The late Ron Accosta was born in Santa Monica in 1934 and was raised on Main Street where his father was a bookmaker. (Which made for Ron’s unique childhood, to put it mildly.) Seven decades later, Ron, a regular reader of my column, frequently sent me emails as a volunteer “fact checker” when the subject was Ocean Park history.
Persistent but charming, Ron insisted we meet in person. (At 7 A.M. no less, when he went for his morning walk!) But it was worth getting up early as he was a treasure trove of great stories of old Santa Monica. As a result I wrote about Ron often, affectionately dubbing him “The Walking Wikipedia of Ocean Park.”
Sadly for so many, Ron passed away in March of 2016. But thankfully his historical torch has been passed to a worthy heir, Richard Orton. In fact, tomorrow, Richard will be putting on a 45-minute lecture about Ocean Park history, enhanced by a slide show filled with intriguing photos from our neighborhood’s colorful past. The lecture highly entertaining and free to the public at the Ocean Park Library.
Richard lives just a few blocks away on Second Street and we also have a lot in common. (Other than archaic AOL e-mail addresses!) Like me, he’s lived in O.P. since the 1970s, and like me he’s got a million stories to tell. One big difference is he’s got the photos to back it up!
Richard and I were sitting at the Coffee Bean on Main Street one recent afternoon, discussing his upcoming lecture when he lamented, “The trouble is, push a button and I blather, I can’t stop myself. I know so much about the history of this neighborhood I sometimes get obnoxious about it.” The stories were so colorful and compelling I encouraged Richard to “blather away.” (One man’s blather is another man’s “please tell me more.”)
Sure enough, Richard elaborated about all the changes to the neighborhood, just within our view. Across the street had been the Bible Way Mission. It was a flop house for the drunks that used to populate the dive bars on Main Street such as The Blue Fin and The Circle Bar before it became a hipster destination
On the other side of Ashland, was Kilroy’s sandwich stand and on our side of the street, above a showroom for boats, was the legendary Richard Diebenkorn’s art studio. This was the space where he created the “Ocean Park Series,” paintings that ultimately sold for millions of dollars. While Orton stressed how unique Ocean Park is, actually, he’s pretty unique himself.
Growing up in Michigan, Richard couldn’t decide whether he wanted to be an architect, a comedy writer, or a film director. (But he had ruled out cowboy and fireman.) As early as grade school, he started drawing floor plans of houses he liked and by high school he was skilled at home design, layout, and building scale models houses.
As for the comedy writer path, Richard’s sent one of his jokes to famed San Francisco columnist Herb Caen, which was later picked up by the Reader’s Digest. Richard was also making 8mm movies, spectacles with stories, titles, special effects, music and some were even produced in CinemaScope. So talented, he was accepted at UCLA Film School.
So Richard traveled cross country to Westwood and began Film School. Needing affordable housing, he moved to Ocean Park. Known as “Dog Town,” back then, Ocean Park was the slum of Santa Monica. Rents were so cheap, people were living in the storefront businesses along Main Street growing hydroponic tomatoes in the front windows.
As Richard notes in his lecture, Ocean Park’s real beginning came in 1874 when Nancy Lucas bought the land from the Machado family, paying $14 an acre. (Today $14 barely gets you a gourmet hamburger.) Lucas bought 1 ½ sq. miles that stretched from the ocean to 20th Street, and from Pico south to what is now the city border.
In addition to his amateur historian status, Richard’s fulfilling day job is selling real estate with Keller Williams in Santa Monica. In so doing he combines his passions for houses, architecture, neighborhood and local history.
Richard is a terrific story teller and you will undoubtedly enjoy hearing his “Tales of Ocean Park” tomorrow. I know Ron Accosta would have loved hearing it. (As a bonus, for those who stick around for Q & A after the lecture, Richard will share some of the racier stories of our colorful neighborhood in his “Untold Tales of Ocean Park.”)
Seating at the library’s wonderful meeting room downstairs is limited to about 60, so get there on time, or better yet, early. By the way, if you notice one unoccupied chair set aside from the others, that would be for Ron Accosta.
The Ocean Park Library is at 2610 Main Street. “Tales of Ocean Park” begins at 3 .P.M. For more info (or if you want to buy or sell a house) contact Richard Orton at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 392-4082. Jack is at email@example.com.