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1950s Wrestling & Roller Rink Building to be Razed Unless Rescued

By Rita Baker

The non-descript 10,000-square-foot building sits within sight of the Pacific Ocean among houses worth almost a million dollars. The genius of its arched ribbed truss roof is not immediately apparent to the casual viewer. But under this roof, beginning in 1949, professional wrestlers, boxers, and renowned entertainers performed in the glory days before the dawn of television dimmed their luster.

Located in downtown Oceanside, and originally known as the Oceanside Athletic Club, it was designed by Thor Gulbrand of Los Angeles, planned by Marie Rappa Middlekauf, and built by the Richardson Brothers firm of Oceanside. Mrs. Middlekauf was the protégée and promoter of world heavyweight boxing champion James Jeffries of Burbank. Middlekauf is believed to have been the only woman sports promoter and organizer in the West, and perhaps in the nation. She worked with James Jeffries in Burbank as a promoter and box office manager in his sports barn from the 1930s through the 1940s.

Spade Cooley with his Western Dance Gang inaugurated the Oceanside Athletic Club building on July 4, 1949, after serving as the grand marshal in the Oceanside Fiesta Fourth of July parade. Well known bands and entertainers such as Woody Herman, Ike Carpenter, and Nat King Cole appeared on Saturday nights in 1949.

Middlekauf secured licenses from the California State Athletic Commission, and using her connections, attracted top-rated national and international professional wrestlers such as Gorgeous George, Mr. Moto, and Mexican champion Polo Cordova. Along with wrestling on Friday nights, and amateur boxing matches on Tuesday evenings, Middlekauf utilized her arena periodically for dances and roller-skating.

Pacific Coast, national, and international wrestling matches continued on Friday nights through 1953 until television, which featured the animated athletes in a readily accessible medium, forced Mrs. Middlekauf to concentrate on roller-skating, and to change the name of the building to the Oceanside Roller Rink.

Four generations of North San Diego County residents have many happy memories of roller-skating in the building. However, times have changed, entertainment tastes have changed, and downtown Oceanside has changed. The building is located in what was, historically, the industrial and commercial area of Oceanside. The industrial users migrated to the suburbs, and the area and the buildings declined. Recently, this area has been transformed by large luxury homes and smart condominiums. Proximity to the beach and the renaissance of downtown Oceanside have changed the face of the area. Nearby tony eateries, live theater, and a modern movie multi-plex made redevelopment of the athletic club/roller rink site inevitable.

Marie Rappa Middlekauf died in 1967 at age 64. Her husband John S. Middlekauf operated the business for a time and then the building sat vacant. He leased it to Steve and Debbie Cottrell who were members of the Roller Skaters Association. They rehabilitated the building and re-opened it in 1995 for pleasure skating and amateur youth roller hockey. With the skating business in decline and with an abatement agreement looming, the Cottrells, by that time the property owners, closed the business in 2002. The abatement agreement they signed requires conversion of the building to a residential use or demolition.

In 1999 the building was listed on the California Register of Historical Resources and was locally designated as historically significant by the City of Oceanside. It is thought that John Middlekauf hoped the building could be preserved and brought into conformance with the current residential zoning so that it could remain as a testament to his late wife.

The property is in escrow with developers who propose to demolish the building and to build 14 luxury homes. The developers initially indicated their willingness to explore an adaptive re-use of the property but found it was economically infeasible for them to do so. The City Code allows a 180-day stay of the demolition permit in order for other private or public entities to purchase and rehabilitate the building.

Architect Lynn Paul Shoger, chairman of the Oceanside Historic Preservation Commission stated: "There are opportunities here that are worthy of being explored. The 180-day stay to explore other opportunities is worthwhile. There is the possibility the facility could be re-used."

Is there a new life awaiting this historic structure? The question needs to be answered by May 31, 2004, which marks the end of the 180-day stay of the demolition permit. The property address is 315 Windward Way.

For further information, please contact Rita Baker, Senior Planner at the City of Oceanside Planning Department. The telephone number is (760) 435-3520.

2004 - Volume 35, Issue 1

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