by Donia Moore
Talk to varied San Clementeans and chances are you will get several different versions of which were the first foodstuffs stores in town. Like many things San Clemente, the locals have their favorites. Walker’s, Adair’s on El Camino Real, El Camino Market and Louis Le Gakes’ San Clemente Market on Del Mar all vie for the honor, and they were all opened in 1928. But due to missing records, it’s difficult to pin down exactly which was the first. One thing is certain though. The cost of food then was a lot less than now.
Visitors and residents alike shopped for fresh produce while sea breezes wafted through the open-air markets. A loaf of bread sold for 57 cents. Hearty cabbages cost 2 cents a pound. Coffee was 50 cents a pound. Juicy watermelons sold for 2 cents a pound. Lemons cost 15 cents a pound and a dozen oranges could be had for 57 cents.
Of course, the value of money was different then, too. To provide an estimate here’s a guide to the value of $100 US Dollars for the first year in the decade to the equivalent in 2009 money. If you had $100 converted from 1920 to 2009 it would be equivalent to $1,023.
Sunday Chicken Dinner in San Clemente
Family Sunday dinners in San Clemente often featured fresh-roasted chicken. 1928 saw the rise of the Chicken in Every Pot campaign. At 42 cents per pound, chicken was more expensive than beef at $.39 per pound.
This famous USA political campaign slogan originated in 16th century France. It is attributed to Henri IV. The promise remains constant. Prosperity means having the pleasure of good food in sufficient quantity. This phrase was revived in the 1928 USA presidential campaign. Although it is attributed to Herbert Hoover, this candidate never made this specific promise. It was a slogan created and promoted by his party.
In Henri IV's time, any kind of a meat was considered a luxury. Before modern methods of poultry raising rendered fowl inexpensive, chickens were prized for their eggs. Tough old hens were consumed when they ceased production. Only the wealthiest people could afford the luxury of consuming tender young chickens. A survey of historic USA prices confirms chickens were generally more expensive than beef and pork through World War II. A Sunday chicken dinner in San Clemente was very much a prized family event.
Many food advertisements of this era typically featured full recipes using a particular product. Del Monte offered information on how to concoct a peach cobbler with canned peaches. Libby’s instructed would-be users about how to serve canned baked beans. Beef Stroganoff was the trendiest new dish but then, as now, no one was sure why it was called Beef Stroganoff.
Le Gakes Produce Market - Avenida Del Mar
Built in 1928, and located in the Berg Building, the first open-air produce market run by Louis Le Gakes was by far the largest of the three. Three- thousand square feet of open-air market space took up a block on San Clemente’s main street, and sold virtually the freshest produce you could get in the area at the time. It was in the building that now houses the Stanford Court Antique shop and others. There were stores on the street level with apartments above. The Berg Building was the first commercial building to go up in San Clemente, following the stringent “Spanish Village by the Sea” architectural requirements of San Clemente founder Ole Hanson.
El Camino Open Air Market - El Camino Real
El Camino Market, a neighborhood icon in south San Clemente for at least 75 years, closed its doors in 2013. Longtime owner Tony Duynstee took over the market at 2733 S. El Camino Real with his twin brother, Peter, in 1965. Duynstee doesn’t know exactly how long the store was open but says it goes back to the late 1930s, when El Camino Real was the only highway between Los Angeles and San Diego.
The Duynstees, originally from the Netherlands, settled in Los Angeles but decided that they would prefer a more peaceful, less crowded area where they could build a business. A chance encounter led them to San Clemente.
The small family-owned El Camino Market was having a difficult time competing with the new All American Supermarket in North San Clemente. The Duynstees took it over and fixed it up, changing living space to market space in order to offer a bigger selection to their customers. Eventually, Peter Duynstee left the store to open his own market in north Orange County.
The market was originally open-air, set beneath a simple roof that could be closed off by dropping plywood doors on hinges. Weary travelers driving between Mexico and Los Angeles often stopped at this halfway point for a meal or a break before continuing on their way.
The market’s clientele ranged from residents and users of the popular Trestles surfing beach to the Marines and construction workers who built Camp Pendleton during World War II. Long before cell phones, El Camino Market had the only public telephone for miles. This was important because surfers at remote Trestles could let family or friends know when they were ready for a ride home after a day of surfing.
In the 1970s, local students stopped for treats at El Camino Market on their way home from Concordia Elementary School. In the 1980s, the market was still an integral part of South San Clemente’s community, serving as a cyclists’ meeting point, hiring community teenagers, and, of course, selling food.
Today both markets are shuttered but the memories and the sense of community they brought to San Clemente still survive. So does much of the fresh produce they offered. Stop by the San Clemente Farmers’ Market, Sundays on Del Mar and Wednesdays in North Beach. The fruit and veggies may cost more than two cents a pound these days, but the freshness and the sense of community are alive and well.