Raymond G. Starr, Book Review Editor
Encinitas: History and Heritage.
By Mac Hartley. Virginia Beach, VA: The Donning Company, 1999. Photographs, maps, index. 192 pages. $34.95 Clothcover.
Reviewed by Diane C. Kennedy, writer, Senior County Park Ranger at Rancho Guajome Adobe, and founder and current president of the North County Historical Committee.
The hypnotizing sound of the waves and caress of the sun have been a siren’s song throughout human existence. No different is coastal Encinitas, where early man thrived on the gentle climate and abundant food sources. The casual “live and let live” attitude has allowed many different philosophies and heritages to melt their sharp edges and fit together in a mostly harmonious jigsaw puzzle. Today Encinitas has all the appeal of a sun worshipping beach town, and thankfully it has not torn down its historic buildings to make way for glitzy tourist traps. It is difficult to see past the bright tie-dyed t-shirts to imagine dust and horses and dry-farmed lima beans, but the images are there, and it is helpful to have a guide to make them clearer.
Encinitas: History and Heritage tells the story of people who caught the spell of the salty sea air and struggled to make the five communities which are now incorporated Encinitas their home. The book is a cross between a text book and a coffee table book, and includes an intensive accumulation of facts. At times the book is almost Biblical in its recitation of “begats”, but if any of these people had been left out, the book would lose its focus as an accurate documentation. The facts and photos are what carries the “story” along. There is no speculation, little prose or personality in the text; what you get is the history of Encinitas.
Author Mac Hartley touches on the quirkiness that gives the area character, such as the twin boat houses built in 1929 that will only dream of touching the sea (page 89), the naming of some streets after favorite composers, and the exotic domes of the meditation center. Encinitas has long been a Mecca for visitors, including Jimmy Durante and friends, who would party en route to the Del Mar racetrack. When you think of Encinitas you can not help but think about water, yet because the first reliable fresh water supply was not piped in until 1961, there were many dry years when livestock and orchards withered from thirst within view of the Pacific Ocean. The dramatic impact of World War II on the lives of a seaside community, and the personal loss and humiliation of Japanese-American residents during the internment (page 113) is sobering. Hartley wisely applauds the efforts of the community to commit to paper their recollections of these events before fact becomes oral tradition and the truth becomes blurred.
What is fun about this book is that it can be taken in hand on a slow drive through Encinitas and used as a reference pairing historic photographs with the present. One of the most memorable aspects of the book is the comparison of an 1887 view of First Street, complete with five horse drawn wagons, twenty somber men, and all the old west character and dust it can hold (pages 62-63) with a picture of the same street in the 1920s (page 88) lined with black Fords and much livelier, fashionably dressed women and men. Seeing rolling hills studded with cattle and level acres being worked by families on lands where roads, malls, campuses and the inevitable parking lots now stand allows you to see what the personality of the land is really like beneath all the cement.
What I wished for in this book was more attention to the reproduction of the photographs, which are the strength of the book. Many, including modern shots, are blurry, and many were badly reproduced in black and white although obviously taken with color film. I want to see the shine on the dome of the
Self Realization Fellowship, whose golden glow had to be covered during World War II so as not to beckon enemy fire. I want to see the greens of the lush properties, still populated by the old avocados lingering from the heyday of the groves (wait until you find out what the fruit was named after; see page 86!). I want to see the colors of all the botanical wonders growing in the fine, frostless climate. Except for a few close ups of the famous Ecke poinsettias and a handful of others, the reader must be familiar with the bright color of Encinitas to appreciate the photos. I also wanted to be charmed and touched with prose that elicited the author’s feelings about the area. Many people and events were mentioned but not explored, and I found myself all too often left curious. The author does not place the local events in perspective with the development of San Diego and the County, and many times a line about the impact of the horrible droughts, floods, a smallpox epidemic, wars, and how the surrounding cities were effected by them, would have brought their effects on Encinitas more sharply into focus.
Encinitas, as with all of San Diego, has a touchable history. Its major events happened not that long ago, and people whose families held the visionaries who created the community are mostly active in the historical society, and contributed to the book. Encinitas: History and Heritage is a valuable documentation of a great place, but it is not the end of a search. Use it to appreciate the area, visit the Meditation Gardens, the Pannikin in the old train station, or the La Paloma theater, with new appreciation. Then find the other books that will bring characters to life. By all means, visit the San Dieguito Heritage Museum. This book will enhance the community experience for residents and for those who love the special city of Encinitas.