By Joel Anderson

The quiet neighborhood where the beach house is located  has a colorful history.  In the past it has sported two major dance pavilions, a railroad line, and a even Buddhist monastery!

Coffee Adam Rice, a wealthy entrepreneur and developer came to the Oceano area in 1882.  He purchased a track of land, laid out the town and began construction on his huge twenty room, three-story Victorian mansion in expectation that the Southern Pacific Railroad would soon put tracks through the area.  Included was a horse racing track and a polo field!  The railroad took much longer to arrive than he expected.  After the death of his young son he and his wife left the area for Santa Cruz.  His beautiful mansion still stands, and may be seen near the corner of Highway 1 and 25th Street.

The Railroad finally reached Oceano in 1895 and a depot was built.  The depot was then located a few blocks south of where the depot museum is now located.  A large Victorian style beach pavilion was constructed near what is now the end of Strand Way,  past Utah Ave. near where Arroyo Grande Creek flowed into the Ocean.  At that time Pismo Creek flowed into Arroyo Grande Creek, the dam at Lopez Lake did not exist, nor did the flood control gates at the south end of the lagoon, so there was a lot more water flowing then.  A rail spur from the Oceano train depot went directly to the pavilion.  Special excursion trains would bring partiers and dancers to the pavilion for a day of fun and entertainment, then return them home in the evening.  Remember, this was in the days before there were automobiles, and getting around was difficult except by train.  The pavilion was thought to have been destroyed in a storm in the early 20th century. 

In 1904 developers purchased a large tract of beachfront land in Oceano. They built a new, large, two-story dance pavilion, called Oceano Pavillion, on the beach just south of Pier Avenue.  In 1908 a 1,000 foot pier was constructed at the end of Pier Avenue.  Further improvements included two boardwalks. The main boardwalk was about a mile long, running from train depot to the Oceano Pavilion.  Another boardwalk ran from the Pavilion, along The Strand, to Arroyo Grande Creek.  A large “OCEANO BEACH” sign, similar to the famed “HOLLYWOOD” sign was also constructed. The sign stood 10 feet high, ran south to north with the “O” just north of Juanita Street and the “H” near Pier Avenue.

Most of the pier was torn down in 1931 in order to conduct a major automobile race on the beach. The shortened Oceano Pier became the start and finish line for what local promoters hoped would become the “Daytona Beach of the West”, however sand conditions and wind made the beach unsuitable for high speed racing.  The plan was abandoned after the initial races.  The remaining stub of the pier was removed some years later. 
In 1905 the Villa Hotel was constructed at the end of Juanita Street, overlooking the Lagoon.   In 1914 the hotel was converted to a Buddhist Monastery.  At the time it was reported that it was the only Buddhist Monastery in North America.  It is unclear what happened to the monastery; however there is still an active Buddhist community on the Central Coast.  In the 1930’s the back half of the hotel and monastery was demolished.  The remaining part was used as a residence, until it was demolished in 2003.

Over the years the Oceano Pavilion served its community well.  During World War II it served as headquarters for mounted patrols by the U.S. Coast Guard, which patrolled the beaches to make sure no Japanese spies, saboteurs, or armed forces tried to sneak ashore.  Later it served as a roller skating rink.  In 1961 Oceano Pavilion was torn down.

Over the years a number of developers came to the area with big plans. The Oceano Land and Harbor Company planned to make Oceano a busy seaport. The lagoon was to be dredged and a new rail line was to be run from Santa Maria.  Boat docks were to be constructed at the end Surf, York and Utah Avenues and a major drawbridge at the end of Juanita.  Nothing became of the plan.  The “light house” at the Elk’s Club was originally a land sales office, located at the corner of Pier Ave. and Highway 1.  Unfortunately it was opened just before the Great Depression hit and only one lot was sold.  Another developer called Oceano the “Atlantic City of the West” and created a brochure showing the local heavy industry belching smoke (in those days pollution was considered “good” as it represented progress and jobs.).  About the only industries that developed in the area were vegetable growing and packing, sand mining, and clamming. At one especially low tide in 1965 a crowd of an estimated 143,000 clammers from all over California headed to the beach.  Over 50,000 cars were on the beach that day, causing huge traffic jams that backed up for miles.  The clams were plentiful then, and park rangers estimated that most clammers were able to get their legal limit of ten clams within 20 or 30 minutes.  It was estimated that over 1 Million clams were harvested on that weekend alone!   With continued heavy clamming and the return of the Sea Otters, who are voracious clam eaters, the local population clams has been almost wiped out.  It is now rare to find a legal size clam.  

Reference:  Oceano “Atlantic City of the West”  by Norm Hammond, 2004,  Oceano Depot Association, ISBN 0-615-12557-3


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