“Top Gun” may be well over three decades old, but the ‘80s classic is still generating headlines! Not only is the movie’s hotly-anticipated sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick,” set to debut on May 24, but its global premiere just took place to massive fanfare aboard San Diego’s USS Midway aircraft carrier, with leading man Tom Cruise, who returns to his famed role as renegade pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, making a massively grand entrance via helicopter. And, as if all that isn’t enough, in a spectacular example of adaptive reuse, the charming bungalow that served as the home of Pete’s love interest, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), in the original film has just been transformed into a gourmet pie shop named the “Top Gun” House, Home of the Famous HIGH Pie, with countless nods to its cinematic history on display throughout.
Purported to be at 100 Laurel Beach in the movie, the tiny one-story abode initially stood on a picturesque corner lot just steps from the shoreline at 102 Pacific St. in Oceanside, a quaint coastal city about 40 miles north of downtown San Diego. The structure was moved several years ago as part of a massive redevelopment project and now stands a few hundred feet to the north at 250 N. Pacific, on the grounds of the new Oceanside Beach Resort complex.
Originally built as a summer retreat for retired physician Henry Graves in 1887, the Folk Victorian-style property, known as the Graves House in real life, had been sitting dilapidated, abandoned and facing an uncertain future for decades. As such, its recent reimagining has both “Top Gun” fans and local preservationists alike rejoicing.
The land where the resort now stands, a prime 2.75-acre beachfront parcel in the heart of downtown Oceanside, was initially the site of 24 individually-owned lots, which the city had been looking to redevelop as part of a large hotel project since the 1970s. Local opposition and bureaucratic red tape repeatedly stalled the venture and ground wasn’t actually broken until 2019. By that time, the many tiny cottages that once dotted the plot had long since been razed – all except for the “Top Gun” house.
Though the city claimed eminent domain on the residence in 2001, acquiring the two-bedroom, two-bath pad from longtime owners William and Lynn Rego, who had purchased it in 1976, the powers that be had enough foresight to leave it intact. Recognized as a local landmark thanks to both its big-screen fame and historic pedigree, Kristi Hawthorne, President of the Oceanside Historical Society, asserted that it would remain a part of the landscape, telling The Coast News Group, “It is written into the plans that the ‘Top Gun’ house will be saved once the hotel is built.”
Scott Malkin of S.D. Malkin Properties, the Connecticut-based investment company behind the Oceanside Beach Resort, made good on that promise. When he was finally given the go-ahead to start construction, he not only incorporated Charlie’s pad into the complex’s design but made it a focal point of the layout! He also set about refurbishing the dilapidated dwelling to the tune of $1 million through a painstaking process that included numerous structural and cosmetic updates, replacing the roof and chimney and approximating the original exterior coloring.
In a 2020 press release, S.D. Malkin Properties Director Jeremy Cohen stated, “We’ve had a longstanding commitment to the ongoing transformation of Oceanside and to making its beachfront village the vibrant focal point of San Diego’s north coast. By restoring this iconic house and having it as a key feature at the new Oceanside Beach Resort, we celebrate the future of Oceanside by referencing the past and preserving its history.” The release went on to explain that S.D. Malkin was actively pursuing “unique commercial uses” for the Graves House that would allow the property to be “accessible to the public” and “enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.”
They found exactly what they were looking for thanks to Tara Lazar of F10 Creative, the Palm Springs restaurateur/hospitality guru behind the Alcazar hotel, Mr. Lyons Steakhouse, Toucans Tiki Lounge and the beloved brunch spot Cheeky’s.
Lazar was initially brought onto the Oceanside Beach Resort project to create the menu for HIGH/LOW, one of the complex’s onsite eateries. It didn’t take long for her to set additional sights on the “Top Gun” house, figuring the diminutive venue would be the perfect spot to satisfy guests’ sweet tooths. As The San Diego Union-Tribune reports, “Because of the shop’s small size, a dessert concept worked best for the space and Lazar said she knew Scott Malkin was a fan of apple pie. So is she.” And thus, HIGH Pie was born.
Inspired by the famous hand-held varieties served at McDonald’s, which the fast-food chain debuted in 1968, the site offers individual made-to-order treats filled with seasonal fruits sourced from local farms, fried to perfection and accompanied by an array of dipping sauces, including Charlie’s Chocolate, Government Cheese, Lemon Curd and Sea Salt Caramel. However, Lazar’s creations are healthier than those found under the Golden Arches. She told the Union-Tribune, “I loved the McDonald’s apple pies growing up. I wanted to re-create that in a really nutritious, recognizable-ingredient kind of way, using old-fashioned butter, cup-for-cup flour that’s gluten-free and fillings that are very clean ingredients, like cherry, almond extract and sugar.”
A feast for the eyes as well as the stomach, the “Top Gun” pad’s tiny, 500-square-foot interior was thoroughly reimagined by Lazar with a retro aesthetic inspired by the “nostalgic Americana feel evoked by both the movie and history of the house.” Bright, colorful and mesmerizing, the highly “Instagrammable” space is dotted with vintage furnishings, pressed-tin elements and nautical-themed wallpaper throughout. The original fireplace still stands at the home’s south end, though now decorated with a cheeky cow’s head sculpture created by artist Mary Lou Marks.
Outside, you’ll find porch seating, a side patio and a replica of Cruise’s motorcycle from the film to pose upon. In this age of social media, the “Top Gun” House is chock full of opportunities for the ‘gram and fans are, ahem, eating it up! (*Aviator sunglasses, leather jacket and an onsite shower – for those post-volleyball game visits – not included!)
“Top Gun” location scouts were originally drawn to the house (pictured above in its original location circa 1999) thanks to its scenic corner lot, proximity to the pier and prime positioning across from the beach. Paramount Pictures wound up leasing the pad for a full two weeks to accommodate both pre-production and filming. According to a 2001 North County Times article, “The studio’s people worked for days getting everything perfect for the shoot. They took out the parking meters and street signs, dug holes for potted plants, and covered the curbs with sand to make the setting look more rural.” Their efforts were well-received – audiences fell in love with the both the movie and the house.
Legend has long had it that the scene taking place on Charlie’s enclosed porch was not actually lensed at the “Top Gun” bungalow, but on a makeshift set created at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. Then-owner William Rego has a differing recollection, though, telling the North County Times that the segment was captured on the porch of a duplex that was formerly located on the rear portion of his lot, behind the Graves House. (That property was, sadly, razed as part of the Ocean Beach Resort development.) Without getting our hands on the movie’s official daily production reports, we may perhaps never know. But the good news is that there are two picturesque porches at HIGH Pie for fans to live out all of their “Top Gun” dreams.
Legend also has it that McGillis fell so in love with the residence during filming that she wound up leasing it for the remainder of the shoot. That does not appear to be true, though. In a 2013 interview with Yahoo! Entertainment, the actress stated that she took up lodging in the same spot as the rest of the cast and crew, which, according to actor Rick Rossovich, who played Ron “Slider” Kerner, was the Bahia Resort Hotel in nearby Mission Bay.
Interestingly, the Regos did not think much would become of the flick when it was shot in the summer of 1985. The Times details, “William Rego said he never expected the movie to be a hit. He thought that Cruise, not yet an A-list star, was too young and short to play a naval aviator convincingly.” Boy, was he proven wrong! “Top Gun,” of course, became an instant classic, ultimately grossing an incredible $357 million worldwide, turning Cruise into one of the biggest movie stars on the planet in the process and the Graves House into one of San Diego’s most popular tourist attractions. Thanks to the “Top Gun” House, Home of the Famous HIGH Pie, it will likely remain so for years to come.