OCEANSIDE, CA – Today we share the story of Kristi Hawthorne, Director of the Oceanside Historical Society, of one of Oceanside’s oldest and most famous houses.
Oceanside has several notable sites, including the pier and the historic Mission San Luis Rey. However, one of the most notable and beloved landmarks is what we call the “Top Gun” house. It has been recently restored to its full Victorian glory, nestled in a new beachfront complex on North Pacific Street.
To tell the story of the “Top Gun” house, you have to go back to the early days of Oceanside. Andrew Jackson Myers, a San Luis Rey Valley rancher, noted that a rail line had just been completed from Los Angeles to San Diego (via Riverside) along the Pacific Coast. Myers then applied for and received a land grant of 160 acres in 1883. Trains would pass directly over Myers’ new land grant, which made his property very valuable.
That year, a city is surveyed, drawn and streets are named. Myers began advertising his new town in newspapers throughout Southern California. This new Oceanside town was advertised as a new “resort town” and excursion trains brought in potential land buyers from the interior valleys.
The train stopped at a simple wooden platform to unload passengers. There wasn’t much to see in those very early years, but one of the first commercial blocks contained the Hayes Land Office, Louis Billiard Hall and Mayroffer’s Saloon.
Trains traveled from Los Angeles to Oceanside via Colton, and passengers came to Oceanside as early as 1883 and 1884 to inspect the booming city and invest in oceanfront and beachfront real estate. Many residents of Riverside, Redlands, and San Bernardino have purchased property in Oceanside and built vacation homes there.
In 1886 Dr. Henry Graves of Riverside came to Oceanside and while here bought part of a piece of land on North Pacific Street for only $1.00. The following year, Graves purchased two more lots, one of which was on the northwest corner of Pacific and First Streets (now Seagaze Drive). Lot 7 on Block 16 was purchased for $1050.00 and would be the site of a new summer home for him and his wife Sarah. (Read Dr. Graves’ in-depth story)
Dr. Graves no doubt read about Oceanside in the local newspapers where excursion trips were published and after taking his own trip, was sold on the newly established town. Several months after buying his beachfront lot at the top of Pacific Street, Graves had a house built. The South Oceanside Diamond reported on November 2, 1888: “Dr. Grave’s house, under the able direction of Ed. Durgan, is nearing completion.” (Note: It has been incorrectly reported for a number of years that the house was built in 1887.)
The ornate Victorian cottage was built as a vacation home Dr and Mrs Graves would ‘summer’ in Oceanside and return to Riverside. The local newspaper described it as “their annual vacation by the sea”. The couple continued to visit Oceanside every year. In 1904 they had an extended stay as Oceanside Blade reported on May 21, 1904: “Dr. and Mrs. Henry Graves [are] down Riverside and will be staying in their seaside cottage until October.”
The Graves sold their Oceanside home in March 1905 for $1,800 to Charles H. and Lillian Burlock. Dr. Henry Graves died on October 20, 1905 in Riverside at the age of 78.
Charles Burlock was appointed Deputy Constable in 1897 by Benjamin Franklin Hubbert. Burlock married Lilian Wilcox in 1899 and moved to San Diego where he was manager of the San Diego Gold Mining and Milling Company. The Burlocks sold the house to JF Anderson, and it was later transferred to Southwestern Realty in 1910. But even until 1914, locals continued to refer to the house as the “Graves’ cottage” because of its association long time with Dr. and Mrs. Graves.
In 1921 the house was purchased by FC Janssen who were active in Oceanside real estate. The cottage was sold in 1926 to BC and Margaret Beers, the former being the president of the First National Bank of Oceanside and developer of the Plumosa Heights subdivision on Alberta, Leonard and West streets. (Read the extended history of Graves House)
For over 90 years the house had been painted in dark hues, which is noticeable even when looking at the house in black and white photos. Years ago the original brown color was revealed in paint scrapes. It was the Regos who painted the house its signature blue color that most remember. Little did they know that Hollywood would notice their little blue Victorian cottage by the sea.
In 2001, the City of Oceanside acquired the Graves House through eminent domain to control future development of the beachfront block in hopes of securing a resort project. Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) recognized the significance of the Graves House in 2001 and placed it on its list of most endangered historic resources, stating: “This charming Victorian seaside cottage was built for Doctor Graves of Riverside. This is Oceanside’s oldest and last best beachfront cottage. Featured in the movie Top Gun, it has consequently been known as Top Gun Cottage. The site is threatened by the vast hotel development proposed by Manchester Resort Hotels and the City of Oceanside. The chalet is located in a corner of the property and could easily be incorporated into the development and used as a complementary facility to the hotel. At this time it looks like it will be moved offsite, out of context, its use yet to be determined.”
The beloved “Top Gun” house celebrated its much-anticipated grand opening on May 20, 2022, as the home of the High-Pie boutique, which is brimming with memorabilia from the hit movie. A few days later came the release of the long-awaited sequel “Top Gun: Maverick” starring Tom Cruise. To the delight of moviegoers, a replica motorcycle like the one Maverick rode on his iconic stage in Oceanside, was placed in front of the house. Lines are now forming around the house to see inside and buy a pie. People pose on the porch for selfies and group photos and pretend to be Maverick on his bike.
With two magnificent new hotels, Oceanside has regained or fulfilled its resort status, envisioned so many years ago by our founder Andrew Jackson Myers. The careful restoration of the historic Graves House, aka the “Top Gun” house, is a gem on the waterfront. It is sure to hold a place in the hearts of locals as well as movie buffs for many years to come.
By Kristi Hawthorne
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