“I can hear the cracks as they happen,” Burke Inman told me. “I’m kind of freaked out to be honest.”
The historic Silver Spray Apartments at 5116 Narragansett Ave in Ocean Beach is fabled for its old salt-pools, the Plunge, and of course, the haunted ballroom.
And now, it looks as if the three-story building is adding a new chapter to its legacy — a large and growing sinkhole has formed along the public access sidewalk that wraps around the lower northwest corner of the building.
“I noticed the sidewalk had dipped below the drain, so I began to investigate,” Inman explains. “Then I looked towards the steps and noticed they had pushed forward much more than I remembered, so I looked back at some old photos I had taken and noticed there wasn’t any cracks in the photos.
"So I began following these cracks around…and because there was a family of raccoons living under here, I went to go and see if they were in there and all of a sudden I noticed the opening was crushed, it used to be a good two-feet high space that you could see, so that got me really curious and I still didn’t realize the significance of it until I went inside, when I went inside it shocked me, it blew my mind…that was about four months ago, I can show you?”
Looking at the entrance below the sidewalk, to ‘go inside’, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it, but had to see for myself. Lying face first, I shimmied through the narrow crevice below the crumbling wall and sand, an opening of maybe 3 feet at best…under the sidewalk is completely hollow cave — it’s dark and wet and to say the least, unnerving.
Originally known as the Silver Spray Apartments, Hotel, Plunge and Camp Holiday, construction began in 1917 and took two years to complete, hosting its grand opening on May 1, 1919. Built by William Dougherty on the legendary site of the 1800s shack of OB’s first “homeowner” Captain Thomas, the property thrived in the 20s, as the general public enjoyed the hot saltwater pool that drained into the ocean, a skating rink, and ballroom/dance hall.
The original construction materials used are visible in the cave and on the exterior wall facing the beach. Wooden planks, buckling under the weight of the sidewalk and above, seem ready to succumb to the elements. Light from the bulging sidewalk pours in through cracks in the ceiling, various drainpipes and broken shards of pottery scattered along the floor add a sense of history, as does the writing on the walls.
“It look likes this is where hobos left messages for each other,” Inman said as he showed me the writing on the walls. “I’d love to know more about the writing, seems like a cool piece of history to save…but when I originally came down here a few moths ago, it wasn’t this hollow, a lot of the sand is getting washed out…"
“The concrete they used back then was mixed with beach sand… beach sand contains salts that deteriorates the slab or plastered surfaces, causing faster deterioration and corrosion. You can see it in the walls, the seashells embedded in there, and to the touch, you can easily chip pieces off…its not something you’d expect to endure over a long period of time.“
One month ago, if you jumped on the sidewalk, it was solid. As of February 1, if you jump on it, you can feel it bounce — history literally crumbling at our feet.
The sinkhole was reported to the City of San Diego Public Works Construction Management & Field Services Division on January 31st. I received a call-back from one of the engineers, who said he understands the urgency of the situation and was going to track down “the right guy to send out.” He indicated that I would be notified via a follow-up call as to the status of the sinkhole.
Not long after, I received a call-back asking what my involvement was. I explained I was working on an article for the Reader due to concerns of the resident I spoke to, as well as having been under the sinkhole itself.
After not hearing back from the city, I contacted a firefighter from O.B.'s Station 15 on February 1st. Firefighters came and inspected the sinkhole and cave below it at approximately 5:16 p.m., and immediately notified a Public Works supervisor, Street Division, who arrived around 7:00 pm.
“We’re going to secure it off a little bit more,” Wayne Van Tassel told me.
At 8:00 p.m., the geologist arrived. “He looked under there,” Inman texted me. “And said ‘yep, you’re right, it’s bad.”
In July 2017, the City of San Diego's Development Services Division posted a Notice of Application on the public stairwell located at the end of Narragansett Avenue, adjacent to the Silver Spray Apartments.
I reached out to the project manager for clarification regarding the stairs adjacent to Silver Spray, as I was concerned about the sinkhole and wasn’t sure if it was included.
“The project was presented to city council on January 9, 2018, and they have approved the Site Development/Coastal Development permit,” city project Manager Golsa Soraya told me.
This project is now with the California Coastal Commission for an appeal period, which ends on February 5, 2018 at 5 pm.
No word yet on if this newly developed sinkhole will put a kink in the pending above-mentioned plans.