Up Close & Personal – Inside Look at Encinitas’ New Mayor Catherine Blakespear – Encinitas Magazine by Kyle Thomas (Encinitas Magazine Stories of Encinitas CA)
To truly understand the passion for our community of our newly elected Mayor of Encinitas Catherine Blakespear, a fourth generation Encinitas resident, we need to first go back in history to the arrival of her grandparents, Milton and Dorothea Smith in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, nearly 100 years ago.
Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear sitting on the rock wall built by her grandfather from stones mined from his rock quarry in Escondido. Location -Smith family home on Rubenstein Drive, Cardiff Ca.
During her sophomore year in high school, Dorothea’s family moved to Cardiff in 1932, where they joined a sleepy beach, ranching and agricultural community that was comprised of maybe only 25 families. Their house on Edinburg Avenue had an uninterrupted view of the ocean. Dorothea told her oldest daughter Rosemary, “In those days if you had a piece of ocean-view property, it wasn’t like you were lucky. It was all wide open. You could see the ocean from almost everywhere.” It was here in Cardiff that Dorothea’s mother and stepfather started their flower business growing gladiolas.
In 1925 Milton Smith and his mother moved from Long Beach to Rancho Santa Fe. Soon after they relocated to Cardiff, opening a restaurant on the beach they named Frankie’s and living in a home out back on the ocean side of the restaurant. This later became the location of the Hydra Restaurant, then Charlie’s Restaurant, and where the Pacific Coast Grill is now operating today. When Milton was age 18 he bought the land at the top of the hill on Rubenstein Drive in Cardiff, which is still the family’s nucleus for his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren today.
1939 – “Restaurant Row” in Cardiff-by-the-Sea Ca. From left to right: Beacon’s Inn, Georges Restaurant, Gas Station & Garage, Cardiff Lodge, Frankie’s Restaurant & the Smith Family Home out back.
Milton and Dorothea first met at the tennis court in Glen Park in Cardiff in 1936, began dating, eloped and got married the following year, using the plastic ring that came out of a Cracker Jack box that they had shared. That same year they got their general contractor’s license and Smith Construction Company was formed. The original Smith Construction office built by Milton on property he bought on the east side of Highway 101 along side of the lagoon is now the current location of The Kraken Bar. Over time the Smith Construction Company became the largest employer in Cardiff, with a list of notable construction projects including the Solana Theater, the Poinsettia Lanes bowling alley in Leucadia, the amphitheater at the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito in Solana Beach and the elementary school near downtown Del Mar.
Milton Smith receiving four $1,000 bills at the Smith Construction Company Christmas Party from his wife, Dorothea. Dorothea had surreptitiously saved the money from company earnings to pay back a loan to Milton’s mother.
One of Cardiff’s proudest moments was the building Cardiff Elementary School. Milton, wanting to ensure the most state of the art school for his own children to attend, intentionally underbid the job to cover only his cost of labor and materials, which cinched him being awarded the contract. Completed in the miraculous time of only six months in August of 1950, the dedication ceremony was attended by a record crowd of over 400 people. The school was the pride of Cardiff.
Milton, a member of the Rotary Club for over fifty years, was very generous and community minded, donating work for the Ecke YMCA and the Solana Beach and Encinitas Boys and Girls Clubs. He was always ready to help out with excavating or hauling sand for the fire department, the PTA or the schools.
The Family Home on Rubenstein Drive
A central character in this story is actually the mid-century modern home on the hill on Rubenstein Drive, designed by Dorothea and Ray Jung and built by Milton’s Company. Milton had purchased the property in 1929, and now that the family had grown to three daughters and a son it was time to build their dream home. The project began in 1949 on the design of the modern Frank Lloyd Wright style home and took many years to complete.
Eight-Year-Old Catherine Blakespear’s School Photo
Our Future Mayor is Born
Catherine Blakespear was born to Dorothea’s youngest daughter Tricia and John Blake on February 29, 1976, both attorneys working and living in Del Mar. The family spent considerable time however at the home on Rubenstein Drive in Cardiff, which had become the central social hub for all of Milton and Dorothea’s family.
When Catherine’s parents separated in 1985 Tricia returned home to the house on Rubenstein where she had grown up. Nine-year-old Catherine and her sister Victoria began spending half weeks living between Del Mar with her father and step-mom and Cardiff with her mother and grandmother and with her aunt just across the street.
At age 11, Catherine took a chance to hit the gavel at the dais after her mom, Tricia A. Smith, finished sitting as a temporary judge for the day. A little bit of foreshadowing.
Leaving the Nest
In 1994 Catherine graduated Torrey Pines High School and left Cardiff to attend Northwestern University in Chicago, where she earned her BA and MA degree in Journalism. She then became a reporter at the Los Angeles Times, and subsequently the Associated Press before continuing on to earn her law degree.
While living in Salt Lake City, Utah and covering the Olympics as an AP reporter Catherine met and married her husband Jeremy and had her two children, Ava and Oliver.
“This photo is my family in 1982: My dad John Blake, my mom Tricia A. Smith, my younger sister Victoria Blake and me.”
Returning Home“Moving back home to Encinitas”, reflects Catherine, “gave me the connection to my community that I never had while living and working as an AP reporter in Salt Lake City. I was covering news and happenings for the press but I was never connected to the soul of the place. It wasn’t my history.“
“I always wanted to live my life here. I feel it’s important as a young person — and I think I got this notion from my dad who felt very strongly about it — that you fly from the nest. I went to college at Northwestern in Chicago and then lived in different places for jobs such as Washington D.C., New York City, Ventura and Salt Lake City. I followed the work.”
“When my husband and I first started dating, I felt clear internally that I wanted to live in Encinitas. So that was part of the negotiation up front whether this relationship was going to last… ‘Are you willing to move to California’?
“When we actually did move, we bought a house nearby my families’ historic home – almost next door to my mom, my aunt, and my grandma. We moved back into this whole family structure, and it was the best decision I ever made. It transforms your life to live right next to your family, because of the village component of raising children.”
“The kids run back and forth between the three houses. They have this incredible depth of interpersonal relationships between generations. I had that growing up with my mom, grandma and aunt. It is invaluable. I can’t even describe how important it is during their formative years, having a relationship with their grandma, and great aunt, and great grandma as well as my dad and stepmom, who live in Solana Beach.”
Out of the Mouths of Babes
When asked what she thinks about her mom being the new mayor of Encinitas, 8-year-old Ava Blakespear stated with great enthusiasm, “It’s a privilege!” Ava also intimated that she feels she has the right genetic stuff from her mom and dad to follow one day in her mother’s political footsteps and plans to become President one day
Ava, Catherine and Oliver Blakespear out back of their historical family home and their Smith Canyon property, on Rubenstein Dr. in Cardiff Ca.
As Our New Mayor
“One of the things that interest me the most,” says Catherine thoughtfully, “is connecting Encinitas with its roots. The projects that connect us to our roots are things like rehabilitating the Pacific View school site so that it can be a vibrant art center. It used to be a part of the education community, with hundreds of local families graduating from Pacific View as students. In the future, it will be a community-gathering place centered around the arts. Now it’s in the process of being rehabilitated. There’s a commitment by the city and all of the arts organizations in the city to make that happen.”
She mentioned another city landmark, La Paloma Movie Theater, as an important part of the city’s history. “I hope that it will remain as a theater for the indefinite future, and be revitalized.”
A passion that is an ongoing theme with Catherine is our cities connection to agriculture. The property behind the large house on Rubenstein Drive comprises six acres including Smith Canyon along side Rossini Creek, where the family grows food and raises chickens and the children love to play.
“I grew up here in Encinitas,” Catherine reflects “with a family that did suburban foraging. My mom and grandmother knew all the plants, and the edible things that you could eat. When we would walk around the streets we would pick fruits, like natal plums and Eugenia berries, which people don’t typically buy in the store but are edible. We have fruit trees in our backyard. We grow vegetables, macadamia nuts, pomegranates, oranges, lemons, tangerines, sapotes, cherimoyas, avocados and even a “Buddha hand citrus.”
Her commitment to local food and farming, informs her worldview. “The connection between how we live now in Encinitas and where we came from is an important part of our soul.” She mentioned the importance of the Encinitas Community Gardens, the San Diego Botanic Garden, the San Elijo Nature Conservancy, and the Leichtag Foundation. “These are all things that are an important part of who we are. The city needs a close connection to these organizations.”
Catherine, Oliver, and Ava Blakespear with their family cat, Bella.
Advice for Encinitas Youth
When asked what thoughts she might offer young people just starting out, she recommended engagement. “I believe in that axiom from a recent book, to ‘Lean in’. When you have an opportunity to take a leadership role or to strive or commit to do something… do it! Instead of deciding to let someone else do it, or maybe ‘I’ll do it later’ or ‘I’m too busy’. I have no doubt that I wouldn’t be the mayor now if I hadn’t been engaged from the time I was in high school. Having many professional experiences and leadership experiences and intellectual commitments lays the foundation for opportunities.” When Catherine moved back to Encinitas, she hung out her sign as an attorney doing estate planning and also got involved with the city by being a member of the city’s Traffic & Public Safety Commission. She ran for and was elected to the City Council in 2014 and was elected Mayor in November of 2016.
Gratitude and Commitment
“I am so profoundly grateful to have been elected to represent this incredible community. I’m humbled every time I think about the fact that I’m the Encinitas Mayor. It’s such an honor and I intend to do everything in my power to live up to expectations.”
Dorothea Smith and her oldest daughter Rosemary on Dorothea’s 90th birthday
Read the Catherine Blakespear story in our February/March 2017 Issue of Encinitas Magazine