John Fry and Nancy Wingo first met in their eighth grade English class, then again in 1996, thanks to a little slice of modern technology called the internet. Now a couple, they’ve collaborated on a photo book, “Pacific Beach Through Time,” compiling “then” and “now” photos of old business buildings, homes and even drugstores throughout the community.
While faces, styles and personalities might change as time meanders on, there’s still that familiarity of what was precious to us, whether it be a person, or a drugstore.
“It's certainly better to know about what used to be here than to not know, and, for those who recognize the old places, the benefit will be a pleasant memory,” said Fry. “That’s what it’s about. I hope people will look at the photos and recall special memories of an earlier time.”
Fry moved to Pacific Beach in 1972, and co-founded the Pacific Beach Historical Society in 1979. He first started working with the photo archives at the San Diego History Center in 1965, so was “quite familiar” with photos of the beach. Having self-published a book on Crystal Pier, he wrote an illustrated history of the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga as well as Images of “America: Pacific Beach.” It’s no surprise Fonthill Media reached out to Fry about publishing another work on the coastal neighborhood.
“I told [Fonthill] that there were very few really old photos of Pacific Beach, and that most of them were not in the public domain,” said Fry. “I suggested that we use photos I started taking in 1979 as ‘then’ photos, and Nancy could take ‘new’ photos.”
With Fry having used a Canon A-1 and color slide film, and Wingo utilizing her Apple iPhone for the current pictures, their book, set to release Oct. 29, embodies the change in times with not only the subjects of photographs, but the photographs themselves. There isn't a lot of “talking” in the book, just captions for the photos, but some places changed hands enough to warrant four photos, instead of the usual before-and-afters.
“Dunaway Drugstore, on the cover, changed enough to get six photos,” said Fry, who has 36 pictures of the drugstore posted on his website. “Knowing what existed a century ago allows me not to fret when buildings that are, say, 50 years old are demolished.”
Fry has more than 200 photos of Pacific Beach’s most beloved buildings, from Cass Street to Turquoise Street, published on johnfry.com. While his niche lies in freezing time through a lens, Fry also believes that change is something everyone should get comfortable with, especially in San Diego.
“Change is inevitable in sunny California, perhaps more so in Southern California, and greater still in San Diego,” said Fry. “I hear folks all the time say, ‘They shouldn't have torn that down.’ For the most part, they have no knowledge of how expensive it is to maintain an aging structure.”
Still, this author and photographer believes there’s something special about Pacific Beach, where time doesn’t seem to move quite as fast.
“A three-story height limit has kept Pacific Beach recognizable, while downtown San Diego has become a forest of skyscrapers,” said Fry. “Mostly, Pacific Beach businesses just change hands, get a face-lift, and reopen. I'm not sure if it's progress, but it is what it is.”
With Wingo having lived in Escondido for many years, Pacific Beach doesn’t hold the same nostalgic memories for her and Fry as it does for long-time residents, but in the process of making the book, perhaps those memories start now.
A list of retailers has yet to be established for “Pacific Beach Through Time,” but copies will be available to purchase locally and can presently be pre-ordered through arcadiapublishing.com, bulkbookstore.com or on the website of Barnes & Noble.