ENCINITAS — While many kids her age were watching the “Lone Ranger” in the 1950s, Barbara Dixon was helping her grandad, Henry Felix, cultivate avocados for Calavo on his single-acre Encinitas ranch on Crest Drive.
“I was perfectly happy with that, we would go back and forth from Encinitas to a house they had in Los Angeles because they didn’t want to leave it empty, and my grandfather hadn’t yet retired,” said Dixon, now a 73-year-old living in rural Oregon. “My parents were both working in Los Angeles at the time.”
Dad, Roy, was employed by Dun & Bradstreet filing credit ratings on companies; mom, Helen, was a dancer in Broadway shows such as “Hell’s a Poppin.” She spent much time touring with the more popular shows going from state to state before Dixon was born.
“She met my dad when she was touring; they were on a train,” Dixon recalled. “He was going to officer’s candidate school in the 1930s.”
Because her parents were always working, Dixon was raised on her maternal granddad’s ranch.
Who was Henry Felix?
Henry Felix grew up in Tucson; a second-generation Hispanic born in the United states. He had several brothers and sisters. One of his brothers, Winslow, is credited with the founding of Felix Chevrolet in Los Angeles. Her grandmother, Rose, whom she would help prepare tortillas with every other week, was born in Hermosillo, Mexico.
“Winslow was very successful because he did a lot of things that people were just not doing at the time,” she said. “He would send a mechanic to a house if someone’s car needed fixing. And he had and knew a lot of Hollywood people who would come to the dealership. At night, he would put lights on the cars and they looked like jewels lighting up the showroom. He was way before his time.
“He wanted Henry to come into the car business with him, but my grandfather wasn’t interested. He didn’t want to sell cars,” she said.
Dixon added that Winslow was killed while playing polo with some movie stars when he was in his early 40s.
As for Henry, he was working for the post office on train runs and was tasked with sorting out envelopes, putting them into the pigeonholes on the trains. But he yearned for a quieter lifestyle, and he found it in Encinitas.
“After filling their lot in L.A. with fruit trees, my grandparents wanted to retire to a bigger place,” Dixon said. “So, he drove up and down the coast. Someone sent him to see the area on Crest Drive. It was divided into acre lots; and that’s when he picked out his lot in the early 1940s for $1,200.”
While growing up, she said, her grandparents went back and forth from L.A. to Crest Drive and the ranch.
“In Encinitas, before making the permanent move, he planted 100 avocado trees and he fenced the whole thing,” she said. “He built a small house with one bedroom in the back of it and five years later, he built a second larger home and they retired. At the time, it was a beautiful place especially because you could see the ocean and then turn around, and there were mountains behind the little home. My grandfather always built his own houses and he could do it all except for the electrical work. “
Even though the first home on the ranch was small, it had a lot of character and drew much attention.
“Grandfather had a lot of relatives that would show up and want to stay over the weekend,” she said. “He built a porch across the whole front of the house, and I remember when there was company coming that porch would be filled with old cots, because there was only one bedroom.”
Dixon would often sleep on a cot, too, since she didn’t have her own bedroom — that belonged to her grandparents.
Small but mighty
Although tiny, Dixon recalled the home her grandad built was a lot of fun for a young girl.
“It was like camping,” she recalled. “He built this big barbecue near the house — made of bricks or stones — and we would sit out there in old chairs because we didn’t have patio furniture. There were no town lights to compete with the stars, and there was always an amazing star show with shooting stars.”
Dixon added that inside the small home there would be a radio playing Mexican music and they’d occasionally hear coyotes howling.
“When the fire was ready, grandfather would bring out a big thing of short ribs, and we’d take it inside and everything else would be ready,” she said. “Grandma was boiling corn on the cob, and on the table, there was a big salad in a glass bowl with lettuce, green onions, and avocados — you couldn’t beat having all the avocados you wanted.”
Although the ranch never had a name like others in the area, she always referred to it as “The Ranch.” But it was a place she loved to be, watching and helping Henry work the land.
“I would go with him in the fields and, I loved to watch,” she said. “Every avocado tree had a basin around it, he would come along and hoe the weeds down that were starting at the base. He’d then search for gopher holes. If there was a gopher, he’d put a trap in and then he would put the hose in it that would keep the water from rushing in. He’d go to the next one, and each one would be cleaned. With 100 trees, it took a lot of time to get the job done, but I loved it.”
She said she would have also have her chickens around her, which was a treat.
“I’d bring these baby chicks home and grandmother would put lights on them to keep them warm and as they got older, grandfather built a coop to keep them in the back of the house,” she continued.
“I’d let them out when we are working in the backyard and they would just follow us along,” she said. “It was always funny to me it was like parade.”
Dixon spent most of her early years at the Encinitas ranch until she was around 5 or 6 and her parents bought a home in Manhattan Beach.
“But I would still spend summer at the ranch … Christmas vacations and on weekends,” she recalled. “I’d go by train from Manhattan Beach and I thought it was so fascinating to be able to ride it down to Encinitas.”
In terms of what Encinitas was like in those early years, Dixon said there wasn’t much, certainly not like today.
“There was a train station that was pretty impressive, and a small grocery store,” she recalled. “On the side of the building there was a parking lot and big mural on it that looked like the scene out of an old butter package. A lake, birds, a deer and lots of greenery … There was a feed store that had chickens, and I’d always beg my grandfather to get me a chicken.”
She added that there were only a small handful of businesses including a dress shop.
“The town was only about two blocks and the rest was land,” she said. “The lots were big, and you would see blooming flowers, and huge fields of flowers all over the place, and of course the avocado trees, which got big.”
She said for fun they would go once or twice a year to Oceanside in the evening and hang out at the pier to catch lobsters.
“There were tons of them and we’d catch them almost as quick as we put the crates in the water,” she said. “Then people started catching on … and ruined it.”
Then ranch life stopped when she was around 10 and her grandparents sold the beloved property in 1955.
Incidentally, the ranch Henry built in 1951 was listed on Redfin and last sold for $360,000 in 1996.
After the ranch was sold, her grandparents moved to Redondo Beach because they were getting on in age. A few years later, her grandmother became ill and died of pancreatic cancer.
“She did a lot back then, she helped my grandfather with everything from cleaning the two houses to harvesting the avocados,” Dixon recalled.
Eventually the entire family, including her own parents, moved to Hawaii. They remained on the island for 15 years and then she decided to come back stateside and check out Oregon.
“It was very confining to live on an island and expensive,” she said.
So, Dixon returned to California and drove to Oregon with her dog at the time. She settled in Garibaldi, Oregon, which is part of Tillamook County, where she opened a restaurant.
“I worked at Mama’s Fish House in Hawaii as a bookkeeper and the office manager,” she said. “I always worked in the restaurant business and thought it would be ideal to open my own in Oregon, but the winter was too rough, and it didn’t make it.”
She then relocated to a more rural area within the same county, where she has lived for about 10 years in a mobile home neighborhood with her two cats — Duff and Felix the Cat. She said she enjoys the quiet and doesn’t have a computer or a cellphone — neither of which she wishes she owned.
“I live a pretty quiet, serene life, and I like it this way,” she said. “I do miss the ranch some days, it was a wonderful place to grow up. I do have a yard here that I love and it’s perfect.”
Dixon said she has not been back to Encinitas but is curious about what it looks like now. However, she feels perhaps it is best to remember it as it was.
“What I remember about Encinitas is: empty fields, empty beaches and empty roads.”
She said as for Henry, he lived to be in his 90s and had heard all the avocado trees he planted had been removed from the property because they had gotten so large. However, the second house still stands that her granddad built, and a second floor was added.
“I loved being there as a young child,” she said. “I learned so many things from my grandparents. Life was different then, and I am grateful for being a part of that life for so many happy years.”