Last year, Eric DuVall was named President of the Ocean Beach Historical Society. Duvall has a minor obsession with the sidewalks and streets of OB and Point Loma.
“As a teenager, the sidewalk stamps, dates and contractor, was something I got into - completely randomly — in the late '60s! But at the time, I was probably 13, I just couldn't believe the sidewalks were that old,” he told me. “A lot of the sidewalks in OB, including my own, were poured in the '20s which seemed super old to me then.
'I used to just walk around and/or skateboard around and look at these things, trying to find the oldest ones and more or less cataloging them in a very unorganized way.
"So I developed this great plan to make a big chart to document the sidewalks of OB, with overlays, color coded, etc. as to when the various sidewalks were put in and by whom, etc. Seemed like a great idea to me at the time . . . but I never did it!”
“Fast forward 40 years - I was living in OB again, and I started to notice the all-access ramps going in, and I became concerned that we were losing some of our history unnecessarily. So I went looking for all the cool stamps that I remembered, and did find some, but many were already gone.
"I managed to get a few only weeks before they disappeared, but many are completely gone. So, a few years ago I started putting some of this stuff, mainly sidewalk anomalies etc, on the Vintage Photos of Point Loma & OB Facebook page, in a little feature I called Sidewalk Sunday.”
‘Very surprisingly people were in to it,” he continued. “Some people sent me ideas or photos of something interesting they had seen in a sidewalk. I also put together a little stylebook, illustrating the various sidewalk patterns that have been used over the years.” More pictures.
As part of the Ocean Beach Historical Society’s monthly lecture series, DuVall recently gave a two-hour power-point presentation explaining how history is written in the sidewalks; he can even tell you about most of the contractors who worked in OB and Point Loma.
“My wife and I really enjoyed it, “ attendee John told me. “It was absolutely fascinating. We learned so much and even noticed a 1952 stamp on the walk home. It opened a whole new world to us, we had no idea.”
“One [street] that most people know about is DeFoe Street, which is now Sunset Cliffs Boulevard,” Duvall explained. “There are a number of other streets like that where the name of the street has changed but the previous name remains stamped in the sidewalk. Another example is Narragansett Avenue; at one time it was Arlington Drive. The city supposedly has a policy that sidewalk stamps are to be saved if possible, but a very few are saved, maybe less than 25 percent.”
The requirement to preserve sidewalk stamps came about in 2003, but the city of San Diego’s building records only go back to 1955, which leaves one big unanswered question for DuVall: “What IS the oldest sidewalk on the point?”