From Dirt Road to Premier Strip

Dedicated to the ease of automobile access The Boulevard was San Diego’s premier commercial strip until 1960 and 1961. That is when Interstate 8 was completed. The malls of College Grove, Mission Valley and Grossmont Center were built. The traffic and customers El Cajon Boulevard once saw went to those areas.

Pearson Ford. The jingle is true, “They stand alone at Fairmont and El Cajon,” as the only remaining new car dealership of the strip.

Many of the old lots remain, but now dealing used cars.

The Schwinn Bicycle Center once occupied the purple building, left side. Also of note is the United Car lot and the little Queen Anne house at this site.

3747 El Cajon Boulevard today.

The Emma Schnug residence, 1910. The little house knew The Boulevard when it was still El Cajon Avenue and only a dirt road.

Signage Of The Times

1950’s architecture exemplified ideas associated with bringing the future to present day. It was an era of test pilots, sonic boom, sputnik and the atom. The Boulevard saw roof lines that seemed to lift off and soar. Signs had aeronautical features.

I remember it as Fosters Freeze or Dairy Queen. They saw the slanted roof line as the perfect style befitting their soft ice cream treats.

The Flying Wing of the day was never quite successful. However something about the design resonated with architects.

The Flying Wing as motel architecture.

The Flying Wing was reincarnated later as the Stealth Bomber.

Or was it as a funeral parlor? The term for this futuristic mid-century style of architecture is Exaggerated Modern.

The signage of the times shared the same ideals as the architecture. One saw boomerang and trapezoidal signs, and huge arrows pointing towards the best place to go. No sign on The Boulevard had more style at shouting “shop here!” than this Honda landmark. A whirling arsenal of boomerangs speeding across a bow. As car dealerships relocated to Mission Vally and elswhere, Honda abandoned its Boulevard sales venue. The sign was taken down.

La Cresta Motel was once among the cream of The Boulevard motel crop.

An ordinary square sign would have been considered both ordinary and “square.” With a touch of neon, this was a most respectable offering.

Good signage was especially important to liquor store owners. This could either be viewed as a jet wing or arrow feather.

The building (right) is nearly all in one with the sign itself.

Neon was an essential element of the era.

Thoughts and Prayers

Reverence on The Boulevard. Blessed Sacrament Church.

The Boulevard has not one…

…But two Churches of Christ.

Theosophy examines “truth” found in all religion.

Church activist.

It is either the first or the last stop on the road to Heaven. Boulevard Chapel, Goodbody Mortuary.

The Campus and The College

Campus Drive In

There was probably no landmark more associated with The Boulevard than the Campus Drive In Movie Theatre. From 1948 The Campus Drive In was famous for its 50-x 80-foot neon mural and 46-foot tall majorette complete with twirling baton and Indian headdress. The background scene of the mural included the old SDSU campanile–Hepner Hall– the Hardy Memorial Tower, goal posts and Cowles mountain with an “S” on it.
Tickets were 50 cents a piece. You had the choice of walk in (200 available seats) or drive in (700 cars).

If memory serves me correctly, Sam J. Russo, chief operator of The Campus Drive In, also brought forth the neighboring College Theatre. In its day The College Theatre was among San Diego’s most renown in terms of screen size, seating comfort, and sound quality. I also have this memory of seeing a picture there called The Loved One in 1965, starring Jonathan Winters. A few of the more choice movie theatres offered reserved ticket sales. The days of movie going as an event.

By the time I got my first job as a film projectionist at the College Theatre in 1979, the connection between The College and Campus Drive In was dissolved. Separate owners. The operator of the The College was a man named Herb Krapsi. Apparently bored in his retirement years, he ventured into the film exhibition business. He made the big beautiful College into 4 small “plex” theatres, The College 4. He seemed to consistently demonstrate a tendency to be penny wise and pound foolish. The smaller theatres were not especially well constructed. Sound transfered through walls. The additional projection booth floors rendered footsteps to ears below. And if walking wasn’t done carefully, the projectors jiggled enough to give a shaky or bouncy picture. Intermission music came from the cheapest 8 track tape players made. the J.C. Penny Penncrest. He bought them second hand at a swap meet. The Barbara Streisand tape he insisted upon sounded so bad I heard one customer complain “That’s Moms Mabley singing–DRUNK!”
Worse than that was his automated projection system. The machines were prototypes from a company that went into and out of business overnight. They ran horribly. It must have cost Herb more money to replace damaged film than the cost of buying decent equipment.


The Classic Pre Automation Drive In Theatre Projection Booth.  This one is the Lackland Drive-In Theatre in San Antonio. Image source: The Top Shelf, A blog about Special Collections at the UTSA libraries. The article, The San Antonio Drive-In Movie Theaters, August 19, 2013

The old fashioned projection booth had two projectors. There was a precise system of alternating between the two for projecting separate reels of a movie continuously and uninterrupted. Under normal circumstances that is. If the projectionist messes up, the audience may see numbers on the screen or “jumps” in the movie. A projection mishap audiences tend to enjoy, however, is when a movie frame gets jammed or stopped in the film gate. The image melts and burns before their eyes evoking “whoops and hollers.” Nothing like a hot and heavy love scene suddenly vaporizing.


Image Source: Big Screen Blog – Celebration! Cinema

One might think of an automated projection system along the lines of an 8-track tape. A bit different though. The above shows film feeding out through a control mechanism in the center. That mechanism precisely monitors and regulates the speed of that platter with the feed rate of the projector. The separate reels spliced together on this platter are discernable as “bands.” The first reel of a movie is wound upon a core ring at the center of this platter. All the reels are spliced together. The core ring is removed, then the film is wound through the control mechanism and over to the projector via rollers and guides. After the film is projected it runs back to a “take up” platter. It winds, again, upon a core ring. And on it goes.

The platter is most typically made of a light alloy or anodized metal designed to be static resistant.

The platters Herb Krapsi installed at The College 4 were plastic. On some days you walked into the booth your hair stood straight up because of static electricity. Or lighting bolts sparked between yourself and objects you reached for.

“I love it,” said Herb. “My projectionists can’t sleep on the job!”

But there were more problems in his projection booths. Those mechanisms for controlling the speed of the platter went hay wire sometimes. For no reason other than the machines were junk, the platters spun out of control whirling and whipping motion picture film every which way through the projection booth. The projectionist had run over and resolve the calamity. Running caused the picture to jiggle and jump on the screen. When the film feeding into the projector broke, an automatic “trip” was set off to close the curtain, bring up the auditorium lights and play music.

Barbara! “The waaaaaaaaay we were.

The man in charge of holding together Herb’s plastic prototype film platters was named Mike Boyer. A man I should be ever grateful to for giving me my first job as a projectionist. But there are two thoughts that come to mind at the mention of his name. First his almost Hitler like mustache. Second his need for “Heads and Shoulders” shampoo. The sight of him scratching his head and “sprinkling” an ice cream cone he ate wasn’t pretty.

Boyer and I were standing in the lobby with a number of people milling about the snack bar.

I asked “doesn’t Herb give consideration to the number of complaints he must get about film breaks here?”

His reply was “Herb worry about complaints? That’s why he doesn’t care about complaints.”

I looked to where he was tipping his flaky head. A woman with her hair up in big rollers was eating out of a tub of pop corn as a dog would eat except she wasn’t on all fours or eating off the floor.

Mike sensed I hadn’t observed completely. “You didn’t look at her hair, did you?”

A second look revealed several six legged creatures with long antennae crawling in and out of her curlers.

“That’s why Herb doesn’t care,” Boyer finished his ice cream cone.

Interesting though, Mike Boyer noticing someone’s hair but not his own.

Herb Krapsi was especially excited with the release of Scanners in 1981. “This is going to make us a lot of money,” he said. “Run the preview in all four theatres.” Only problem was it was an “R”rated film. The trailer or preview was to be used appropriately. We pointed out previewing Scanners for the audience watching Disney’s Song of The South might not be a good idea.

“F___k ’em,” he said. “Run it!”

Below is a link for the preview. You’ll see what mothers and young children watching Song of the South were presented with. The outrage was fierce and intense among the people storming out of the auditorium to complain. Herb pleaded ignorance. He said his projectionist failed to inform him about the horrifying subject matter.

Yep, that’s right. I did it.

. . . . photo San Diego Reader, 7/6/06, “Field of Screens,” p.26

The Campus Drive In closed in February 1983. The College Theatre carried on awhile longer. The Majorette Portion of the Campus Drive In mural was preserved. It can be seen today at College Grove Center. I wondered with all the new construction at SDSU over the years why a wall of one of those buildings couldn’t have been dedicated not only to the majorette but the entire mural. Precious little of our past landscape survives. Those imaginative elements with colorful and unique detail seem so easily discarded. And replaced by what?

Scanners Preview

YouTube featurette shows a projectionist at work.

Mother Road

“Mother Road” is the name reserved for Route 66.  El Cajon Boulevard is San Diego’s version of that.  Before Interstate 8 it was the western leg of the only highway between San Diego and El Centro.  The character of the entire stretch of road was determined when the automobile became king.

Auto Camps were unique to The Boulevard.

Tents and trailers sat under shady trees.  Guests and campers enjoyed the spacious grounds.  There is little evidence today of that by gone era.  Just this one little area I found.

These Motor Hotels, “Motels” were the standard back in the day.

A large percentage of San Diego’s inventory of guest accommodations were along The Boulevard.

The Grand Daddy of The Boulevard was the Layfayette Hotel.  Here is The Red Fox Room. The interior was brought over from England by Marion Davies for her Malibu beach house. When she tired of it, it was put into storage and eventually incorporated into the Red Fox Room.  The interior comes from an English Pub or Inn dating from the 1500’s.

Appropriately The Boulevard was also the premier car dealership zone in San Diego.

Guaranty Chevrolet relocated. There’s a furniture store in there now.

The Boulevard also had San Diego’s finest furniture stores.  “Top of the top.”  Lloyd’s Furniture, though, is long gone.

The Boulevard Colors

The Pink Poodle.

At The Live Wire Bar you see red and distorted reality going in as well staggering out.

And then a Bloody Mary for breakfast.

With plenty of mass produced grease available to soak up a hangover.

The essentials of generic fast food architecture.

Der Wonnerful places.

However The Boulevard also boasts having just about any ethnic or world cuisine you might imagine.


There’s Eatin’ to do on The Boulevard. The water is iced. Milk is chilled. Windows are portals. Only times changed; the diner has not.

Flower shirts on Sunday. Father and son breakfast. As it was in 1949, it is today.

Is your preference salami or hash? Over-easy may be your style. Bacon too. Let there be no doubt.

A check to pay. Ham Hocks and Lima Beans topped off with a sprig of parsley, perhaps. Slice of pie, a la mode if you would.

On The Boulevard

The Boulevard has redefined the term independent individual entrepreneur many times.

On The Boulevard business is usual. Elimination of “overhead” means fresh air, sunshine and a view.

A desk has a multi-task. Dirt intends no harm to fine leather shoes or a suit. It’s a wireless world. Here that means no light switches.

Yes, On The Boulevard business is usual. Whether power broking or power walking.