The good life at Oakwood apartments

It's not at all like it used to be

Welcome to the Oakwood Gardens apartment complex where, after midnight, the action switches to the Jacuzzis.
  • Welcome to the Oakwood Gardens apartment complex where, after midnight, the action switches to the Jacuzzis.
  • Image by Craig Carlson

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!”

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.

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.

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.

“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.”

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.”

“Oakwood is a nouveau boarding house,” explains Jack Canaan, a public relations and ad man who has spent many of his sixty-one years in Pacific Beach and until recently lived in Oakwood with a succession of female roommates, including, at one time, his grown daughter. (He presently lives nearby, next door to his former mother-in-law in a duplex owned by his former wife. “On Sunday mornings people start coming down to the rec room for brunch around elevenish. Table conversations are lively. There’s plenty of gossip over juice, bagels, and cream cheese, and coffee, and there’s usually someone playing the piano — oldies or semi-classical stuff. People share each other’s newspapers and there’s always some wise guy around who wants every section but the news. That’s followed by a heated but friendly discussion on the L.A. Times editorials around the pool, where there’s a bridge or backgammon game going on. Sometimes Mahjong. On Sunday evenings a lot of people get all gussied up to go down to the barbeque.”

Eating from the same bountiful salad bowl does have a unifying effect, especially in a room where the punch bowl overflows and is replenished every half hour and everyone knows your name or your face. It’s a tight little island.

“It’s Ellis Island,” says Barbara as she stomps out her cigar in a spittoon. “It’s the first stop on the West Coast; lots of Oakwood residents are from east of the Mississippi, and it acts as a gentle introduction to California. It’s a message.

“What amazes me most,” she continues, “is that people are around all week long during the day. Doesn’t anyone around here work? What do they do for money?”

“They’re students, free-lancers, semi-retireds, coupon clippers, creative livers, and a few people with night jobs," answers Barbara’s Kreplach Chorus of voices positioned around the pool. "Snowbirds from the Northeast in the winter, sunbirds from the deserts in the summer. Marrieds, singles, inbetweeners.”

Welcome to Oakwood Gardens apartment complex after midnight, where the action switches to the Jacuzzis, the afterhours gathering grounds for Madam Oakwood’s local rakes and laid-back libertines searching for a revival of the swinging Sixties and the trendy, libidinous amusements that the era implied.

The security guards are aware that Jacuzzis after dark are aphrodisiacs. Guard Ivron Saunders says he looks the other when on patrol, he glimpses late-nighters lolling around in the warm water “As long as they are quiet, no one is being disturbed,” he says.

From poolside comes another voice, that of a venerable searcher who prefers to be called Hal. An Ex-police officer and presently self-employed hydro-space engineer. Hal has been with Madame Oakwood since 1969, when after his third divorce, he left the pleasure boat in which he was living and opted for tenancy on Ingraham’s west side. “I wasn’t ready for an isolated apartment,” he says “I thought it would be a nice halfway house set-up. It was the only exclusively singles apartment around and there was always plenty of action. I’d pull in from work, leave my new car in the allotted space, drop into the rec room, walk over to the bar and have a drink and put some change in the juke box. There was always someone to dance with. There was a restaurant on the premises and spontaneous parties every night with plenty of action. It was called South Bay Club at that time and it was known as Sin City. The people were beautiful—upwardly mobile executives types and airline stewardess’,” smiles Hal, who still bills himself as a true sensualist. “In 1974 they changed the name to Oakwood West and couples started moving in.”

Hal wears dark glasses even at night. A series of gold chains adorn his tanned, hairy, half-century-old chest. He is usually seen in his nocturnal wanderings moving between the two Oakwoods, alone, night after night in search of a new face, a new relationship—maybe. The quintessential cruiser has gone through a series of roommates of both sexes during the past dozen years he has shuffled back and forth on Ingraham “making the rounds,” He presently shares his east-side two-bedroom apartment with a woman, “We’re platonic,” he says, “but once in awhile she gets jealous. Wanna come up later for a drink?”

Don Leonard is visiting research physicist at UCSD. At forty-five, divorced, he recently moved to San Diego from the East Coast. On April 1 of this year he checked into a one-bedroom furnished apartment at Oakwood (east side), for which he is paying $535 a month. He contends that familiarity breeds content. “It was traumatic enough to move 3000 miles and get into a new work environment without subjecting myself to strange, new living quarters. I felt I needed to be in a familiar situation. Oakwood was familiar to me because I spent two years living in the Oakwood Apartments in Alexandria, Virginia. I knew what to expect. Like the Golden Arches, they’re all alike. There were no surprises for me. I’m using it like a hotel and I feel secure and comfortable. People are friendly and I have no trouble finding companions my own age,” he says.

More than just providing a hedonistic halfway house for those who are in between relationships or cities (“TV news personalities Janet Zapala and Ann Shaw, basketball player Freeman Williams and developer Jack Pardee all stayed here before they found a more permanent place.” Says security guard Ivron Saunders with a hint of pride), or for tennis nuts, volleyball players, or professional athletes who stay for just the season, or for those like Jack Canaan, whose insomniac nights caused him to seek comfort and companionship in the Jacuzzi at all hours. Madam Oakwood provides easy solutions. Especially for those who are willing to be enslaved by their environment, the constant motion creates a carousel high, a perpetual distraction, and with the added bonus of familiar surroundings.

Tina Stendson, a surgeon’s widow who was forced to sell her Paris apartment due to spiraling French inflation, doesn’t splash around in the Jacuzzi, but that doesn’t mean mother Oakwood has ignored her. “I was born in Europe and lived abroad for many years,” says Tina. “After my husband died, I spent some time as a NATO worker in Greece. I had heard about Oakwood from an old friend who lived there, but by the time I sold my things and arrived in San Diego, she had already married and moved out. But after I observed all the activity around the pool and the ongoing bridge games, I felt that Oakwood would be a good, friendly place for me. So I moved into a furnished studio at Oakwood in March, 1978.”

On the evening after Thanksgiving of that year, Tina crossed Ingraham Street on the way back to her apartment. She was struck down by a car and was rushed to Mission bay hospital by ambulance and was placed in the intensive care unit. Her entire left side was paralyzed and her spleen was so badly damaged that it had to be removed. Now, ten surgeries later, Tina is finally able to navigate alone with the use of a walker. “I don’t think I would have made it if it weren’t for the people at Oakwood. I hadn’t even lived there that long—only eight months—yet they were my family. They visited every day all those seven months I was hospitalized. They saw to it that I pulled through,” she says. “The recovery process was slow but now I’m living at Oakwood West with a roommate. We share the rent and companionship, yet she has her life and I’m starting to have mine again. Economically I wouldn’t be able to live here on my own. So far I haven’t collected a nickel from the accident—not even for medical bills. All I have is my husband’s pension.

Fox's crossing

Fox's crossing

Since Tina’s near fatal accident, there were two fatalities at the same spot. Oakwood newcomer, Vernon Fox, outraged at the deaths, fought singlehandedly for a crosswalk linking the two sides of the broad street. You can’t fight city hall, warned the chorus of voices from around the pool. But Vernon Fox did, “He held meetings, called the cops, made lots of noise, and finally won,” says Jack Canaan. “He’s a real fighter. He takes care of all of us,” says Tina. ‘I’m grateful for all the caring people who live here,” she adds, motioning to the pedestrian safety zone that has come to be known by some as “Fox’s crossing.”

There is yet another dimension to the consummate Mother Oakwood’s far reaching influence. According to keen Oakwood observer Jack Canaan, at least fifteen “in-house” marriages have recently taken place among Oakwood residents. “No one has to walk around the corner for love or companionship,” asserts Canaan. “When Artie Deutsch’s wife of many years died of cancer, the community was very supportive and within a few months he found himself blissfully married to another Oakwood resident. It happens a lot. Artie was president of the Grey Panthers, you know.”

After all these years, Madam Oakwood is now in her mature plantings, and despite the cruisers and swingers, the resort atmosphere, there is a strong coterie of regulars who remain. They have seen it all and now bear witness to Oakwood’s evolution. The Iranian students have come and gone and so have the athletic teams, observes the chorus of voices scattered around the pool, leathering their sun tans. But the tennis courts are full and sleek narcissists are still swearing in the saunas. Some people still stop upon occasion to smell the flowers. Yet this is not just another idle summer. The leaves are stirring.

Welcome to Oakwood Gardens apartment complex, folks, where demography is destiny and those unfortunate souls who live east of Ingraham received notices around the first of the year (addressed to “occupants”) notifying them of intent to request permission from the city to convert the 564 apartments units on that side of the street into condominiums. Without warning the beloved matriarch tightens her bra strap and, in a swift stroke, becomes corporate mother. Oakwood was sold in September, 1980, to Richard Traweek, head of an investment corporation bearing his name. He calls this project Traweek Investment Fund II.

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."

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."

Seventy-year-old Vernon Fox bears such resemblance to New York City Mayor Ed Koch that former New Yorkers stop him on the street, he says, to ask what he’s doing in San Diego “I’m here strictly for the climate,” he winks.

Fox spent thirty-five years as a recording engineer with CBS in New York City and presided over the Recording Engineers Union for six years, an organization he founded. When he and his wife Florence (a retired legal secretary and published essayist on prison reform) moved to California, they fell in love with La Jolla and rented a apartment in Villa La Jolla, where they remained until last year, when the Villa turned condo. Then they moved to Oakwood, where they planned to stay. “We’re part of the ecology,” says Vernon, implying an editorial we. “We belong here by virtue of the fact that we are here.”

“Listen to the pinging refrigerator,” Florence Fox says by way of digression. “We’ve complained about it many times but they’ve never fixed it. They didn’t paint when we moved in and they didn’t even shampoo the carpet—yet they collected a cleaning deposit from us. The luxury is only on the outside, where it’s visible; the inside is neglected.” Nevertheless, despite complaints, the one-bedroom unfurnished apartment is home to the Foxes, whose books, original artwork, and ceramic collection reflect their combined interests.

Their second-floor apartment is brisk with discussion while phones and doorbells ring intermittently, sometimes simultaneously. It’s been like this, they say, ever since the Oakwood Tenants Association was formed. The first meeting was held April 2 at nearby Crown Point Elementary School auditorium for the purpose of organizing a protest to prevent the city planning department from granting Traweek permission to convert the Oakwood apartments into condominiums. The planning department, however, granted permission. Now nearly 400 tenants who feel threatened by potential eviction ate being led by Vernon Fox and neighbor Lupe Jimenez.

According to Vernon, most members of the Oakwood Tenants Association are senior citizens whose collective nature is apolitical. “These people are not old-time New York City leftists,” he says. “They’re mostly retired merchants, professionals, and civil servant. Their involvement has never gone much beyond their jobs and their families. Many of them are living on a fixed income which is being eaten up by inflation. They are responsible people who’ve owned their own homes, many of them, raised their children, worked hard all their lives, and came to Oakwood to enjoy their ‘golden years’—until now. Their retirement has suddenly turned into a nightmare.

“Massive condo conversions have created a wandering tribe of middle-class, aging, displaced persons who are being dispersed from one DP camp to another. We came from Villa La Jolla to Oakwood and there are twenty-five refugees who came to Oakwood last year when The Plaza here in P.B. turned condo. Now where? This is a modern Diaspora!” He raises his voice. “Outrage mobilizes people!”

“We’ve been activists for a long time,” adds sixty-eight-year-old Florence, who acts as secretary for the association. “We’ve been fighting injustice all our lives, but for most of the others it’s a new experience.”

“We never worked this hard when we were getting paid for it,” smiles Vernon. “But America’s Finest City is the enemy of senior citizens and someone has to resist. The battle is being fought on many fronts. After our appeal to the city council to reverse the planning department’s decision, the next front is the Regional Coastal Commission, and we’re going to win that one,” he says, confident that the commission will not grant its required approval for Oakwood’s conversion to condominiums.

Eighty-four-year old Irv Von Rogov drops in at the Foxes’ apartment for the latest news from the front. The phone rings again, Ben Bergen, soon to celebrate his ninetieth birthday, calls to find out how to join the tenants association. “He went to city hall to protest and now he’s inspired,” announces Vernon. “He’s been living in a furnished studio here for four years, and at his age he certainly doesn’t want to start looking around for another place.”

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

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

Lupe Jimenez is a kindergarten teacher in Chula Vista, mother of five grown children, and co-chairperson of the Oakwood Tenants Association. The two-bedroom, two-bath apartment she shares with Stanley Pogran, a sixty-two-year-old former bookstore owner from the metropolitan New York area, feels like a home. A hand-lettered Gothic stroll on the outside of the front door clearly expressed the view of the occupants: Illegitimi Non Carborundum, it read (“Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down”), but it disappeared soon after Lupe hung it up.

An imitation Miro rug, handcrafted by Stanley, hangs over the fireplace, while a piano occupies a prominent place on the opposite wall. Classical music wafting from a stereo immediately tells the casual visitor that Stanley and Lupe don’t regard their space as a hotel.

‘Know who wrote that piece for the mandolin?” Stanley calls from the kitchen, where he’s mixing frozen daiquiris.

“Beethoven!” Lupe answers from the balcony off the living room.

Lupe draws a nonscientific profile of the forty percent of Oakwood’s renters who are permanent residents. “We pay our rent on time. We don’t have orgies or smoke pot or play loud stereos. We’re ideal renters who’ve learned respect for the property of others, because most of us have been property owners ourselves. We’ve come from all across the United States and we’ve established new roots here. Now we’re about to be evicted and suffer the psychological, physical, and emotional trauma of relocating again,” she says.

“For some of us, it may prove fatal. How do we go about looking for a new apartment in San Diego’s tight housing market, for instance, the vacancy rate in Point Loma is 1.1 percent. HUD guidelines say renters are in trouble when the vacancy falls below five percent,” She continues, “And what assurance do we have that the next apartment we lease won’t be converted from under us? Until the new law regarding conversions became effective in 1981, landlords weren’t even required to notify their tenants of their intention to convert to condominiums. Many of them—Genesee Gardens, Village Glenn, Monte Collwood, Diane Apartments, villa Vista, Lotus House, Brentwood Arms—all had approval to convert before the new law become effective. Their tenants may be complacent now, but they’re really sitting ducks because the rug can be pulled out from under them at any time and they won’t know what hit them,” says Lupe.

Currently an estimated 18,000 apartment units in San Diego have already been approved for conversion to condos, and according to Assistant City Planner Phil Garofolo, several hundred more have received planning department approval since January of this year. “The trend has slowed considerably since January, though,” says Garofolo, who thinks the slowdown is the result of temporarily high interest rates.

“I don’t know of any other city in America where the mayor is so blatant as to appear before a financial supporters’ investment meeting to urge people to invest in Oakwood,” says an outraged Lupe Jimenez, “The conflict of interest is so clear, after accepting money from Traweek for Wilson’s gubernatorial campaign. In December of that year, he “pledged” another $37,600.”

There is a different tone in the apartment Dr. Ruben Shapiro and his wife Mary have occupied for eight years. The white haired Dr. Shapiro is confined to a wheel chair, completely paralyzed on one side by a series of depilating strokes, Mary who used to teach social work at Wayne State University in Michigan, is grateful to the neighbors for looking out for her disabled husband while she ran errands and shopped for groceries, “I don’t know what I’d do without them,” she says “We all look out for each other.”

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

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

Moving around is difficult for Ruben Shapiro but he has managed to attend the hearing downtown as part of the group of protesters from the Oakwood Tenants Association. ‘I was exhilarated being there although you could tell that from looking at me in the wheel chair,” he says wistfully, “This is an evil thing that is happening to us.”

After spending more than fifty years as a surgeon (he specialized in lung cancer), Ruben Shapiro acts as father confessor to many of his friends at Oakwood, and though he has not practiced medicine since he retired eight years ago, people still come to him with medical problems. He advises them on how to handle their visits with physicians and what questions to ask. He has helped cancer victims make peace with themselves after they’ve been told their illnesses are terminal. Mary wheels him to the recreation room every day. He looks forward to these sessions, he says, “It means everything for me to be out there, to be needed. I’m still a human being. I have self-worth—and my sense of self is being threatened, not only my community and physical space.”

“We’re all in the same position,” says Mary Shapiro, “We came here friendless. Due to common needs, we all depend on each other and we’ve formed strong bonds. We’ve spent all our lives contributing to society and now we’re being let down. Where will we find another ground floor apartment with doorways wide enough for a wheel chair and with and extended family?”

Eddie Conn: “We used to discuss Zen.”

Eddie Conn: “We used to discuss Zen.”

Because Dr. Shapiro can no longer hold a book or turn a page due to his paralysis retired IRS agent Eddie Conn reads to him a few hours every week. “We used to discuss Zen,” says Conn, who’s been playing two hours of tennis on Oakwood’s courts every day for the past seven years, “But now all we seem to talk about is the condo conversion problem.”

Due to his wife’s frail health, doctors advised Eddie to move from New York City to an environment with a warm climate, one where daily exercise was available. He played tennis and his wife took art classes and used athletic facilities as therapy. During the past seven years, the Conns developed a solid group of Oakwood friends. But now, rather than concentrating on tennis talk, Eddie is an Oakwood Tenant’s Associate building captain whose responsibility is to keep up with the latest conversion law information to disseminate to residents o the building where he lives. He makes himself available to answer their questions and its preoccupied with condo talk.

“Oakwood used to be a wonderful place, but now there is a pervasive undercurrent of tension of fear all the time. Frankly, condo conversion is the only topic of conversation at the brunches, the barbeques, and at the pool. Sometimes I think I’d rather live in a place where people just live day to day and they don’t talk condo,” he says, “When my wife first learned about the conversion threat, she wanted to move out immediately, ‘Why wait until everyone else has moved and then there’ll be no apartments left for us?’ she reasoned. But I’m a little bit more optimistic and I think we have a fighting chance to beat this thing. Oh, we’ve been apartment hunting just in case, but for now, we’ll hang in for a while longer. But it’s impossible to relax in this climate of apprehension.

“For our close circle of friends,” he continues, “everyone is either gone or in the process of leaving. My wife is feeling the wrench of separation. People who have lived here for a long time are scattering—some are leaving the state, some are actually moving in with their kids. Long-term friendships are breaking up. A few elderly non-married couples are re-examining their relationships and then splitting up. The finical considerations have become enormous. Those of us who have been living here for years are paying much less rent than we’d have to pay elsewhere for equal living quarters. People are frightened; they’re being forced to make decisions that they don’t want to make—that they’re not able to make. Many of them don’t drive and they need to be near a bus line. Nothing is the same anymore.”

“Another big change has taken place in the public game rooms. My wife and I used to go there in the evenings without friends. We enjoyed shooting a game of pool and having some quiet conversation. We don’t go anymore. The Navy is so solid here—it’s beginning to look like a navy complex and the game room has suddenly taken the atmosphere of a public pool hall. Now, I have nothing against the Navy,” he says, “but things just aren’t the same.”

Welcome to Oakwood Gardens apartment complex, friends, where the U.S. Navy has placed hundreds of enlisted men ($1,000 per month per apartment—maid service included), and, according to James Kavanaugh,

  • Where soft butts can sit without bruises
  • To talk of saving the world from smog and overpopulation
  • And dire things like poverty among the poor
  • Who forget to take the pills designed by the chemists
  • Clean enough to swim in Mr. Oakwood’s pool without showering

Not so, Father Kavanaugh. The talk is geared to the housing shortage and to moving and to senior citizens whose rent is being subsidized by their children so they won’t be forced to spend their remaining yeas getting bruised in cities far more brutal than San Diego. Oh, there’s still lots of motion at Oakwood, it’s true, but it’s not of the merry-go-round nature of earlier days when the search was for the sun’s most salutary effects. Now vans, trucks, and U-hauls pull in and out of the parking lots and a hand-printed sign in large blue letters juts out from a ground-floor patio, “Farwell and Thank You To All My Wonderful Neighbors Who Made Every Day Special For Me. I’ll Miss You All.” It is signed, “Hilary.”

On Tuesday, May 26, buses containing members of the Oakwood Tenants Association arrive downtown from Pacific beach to attend the appeal hearing at the city council chambers. Rueben Shapiro is there in his wheel chair. Ben Bergen is in the crowd even though he can’t hear the proceedings very well. Tenants carry place cards that read, “Mayor for Sale,” and “San Diego Has The Best Mayor That Money Can Buy,” one placcard in particular reflects the slogan of the Joe Hill generation. It says, “We Shall Not Be Moved.” “Most of the protestors think the slogan came from the sixties, from the peace movement,” says Martha Schaffer, a five-year resident of Oakwood and whose husband is a former San Francisco deputy district attorney “They’re really political innocents. This is the first time in their lives they’re fighting and they’re putting up a wonderful fight. The tide is turning and I think we are going to win.”

Channel 39’s cameras focus on Vernon Fox, whose oratory is particularly pungent. He’s aware that playing a poor hand well is more important than holding a good hand. “Like Diogenes, we must continue searching for an honest public servant who understands that his prime function is to serve the people, not the greedy predators who victimize them,” he intones to a thunderous round of applause. The city council then votes 5:1 against the Oakwood Tenants Association’s appeal to rescind condo conversion approval. The mayor wasn’t even in town. He was on the road somewhere, presumably looking for an honest vote.

Welcome to Oakwood Gardens apartment complex, echoes the faint, disembodies voice of Madam Oakwood, we presume, where there is no lease on the good life — where Illusions are still for rent, and for half of what the navy pays.

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