

My first year the lady in charge took me to be the custodian as opposed to one of the dads on the committee.  That’s what I get for being such a snappy dresser.  By the fourth year I was the chairman of the event and I remember a woman in the office there at the high school telling me, “We’ve never had a man for Grad Night.”  I told her, “Well, you do now, baby.”  By that I mean that I only wish I has said something like that instead of, “um, thanks?”

Q: How and when did you make your way to the Land of OB?  Any classic OB stories?

My girls went off to college and before too long I found myself divorced and back in OB, washed up as a printer, and living on Sunset Cliffs Blvd across the street from the Masonic Temple.  I was working for Smart & Final at the time – slightly cleaner and I still got to wear an apron – and I would get home at 11:00 pm and have to park way up the hill on Santa Cruz Ave.  I didn’t mind at all. Living there was how I happened to get involved with the OB Food and Toy Drive.

Q: How did you get involved with the OB Historical Society?

I happened to meet Kathy and Ray Blavatt who would walk by my house and talk to me as I was working in the front yard.  We talked about my nutty cats and weird plants and I told them about (my very eccentric obsession with) the old sidewalks.  That happens to be a very nice 1924, Taylor & Spencer right there, in case you were wondering.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

Kathy suggested that I join the OB Historical Society, an organization that seemed to have an opening for a sidewalk geek.  I said OK.  I walked down to some of the lectures anyway and volunteered a couple times for shifts at the Street Fair. At some point Kathy suggested that I should go down and tell Susan James that I wanted to be on the Board of the OBHS.  Of course, I didn’t really want to be on the board of anything at that time, but I said OK, sure.

A couple years later my pal Pat James asked me if I would consider taking over as President of OBHS.  Pat had been doing it for fourteen years after telling his mentor, Ned Titlow, that he would give it a try, just to get Ned off the hook.  I don’t want to do it for fourteen years, but I was happy to give Pat a break.

Were you doing anything else those days?

Maybe eight years ago, through divine intervention, I happened to meet the lovely Kitty McDaniel.  What a long shot.  I am not telling you that she gets all my jokes or that she finds me amusing, I think the way she put it was that she thought I was funny.  There’s your straight line, do with it what you will.

Kitty is as energetic as I am bland, and likes to get in the water almost as much as I do. She feigned an interest in the sidewalks, and even knew one that I did not!  That was impressive.

Kitty is the president of La Playa Trail Association, and it was she that roped me into collaborating on the Point Loma book published by LPTA in 2016.  That was a project in search of an editor and they didn’t know who the hell I was, but it worked out pretty well.  We are proud of that book.  Kitty’s chapter is the Neighborhoods of Point Loma and mine is Lomaland.

My daughters grew up to be bright, lovely and charming.  They are both educators living in the state of Washington.  I have two sons-in-law who are splendid fellows, and two gregarious and hilarious grandkids who are now eight and twelve!  Luckily, I am on good terms with my former wife who is on the board at OB People’s Food.

Do you have a special interest in local history? You must.

I really got into all this local history by accident and don’t consider myself a historian.  My mom was a real historian who wrote about Louis Rose, Congressman Kettner and the Pacific Mail Steamship Company.

I had the fun experience of presenting a little talk about Al Spalding at the Conference of the Congress of History several years ago.  My mom had been a presenter at the same conference sometime in the ‘80s.  I am very gratified if people like these little stories about local history.  They are supposed to be fun and entertaining, and if nothing else, accurate.  My thanks to Ms. McDaniel for helping me out on many of these and to the Rag for reprinting some of them.

I don’t really consider myself much of a writer.  I am trained in that field, and I like to think I know what I am doing, but I am probably a better editor than a writer.

Q: How does the OBHS choose which topics to cover each month?  What’s your favorite historical topic about OB or PL or …?

OBHS is in the 27th or 28th year of our monthly lecture series.  We continue to try to upgrade the quality of the programs we present as we want to offer our OB audience an enlightening and entertaining evening, once a month, for free.

Not all of our lectures are OB-centric, of course, but we do strive to be relevant to a San Diego audience.  We are looking for real, prepared programs, and not so much thimble collections.  We are always looking for speakers and are open to suggestions.




{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Torri Cable October 20, 2022 at 5:57 pm

Thanks for the nice article about Eric DuVall. Glad he found his way to the beach after all these years.


Bob Edwards October 20, 2022 at 6:56 pm

Great interview with a pillar of the community!


Kathy Blavatt October 21, 2022 at 6:24 am

Magic happens in O.B. Locals talk to people in the community and form friendships. Ray and I had an instant bond with Eric. We would stand in front of his house and talk with him about O.B., the Cliffs, the Lomaland, the history of sidewalks, and much more. I knew right away he needed to be on the Ocean Beach Historical Board. It only took me a couple of years to convince him. Kitty coming aboard was the bonus prize. The two are amazing and fit perfectly with the other incredible OBHS Board Members. The group’s enthusiasm and love for O.B. and the peninsula keep our local history alive.


Judy Collier October 21, 2022 at 7:08 am

6 degrees of separation…We lived on the other side of Peabody School, on Calle Laureles. My mother was the secretary at Peabody School for 25 or so years. It was fun to see this pop up in this delightful article.


Pat October 21, 2022 at 8:02 am

Nice article. Learned some new stuff about a great guy and good friend!


Debbie October 25, 2022 at 11:23 am

Fantastic story-uplifting! Eric thanks for all you do!

Thank you to all those that support the OBHS and grateful for the archives of the OBHS.


Sandy October 27, 2022 at 12:05 pm

Fascinating article! Eric is such a talent & we’re lucky to be recipients of his fine articles, lectures & general knowledge of our beautiful Peninsula area.


Pam October 27, 2022 at 5:16 pm

Great article about a great guy!!!


David Michael December 25, 2022 at 5:01 pm

I have known Eric since we were both 4 years old and this is WAY more than I ever knew about him. Eric is a super great person and one of a kind for sure. Great interview!!! Thanks!


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