Locals and returning visitors to Oceanside, California might have noticed a significant change along the beach town’s coastline in the last few weeks: A bright blue Victorian house that’s been sitting on the corner of Pacific Street and Seagaze Drive for the past 132 years is suddenly gone, replaced by a construction site.
But not to worry: The cottage, famous for its role in the 1986 blockbuster movie Top Gun, has been temporarily moved to a parking lot one block away, where it currently sits tucked away behind fencing and office trailers.
The plan? An extensive—and expensive—restoration, and a new life as an ice cream parlor.
The fanciest house on the block
Long before the cottage was known as the “Top Gun House,” it was named for its original owner, Dr. Henry Graves. Built in 1887, the Graves House is one of the oldest in Oceanside, and one of only a few from the era that remain standing.
“The particular design of this building is called Folk Victorian, which is rare in San Diego County,” says John Daley, vice president of the Oceanside Historical Society. “That’s really the reason we were able to keep it, the rarity of the style of building.”
The Folk Victorian style was developed in the late 1800s as a less elaborate—and cheaper—alternative to more ornate Victorian architecture. But despite representing a more modest style, the Graves House is a rare architectural jewel in San Diego—and during its heyday it was one of the more elegant houses on the block.
Originally incorporated in 1888—the year after the Graves House was built—Oceanside advertised itself as a seaside resort town even in its earliest years, and that reputation has stuck around. Dr. Graves built his cottage as a vacation home on the coast. According to Bruce Coons, executive director of San Diego’s Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), there used to be a cluster of vacation houses in the area, built by people from all over Southern California.
“They’d have their summer vacation homes, and the whole beachfront there had all these beautiful little Victorian cottages,” he says. “[The Graves House] was always one of the fanciest ones, and it’s one of the very last ones still around.”
In Top Gun, the Graves House is where Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis) lives. As the love interest of protagonist Maverick (Tom Cruise), her seaside abode appears fairly prominently in the movie.
The house’s status as a blockbuster movie filming location has no doubt helped keep it from being demolished. But when I get a tour of the house, as it sits on steel beams waiting to be restored, it’s clear that this place has seen better days.
“As you can see, it’s in terrible condition,” says Jeremy Cohen, senior vice president of SD Malkin Properties, the developer in charge of the restoration, as he’s cautioning me to watch my step. On the lot where the house stood previously, two new hotels are being built. The Graves House will be incorporated into one of them as a “culinary outlet,” according to Cohen. “We’re thinking a really great ice cream place,” he says.
While there’s not yet a contract in place that guarantees what the building will be used for, Cohen does seem to have a pretty good idea of what a Top Gun-inspired ice cream parlor would look like. After stepping over rotting floor beams and a crumbling patio to get into the house, he points out where there’s room for a counter, indoor and outdoor seating, and even storage.
“It will be completely renovated to historic standards,” he says, guaranteeing a nod to its Hollywood fame. “Whatever we do, that will be part of it.”
The renovation is slated to be finished sometime next year, and according to Daley, the project could come with a two-million-dollar price tag. “It’s just a huge challenge, because restoring that building is expensive no matter who does it,” he says, adding that the Oceanside Historical Society is at the developer’s service. “We expect them to do a great job and we’re happy to be helpful.”
If you go
It’s possible to catch a glimpse of the house from outside the fencing surrounding it right now, in a parking lot on South Myers Street (near Seagaze Drive) in Oceanside. And if you can’t get enough of the Top Gun stuff, there are filming locations all over San Diego. Use the map below to find them.