If you’ve lived in Huntington Beach for any length of time, you’ve most likely either driven by our combined D’Ambra Construction/CATS Tax Service office on Warner Ave. just west of Beach Blvd, or maybe have seen one of our trucks driving around town with the company logo prominently displayed on the sides. What you might not have known was the long history our family has with the city. Long before the resorts and skinny homes dominated the downtown area, the city was primarily looked upon as just another small surfer town – the nickname, ‘Tin Can Beach’ bandied about due to left over beer cans and bottle caps buried throughout the sand. With the Cold War at its peak, the Southern California aerospace industry exploded creating a huge demand for engineers and high level professionals leading to one of the state’s largest housing booms in history with much of the neighborhoods dominating Huntington Beach today built during that time.
This mass production cookie-cutter approach by these builders made famous by the eastern Levittown model led to a common problem – a problem requiring a solution that unbeknownst to him at the time, would set Dennis D’Ambra’s future in motion. Like many families even to this day are realizing, these homes were designed with small rooms, little closet and storage space, and poorly designed kitchen layouts with even smaller bathrooms leading to an overall cramped feeling. And as these families grew, the need for larger spaces and more rooms also grew.
In the early 1960s, working primarily as a framer for a contractor building many of the homes throughout the first developed Admiralty and Davenport islands in the harbor, realizing that he too could do what his boss did rather than be told what to do, in classic entrepreneurial fashion, he decided to jump out on his own. From the living room of their two bedroom apartment in Westminster, Dennis and Kathy started D’Ambra Construction. With the help of Kathy’s brother – also a framer and future builder, they moved to Huntington Beach and began venturing out building some of the duplexes and fourplexes strewn throughout the area south of Adams and north of Atlanta, many of which are still standing today.
As their business grew and diversified more into the residential side of building, in 1972, Dennis and Kathy, with their 3 year old son, Chris, moved to their new $42,000 home on Lawn Haven Drive in the newly built tract of upper Seacliff – a home purchased with a $2,500 down payment and huge monthly payments of $225. As Dennis reminisces, “I had no idea how we were going to make the payments! We had to settle for that home because there was no way we could afford $65,000 for the homes backing the golf course.” After all, a single story addition averaged $7,000 complete with a simple second story addition less than $20,000. It was out of that home’s single car garage – D’Ambra Construction’s new official office – the company began to grow dramatically as the need for more space by all these new homeowners and their growing families all around the city and surrounding areas grew.
After much complaining by local neighbors of all the cars coming and going from his home taking up parking along the cul-de-sac, they decided to buy an old house in Westminster along Westminster Blvd between Beach and Hazard, converting it into what became D’Ambra Construction’s main office for over twenty years. That office stands today as a trophy company
Unlike today where the local residential remodeling business is mostly fragmented, back in the late ‘70s and throughout much of the ‘80s there existed a friendly relationship among the few builders servicing the area. As president of the local Orange County Builders Association, once a month, Dennis would gather members at a local restaurant or member’s home to meet and discuss their experiences, bouncing ideas off each other in a general show of friendly comradery among competitors. It was this experience and the constant complaints by his fellow builders that a new business was formed in the early 1980’s – Kathy’s tax and accounting practice known today as CATS Tax Service – (Contractors Accounting and Tax Service). What many of these mostly tradesmen were quickly finding out as they ventured out on their own was that the complexities of running their businesses from payroll and accounting to the related tax issues were becoming far more burdensome than actually running their day to day operations. Many were sole proprietors simply trying to do what they knew best for their clients, but were being bogged down and quickly running into trouble trying to deal with things they had no idea how to deal with. Originally conceived to primarily help local contractors, Kathy’s business quickly expanded into a more general tax and accounting service company, growing into the thousands of clients her company today services. This growth meant they had to move to a larger office, and in the late 1980’s, an empty spec commercial building located less than a block down the street from their long standing office on Westminster Blvd presented the perfect opportunity, becoming the combined companies’ new home for the next sixteen years.
As time went on, realizing that the primary market for D’Ambra Construction was Huntington Beach and south county, in 2004 Dennis and Kathy had the opportunity to purchase the lot on the corner of Warner Ave and Oak just west of Beach Blvd where they built their current office (to the detriment of the long time pumpkin and Christmas tree vender who used the lot for years). From this location, Dennis still runs the construction business focusing his time working with city planning departments getting jobs off the ground while his son, Chris, runs the field getting the projects built and completed.