Bob Mitchell: Cardinals' San Diego road trip brings back memories

Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Bob Mitchell Ozark Views & Comments

Being an ardent St. Louis Cardinals fan, we were up late for their recent road trip to the west coast. Of special interest to us was their stop in San Diego to do battle with the Padres.

In the early 1950s, we were in the port city finishing out a hitch in the Navy that was 12 days short of four years.

Sue and I would have our first try at housekeeping on West First Street in San Diego. After disembarking the passengers that accompanied Sue from Barry County at the Greyhound Bus terminal at First and Broadway near the piers, little did we realize that this area would become an important part in a duty life.

Bridge, no ferry

A noticeable addition to the skyline of the city these days is the bridge that takes you across the harbor onto Coronado Island, replacing the ferries that once took cars and pedestrians the distance. There are many memories about those vessels and their ability to traverse the harbor in heavy fog, which was frequent in those days.

Moving from one point to the other across the structure is an easy task. The last time we made the trip, it cost a buck to accomplish where you wanted to locate, or the round trip was one price, you didn't pay at both ends of the structure.

Unique in its design was a necessity due to the number of ships that crossed underneath on their way to the Navy Station, which is at the east end of the harbor. Larger ships, like the aircraft carriers, don't make that trip, docking at the air station on Coronado.

In fact, this class of today, is large enough that dredging the channel was necessary, with the material taken out of the harbor that was used to lengthen runways at Linbergh Field, which was highly appreciated by passenger aircraft.

Recruit area

Gone also is some of the Recruit Training Station, where boots got their first taste of Navy life. Some of that area also went to the landing runway projects for the city.

Marine Corps Recruit Training was still going on next door to the Navy RCT spaces toward the west side of San Diego.

Nothing tall

Back in our early days at San Diego, there wasn't anything tall in town except the Cortez Hotel atop the lone hill downtown. This building, and subsequent structures, was the reason for adding length to the airport runways, permitting easier landing approaches.

Imagine if you can living near the crest of that hill, on the airport side, when B-36 aircraft were landing at night with their six engines screaming and landing lights shining in our front window. How those pilots ever got those huge craft back into that field always seemed to be a miracle in those days.

Downtown San Diego in those days was the center of activity, this being the days before expansion into shopping centers and other growth.

It did have a Walker's Department Store. Sue worked there at one time, even performing in costume as the Easter Bunny for the store's promotions.

On the Plaza area of Broadway was a dental office that carried the name "Painless Parker" in huge neon letters. This dentist had changed his name officially to Painless to make the attraction possible. It was said he did a land office business.

Amphib base

My duty station was on Coronado, at the Amphibious Force, Pacific Fleet, which resulted in crossing the harbor every morning, or driving around and making the base via the Silver Strand. Most of the time, Sue would deposit me at fleet landing to take a vessel across to the base. These ran frequently both morning and afternoon.

There were times we would stop at an extensive recreation park and play tennis before making our way home.

The base now has permanent buildings, not the World War II holdovers, but most of the commands have moved out to the Naval Station.

Neat experience

We were there last with Chuck and Melva Peterson, both returning for Navy experiences. Chuck had flown out of the area during his career, and it was neat to stay on North Island, especially the experience of playing a round of golf underneath landing and take off aircraft making touch and go practice.

Both of us looked up our previous living quarters, finding out that the cost of property had escalated considerably since our years in southern California. We discovered one apartment property that we had rented was no longer in existence.

One big difference from the early 1950s was the price of seafood in restaurants that we frequented during a return to the west coast.

More to come next week.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat.