Rancho Santa Fe artist spearheaded pier project


After living in the same house for more than a third of his life, 90-year-old Chuck Bahde calls Rancho Santa Fe home. But he will always remember Ocean Beach as his second home, and with good reason.

Living in that area in 1962, Bahde was an industrial designer, the head of the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and a popular local figure. He made a promise to an older Ocean Beach resident, Carl Shroder, who had always dreamed of having a pier at that beach, mostly for fishing.

Four years later, Shroder served as master of ceremonies as the 30-foot pier opened on July 2, 1966 — due mostly to the tireless work of Bahde. The moment was commemorated last month with a 50-year anniversary celebration.

“When I look back, I don’t know how I did it,” Bahde said. “I had a lot of good people working with me (including Congressman Bob Wilson, former California Governor Pete Wilson’s dad).”

“There were objections at the Ocean Beach Town Council,” Bahde said at the anniversary event. “Some people were afraid of traffic, of more people coming in. They wanted to keep Ocean Beach exactly as it was.”

But Bahde convinced enough people that the pier was a good thing, and that it wouldn’t immediately lead to further development. Fifty years later, Ocean Beach is still happy that he did.

Now living in Rancho Santa Fe, Bahde gets back to Ocean Beach once in a while, and enjoyed himself at the recent celebration. For many people, getting a project like that done would be the overwhelming highlight of their lives. But for Bahde, it’s part of a long list.

At 17, he enlisted in the Marines and was decorated during World War II, when he was in a special squad that helped capture Iwo Jima. The former standout prep athlete then went to the Institute of Design, part of Illinois Institute of Technology, graduating with a degree in industrial design and architecture. Bahde worked in the corporate world for an aircraft company and had several others careers in the Midwest, where he was born.

Later, he went to work for a public relations firm in Geneva, where he met his wife Pilar. She was born in Madrid but raised in Switzerland and, after meeting Bahde, the two moved back to the United States and got married.

With Bahde pivoting careers again, going into industrial design and remodeling houses, the couple moved to San Diego in 1959 and raised their two children, Chuck Jr. and Cheryl Kim in Ocean Beach and Point Loma. The Bahdes also have two grandchildren and a great grandchild on the way.

Now married 65 years, they live on a five-acre property in Rancho Santa Fe — which Chuck Sr. has remodeled several times — since 1975. The house is known around the Ranch for having a “garden” which is made of painted rocks and concrete, colored tile, cactus, succulents and other drought-tolerant plants which replaces the original 6,000 square feet of turf.

That 30-year undertaking is just one art project of many Bahde has worked on in this latest phase of his life. Most recently, he’s been working on what he calls his “doodles,” which are smaller versions of the Bauhaus-inspired sculptures he’s been working on since the 1990s.

The bulk of his those bigger art pieces are what he calls “Dimensionals,” fashioning pieces out of scrap plastic into innovative sculptures that are often enhanced by semiprecious stones, antique crystals, beads and other colorful items he and his wife have collected on their travels around the world.

Bahde says he doesn’t name the pieces because “you can ask five different people and they will see five different things in them.”

They are “Dimensionals” because not only are the sculptures interesting on their own, but presenting them with light, which creates shadows, adds a whole new, well, dimension, to each piece.

The personable Bahde, who seems to have lived a thousand lifetimes in his exciting 90 years, used to have multiple garages filled with his collection of 12 or 13 classic Corvettes, Mercedes and other cars, as well as a couple of top-of-the-line RV trailers. Now, those garages are full of his sculptures.