Phil Monroe – Island Icon

Written by Coronado Historical Association Volunteer Kimberlie Guerrieri

This article was originally published in the (MONTH) Issue of Coronado Magazine. To read this article and more from Coronado Magazine, click here or the button below.

“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” Winston Churchill once famously said. Starting with The Hotel Del, the buildings and homes in Coronado certainly have played a significant role defining and shaping our community over the years.

If you enjoy Coronado’s downtown village, the library, community center, and all the historic homes around Coronado, you have Coronado Island Icon Phil Monroe partly to thank.

A native of Delhi, New York, a small scenic town in the Catskills, Phil Monroe was born into a family that valued community and service to others. Traits that have defined his career and life. After graduating from Cornell University with a BA in Mathematics, Phil joined the U.S. Navy, where he served for 30 years. He saw two tours as Commanding Officer, the last as CO of Naval Aviation Depot at North Island. 

The Navy brought Phil to Coronado many times over the years, where he found great friendships and a community. In 1973 he married his wife Fran at St. Paul’s Methodist Church. Their family includes four daughters, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. When he retired from the Navy in 1988, they purchased their forever home in Bahama Village in The Cays, and Phil embarked on a new career.

Taking his expertise in data analysis and quality improvement strategies, Phil joined forces with a business partner to form DEMCOM Consulting Group. They specialized in employing the Deming (Dr. W. Edwards Deming) Management Theory, which he learned in the Navy. The Deming cycle is a continuous quality improvement model which consists of a logical sequence of four key stages: Plan, Do, Study, and Act.

After ten successful years, both partners were tired of the extensive business travel. Phil set about retirement for good in Coronado. It didn’t last long. 

In 1995, he received a call from then-mayor Mary Herron, encouraging Phil to apply to the Coronado Planning Commission. He was appointed and served on the commission for four years, two as Chairman. He was elected to City Council twice, serving from 2000 to 2008. 

This was an incredible period of revitalization in Coronado for city buildings and the downtown. As a member of the City Council, Phil played a vital role in the planning and construction of the new City Hall and Community Center, the Coronado Tennis Center, and the Main Beach Lifeguard Tower. The Coronado Library was expanded and renovated, and groundwork for a Coronado animal care facility began (later known as PAWs). 

Phil’s claim to fame during the planning of the Community Center is the gymnasium. The original plans did not include one. With some gentle nudging on his part to the mayor and other council members, the final plans included a gymnasium with a regulation-sized basketball court.

While on the city council, he chaired the Orange Avenue Corridor Specific Plan Committee, which in 2003 set guidelines for development along Orange Avenue for the next 20 years. The plan’s goal was to preserve the village atmosphere of Coronado’s downtown. There were fears in the community it was becoming a tourist-only serving district. The adopted plan included many guidelines for building use and standards. Most notably, a two-story maximum building height was established to avoid what Phil calls the “canyonization” of Orange Avenue. And to support local businesses and prevent Coronado from becoming “any town U.S.A.,” a cap was set on corporate franchises. 

While many of his city council projects focused on the future, Phil has always believed Coronado’s history was just as important. He supported the passing of the Mills Act, which provides an economic incentive for the restoration and preservation of qualified historic buildings and homes in Coronado. After leaving the city council, he served on the Coronado Historical Association Board for seven years, helping to preserve and educate the community about our local history.

Phil has been an active member of the Rotary Club of Coronado since 1992 and is very proud of their mission, members, and accomplishments. Over the years, through his civic connections, he invited leaders throughout San Diego County to come and speak helping to promote Coronado as part of the larger San Diego community.  But some of his fondest Rotary memories are serving as a Rotary Santa collecting and delivering presents. 

Currently, it’s his picture hanging in a certain corridor at Sharp Community Hospital that he considers his biggest honor. Phil recalls pausing by the Sharp Coronado Hospital Board photo wall many times over the years and thinking, “these are Coronado’s best people.” As a board member for the past five years, he can now count himself as one of them.

At age 86, Phil still actively plays tennis and golf. He credits this to the best advice he ever received. While a junior in high school, his assistant basketball coach told him, “Phil, I know you love baseball, basketball, and football. But you need to learn how to play tennis and golf.” It wasn’t because Phil lacked skills in those sports, but rather his coach believed they “were not the sports that got you ready for the rest of your life.” 

Taking his advice, Phil played on the tennis team his senior year, and he took up golf. “Coach was right,” Phil says. Throughout his career, wherever he traveled, he played golf and tennis. He broke ground on the Coronado Tennis Center and served on the Association Board for nine years. 

You can still find him hitting the courts or the course several times a week with a good group of friends. But not to improve his game. At this age, he believes in the Arnold Palmer adage that it doesn’t matter what you score, but who you play with.

Phil has a philosophical answer when asked what’s the secret to Coronado’s success. He says, “It’s the Power of One.” He believes Coronado is “the kind of special place where one person truly can make a difference.” One person with an idea to solve a problem or improve the community can make it happen. That doesn’t happen in every community.

He’s witnessed it many over the years. He keeps a running list of examples, including Doug St. Denis for the Coronado Film Festival, Heidi Wilson for the Cultural Arts Commission, Tom Smisek for The Coronado Community Center, Greg Cox for the Bayshore Bikeway, and many more. “Just because one person wanted to do something, we now have those things. 

Phil doesn’t include himself on this list, but maybe he should. For shaping the buildings that have shaped us.

This article was originally published in the (MONTH) Issue of Coronado Magazine. To read this article and more from Coronado Magazine, click here or the button below.

More photos of Phil Monroe:

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