Carlsbad Chamber History
The Carlsbad Chamber – The First 75 Years and Beyond
You might think that the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce grew as the community grew – starting small and growing gradually over the years. Actually it stayed small for only a couple of years before literally exploding.
The Chamber began in 1923 but its history before 1926 is sketchy. At first there were fewer than 20 members and only three or four regularly attended meetings. That would change quickly, however. By 1926 – when the earliest editions of the Carlsbad Champion are available – the Chamber was holding weekly Board meetings and monthly dinner meetings for the entire community. These dinners attracted crowds as large as 350 people.
With no city government – and county government 35 miles away in San Diego – the Chamber quickly become the voice of the community. The agenda for a community dinner meeting in April of 1926 included discussion of the following topics…
- Tree trimming by the electric company.
- Distribution of Chamber membership signs.
- Opening Kelly Slew to the ocean – because it smelled.
- Building and painting of street signs.
- Lobbying the U.S. Post Office Department for daily Rural Route service.
- Producing a promotional pamphlet about the community.
As you can see, the Chamber was acting like our City Council nearly three decades before we had one. And because the Chamber was where the action was in the 1920s, reports on its meetings were at the top of the Carlsbad Champion front page every Thursday. In 1926, their weekly Board luncheons were held on Mondays at the Twin Inns. Monthly meetings were held on Friday nights at the schoolhouse with dinner served by the Woman’s Club. The price was 75 cents a plate, and 35 cents for children.
No doubt the early success of the Chamber was due to the inspired leadership of our first president, Roy Chase, who moved to Carlsbad with his wife Idella and family from the Midwest in 1915.
In a brief time, Chase became postmaster, railroad station agent and opened a small grocery story, all operating out of the Carlsbad Depot. Within a few years he expanded his store, became a sales agent for South Coast Land Company and started his own trucking and construction businesses. Among the buildings he put up were the Los Diego Hotel, the sanctuary of the Carlsbad Union Church and the town’s first theater. In his spare time he served on the school board and his wife was a charter member of the Carlsbad Woman’s Club and supervised the small beginnings of a public library in their general store. As if he didn’t have enough to do, Chase started the Chamber of Commerce, serving as president for the first two years and returning again in 1928.
The couple’s tradition of community involvement was carried on when their daughter Dee Chase married Dewey McClellan, a real estate agent who later became Chamber president in 1932 and 1946 and then became the first mayor of Carlsbad in 1952. Dewey McClellan’s son Gerald and grandson Jayce also served as Chamber presidents. Four generations of Chamber presidents from one family – what a legacy of leadership started by R.G. Chase!
Another prominent citizen followed Chase as president of the Chamber in 1924. Luther Gage was a flower grower who developed a new strain of a hard-to-pronounce flower called “ranunculus.” Today’s famous Flower Fields are descendants of Gage’s original bulbs. Gage was also responsible for introducing the gladiolus to Carlsbad.
In 1926, when W.T. Hart was president, the Champion newspaper reported that “Carlsbad, with a population of 1,500, has a Chamber of Commerce membership of 350” and described a dinner meeting at the Twin Inns attended by 354 people!
In 1936 and 1937, during the depths of the Depression, the Chamber went on a hiatus, with very few meetings held. In 1938-39, Chamber president Sam Fraser helped revive the organization with a new twist. The group was called the Carlsbad Community Improvement Club in hopes that it would attract residents, in addition to businessmen. The Improvement Club continued in 1940 with Oliver Morris as president, but in October, the name “Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce” was reestablished.
That the city became a city at all was in large part due to the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber for many years had the game but not the name – it took the problems of the whole community seriously and worked out solutions, served as liaison with county officials, and took the brunt of complaints – all without any real authority. By 1950, the needs of the community were such that even the hard-working Chamber could no longer cope with them.
Under the guidance of R.R. “Red” Robinson, the active owner of Anderson & Robinson Plumbing, the Chamber spearheaded a concerted effort to incorporate into a city. Facts were gathered and meetings held to inform the residents of the necessary steps. The city of Carlsbad was incorporated in 1952 after a failed move to annex part of the community to Oceanside. The annexation vote failed on May 2,1952, ending in a 45-45 tie. Some of the annexationists subsequently joined the incorporationist camp.
The vote on incorporation was held June 24, 1952, and the proposal was approved, 781-714.
The official population at the time of incorporation was 6,963. The city area was 7.5 square miles, with an assessed valuation of about $5 million. R.G. Chase’s son-in-law – and Jayce McClellan’s grandfather – Dewey McClellan was the city’s first mayor.
By the time Ken Ebright assumed his presidential duties for the 1952-53 year, the city was fairly well established and the Chamber could turn again to its own affairs. Ebright and Dewey McClellan’s son Jerry McClellan, both small airplane pilots, started negotiating with Carroll Kelly to sell some land for what later became McClellan-Palomar Airport.
Miss A. Stephens Lowrie was the Chamber’s first woman president in 1957-58. Albert E. Carne was president in 1959-60 when the final fight was lost for continued railway passenger service. Then, steps were started to acquire the station for a Chamber office and art gallery.
Robert “Buzz” Garland was president in 1960-61 when the most concerted effort for use of the railway station was made. A naval aviator in World War II, Garland, his wife Diana and brother William bought the Carlsbad Journal in 1950 and published it until 1965. That time period put him in the center of the incorporation/annexation battle of 1952. He was the foremost proponent of incorporation.
In 1965-66, former city councilman Claude Helton – or Red, as everyone knew him – placed the Chamber’s accent on the community. The biggest event of his Chamber year was the renovation of the Santa Fe Railway Depot, preparing for occupancy by the Chamber.
When Jayce McClellan took over as president in 1972, the Chamber was celebrating its 50th anniversary, and Jayce was the fourth generation of his family to so serve. That year saw an in-depth study and recommendations for a city sign ordinance.
By 1974 the population had grown to 19,600 and the city’s boundaries grew through annexations to include 35 square miles. It was around this time that a downtown sidewalk sale began to evolve into the Carlsbad Village Faire, now the largest event of its kind anywhere. The Faire was started by the late Buddy Storm and Keith Kennedy; 21 years later, Kennedy is still the Faire manager. Now the Faire draws 70,000 to 90,000 people to the streets of downtown Carlsbad on the first Sunday of May and November.
The late 1970s were an exciting time, with the city growing rapidly, property values skyrocketing and Proposition 13 being passed by the voters. A development moratorium was the overriding issue when Bob Ladwig served as Chamber president in 1978.
The Chamber office had been in the old train depot since the mid-sixties. By the late 1980s, the Chamber had outgrown the Depot and moved to new offices on Avenida Encinas, next to the freeway. Don Hoyt, president in 1988 for the first full year in the new office, said the move was somewhat controversial at the time, but the new office served the Chamber well for a decade.
Probably the most significant business development in Carlsbad history came in early 1993. That was when we openly competed with an East Coast community and won the privilege of becoming the first American location for a LEGOLAND family amusement park. Elaine Lyttleton was president in 1993 when the Chamber sent a delegation to make a presentation to LEGO officials in Billund, Denmark.. The next year, Phil Urbina was president and Lyttleton ran a successful campaign to pass a referendum endorsing the LEGO project.
Another Chamber milestone was reached in 1997 when, after 10 years on Avenida Encinas, the Chamber moved to the new Carlsbad Company Stores center on Paseo del Norte at the base of the Flower Fields.
The Chamber’s greatest accomplishment was reached in 2002 when the Chamber purchased its own permanent headquarters at 5934 Priestly Drive in Carlsbad. The 6,400 square foot building includes three conference rooms, a lobby large enough for Chamber displays, private offices, room for growth and state-of-the-art technology capabilities.
“It is amazing to think of how far this Chamber has come over the past 75 plus years,” said Chairman of the Board Fred Arbuckle. “We now represent more than 1,700 businesses, which provide employment to approximately 35,000 people. The chamber continues to prosper, advocating for Carlsbad businesses, while balancing that need to maintain the high quality of life that makes Carlsbad so unique.”
Indeed, intense community pride seems to be the common thread that has driven the Chamber throughout its storied existence.