Downtown Oceanside Historical Landmarks
Those who visit Oceanside today are greeted by a bustling downtown that is both walkable and inviting with its mixture of distinct, vintage and modern aesthetics. With visuals ranging from the Star Theatre’s large iconic neon sign towering over the sidewalk, to the more contemporary Oceanplace courtyard, to the fun and eclectic neighborhood atmosphere of South O, there is no shortage of diversity. Oceanside’s unique character goes far beyond its downtown variety however, the best kept secret about our humble beach city is that it has a rich and fascinating history which continues to be unearthed, brought to light and honored in the downtown more and more!
Oceanside’s origins date clear back to the 1800’s, with its incorporation on July 3, 1888. Starting off as a meager coastal town in close proximity to Mission San Luis Rey, Oceanside developed fairly rapidly opening both the Oceanside Library and Oceanside High School before 1910; with the Oceanside Pier already on its third iteration. In addition to the city projects, locals were establishing their own roots by building their businesses in this new city they called home. Fast forward over a century and Oceanside is doing better than ever, with new developments located alongside buildings dating back to the 1880’s! These historically significant, story-telling buildings are standing proud throughout downtown Oceanside and you’d often be hard pressed to pick them out among the crowd of neighboring structures. Fortunately the City of Oceanside has taken important steps in preserving and honoring these pieces of history, and now more than ever those gems hiding in plain sight are being unearthed in dramatic fashion giving a glimpse into this city’s past.
Historical Gems in Downtown Oceanside
Though there are many more to see than just these, the following downtown landmarks hold special historical value to the City of Oceanside. Both visitors and locals alike should take the time to visit these places, take in their history, and honor these time capsules as well as recognize Oceanside’s unique system of incorporating the history while continuing to look forward towards the city’s future.
The Graves / Top Gun House
One of the more recognizable historical landmarks in downtown Oceanside is the Graves House, or as most know it, the “Top Gun House.” Built in 1887 by Dr. Henry Graves, this Queen Anne Victorian cottage is one of the oldest houses still standing in Oceanside today. Located on its original oceanfront location, this home is significant for a number of reasons. First and foremost the building has folk Victorian architecture which, as John Daley Vice President of the Oceanside Historical Society notes, is extremely rare by the beach. In addition, of those similar buildings that exist it is the best one of its kind in San Diego County making it very special historically. The other significance has to do with it being featured in the cult classic blockbuster movie Top Gun.
Almost a century after being built, the Graves House was selected to be the home of character Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Blackwood, the love interest of Tom Cruise’s character Maverick in the 1986 mega film Top Gun. The house got plenty of screen time in the film and has become a favorite tourist spot to visit, so much so a fence was built around it to help preserve the 130+ year old building. As time has passed, nature has taken its toll on the Graves House which has resulted in mini-restorations and improvements over the years to keep it standing. A new development project is in the works, which seeks to not only fully restore the home, but also make it more accessible to visitors and locals alike. The plot of land the house currently sits on has been purchased and plans for a new hotel have been approved, incorporating this historical landmark into its design. During the construction of the new resort, the Graves House will be temporarily moved to an off-site location where it will be restored until the new development project is ready to welcome this special building.
Graves / Top Gun House Location:
The Graves or Top Gun House illustrates a perfect example of Oceanside’s unique attitude towards not only maintaining those remaining buildings from the city’s early years, but going beyond that and incorporating them as special additions to Oceanside’s downtown landscape for the foreseeable future. The new beach resort is anticipated to break ground by Summer 2018.
The Bunker House
The Bunker House is another building in downtown Oceanside with a past that dates back to the 1800’s. Built a few years prior to the Schuyler Building in 1886, this large two story structure was built by Theodore Bunker and was declared the ornament of the town at the time by the San Diego Union. Despite going through many hands, the building lived on eventually being named the Travelers Hotel in 1947 by its owner Ralph Rogers.
Much like the Schuyler Building, the Bunker House was not taken care of for many years and eventually it fell into disrepair becoming a forgotten building surely destined for demolition. Fortunately, the building was saved from an untimely demise and in 2010 Apotheque Lifestyle Spa took ownership of this important 130+ year old landmark giving it new life and purpose within the downtown community. For the full detailed historical timeline of the Bunker House visit Apotheque Spa Building History.
Bunker House Location:
The Bunker House serves as the subject of a wonderful juxtaposition between the rows of modern vacation rentals located across the street and Oceanside’s humble beginnings in which such a building was considered the crown jewel of the town. Standing proud closely resembling the original exterior facade, this historical landmark helps keep Oceanside’s initial character at the forefront and helps to ground the city in its roots as it naturally progresses forward as the premier beach destination.
The Fin Hotel
The Fin Hotel, formerly the Dolphin Hotel, originally opened its doors in 1927 and was a popular hotel for celebrities of the day during the 1930s and 1940s. Fast forward to May 2018, after undergoing extensive renovations, the property reopened as a luxe boutique hotel blending Oceanside’s history with the modern surf culture.
With modern and clean decor, this 27-room property also retains much of the building’s original character including multi-colored, mosaic tile flooring in the lobby, a grand wooden-railed staircase, and elegant tiffany windows.
The Fin Hotel Location:
The Oceanside Pier
The most visible but often overlooked historical landmark in the downtown neighborhood is the Oceanside Pier. Like the other historical sites mentioned, the first iteration of the pier was built in the late 1880’s. The first version was built by the American Bridge Company entirely out of wood reaching a reported 1,200 feet out from the shore. Not long after its completion, a storm in 1890 destroyed nearly all of the pier requiring a major rebuild. This rebuild eventually took place in 1894 utilizing iron pilings to strengthen the pier with an extension added on in 1896, but eventually that too was destroyed by heavy storms in 1902. It wasn’t until 1926 that the fourth pier was built, which famously drew over 20,000 people from all over Southern California to celebrate the grand opening. For the entirety of the pier’s life storms have taken a toll, but regardless of the damage done the pier has always been rebuilt as a testament to the strength and steadfastness of the City of Oceanside.
Oceanside Pier Location:
The sixth version of the pier opened in 1987 at a cost of $5 million dollars and is what you see today. The pier currently measures 1,942 feet long making it one of the longest wooden piers on the West Coast; featuring a bait shop, restrooms, and a Ruby’s Diner restaurant over the water. The pier, in all of its iterations, has always helped shape Oceanside’s image as the place to go if you want to enjoy great weather and the beach. Unlike neighboring beach cities, visitors and locals alike can walk far out over the Pacific Ocean to watch surfing and sea life from a unique vantage point, and even fish without needing a permit. These advantages have always been intrinsic to Oceanside since 1888 when the first pier was built, which makes this landmark one of the most historically significant gems in the City of Oceanside.
The Schuyler Building
A perfect example of a hidden gem in plain sight is the Schuyler building, a once prominent fixture in the early days of Oceanside which has since been relegated to a row of other similar looking buildings….that is, until now!
Built in 1888 by John Schuyler, this originally two story building was home to the Schuyler Hardware store, a historically significant business that enabled more development to take place in the early years helping pave way for the fantastic growth we see today. Back in its original state, the Schuyler building stood proud with its brick exterior and large over-sized ceilings, and over most of its life up until fairly recently the building continued to retain most of its prowess. Slight changes did occur, like being converted to a 3 story building by reducing the ceilings, and various businesses such as a cash grocery store that occupied the building in the 1930’s also added their own touch.
It wasn’t until later that the building took on a drastically different appearance when its beautiful 100+ year old brick exterior was covered in stucco and facade making this gem all but disappear from the public’s eye. Over 50 years had passed with this special historical building hidden away and unnoticed until recently when the Schuyler Building was purchased with the plan to restore the original character and give it a second life as a boutique hotel in the top two stories and restaurant on the bottom floor.
Schuyler Building Location:
With the exterior shell removed not only was century old brick revealed, but the painted writings and posters on the sides of the building showcased its notable past. Today construction is under way to fortify the 1888 Schuyler building and to restore its charm and rich history, all the while giving it purpose that fits seamlessly into Oceanside’s modern downtown. Next time you’re in the area be sure to stop by and take a look at this freshly revealed historical landmark with its lovely brick and incredible painted depictions which have managed to survive for decades. Keep an eye out for updates as to when the grand opening is scheduled for this new boutique hotel and restaurant.
How to Learn More
Oceanside has its very own historical society to thank in large part for not only discovering and keeping the records on Oceanside’s history, but for also helping bring awareness to the landmarks that still exist today. One such way they do this is by hosting free Downtown History Walks on the second Saturday of every month from April to September. These walks have been taking place for over a decade to help educate locals and visitors on the gems hidden within modern Oceanside, pointing out important locations and interesting facts which bring about a whole new perspective on our fantastic community.
In addition to the history walks, the Oceanside Historical Society office is open Thursdays and Fridays from 10am-2pm and on Saturdays by appointment only. Oceanside facts and trivia, a city timeline, historical books and more are all available on the Oceanside Historical Society website.
A special thanks to the Oceanside Historical Society for providing historical facts and photographs featured in this blog.