There was a time when you could buy virtually anything needed or find some form of entertainment without leaving the confines of Grand Avenue right here in downtown Escondido. That’s right; anything from a sack of groceries to a new automobile; or enjoy a movie or sit in on a poker game. All in about a six-block area. We had our own open-air “mall” and didn’t know it.
Let’s go back to 1952, 64 years ago, when I started work as a sports writer with the former Daily Times-Advocate. Let’s see what we can do, what we can buy and who we can see.
We’ll start with breakfast at the Chat ‘n Chew. Maybe we’ll get a chance to say hello to owner Ted McCain, a former mayor of our fine city. Afterward, we’ll mosey down to J.C. Penney’s and look for a pair of socks and briefs. Might even see manager Lloyd Cooper, if he’s there.
While we’re down this part of the street. might as well check out the two auto dealers on Grand. Not gonna buy; just gonna look at the Studebakers at Barney Barnthouse’s dealership and the Fords at Homer Heller’s. (Other dealerships were just a few blocks off Grand, but, remember, we were staying only on Grand Avenue today.)
Okay, back up the street. Let’s stroll into the Piggly Wiggly grocery market; scope out what we’re going to need for the week. If we have any questions, we can ask to see manager Russ Harper. Might even take time to get a haircut at Howard Walters’ Arcade Barbershop. If Howard’s busy, maybe I’ll get in Jimmy Donalson’s chair and catch up on the latest local bowling news; Jimmy and his wife, Dawn, are avid bowlers.
Now, after that flat-top, I’ll wander into McMahan’s furniture store and check out the latest in home furnishings. Even better, maybe later I’ll walk down to the Wayside Shop and ogle the early-American, maple selection – and dream.
It’s been a while since I bought a suit or sports coat, so I’ll drop in at Port’s Men’s Wear and talk with owner Jack Port. (I have to say that Jack was one of the good guys.) Then, just to look and browse, I’ll walk across the street to Ken Roberts’ Men’s Wear and talk with owner Kenneth M. (he later was elected to the city council and served a term as mayor). If I wanted to compare styles and prices, I could visit the nearby Wardrobe, another men’s wear store, owned and operated by Ed Lyons. Sharing the same building with the Wardrobe was the Mercantile, a women’s apparel shop owned and operated by Marvin Krichman.
Is it lunch time yet? I have my choice of three lunch counters at our three local drug stores – Ting’s, Meston’s and Hoffman’s, all within one block of each other. I could have a BLT and a chocolate malted milk. You can’t beat that for an afternoon break. A little history here. Meston’s was Beebe’s Drug Store for many years until a year or so ago when Webb Beebe decided to retire and sell to Charlie Meston.
I think I’ll go to Meston’s because of a little nostalgia; it was at Meston’s lunch counter that the girl I married worked after graduating from Escondido High School. (Forgive me for waxing personal here.) Then, I’ll stop in next door at D’Agosta’s Shoe Store just to chat with owner Sid D’Agosta and Benny Colia, another two good guys.
Now, it’s a choice between a movie or playing poker at the Metro, where I also could quaff a beer and shoot pool. But, as I’m really not a poker player and I don’t like to lose, and I’m not in the mood for a beer, I’ll opt for a movie. Now, I have to choose between the Ritz and the Pala, both with attractive features.
The Ritz is showing “The Greatest Show On Earth,” which really has an all-star cast – Jimmy Stewart, Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, Cornell Wilde and Dorothy Lamour. Wow! And the coming attraction is “Singin’ in the Rain,” with Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds.
The Pala is showing “High Noon,” with Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. Its coming attraction is “The Quiet Man,” with John Wayne and Maureen O”Hara. Tough choice; but I’ll go with “The Greatest Show On Earth” (it won the best picture Oscar for 1952) and catch “High Noon” next time.
The movie’s over and there are still places to go before the end of the day. I’ll walk across and up the street a block from the Ritz to check my post office box. Then down to Art Hollis Sporting Goods. Art is truly one of the nicest persons you would want to meet. I’m going to check with him on the evening’s Nightball games, the fast-pitch softball they play over at Finney Field. And maybe he’ll have this season’s schedule for the Escondido High School Cougars. I know that one of their home games is against Kearney and that two away games are at Oceanside and Brawley. I sure am not looking forward to driving down to the desert and back for that night game.
After talking to Art, I’ll browse a bit in the Churchill and Cassou hardware store, a one-of-a-kind if there ever was one. Then, I’ll walk across the street to Cornet five-and-dime. Maybe I’ll catch manager Ben Taylor to say hello. (Ben was my next-door neighbor on South Orange Street.)
As evening approached, I could wander down to La Tapatia Mexican restaurant for dinner. Lastly, if I didn’t want to make it home for the night, I could always crash at the Logan Hotel.
I forgot to mention that the only two banks in town, Bank of America and Security Bank, were at the Broadway intersection with Grand Avenue. And our Times-Advocate offices were just up the street. Most of us at the T-A took our coffee breaks at Let’s Sweet Shop, a couple of doors down next to George Bartley’s real estate office and the Escondido Mutual Water Co.
And that was a day spent – only on Grand Avenue — as it used to be.
Ron Kenney was a reporter and editor for the former Daily Times- Advocate from 1952 to 1979 and was a copy editor on the editorial pages of the San Diego Union-Tribune from 1985 to 1997.