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Photo: Historian John Daley talks building history in downtown Oceanside during a sit-down history “walk” on Aug. 3. Photo by Samantha Taylor.
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A ‘walk’ through Oceanside history

OCEANSIDE — On a hot August morning, historian John Daley opted to “walk” residents through the city’s history in the comfort of a temperature-controlled room in the library.

On Saturday, Aug. 3, approximately 100 people listened as Daley told stories of old buildings with beautiful architecture and ornate fixtures going through stucco redesigns and how World War II impacted the coastal city.

Daley is the vice president of the Oceanside Historical Society. Kristi Hawthorne, the society’s president, watched, listened and occasionally chimed in as Daley flipped through images of old buildings in the city and told their histories.

Hawthorne had helped cull much of the information Daley presented. She runs a blog called “Histories and Mysteries,” which explores the backstories of buildings, people and events in Oceanside’s history.

“I love living here,” Hawthorne told The Coast News. “I love its backstories.”

Daley refers to Hawthorne as Oceanside’s “pre-eminent historian,” but according to Hawthorne, Daley was the one who first got her involved in the city’s history.

Daley’s story started about 10,000 years ago when the first people are thought to have arrived in the area. Once the Europeans arrived in the 1700s, according to Daley, they began calling the Native Americans who resided here for thousands of years “Luiseños” after the King of France.

With the arrival of the Spaniards, priests and military troops, the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia was founded in 1798.

According to Daley, the mission was once not only the biggest but also the longest building in California. With its building’s sheer size as well as the surrounding 200,000 acres of property, the mission became known as the “King of the Missions.”

When the Mexican government secularized the mission in the late 1830s, Daley said they “kicked out” the priests and troops stationed there and opened it up to “whoever wanted to be there.”

“It degenerated really quickly,” he said.

The mission later underwent restoration beginning in 1892 and into the 20th century.

The reason downtown Oceanside sits where it is now is because of the railroad system that was constructed in the early 1880s from San Diego to Riverside. The city’s founder, Andrew Jackson Myers, applied for and received a homestead grant for the land now known as downtown.

According to Daley, Myers was well liked by the community.

“They referred to him as ‘Uncle Jack,’” he said.

From there, buildings became Daley’s focus.

Architect Irving Gill designed several buildings throughout Oceanside in the 1920s and 1930s, including the city’s former City Hall, which now houses the Oceanside Museum of Art. He also designed fire station No. 1, the city’s oldest fire station.

The city had plans to replace the fire station and have the old one become part of the museum, but that has yet to happen. Daley noted the station has had various remodels done to it that has rendered its architecture “early ugly,” as he likes to call it.

“We’re hopeful the city sees fit to work with the art museum to let them use this building,” Daley said, adding that he hopes to see the museum take the additions off to make the station look like its original structure.

Daley also spoke about Charles Moore, the architect who designed Oceanside’s Civic Center in the late 1980s. The design is Gill-inspired but with Moore’s personal twists, including the colorful tiles that adorn the building.

According to Daley, the biggest change to ever happen to Oceanside was World War II.

In 1942, the Navy took over Rancho Santa Margarita to form Camp Pendleton. About 7,000 people — not including troops — were brought in to build the base, Daley said.

To help improve communication in the city and the new base, a telephone company went into the building now known as the Fin Hotel, previously known as the Dolphin Hotel and originally called the Keisker Hotel when it opened in 1927.

The thousands of people brought to the area to build the base needed food, entertainment and shelter. Daley explained that several structures were crudely constructed around town to accommodate the mass amount of people who swiftly came to the area.

The city had just built a new bus depot before the war started that turned out to be far too small for the mass amount of people coming to town, and a new depot had to be built just a few years later. Today, a Jersey Mike’s Subs now sits in the smaller bus depot location located at 302 Mission Ave.

After the Second World War ended, Daley said the city’s Chamber of Commerce decided to “modernize everything” in town, which meant stuccoing over several old buildings. Daley isn’t a fan of that old plan.

“I’m sure it looked good at the time, but in the long term it made it difficult to see what the buildings originally looked like,” he said.

Though Saturday’s history lesson was taught sitting down, the Historical Society occasionally provides actual walking tours to check out the old buildings and sites of Oceanside. To learn more, visit

Photo Caption: Historian John Daley talks building history in downtown Oceanside during a sit-down history “walk” on Aug. 3. Photo by Samantha Taylor.