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Good Old Days
Drew Keeling | Cuchara Drive

Compared to its eastward surroundings, Del Mar today may seem more old-fashioned: narrow streets winding around natural land contours, with telephone poles instead of street lamps, frame houses with back alley garages and front porches, and joggers, dog walkers and barefoot surfboard carriers often occupying those roads.

Sixty years ago, however, the comparison was reversed: the inland environs were clearly less “modern.” Del Mar had houses, shops, gas stations, motels, churches, schools, playgrounds, swimming pools, tennis courts, the race track and a fully functioning train station. The “back country” had chaparral, bluffs, canyons, caves, scattered eucalyptus groves, horny toads, an occasional rattlesnake, a few old cattle barns and farm houses, and rocky hills to the eastward horizon.

Then, as now, the beach was a key recreational destination. Moreover, back in days when freeways and cookie-cutter subdivisions were novelties, beaches were not only for swimming and surf (and barbecuing), but also places to run into friends, schoolmates and neighbors. Parking was relatively easy, and out-of-state license plates a rarity.

When we children of the 1960s and early 1970s Del Mar wanted to be more on our own, however, we explored wild and overgrown vacant lots around town. Later, attention shifted to Crest Canyon, from which we might then continue to San Dieguito lagoon, where a more-or-less ready to embark upon raft often awaited us. By junior high school years, bicycling extended our range further east.
Picture the stretch of Crest Road winding from Amphitheatre and twisting down past Hoska (minus newly-added pavement, paint and speed bumps). Now imagine that sort of thin meandering road proceeding to Del Mar Heights, then east to cross El Camino Real, eventually merge with Carmel Valley Road, and continue past Black Mountain. Further imagine all of this as narrow two lane roads, practically no other paved roads in that whole area, and all of it with almost no traffic. These was our weekend bike path network and (by sometimes branching onto dirt roads, and off-road as well) de facto “mountain biking” zone.

Thanks to wise officialdom and able citizen volunteers, Del Mar enjoys more culture and art now than when it incorporated in 1959. Similar enlightenment also helped preserve portions of once wider open spaces. Del Mar thereby remains not just “of the sea” but also of the land wisely used, and of a community spirit that can look backward with fondness, and forward with thoughtful planning.

Drew Keeling attended Del Mar Elementary School, on 9th Street, in the 1960s, and was secretary of the Open Space Task Force of the 1973-74 citizens General Plan revision.


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