It’s time for Oceanside to replace its beloved beachfront bandshell and amphitheater, according to an architectural consultancy hired by the city.
Home to some of the community’s most beloved cultural, sporting and theatrical events, the seaside scene has hosted Oceanside High School’s graduation ceremonies since the 1960s.
But the years and harsh marine environment have taken their toll on many of the town’s favorite seaside facilities, including the Junior Seau Beach Community Center, Pier Amphitheater, Pier Plaza and Bandstand.
“The important message … is to build a reinforced structure that will withstand storms and still host community events,” said architect Steve Johnson, of Johnson Favaro’s Culver City firm, during a presentation last week at the City Parks and Recreation Commission. .
Oceanside City Council authorized the feasibility study on May 20, 2020 and on January 20, 2021 approved a $294,910 contract with Johnson Favaro.
The company is examining what needs to be done to preserve and protect the structures as well as the open plaza at the base of the municipal pier. Johnson’s recommendations are expected to be presented at the Oct. 26 meeting of Oceanside City Council.
Johnson assured the Parks and Recreation Commission last week that no major changes were planned for the community center, which was built in the 1950s. Rumors that the building could be removed or replaced have caused outrage many residents when the study began a year ago.
“We heard early and often about the high regard people have for the community center,” Johnson said.
His proposal is to “keep the building as it is, with a refresh”, he said. Only minor cosmetic and service system improvements would be made, and no structural upgrades that would trigger requirements to comply with current building codes.
“We always end up with an undersized gymnasium,” he said, with no increase in the number or size of courts or classrooms.
Any new structure along The Strand is limited to a maximum height of approximately 30 feet by Proposal A, meaning the community center will never be able to have a full-size basketball court. Approved by Oceanside voters in 1986, the measure states that nothing can be built at beach level higher than nearby Pacific Street, which runs parallel to the top of the adjacent slope.
The Strand is a narrow street that runs under the pier and provides access to beachfront facilities. Waves break the causeway during high tides, sometimes leaving cobblestones and eroding the asphalt.
Sea water sometimes reaches the base of the community center. With rising sea levels, this is expected to happen more frequently in the future.
“The building remains at sea level,” Johnson said. “It will be subject to future storm damage.”
Even cosmetic changes to the community center will be expensive, Johnson said, although no estimates are available.
Some people have said that instead of spending money on the beach community center, the city should build a new community center somewhere else with a regulation-sized gymnasium.
“We know we’re short gyms,” said Arleen Hammerschmidt, a retired Oceanside High School teacher and basketball coach. “Everything that happens to the Junior Seau Community Center should happen after a (new) gymnasium is built.”
Others wonder about the logic of restoring facilities threatened by rising sea levels.
“I have a hard time throwing good money after bad,” Parks and Recreation Commissioner Cheryl Schiafone said. “If the building is already flooded…it means the building could collapse. Why would we spend money on it…especially if we’re still three or four years away from anything?
If the city council approves the plan, the design and environmental processes could take about two years, and then construction could take 18 months to two years, Johnson said. So far, no funding has been allocated for construction, only for ongoing feasibility studies.
“You’re talking about four years if the stars align,” Johnson said. “It is a complex and old building that must be managed with care.”
The bandshell and amphitheater need to be completely rebuilt in essentially the same location and slightly larger to meet current building code, Johnson said.
The amphitheater, built in the 1930s, can seat 2,500 people, including 1,500 on the tiered concrete benches and 1,000 at the piazza level. The consultant’s proposal is to rebuild with the existing capacity and add 24 additional spaces for wheelchair users.
The rebuilt amphitheater would have a return ramp from the Pacific Street sidewalk to the middle levels, and an elevator from the middle levels to The Strand level. Installing an elevator only halfway up would avoid building structures taller than Pacific Street, as prohibited by Prop. HAS.
Wider aisles and additional restrooms would also be built to comply with ADA requirements, he said.
The bandshell, built in 1937, is the third on the waterfront since 1919.
The new bandshell would be capped at 29 feet to comply with Proposal A, Johnson said. Ideally for viewing, it would be 36 feet tall, which is not allowed, although the current height is just over 23 feet.
A green room, changing room, restrooms and lighting and audio panels will be included, he said. Permanent rigging would be installed to support the lighting and sound equipment, and the sides would be enclosed to protect the stage from wind and rain.
Little would be done to the concrete plaza that connects all the structures, Johnson said, though a large planter in front of the community center would likely be removed.
“It’s a useful community open space to enjoy the waterfront,” he said.
Commissioner Thomas Frankum commended the architect and city staff for their efforts so far.
“When I watched this I thought, ‘Now we’re getting somewhere,'” Frankum said. “You have done a lot of commendable work.”
Johnson also outlined “a long-term projection” for Betty’s Lot, although no changes are recommended at this time. The 111-space paved parking lot can be accessed from The Strand, just south of the town’s recently restored Amphitheater and Beach Operations Center.
A second level could be added, “a new park that’s basically raised 12 feet above the ground with courts — basketball, pickleball, or whatever you want,” Johnson said. No view of Pacific Avenue would be obstructed, and demarcation of the existing lot could increase the spaces up to 128.
“The concept is forward thinking and a way to anticipate sea level rise,” Johnson said.
However, in community meetings to discuss beach facility needs, some people have strongly opposed any changes to Betty’s Lot, he said.
Others preferred to use the idea of adding more parking instead of recreational facilities.