Welcome to Oakwood Gardens apartment complex after midnight, where the action switches to the Jacuzzis.
  • Welcome to Oakwood Gardens apartment complex after midnight, where the action switches to the Jacuzzis.
  • Image by Craig Carlson
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In 1962 the Los Angeles-based firm R&B Developments, Inc., staked claim to creating adults-only, resort living total environments. Before long, thirty-one mammoth apartment complexes dotted the Western sunbelt and even extended two appendages to the Eastern seaboard. The promotional brochures were slick and attractive. The ad copy read, “More than just another place to live — Oakwood is a way of life!”

Vernon Fox, outraged at the deaths, fought singlehandedly for a crosswalk linking the two sides of the broad street.

Amenities included private clubhouses for indoor and outdoor recreation, fully equipped health clubs, saunas, indoor golf driving ranges, color TV theaters, billiards and game rooms, and large party rooms with kitchens. There were warm pools and even warmer Jacuzzis. Vivacious, full-time resident social directors hosted complimentary Sunday brunches, barbeques, happy hours, parties, and dances. Special interest groups held seminars on how to establish relationships. Hobby clubs, sports tournaments, belly dancing, exercise classes, special outings—all were available on the premises.

Florence and Vernon Fox. “Listen to the pinging refrigerator,” Florence Fox says. “We’ve complained about it many times but they’ve never fixed it."

Acres of lush landscaping defined the Oakwood topography. Tree-lined pathways and restful courtyards recalled other times, when the land was lavish with greenery. Enhanced, carefully designed resort living beckoned just outside each apartment patio, giving the appearance of an Ivy League campus. The executives at R&B Developments struck it rich b employing a novel business principle: function follows fun.

Lupe Jimenez: “We pay our rent on time. We don’t have orgies or smoke pot or play loud stereos. We’re ideal renters."

By the end of the Sixties, the Oakwood Gardens apartment complex on Ingraham Street in Pacific beach was the hottest conversation topic in town. (The buildings on the west side of Ingraham, called Mission Bay West and containing 505 rental units, were completed in 1968; Mission Bay East, with 564 units across the street, followed two years later.) Pacific Beach resident and schoolteacher Valerie MacRae, now a grandmother, remembers the gala opening party as the most glamorous neighborhood event of the year.

Ruben Shapiro: "I’m still a human being. I have self-worth."

“Special invitations were issued. Married men who were approaching middle age wished they were single again so they could move into Oakwood and start swinging, and many of them did. They were the envy of their friends,” Mc Rae says, “It was a new concept for San Diego. We kept hearing about all the parties. It was a titillating idea and ever so slightly scandalous. It created a haves/have not division and the haves moved into Oakwood.”

Eddie Conn: “We used to discuss Zen.”

This hedonistic heaven became an overnight sensation in Pacific Beach. So much so, in fact, that San Diego’s first sybaritic Shangri-La inspired the late former local priest James Kavanaugh’s pejorative poem called “Welcome to Oakwood Gardens Apartment Complex,” published in a collection of verse entitled There Are Men Too Gentle To Live Among Wolves.

  • Welcome to Oakwood Gardens Apartment Complex
  • Where society rewards its heroes
  • With health salons and sauna baths
  • And pool tables and karate lessons
  • Or bridge and investment counseling
  • And Sunday morning coffee by the pool
  • With Hawaiian punch if you come early
  • Courtesy of Mr.Oakwood, I presume.

Father Kavanaugh, of course, expressed the male viewpoint and the male form. His Jesuit asceticism to doubt accounted for the mocking tone, the debasing of creature comforts. But with all due respect to the clergy, institution tells us that the provider of this munificent bounty was not a Mr. Oakwood at all, but an omnipotent, nurturing mother, whose tenants were rapturously enveloped in the soft folds of her voluptuous bosom. Only such a materfamilias could envision providing every convenience under one roof, utilities included, and could actually pull it off. So seek no further. Pleasure palaces for the masses of middle classes, extricated from nuclear-family living by design or accident, were available to anyone who had attained legal majority, according to house rules.

Shrewd lady, Madam Oakwood. Knowing that despite the high cost of living, the good life was still popular, she even eased the financial burden by encouraging no-strings casual cohabitation through means of a roommate service—at no extra charge, of course. So drop in at the office, where you’ll find a roommate scrapbook of current and prospective Oakwood residents, some with photos attached.

  • Welcome to Oakwood Gardens Apartment Complex
  • Where life is not complex at all
  • And an aging Beatrice introduces the circles of survival
  • To customers who finally deserve to enjoy life
  • And additional sun in the morning for ten dollars more a month
  • Courtesy of Mr.Oakwood, I presume.

Come off it, Kavanaugh. Only a Mother Oakwood could provide emotional nourishment for her paying guests along with traditional chicken dinner every Sunday.

  • So welcome to Oakwood gardens Apartment Complex
  • With immediate occupancy for the lonely who are looking for love
  • And better barbecues than they had anywhere else
  • With tennis lessons and scuba diving thrown in free,
  • Courtesy of Mr. Oakwood, I presume.

Wrong again! The amply proportioned Madam Oakwood deserves the credit. All God’s children seeking emotional and physical shelter and epicurean delights, on whom Providence has smiled (on both sides of Ingraham Street) are indeed home. And if illusions are for rent, Oakwood offers one grand illusion, nearly summed up in advertisements found in the San Diego Union: “There’s no lease on the good life,” many, many, people have bought (and paid for) the illusion of independence and devil-may-care transiency. They have lived under one giant roof for more than a decade on a month-to-month lease, whiling away the carefree years on Madam Oakwood’s mattresses.

“If coming of age means owning my own furniture, I’m not ready to grow up yet,” says Barbara (not her real name), a thirtyish, award-winning author who, after working for the last decade in Europe, finds Oakwood not so much a pleasure palace as a convenient place to write.

“When I’m sitting out near the pool creating characters, I tend to think out loud, and inevitably there’s someone around who’s hooked into what’s happening in my head — someone’s always there to complete my sentences, like a constant echo, a Greek chorus. I call it the Kreplach Chorus,” she says as she pauses to light a cigar. “For instance, right now I happen to be working on a scene set in Hollywood’s heyday — in the late Twenties. When I mention the Fatty Arbuckle scandal (about which I am totally ignorant), somebody fills me in on the minute details. There’s generally someone around who has an uncle who knew everyone. “Imagine this,” she continues, “here I am sitting in the Jacuzzi. It’s warm and bubbly and womblike and I’m mumbling incoherently about Gorky’s lower depths and the guy next to me starts elaborating about Gorky. It’s marvelous. I don’t have to go to the library; I live in one.”

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