Editor’s Note: The following is from the Downtown Encinitas Mainstreet Association.
In 1927, at the height of Prohibition, the Moonlight Beach Dance House was torn down. The owner, Aubrey Austin, wanted a larger stucco building on the site.
As when any building came down at the time, Miles Kellogg, a local architect, searched through the remains, picking out pieces of wood and other scrap material that still seemed to have some life left in them. The scrap lumber was far from ideal. The pieces were too small to build anything conventional. Then Kellogg had an idea, and two boats rested on the west side of Third Street by the end of 1928.
At 15 feet tall and 20 feet long, they were not inconspicuous. Drivers on Highway 101 could see them as they went by. The Boathouses, as they came to be called, were one of the earliest examples of recycled architecture. And, 86 years later, they are the most recognizable—and most photographed—structures in Encinitas.
As a kid, Kellogg had worked on boats on the shores of Lake Michigan, and his father was a sea captain. “He wanted to leave a legacy of his love for the sea,” says Lloyd O’Connell, an Encinitas historian.
While the fronts of the structures look like boats, the backs look more like traditional four-unit apartment complexes. Above deck, a flat-roofed pilothouse serves as a bedroom. Below deck, are a galley, dining room, living room and bathroom. The ceilings are lower than in standard apartments, and walls run at odd angles. Both Boathouses were built with a slight starboard list to give the impression of being perpetually at sea.
On Sunday, April 22, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. the Boathouses and half a dozen other local marvels will be showcased in the Boathouse Plus Architectural Tour. This tour is presented by the Encinitas Preservation Association, which purchased the Boathouses in 2008.
Less than half a mile away from the Boathouses is the La Paloma Theater. Opened on February 11, 1928, the theater straddled two eras. Silent films were playing around the country—La Paloma has a stage that once was occupied by a pipe organ to accompany the films—but that year talking pictures would debut and usher in the new Hollywood.
Talkies, as they were called, had been making ground since the turn of the century. But it wasn’t until May of 1928 that the major motion picture studios signed a deal with Electrical Research Products, Inc., a division of AT&T/Western Electric that licensed audio technology, to convert production facilities and theaters across the country to talking pictures.
La Paloma “was built during the Golden Age of cinema construction in America,” said Allen Largent, the theater’s president. “I love the grandeur of the room.”
The theater has seen many changes in the years since it was first built, but the original layout has been preserved, along with the light fixtures in the main room and the antique tile around the box office.
A 1985 article in the Los Angeles Times refers to a painter flown in from Paris to add the intricate brushwork to the inside of the theater. “I’d be surprised if that were true,” said Largent. “Most of it is just stencil work, looks like to me. But, every time I get a bright light on it, I see something new.”
Aubrey Austin, the man who demolished the Moonlight Beach Dance House, funded the construction of the theater. Austin was from Santa Monica, and Largent thinks that fact, along with Encinitas’ proximity to Hollywood, led to a bit of stylistic borrowing on the part of the theater’s designers.
“If you look closely at some of the stencils, you’d say, ‘well that looks Egyptian, and that looks Mayan,’” said Largent. “Which seems to me that they took different themes and mixed them all together.”
Encinitas as a whole can be seen as a town of mixed themes: from the Boathouses to the Hollywood-esque theater; the golden minarets of the Self Realization Hermitage and Gardens to the brand new lofts at Highway 101 and E Street. It’s a town that, since the late 1800s has taken themes from across the country and made them their own. It’s a place of architectural innovation that is defined as much by the juxtaposition of buildings as it is by the buildings themselves.
Also included in the tour are the Derby House (1887), the Self-Realization Hermitage and Gardens (1937), the Schoolhouse (1883) and Bumann Ranch (1886). Tickets, $25, are available in advance at DEMA and Coast Highway Traders, and at the Schoolhouse and on the Boathouses the day of the event. All proceeds go to the continued maintenance of the Boathouses.
For more information go to www.encinitaspreservationfoundation.org