ENCINITAS, in the coastal North County San Diego region, is still considered by many to be an “unspoiled and unchanged reminder of the era of Hwy 101.” The downtown area is reminiscent of the quiet, natural beach towns that existed prior to World War II and has the feel of earlier times, retaining its beachy, artsy, Hwy 101 culture. But in the 21st Century, it also has the bustle and boom of top retail shops, fine dining and cultural events and attractions that bring visitors from all over the region.
The downtown district, defined by its borders with the Pacific Ocean to the west, Encinitas Boulevard to the north, Vulcan Avenue to the east and K Street to the south has stories to tell about its past, present and future that are defined by its natural resources and buildings. The current route through the Downtown Encinitas district uses the historic Coast Hwy 101, which was succeeded in the mid-1950’s with the construction of the 800-mile long Interstate-5, the most important highway in California, connecting the state from the rural extremes of the north to the vastly populated urbanscape of the south. Regardless, the “old highway” remains home to the culture of the past and innovation of the present and future. The earliest structures date back to the 1880s, but the most prolific decade of construction was the 1920s, after water became available from Lake Hodges Dam and ushered in new prosperity. When the stock market crashed in October of 1929, the cheerful optimism of that period faded abruptly and it would be years before the economy rebounded. But in true Encinitas spirit, those hard times fostered a neighbor-helping-neighbor mentality and the community as a whole remained optimistic.
Today, Coast Hwy 101 offers those who venture off of the main thoroughfare of the I-5 Freeway an opportunity to walk, bike, or drive around Encinitas, Leucadia and Cardiff-by-the-Sea. Visitors will discover a downtown that blends the unchanged and unspoiled with the modern hustle and bustle of a thriving seaside community.
Some businesses from days gone by still exist and thrive in the community. Hansen’s Surfboards (1105 S. Coast Hwy 101), San Diego’s oldest surf shop, started in a little shack on Kawela Bay, North Shore, Oahu, in 1961. In the spring of 1962, surfer and surfboard shaper, Don Hansen moved to Cardiff-by-the-Sea and opened the original Hansen Surfboard shop near Cardiff reef. Hansen Surfboards became one of the most recognized names in surfing, with boards sent to every corner of the globe!
On February 11, 1928, La Paloma Theatre (471 S. Coast Hwy 101), opened to the public. Built by Aubrey Ernest Austin, the theater was initially called the Austin Building. Aubrey Austin was a Santa Monica banker and owner/ contractor of an asphalt paving company. Opening night featured the film “The Cohen’s And Kelly’s in Paris.” The gala event was attended by Hollywood starlet and soon to be Academy Award winner Mary Pickford. It has been rumored that she rode her bicycle all the way to the theatre from Fairbanks Ranch for the event.
La Paloma (The Dove) was one of the first theatres to show “Talkies.” Talking pictures premiered in 1927 with the Warner Bros. film, “The Jazz Singer,” starring Al Jolson. Making the transition from silent pictures to “talkies” didn’t happen overnight, so La Paloma was also equipped with a beautiful pipe organ, a standard piece of theatre equipment during the Silent era. Films in the early days of motion pictures were usually preceded by a vaudeville stage act, and La Paloma was no different.
Over the years many performers have graced the stage of La Paloma including musical artists as diverse as Loreena McKennitt, Nickel Creek, Ralph Stanley, Jerry Garcia, Eddie Vedder, Jay Leno and Timothy Leary.
Today, the La Paloma Theatre is a vibrant part of the Encinitas art scene and hosts many community and City functions throughout the year as well as daily programs such as concerts, stage productions and movies.
The Boat Houses (726 & 732 Third Street), built by Miles Kellogg, are now officially being preserved by the Encinitas Preservation Foundation and Encinitas Historical Society with stewardship from DEMA. In addition, they are deemed eligible for the National Historic Registry because they originated from recycled lumber and supplies from the 1888 Moonlight Beach Dance Hall and Bathhouse that was dismantled in 1925. They are now the most famous and photographed houses in Encinitas.
In a culture of generic mass market housing offerings, the Boat Houses stand apart as the cross between creativity and imagination needed to build a dwelling with recycled lumber and supplies. They are an icon of Encinitas, and a cornerstone of the culture that is downtown Encinitas. Equally important, the Encinitas Boat Houses are a National treasure that exemplifies early California courtyard architecture, early “green” building with recycled materials, and vernacular architecture associated with Historic U.S. Hwy 101. The privately-owned Boat Houses have been offered up for sale to the Historic Preservation Foundation. Owners John Deters and Mark Whitley have been exploring preservation options for years, and believe that by working with DEMA and the Encinitas Preservation Foundation their dreams of public access to the Boat Houses will finally be realized.
“Preservation of Encinitas history is important to the community,” said Supervisor Pam Slater-Price. “As a former mayor of Encinitas I am fond of the boat houses. But I also think they are cultural heritage and a tourist draw which is important to the downtown shops and restaurants.”
For a breathtaking sunset or to partake in the area’s surf and sand activities, Moonlight Beach (West end of B Street) is the place to be in Encinitas.
Migratory Chinese workers on the railroad were the first inhabitants to enjoy the waters of Moonlight Beach. With the settlement of the town by permanent residents, the beach became a popular bathing, picnic, and horse and buggy racing area. By the ‘20s, it was a haven for midnight bootlegging.
“Like a herd of locust, citizens descended upon the cans”. – Unidentified 1920s resident.
In the dark of night, 1928, a boat slipped ashore with cans of illegal booze. Plans went awry when the truck dispatched to pick up the cargo got stuck in the sand. By morning, word of the stalled operation spread around town. As scores of residents gathered on the cliffs above the beach, the lone guard fled the scene. With his departure, townspeople helped themselves to the stranded alcohol. Today, Moonlight Beach is a popular family beach with residents and visitors alike. There is a tot lot for the little ones to explore, and public beachside fire rings that are used for bonfires and barbecues – somewhat rare and unique to the beaches of San Diego County.
Originally known as Noonan’s Point, for James Noonan who bought the property in 1887 for $1,000, Swami’s (Seacliff Roadside Park, South of K Street), is now a popular surfing beach and holds the reputation for providing some of the best waves on the San Diego coastline. It is also immortalized in the famous Beach Boys song, “Surfing USA.”
In 1937 a hermitage was built for Paramahansa Yogananda, followed by the construction of a Golden Lotus Temple, and finally, the Self-Realization Fellowship, which currently stands on the site adjacent to the park.
As the world-class waves along the point became popular for surfing, enthusiasts began to refer to the spot as “Swami’s” and the name stuck.
The Self Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens and Hermitage (215 West K Street) is one of the most beautiful sites along the San Diego County coastline. In 1937, forty-four years after the site was purchased by Noonan, the hermitage was built for Paramahansa Yogananda, followed by the construction of a Golden Lotus Temple at the bluff’s edge. By 1942, water draining from nearby hillsides softened underlying clay. This resulted in shifting earth, which plunged the temple down the cliff. Today, cautious measures are taken to stabilize the bluff and to control water seepage.
As a primary source of water and wood fuel in Encinitas in 1881, Cottonwood Creek (Cottonwood Creek, S. Coast Hwy 101 and B Streets) was the single most important factor in the California Southern Railroad choosing Encinitas as a water stop. This railroad access and the availability of water and wood from the creek in turn made possible the formal establishment of the town of Encinitas in 1883 and the first town in San Diego County between National City and Oceanside to grow up along the railroad line.
Two Civil War veterans from the Midwest, Tom Rattan and John Pitcher, were the town’s founders. Rattan and surveyor D. N. Sanford laid out the streets in 1881. Every street had an alley.
The Tom Cozens Home (112 C Street) was one of the first homes in Encinitas to install an indoor bathtub. “I remember when the only bathtub we had in Encinitas was the Pacific Ocean.” – Bert Cozens, son of Tom and Annie Cozens.
In 1890, pioneer E.G. Hammond helped his son-in-law and daughter, Tom and Annie Cozens, build a new home along the bluff near G Street. Ten years later, with droughts deepening, Mr. Cozens sought a way of insuring their household would always have a reliable water supply. His solution was to move the house to the bluff overlooking Cottonwood Creek, then dig a well in the canyon below. In time, he added a protective cover around it, which was the discarded metal bar enclosure of the town’s jail.
With the completion of Lake Hodges Dam in 1922, running water became available to townspeople and the Cozens took full advantage by installing their indoor plumbing.
As Mrs. Hicks sat working at the Linotype machine one evening, “Harmonica Bill” appeared and crawled under a counter. Soon after, Prohibition officers arrived. But when asked if she had seen Harmonica Bill, Mrs. Hicks responded, “Why, no, I really haven’t.” After the officers departed, Harmonica Bill came out of hiding. As he slipped out the door, he reached under his coat, pulled out a bottle, and handed it to Mrs. Hicks.
“Much obliged for not turning me in. Here’s some liquor for you.” – Harmonica Bill, 1928.
The Rupe Store (149 West D Street), now Steele Realty. When Mr. Rupe brought his family to Encinitas in 1913, he opened a small general merchandise store at the southeast corner of Second and D Streets. He provided a broad array of services including groceries, dry goods, medicine, hardware, clothing, a meat market, and a lunch counter – even a pool table. All the family pitched in to make the store a success.
In the evenings Mr. Rupe dreamed about the future; a new, larger store, more stylish and completely his own. His dream came true when Miles Kellogg built him a white art deco shop in 1928. But his success was short-lived when the combination of the Depression and a new Safeway opened in the area, putting him out of business forever.
The Community Methodist Church (560 Third Street) is now the Chapel of Spiritual Awareness. Originally the church site cost $250 and the Cozens and Hammonds graded it as a community contribution.
In the middle of the Depression the townspeople decided to build a new church. It was financed through the First National Bank of Oceanside, which failed and closed its doors. But then Mr. J.W. Leslie reached deep into his pockets and produced $60 – his contribution that enabled the construction project to survive.
By 1940, members had finally paid off the loan. However, within a decade the congregation outgrew the building and relocated to 170 Calle Magdalena.
The original downtown site is also the location of the first church in Encinitas built by townspeople in 1887. The church was moved by wagon to San Marcos in the early 1900s and exists there today as the Grace Episcopal Church of the Valley on Rose Ranch Road.
When town founder John Pitcher deeded land at Third and E Street for a school, E.G. Hammond and his son, Ted, completed a redwood structure for the town’s children in 1883. The Encinitas one-room schoolhouse (Alleyway behind Pacific View Elementary School) bears traces of its age through the presence of handmade square nails. It is a frontier era carpenter’s Classical Revival building of shiplap siding.
Originally the school faced eastward toward downtown. Moved from the site in 1927, it was converted to a home. When threatened with demolition in 1983, the Encinitas Historical Society rallied to save it. With help of the Encinitas School District and the community, the school was returned to its approximate original location and is undergoing restoration.
The concrete block, Tudor-Cotswold Revival dwelling, known as The Petrie House (842 Second Street), was embedded with colored pebbles reading “1931” – the year it was built. The house’s design is quite unique within the context of Encinitas’ local architecture.
Not to be confused with Swami’s, the serene mission-style Self Realization Fellowship Temple (939 Second Street) once rested on the hill overlooking Downtown at Third and E Street. It was built there in 1916 when enrollment of school children increased beyond what the 1883 schoolhouse could hold. The building served the community in various capacities through the years. As an elementary school until 1936, then as a temporary high school until San Dieguito was finished. Next it was a recreation center, and finally, it became a school again.
Moved to its present location in 1953, it was later acquired by the Self Realization Fellowship. The Fellowship modified the structure with great care and restored it to its former beauty.
Constructed in 1933, The H & H Service Station (1205 S. Coast Hwy 101) was the most unique and fanciful service station along the highway, with its hip roof and Italian-like arches. Such imaginative architecture was sure to catch the eye of a passing motorist and there were plenty of those. Travel and tourism were a major component of Downtown’s economy during the period between 1920 and 1940. Almost every intersection in town had at least one gas station.
Amos Gates Derby came from Colorado in the 1880s to work as a section foreman on the California Southern Railroad. He thought it would be a good idea to build a house for his wife and daughters near the train station, a dwelling large enough to also accommodate train passengers overnight. In 1887, builder E.G. Hammond completed a redwood structure of 5,600 square feet, known as The Derby House (649 Vulcan Avenue). It had seven or more bedrooms, a central dining room with a red brick fireplace and, descending from the upper floors, a stairway with spindled railing.
The Sidney Chaplin Building (656 S. Coast Hwy 101) is noteworthy because its owner in the ‘20s was a brother of movie star, Charlie Chaplin. Sidney owned other property as well including several lots near today’s Self Realization Fellowship and property on the hillside overlooking Downtown. Charlie Chaplin also purchased property in the Downtown area. Soon after a two-story Neoclassical home was completed on Neptune Avenue in 1925, Charlie Chaplin bought it for his mother.
Their first stone at 587 S. Coast Street was a corner location. When robbers broke in one night and took everything even the fixtures, they moved to the middle of the block. Still the burglars came, requiring an all night vigil. Finally, merchants got together and hired a night watchman and the Cory men could sleep at home once again.
The Village Rendezvous (546 S. Coast Hwy 101) was a place where you could dance every night. That was in the ‘30s when Maurice Daley owned the property and opened his Rendezvous. Originally it was a one story, brick-faced building, but he soon added an upstairs apartment with an illegal poker parlor. Down below he set up a boxing ring on the north side of the building and some nights crawled through the ropes to challenge an opponent. The next feature added was a “hideaway” with dance floor, jukebox and dining facilities. In 1942, Daley sold out and quietly left town. In 1956, the Daley family purchased the business. It is now the popular Daley Double, a neighborhood-gathering place where all are welcome at the beautiful walnut burl bar.
During World War II, servicemen were billeted here at the Encinitas Hotel (511 S. Coast Hwy 101). On either side of the entryway were ground level commercial shops and upstairs, twenty-one hotel rooms were equipped with what was considered to be all the modern conveniences – each one had a sink and running water. Today, the second floor is office space.
“On opening day the booster club unfurled a banner proclaiming, ‘The town with a welcome for you.’ ”
When W.B. Forbes completed his new hotel in the summer of 1925, bathing beauties in mid-thigh bathing suits and knee-high hose arrived on opening day to pose for pictures marking the event.