Newspaper’s history celebrated at Blade 1936 restaurant in Oceanside
The historical Blade-Tribune building on Seagaze Avenue is now a modern Italian restaurant and bar
When Italian restaurateur Mario Cassineri and his partners purchased the 1936-era Blade-Tribune newspaper building in Oceanside a few years ago, they knew it was a treasure trove of history. But they didn’t realize that would be in the literal sense.
While renovating the historic 83-year-old landmark over the past 2-1/2 years, they found rolled-up 1950s-era newspapers stuffed in the walls and dismantled sections of the old printing press hidden under the floor. Some of these items will soon be displayed on the walls and shelves at Blade 1936, the 167-seat newspaper-themed modern Italian restaurant that opened Monday in the building at 401 Seagaze Drive.
Throughout the years-long renovation, Cassineri said that whenever he was at the property, hardly a day went by without local residents stopping in to check on the progress. Former Blade workers brought in mementos, newspapers and photographs to share and they were excited to see the building being restored and its journalistic history preserved in the restaurant’s name, decor and menus.
“They were excited about the project but they loved us even more when they realized we wanted to keep it as original as possible,” he said.
Milan-born Cassineri has operated Italian restaurants in San Diego since 2006, when he opened BiCE Ristorante in the Gaslamp Quarter. BiCE closed in 2017, but this summer Cassineri and his wife, Francesca Penoncelli, opened the now-thriving Ciccia Osteria in Barrio Logan. Cassineri said friends thought he was crazy opening Ciccia in the still-transforming Barrio neighborhood, but he said he likes looking ahead of the curve. That’s what attracted him and his partners to downtown Oceanside when they spotted the old Blade building for sale 4 years ago.
Back then, the rundown property housed a used furniture store and a barber shop and many of its historic architectural features had been covered up with plaster and paint. He described it as a diamond in the rough in a city still polishing its facets, so they decided to take a risk, anticipating the building boom that’s now taking place.
Originally, they planned to open the restaurant in Fall 2018, but unexpected obstacles — like digging out the underground press and the need for building earthquake reinforcement — delayed its debut until now.
The extra time gave the owners more time to design the interior, which includes walls of old-fashioned newspaper-themed photographs, shelves of vintage typewriters, flash cameras and letterpress wood and metal type, and newspaper page-style wallpaper. An illuminated awning over the front doors includes pictures of newspapers printed at the building from the 1930s to 1960s, and the original engraved parapet on the face of the building, reading “Blade Tribune and News,” has been uncovered and restored. There are even T-shirts and coffee cups featuring the Blade’s old cartoon mascot, “Mr. B.T.”
According to a report prepared by the city, the property was purchased from the city’s founding fathers in 1888 by a Catholic priest. Then it passed through a series of owners until it was purchased in 1936 by brothers Paul and Harold Beck. The aspiring journalists arrived from Iowa in 1929 and their father purchased and merged the local Oceanside News paper and a weekly publication to create the Blade Tribune and News.
By 1935, they’d outgrown their first office on what’s now Mission Avenue and commissioned famed architect Irving Gill to design a building in this art deco/Streamline Moderne style to house the paper’s offices and press room. It was to be the last building Gill would design before his death, just one month before the building’s dedication on Nov. 24, 1936.
The newspaper would outgrow its space once again in the mid-1960s and move to a larger building on South Coast Highway. In 1995, the Blade merged with Escondido’s Times-Advocate to form the North County Times, which was absorbed into The San Diego Union-Tribune in 2013.
Cassineri, who lives in downtown San Diego, is the culinary director and managing partner for Blade 1936, and San Marcos resident John Carlo Ferraiuolo is the partner, general manager and head pizza chef. Ferraiuolo is famed for his award-winning Neopolitan-style pizzas at Caffè Calabria in North Park and Red Oven Pizza.
He said the pizzas he’s created for Blade 1936 are all made with imported Italian flour, tomato sauce and cheeses, as well as oil made from olives grown in Italy. Among his 13 specialty pizzas is the Affumicata, with house-made fennel sausage and house-smoked Provolone cheese. The pizzas cook in just 55 seconds in a 900-degree wood-fired Stefano Ferrara brick oven, also imported from Italy. The pizza dough rises for 48 hours to make it lighter and fluffier, and any dough not used on the day it’s ready for cooking is baked into bread.
The restaurant’s chef de cuisine is Chris Narvaez of Sorrento Valley, who most recently worked at the Michelin-starred Spruce in San Francisco. He brings a fine-dining touch to the large plates menu at Blade 1936. Five pastas are made in-house daily, there are separate vegan and gluten-free menus, and the large plates menu includes his modernist twists on veal Milanese and chicken saltimbocca.
Despite its chefs’ fine-dining credentials, Blade 1936 is a casual sit-down restaurant with small plates priced from $8 to $12, pizzas from $13 to $15, build-your-own pasta dishes for $14.50 and large plates from $13.40 to $26. Wines by the glass start at $6 and draft and bottled beers are $7. Cocktails are $10 to $12.
Cassineri said the new generation of restaurant diners are looking for quality ingredients, good service and a fun dining atmosphere, but they don’t want the traditional hours-long fine-dining experience. They also can’t afford to pay exorbitant prices, so the Blade 1936 menu is intentionally simple and affordable.
“I’d prefer to have 300 people in here on a Saturday paying $25, than to charge a lot more and have the once-a-month special-occasion crowd,” he said.
Blade 1936 is open for dinner only for the next few weeks. In October, weekend brunch service will be added. Limited lunch service may be added eventually if there’s enough customer demand. Next spring, they’re planning to open a patio lounge on the rooftop.
Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. daily. Brunch service will be added on weekends in October
Where: 401 Seagaze Drive, Oceanside
Phone: (760) 231-1456