By Kimberley Graham
In the middle of the 300 block of Eighth Street stands a classical Spanish villa. Typical of many of the beautiful homes built in this style in Coronado in the 1930s, the residence is a treasure of our island. It not only captures our town’s past and present but also secures our future.
Stepping through a bold purple door – the current owner’s favorite color – the foyer affords entry into three main sections of the house: a large and inviting living room with a wood-burning fireplace, a formal dining room, and the second floor via a central sweeping staircase. Whether you choose to ascend the stairs or ride the built-in elevator, what awaits you is a master wing, complete with a spacious master bedroom suite and a large viewing deck. An adjacent wing comprises a large bedroom, sun porch, and office. The red tile roof, mature landscaping, with lush foliage and vibrant flowers, and tiled walkways enhance the beauty of this property. For seventy-five years, the owners of 330 Eighth Street have entertained prominent Coronado guests in the large patio. A generous-size cottage, complete with its own kitchen, provides accommodations for longer-term company. It is certainly a home in which to relax and enjoy the best of Island life.
330 Eighth Street was constructed in 1936 for Admiral Jonas H. Ingram. Born in 1888 in Jefferson Clark County, Indiana, Admiral Ingram was an officer in the United States Navy during both World War I and World War II.
A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Ingram was the head football coach from 1914 to 1917, going on to become the Director of Athletics from 1926 to 1930. During the Mexican Revolution, he received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the 1914 Battle of Veracruz. Upon graduation from Annapolis, he served aboard the battleship New York, which operated with the British Grand Fleet during World War I. During World War II, he was Commander-in-Chief of the United States Atlantic Fleet, and was personally responsible for the safety of the convoy of American troops to Europe. In his highly illustrious naval career, he also earned the Navy Cross, three Distinguished Service Medals and the Purple Heart.
After being detached from duty as Commander-in-Chief in 1946, Admiral Ingram retired to his home at 330 Eighth Street. Ending forty years of military service, it was now time for him to enjoy retirement, and what better place to do so than the Emerald Isle! But the Admiral was not an idle retiree. He immediately accepted the position of Commissioner of the All-America Football Conference. Upon his resignation in 1949, he went on to serve as vice president for the Reynolds Metal Company as well as the superintendent of summer schools for Culver Academies. In 1952, he suffered a series of heart attacks, passing away on September 10, 1952.
Admiral Jonas H. Ingram was interred in Section 30 of the Arlington National Cemetery. His wife, Jean Fletcher Ingram, who passed two years later, was buried with him.
This was not the end of housing prestigious officers for 330 Eighth Street. Sometime after the passing of Admiral and Mrs. Ingram, Admiral “Jimmy” Thach purchased the residence; and with many a fine social gathering of his peers, he continued the grand home’s naval legacy.
John Smith Thach was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas on April 19, 1905. Like Admiral Ingram, he also graduated from the United States Naval Academy. He spent two years serving on battleships before training as a naval aviator in 1929Earning his wings in 1930, Thach quickly built a reputation as one of the most skilled aviators in the Navy. As a member of Fighting One – known as the “High Hats” for the tuxedo-style hat they adopted as their logo – Thach and his squadron performed stunt work for Clark Gable’s 1931 movie, “Hell Divers”. During this period, Thach also set endurance records with experimental aircraft. For the next ten years, he served as a test pilot and instructor, establishing a reputation as an expert in aerial gunnery.
In the early 1940s, Lieutenant Commander Thach took command of Fighting Squadron Three, also known as “Felix the Cat”. It was while serving this unit that he and wingman Edward J. “Butch” O’Hare developed the “Thach Weave”, a combat flight formation that could counter enemy fighters of superior performance.
The maneuver had its first disciplined test at the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942. Using the “Weave”, Thach’s VF-3 downed nineteen out of the twenty Japanese fighters attacking the carrier Lexington. The widespread employment of the maneuver at the Battle of Midway, by planes flying from the Yorktown, showed similar positive results for the U.S. Navy, establishing the legend of the “Thach Weave”.
With his tactical skill deemed too valuable to risk at sea, Thach was transferred to Jacksonville, Florida to teach combat tactics and create training films that became the standard for a generation of naval aviators. It was then that he developed the “big blue blanket” system to provide an adequate defense against Kamikaze suicide attacks.
At the close of World War II, Commander Thach returned to the Pacific as the operations officer to Vice Admiral John McCain’s carrier task force, and was present at the formal Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945.
Thach was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1955. He was placed in command of an antisubmarine development unit, “Task Group Alpha”, with the Valley Forge serving as his flagship. He subsequently appeared on the cover of “Time” magazine for his contributions to anti-submarine warfare, a primary focus in the ongoing Cold War. In recognition of his outstanding performance and achievements, the Navy created the Admiral Thach Award, given to the best antisubmarine warfare squadron.
Thach was promoted to Vice Admiral in 1960 and served as the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air in the Pentagon, where he presided over the development of the A-7 Corsair II among other naval aviation programs. During his stint as Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, he received his fourth star. He was now a full Admiral. Among Admiral Thach’s notable awards were the Navy Cross with Gold Star and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal with Gold Star. Also of note is that he and his brother James were among only a handful of naval officers to serve as full admirals while on active duty.
Retiring from the Navy in May 1967, Admiral Thach settled in for some much needed and well-deserved “R ‘n’ R” at his family home. John Smith Thach died in Coronado on April 15, 1981, a few days shy of his 76th birthday. He was buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego. The guided missile frigate USS Thach was commissioned in his honor in 1984.
John and Madalynn Thach had four children. The family lived in the Eighth Street home for over thirty years. Heirs of Admiral Thach passed ownership of the residence to civilians in 1988. The Elliott family resided there for 14 years. In March of 2010, retired music producer George Koen and famed heiress Lynne Harpst Koen purchased the prestigious property. “Funk Palace”, as the Koen’s have fondly nicknamed it, hosts Beatles banners, Rock ‘n’ Roll trivia and the memorabilia of Ms. Harpst Koen’s incomparable family – a founding family of Coronado whose benefaction to the town is immeasurable.
On February 4, 2011, the Coronado Historical Association will open an exhibit marking the 100th anniversary of U.S. naval aviation. Entitled “Wings of Gold: Coronado and Naval Aviation”, it will emphasize the role of Coronado in that remarkable history: Coronado is often referred to as the birthplace of naval aviation. The exhibit will be housed in the Coronado Museum of History and Art, with a special members’ preview on February 3. “Wings of Gold” will include photographs, documents and objects from the museum’s archives.
There will also be a self-guided “Salute to Naval Aviators” tour beginning February 4. The home of Admirals Ingram and Thach, located at 330 Eighth Street, will be one of the featured spots on the “Home of a Naval Aviator” tour, as well as the homes of Admiral Morrison and many other notable naval officers.
Maps and brochures are available from the Coronado Museum of History and Art located at 1100 Orange Avenue, Coronado, California. Hours: Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sun., 10-5 p.m. For more information, call (619) 435-7242 or log onto www.coronadohistory.org