Oceanside White Elephant Lumbers Home

Times Staff Writer

With telephone poles akimbo and traffic signals and stop signs uprooted, five blocks of Oceanside Boulevard looked Friday like a scene from a B-grade monster movie.

Actually, the damage was done while moving Oceanside’s Centennial House--the 40-foot-wide, 2 1/2-story structure that trampled lawns and blocked traffic.

Ask Oceanside Councilman Sam Williamson what he thinks left street lights and telephone poles in that state, and he’ll tell you: a white elephant.

First heralded as an ingenious promotional gimmick, the Centennial House, a lottery prize built last year to raise funds for Oceanside’s 100th birthday celebration, has caused city officials nothing but grief in recent months.


Consultants hired to promote the city’s centennial promised that the house would cost no more than $50,000 to build, and, in return, would net $300,000 to help pay for the gala event, according to Williamson.

Six months after the celebration ended, the Centennial Foundation, established by the city to promote the event, has spent $120,000 to build the house, which has not yet been completed.

“Everybody keeps talking about all the problems, but the celebration went really well,” Williamson said. “Yes, this project has been a white elephant, and we’ve had to put a lot of money into it, but the Centennial Foundation raised $300,000 without it.

“For all the headaches, it turned out all right,” said Williamson, who took an active role in organizing the city’s celebration. He added, “I’m happy.”

But snags encountered in the attempt to move the house, built near the municipal pier, to the lottery winner’s lot at Clementine and Reese streets produced few smiles.

Centennial organizers promised to move the house for winner Harry Fotinos. The plans were jeopardized when it became apparent that the foundation didn’t have enough money to finance the move. Recently, the City Council came to the fiscal rescue and allocated $50,000 to have the house hauled.

Getting money for the move was easy compared to surmounting the logistical problems involved in hauling a house too wide and too tall for the city’s streets.

Crews from the Santa Fe Railway, Pacific Bell, San Diego Gas & Electric and Oceanside police were called in for the two-day operation to move the 65-ton house along 9 blocks and over railroad tracks.

Workers shut power lines, stopped traffic, raised telephone lines, dismantled street signs and signal lights, removed fences and cut tree limbs along the streets to clear a path for the house.

“We had no idea it would cause so many headaches,” Williamson said. “I thought our streets were a little bit wider.”

Camera shutters clicked as many people recorded the move and lined the streets as if watching a parade. Patrol cars with flashing lights blocked traffic, and, like a grand float, the Centennial House rolled along, escorted by police motorcycles. Children at Ditmar Elementary School were given a brief recess to watch the impromptu parade.

“It’s a good excuse for being late,” said Bill Hoose, a furniture mover, who sat in his pickup truck and waited for the house to cross Hill Street.

As the house squeezed its way through narrow streets, onlookers often closed their eyes during close calls.

“Whew, I thought I was going to lose the chimney,” said Ken Chriss, the architect who designed the house, as he watched its chimney come within inches of a street light.

Palm trees along Oceanside Boulevard, however, weren’t as lucky.

“Come on guys, get the wheels straight, for crying out loud,” Williamson yelled at the crew of Almas International--the hauling company hired for the move--as its truck shaved leaves off trees.

Although residents along the parade route temporarily lost electricity and suffered other inconveniences, few expressed anger or annoyance about the move.

“I’d rather watch this than the inauguration,” said Robert Beckett, a Reese Street resident, who missed George Bush becoming the 41st President of the United States.

Even Joan Nichols, who nervously watched the hauling truck rumble over her front lawn, flatten a sapling and nearly graze her house, was understanding.

“Sure, they made a lot of boo-boos,” Nichols said of the Centennial Foundation. “But you live and learn. Besides, they’re going to replace everything.” A fence had to be removed from her property.

After three hours, the house arrived at its destination, only to encounter another glitch.

The movers had to wait a few more hours before they could place the house on the lot because the concrete, poured the day before to build a foundation, had failed to harden.