By Don Terwilliger
In Del Mar's early days, Ocean Avenue that runs alongside Seagrove Park had other names. Originally, the railroad ran straight down today's Ocean Avenue and Stratford Court to the first train station at what is now Stratford and 9th Street. This was the center of town. It primarily served guests at Del Mar's first hotel, the Casa Del Mar at the foot of 10th Street. After the hotel burned down in 1890, the town center shifted to the current location on 15th Street, the old train station was torn down, and the tracks moved to their present location on the bluff.
An unpaved road that ran parallel to the old tracks was known as Railroad Avenue, a name that persisted even after the tracks were no longer there. I remember it well from my childhood. No one thought of changing the name until Mrs. Rifle, who lived on 13th Street at Railroad Avenue, voiced her objection to the "railroad" name and made it known, when asked, that she lived on 13th at Darlington Road.
Her new name caught on among only some of Del Mar's 300-odd residents, resulting in the two names being used interchangeably without anyone being particularly concerned, except Mrs. Rifle who made a point of quickly correcting the unconverted.
A compromise was eventually reached when the street was paved and received its present name. The first street sign in town made Ocean Avenue official and gave local people something new to stop and look at.
For a short period I lived with my parents on Ocean Avenue in one of the cottages now privately owned at 1344. At that time the Monterey cypress trees on the street, planted along the railroad in the 1800s, were half their present size. My cousin Carol and I easily climbed to the topmost branches from which we strung ropes. Pretending to be Tarzan and Jane, we could swing from tree to tree for almost the length of the block, much to the amusement of passers-by.
The block now occupied by the Vista Del Mar homes, at the comer of Ocean Avenue and 15th Street, was a vacant, weed-filled lot across which was a diagonal path worn by employees of the old Hotel Del Mar, now replaced by L'Auberge. The workers were housed in dormitories on the site of today's Wave Crest Timeshares on Ocean Avenue. In the '40s the lot became a children's playground with basketball court and small baseball diamond.
Looking south across the playground, one could plainly see the Jefferson house at 1428 Stratford Court. There I started my career in show business at the La Vielle Studio de Dance, run by La Vielle, the wife of local real estate developer Phil Jefferson. In the absence of space for a dance studio, classes were held in the driveway and closely observed by the kids in the playground. Our carefully measured footwork was frequently interrupted by taunts; and encouraged by occasional cheers. It was always nice to be free of such distractions when, in wet weather, we moved into a cramped, glassed-in sun room
attached to the side of the house. The downside, however, was the difficulty of trying to master dance techniques with 10 or more students kicking up their legs in a tight space.
Railroad Avenue is long forgotten, and unheard of among most of today's residents. But every time I drive down its replacement I have fond memories of Del Mar in the 1930s—a place so different from now—and remember when Mrs. Rifle's campaign for a name change was the hot topic of local conversations.