Former Solana Beach resident’s memoir includes colorful stories from area’s past


By Diane Y. Welch


Over the years, former Solana Beach resident Ira Spector has collected a treasure trove of stories, some of which center on the sleepy beach town that was his home for two decades. Now his recollections are being shared in a memoir titled, “Sammy Where Are You?” subtitled, “An unconventional memoir...sort of.”

The book, self-published by iUniverse, Inc., contains 71 memoir vignettes and poems, and represents 15 years of passion and devotion, said Spector who will be reading excerpts from the book, and retelling parts of his stories in an open book event at Timeless Furnishings and Patio, current tenants in a Solana Beach building which he has owned for many years. The event is planned for Saturday, Sept. 24. There will be a cheese and wine reception and signed books will be available at a discounted price.

Spector, a Brooklyn native, who now lives in Coronado, began the memoir as he and his second wife, Carole, who both retired in 1995, embarked on a cross-country road trip and each began journaling as a way to document their trip. The journals were also a way for Spector to mentally revisit his past, which is varied and colorful, and retold with humor and frankness in his resulting memoir. “There’s some juice in there,” he said. The book also serves as a first-hand account of some of Solana Beach’s storied past.

When Spector came to Solana Beach, it was unincorporated with a population of 4,500. “It was primarily made up of relaxed engineers and scientists,” said Spector who was then an engineer. The year was 1963 and the Bill Jack plant, which housed his scientific instrument company located in the quonset huts on South Cedros Ave., was the cornerstone building of the town.

“An extremely obscenely, tall, large, steel, green directional sign, 20 feet long, which was double-sided, dominated the main intersection of the town. The sign read, ‘The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe’ with an arrow as big as a German howitzer pointing east,” joked Spector in the chapter titled, “How a City Was Born.”

A few years later, Spector, who became a sculptor and signmaker in the 1970s, dismantled that sign with his acetylene torch. “It was a well-attended ceremony that was hosted by members of the Solana Beach Beautification Committee,” he wrote.

This was not the first or the last time that Spector would volunteer his energy to better the community that he had grown to love. He recalls how, in 1970, there were signs of development on Solana Beach’s coast. A San Diego-based hotelier had designs on constructing a hotel complex right on the beach in front of the long-gone Dahlia Gardens. One of the County Board of Supervisors, Bill Hogan, who lived in Solana Beach, was 100 percent supportive of the development. “But it didn’t make sense to me,” said Spector.

It also didn’t make sense to others in the community and, through what would become Spector’s signature proactive style, he founded the first Solana Beach Homeowners Association. “Our main thrust was to stop that development, which we did!” said Spector.

Shortly after that proposed development, there was another right on its heels, a plan to cut into the Solana Beach bluffs, removing 85,000 cubic yards of the sandstone to build condominiums. “We got 600 signatures in two days opposing the plan,” recalled Spector, who at the time contacted a professor from Scripps Institute of Oceanography, then the world’s foremost expert on beach erosion, who declared the plan devastating to the bluffs.

There was a public meeting with the County Board of Supervisors, 75 homeowners from Solana Beach attended that meeting, going up against one of the most influential attorneys at that time, Ferd Fletcher, one of Ed Fletcher’s sons. “We were considered the rabble, but we had the hearing and we won the day!” Spector proclaimed.

Stories like these and more, starting with his early years in New York and his military service; his ill-fated pizza business that lost him both $400,000 and his first wife; his encounter with Groucho Marx; world travel adventures though 81 countries; and his decorative sand-casted wall created for Solana Beach’s Unitarian Fellowship, are contained in Spector’s 336-page book. A chapter called, “Sammy where are you?” about a sculpture titled, “The Essence of Sammy,” gives the memoir its title.

All are welcome to attend the free book launch reception on Saturday, Sept. 24, at 2 p.m. at Timeless Furnishings and Patio, which is located at 118 South Cedros Ave. in Solana Beach. Signed books are available for $20 including tax.