Heavenly Views from Clairemont

Bill Swank outside the Buena Vista Garden Apartments on Cowley Way in 1955 with East Clairemont in the distance.

If you have a predilection for adventure and a full tank of gas, you should know the “Joyride Guru.”

Jack Brandais is an old friend of mine. His “Weekend Driver” column has appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune for 17 years. He has written two books on the subject. His latest, Joyrides Around San Diego, is available at local bookstores, amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. There’s more information on his website, www.joyride.guru.

Shortly after Christmas, I asked Jack when was he going to plot a joyride for Clairemont. He responded that if he did prepare such a route, it would include Clairemont’s classic collection of “mid-century modern” architecture.

I have lived in Clairemont since “the mid-century” and have never been particularly impressed with mid-century modern architecture. Sorry. The Buena Vista Garden Apartments on Clairemont Drive remain functional, but they were not inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Perhaps Frank Lloyd Nabisco was a San Diego architect in the 1950s.

View lots have always been important in Clairemont. When people learn we live near Clairemont High School, they ask if we have a view. For almost 50 years, I have claimed a view… of people who have views. We can look out our windows and see our neighbors looking out of their windows at the ocean.

I invited Jack on my joyride that would feature the spectacular views along the windward edge of Clairemont. He offered to drive a vehicle he was testing for his February 17 Union-Tribune story, a 2017 Subaru Forester. We began high above the banks of Interstate 5 and State Route 52 at the northwest corner of Clairemont.

Gerry Schaffer has lived at the terminus of Monongahela Street since 1974. He graciously allowed us to take pictures of the Mount Soledad cross and I-5/52 intersection from his backyard. Gerry has been in Clairemont since 1963. He played shortstop for legendary Ernie Beck at CHS and coached kids for many years at Clairemont Hilltoppers Little League.

Wistfully, he recalled, “I used to look across San Clemente Canyon and black angus were still grazing in what is now University City.” When visitors mention the sound of traffic below, Gerry chuckles and insists they are hearing the ocean.

Mount Soledad and Interstate 5/State 52 intersection. (photo by Bill Swank)

Heading south, the Mount Soledad marine terrace blocks ocean views until you reach the appropriately named Bay Ho subdivision. We stopped at the Catholic Diocese of San Diego on Paducah Drive and explained our mission. Sister Eva Rodriguez, Associate Director at the Office for the Missions, proudly shared the view from her office.

“Father Joe (Miller) is the director. He’s my boss and his office looks onto the parking lot. I thank him for giving me the best office. I love the sunsets,” she said.

Sister Eva Rodriguez and the view from the Catholic Diocese of San Diego (photo by Bill Swank)

Jack had seen the impressive Diocese tower from I-5 many times, but didn’t know the history. Beginning in the 1960s into the 1980s, the facility was originally the Convent of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and became headquarters for the Diocese in 2004.

Further south, when St. George Serbian Orthodox Church was completed at the corner of Denver and Edison in 1969, it offered a commanding seascape to the congregation. Houses now block the view at ground level. It appears when the views got blocked, some nearby residents added additional stories to their homes.

Jack suggested a photo from the belfry, but the church was closed. Later, I took a picture from Iroquois Way to include the distinctive Eastern Orthodox church domes variously known as onions, poppy heads and helmet domes.

The domes of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church (photo by Bill Swank)

On the subject of obstructed views, many Clairemont McMansions feature what appear to be small, third-story outhouses suitable for single-person sightseeing. To avoid the expense of adding a second (or third) deck, some cost-conscious residents with obstructed views have placed couches, benches and beach chairs on the westside of their roofs. Neighbors complain that furniture on roofs constitutes an eyesore. This, too, is life in Clairemont.

View from Pioneer Ocean View United Church (photo by Bill Swank)
View from St Mary Magdalene Church (photo by Bill Swank)
View from Clairemont Emmanuel Baptist Church (photo by Bill Swank)






The next three stops on the tour are also churches: Clairemont Emmanuel Baptist at 2610 Galveston Street, Pioneer Ocean View United Church of Christ at 2550 Fairfield Street and St. Mary Magdalene Catholic at 1945 Illion Street. Their views of Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean are shown in panoramic succession.

The view from St. Mary Magdalene’s parking lot is nostalgic because the home of my high school girlfriend is in the foreground. She was never ready when I’d pick her up for a date in my ’53 Dodge convertible. I had to sit on the living room couch while her father stared at me. My efforts to engage him in light conversation were fruitless, so I stared out the floor-to-ceiling windows at his beautiful view of Mission Bay. Maybe her old man was deep in meditation. Years later, I learned that he was the founder of an abstract metaphysical church with a preposterous name.

It is not the purpose of this column to make religious or political statements about these vistas. There are multiple theories about the origin of church steeples/towers/domes, but most agree they make churches distinguishable from other buildings. The taller the steeple/tower/dome, the more likely the church can be seen within a community and religious leaders have always been encouraged to “build your church on the hill.” That said, churches occupy some of Clairemont’s choice real estate.

Our joyride ends outside the Shiley Center for Science and Technology at the southwest corner of the University of San Diego campus. Access to the west entrance off Linda Vista Road on Marian Way was granted after our assurance to the guard that Jack (the driver) would not exit the vehicle. That is why he is shown surrounded by shadows inside the Forester which is blocking the vista with only a sliver of San Diego Bay, the Coronado Islands and Point Loma visible in the background. The view from the small plot of grass on the other side of his vehicle is spectacular.

Joyride Guru Jack Brandais at University of San Diego lookout point (photo by Bill Swank)

On January 27, 1847, Sgt. William Coray saw “the great Pacific sea” and noted in his Mormon Battalion diary, “…its beauty far exceeded our most sanguine expectations.”

Though seldom mentioned in tourist brochures, these heavenly views from Clairemont will exceed your most sanguine expectations.

As motorists speed north on Interstate 5 past the Interstate 8 intersection, churches and religious structures are easily visible on the eastern slopes of Clairemont. But in their haste, the drivers give little thought to the people on the hillside enjoying the view.