The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 2002, Volume 48, Number 3
Gregg Hennessey, Editor

Book Reviews

Oceanside: Where Life Is Worth Living. By Kristi S. Hawthorne. Virginia Beach, VA: The Donning Company Publishers, 2000. Full-color and Black/White photographs, bibliography, index, 192 pages, $34.95 Hardcover.

Reviewed by Judy J. Cater, Professor/Librarian and adjunct History Instructor at Palomar College.

Oceanside, California has, along with Baltimore, Maryland, Newark, New Jersey and Oakland, California suffered from “second city syndrome” for many years. Eclipsed by its neighbor to the south, Oceanside’s beautiful beaches, quiet neighborhoods, excellent community college and rich cultural history are often neglected in favor of San Diego. Cinema images are often limited to gangs and the Marine Corps; when a charming Oceanside Victorian beach cottage appears in “Top Gun,” the implication is that this jewel is somewhere near (then) NAS Miramar, not on Pacific Street south of the historic Oceanside Pier.

New construction, downtown redevelopment, upgrading of housing stock and increased recreational and cultural opportunities continue to dispel the image of the “tough” Marine town symbolized by tattoo parlors, prostitutes and adult bookstores. This latter image was never a true picture of the total Oceanside experience. Kristi Hawthorne’s book brings the many aspects of this historically rich community together in an attractive and well-presented package. Working with the Oceanside Historical Society’s extensive archives and photograph collections as well as local newspapers, written recollections and oral interviews, Hawthorne takes Oceanside beyond the clichés prevalent in the popular press. Using the established historical framework of mission founding, Indian exploitation, Mexican secularization, American occupation and Anglo settlement, Hawthorne deftly weaves the stories of countless pioneers into a fascinating narrative.

Oceanside began in what is now the San Luis Rey Valley, in the shadow of Mission San Luis Rey de Francia. Designed by the Spanish padres, this mission honored a sainted French king and gave its name to the local Indian tribes, still called the Luiseños. Under the direction of the padres, the Indians made the bricks, built the sanctuary and outbuildings and farmed the mission’s extensive holdings. Hawthorne vividly describes three “Belles of San Luis Rey”, elderly tour guides during the late 19th century mission restoration who told compelling stories of making the mission bricks as children. Exploitation of these native peoples continued through the Mexican and American periods, a process which Hawthorne candidly discusses. Anglo settlement is well described, with both well-known and now obscure pioneers given credit for many firsts in agriculture, commerce and tourism. Oceanside’s rise as a vacation destination is well chronicled and photographs of the seaside resorts show facilities which, in their prime, rivaled the Hotel del Coronado.

The coming of the Marine Corps to Camp Pendleton is covered in extensive detail, as is its effect on the local economy. Descendants of the original settlers and those of more recent arrivals will enjoy the descriptions and photographs of restaurants, shopping complexes and individual businesses. Recreation is well covered, featuring the already mentioned resorts, sport fishing, team sports and even beauty pageants. Barbara Mandrell, a former Miss Oceanside, is featured in this section of the book. Visiting Hollywood celebrities receive attention, as does resident Sonja Henie, the Norwegian ice skating champion and movie star whose name graces an upscale Oceanside neighborhood. The cover photograph of the Oceanside Civic Center and Library amply demonstrate the renaissance in downtown Oceanside which this book commemorates.

A major gap in this work is the almost total absence of the African American presence in the community and the absence of any meaningful references to the Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian and Pacific peoples who also make up Oceanside’s cultural and ethnic heritage. Reference is made to the founding of an early African American church, but the only African Americans pictured are in a Camp Pendleton Chorus photograph from 1963. The Asian presence is limited to the description of a Chinese laundry owner and farmer. One would imagine that there must be pictures of a Sunday school class, a woman’s club or other fraternal organization available. Beyond the photographs of Native Americans and early Hispanic pioneers, a reader might assume Oceanside and its residents were uniformly white and mostly middle class from the turn of the century onwards.

Even with these limitations, this book will be a useful additional to area libraries and local history collections. Many of the stories are likely unique to this volume, as is the carefully assembled collection of historic and more contemporary photographs. Ms. Hawthorne also includes an extensive bibliography and the book is indexed.