SOLANA BEACH — A local citizen group that formed in the 1950s to better Solana Beach is now celebrating 70 years of service in the community, an ongoing legacy that remains visible throughout the city today.
The Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society’s roots trace back to before the city’s incorporation, starting in 1953 as the Solana Beach Women’s Civic Club. At the time, the group’s objectives included Highway 101 beautification, beach warning signs, the organization of a blood bank, and the construction of a county library branch.
In the seven decades since, the group has realized several of these goals and many more. In 1989, it was renamed the Civic and Historical Society, two years after the city gained its independence from San Diego County, as members embraced the role of historic stewards.
Nowadays, the group continues to have its hand in many parts of the community — offering thousands of dollars annually in college scholarships, operating educational programs at the Heritage Museum, and maintaining local green areas via the associated SeaWeeders Garden Club.
Outgoing Society Board President Michele Stribling, who has been at the helm for seven years, said being part of sustaining the society’s legacy has been an honor and privilege.
“I am so grateful to the many, many dedicated volunteers who have kept this organization thriving for seventy years — and to our members, friends, and volunteers who will keep us growing and making a difference here for the next seventy years,” Stribling said.
Back in the 1950s, one of the group’s first major endeavors was battling dozens of unsightly billboards along Highway 101, under the leadership of member Wenetta Childs. The “tenacious Solana women,” as one news report called them, argued to county leaders that dozens of billboards had been installed legally in the area.
Following their relentless advocacy, in concert with dozens of other local groups and leaders on the state and federal level, the non-conforming billboards were removed by 1971, and the county decided in 1987 to ban billboards on the 101 between Solana Beach to Leucadia Boulevard.
In its early days, the club also created local bike trails, made the Highway 101 corridor more pedestrian-friendly, and established the annual Holiday Boutique event, which has since raised around $250,000 for local projects.
The society’s legacy can also be seen along the Coastal Rail Trail. Between the 1970s and 1990s, the club planted and eventually relocated hundreds of Torrey and Aleppo pines when the train tracks were moved below Lomas Santa Fe Drive and established two community gardens along the trail.
The Civic and Historical Society was also instrumental in the $11,000 landscape rehabilitation at the Solana Beach Post Office.
With the Civic Club’s transition to the Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society in the late 1980s, the group began focusing on preserving the area’s local history (and for the first time, accepting men into its ranks). First on the society’s list of objectives was establishing a historical museum for the city.
In the early 1990s, the society got to work transforming an 1890s-era home, known as the Stevens House, into a museum. This involved convincing the city to take ownership of the museum and transporting the structure from its original home on Del Mar Downs Road to La Colonia Park, where it remains today.
The Solana Beach Heritage Museum officially opened in 1994, and the society spent another decade developing exhibits to teach residents about the city’s history.
These efforts were championed by Kathalijn and Jim Nelson, who traveled the country gathering antique artifacts for the museum, dating back to the early 1900s. Jim Nelson also raised thousands of dollars for the museum through the sales of his two books, “Early Solana Beach” and “La Colonia & Solana Beach: Spring Up from Colonel Ed Fletcher’s Running Water.”
Countless local elementary school students have enjoyed field trips to the museum in the decades since, learning about how folks survived pre- and post-electricity through “living history” lessons.
The society has also been instrumental in other major local efforts, some of which include — the creation of the long-awaited Solana Beach library in 2001, the 2011 La Colonia Community Center renovation, the 2019 La Colonia skatepark opening, providing meals to local families during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the preservation of the Harbaugh Seaside Trails in 2020, the same spot where members of the Women’s Civic Club had fought to remove billboards decades earlier.
“We’re still making history in this community,” said JoJo Dodson Bogard, appointed President of the Society in June and the founding director of the Solana Beach Community Theater. “I’m excited to invite the next generation to join us.”
On Dec. 1, the city celebrated the Civic and Historical Society’s 70th anniversary at the Lomas Santa Fe Country Club. Longtime society members and involved residents, Tom and Donna Golich, were honored during the ceremony.
City and society leaders encourage residents to get involved with the Society.
“The Society preserves and tells our history, provides college scholarships to our youth, presents educational lectures and importantly, affords friends old and new many opportunities to get together to work toward the betterment of our community,” said Mayor Lesa Heebner. “We have so many new residents, and I encourage them to join to learn of the vision, hard work and dedication that has gone into making Solana Beach the place they’ve chosen to call home.”
For the 70th anniversary, the Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society board created a booklet providing an overview of the society’s history and contributions since its inception, using information compiled from old newspapers and other archival sources.
The society will be making print and digital copies of this book available via its website this month at solanabeachcivicandhistoricalsociety.org. Residents can also visit the website to find information about the society, the Heritage Museum, and how to get involved.