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From Sherman Library's Collections

Articles highlighting Sherman Library's collections and the history of Sherman Library & Gardens.

Big Corona Beach - Then and Now

Paul Wormser - Monday, February 25, 2019

On March 18, 1914 someone stood on the Corona del Mar bluffs to snap a picture of the beach, now known as Big Corona.  This photograph is interesting, both for what it includes and what it does not include.  There are no people and no homes.  The only sign that the beach was ever used is the pier. In more than a century, this scene has transformed.  Just compared it to another picture recently taken from the same spot.


George Hart, the original promoter of Corona del Mar, constructed the pier about 1904 as part of a deal to acquire Corona del Mar from the Irvine Company.  The pier extended out in line with Marguerite Ave., which was originally called Pier Ave. It does not, however, seem to have ever seen much use.   Mary Burton, an early resident of Corona del Mar, wrote in her memoir Happy House: Early Days in Corona del Mar, "Over the years most of the flooring had been stripped off, probably for beach fires, but the pilings themselves were pretty much in place."  She also recalled the day, about 1917, when the pier washed away, "I rushed out to see the biggest waves I've ever seen rolling in. It was a perfectly clear sunny day...As each wave came in and hit it would snap the piling off just like a matchstick. "

When the 1914 picture was taken, Corona del Mar was not yet part of Newport Beach and the beach itself was private property.  Recognizing the value of the beaches for tourism, the City of Newport Beach eventually took action to acquire the land.  In 1931 the city filed a suit again the Citizens National Trust and Bank, which then owned the beach, to clarify the title on the beach lands.  The suit lasted for five years before the city and the bank negotiated an agreement that gave the beach title to the city in return for other land in Corona del Mar.  Then in 1947 the city agreed to deed the land to the State of California in return for the State acquiring additional parcels on the bluffs and declaring the site as Corona del Mar State Park.  In 1963, it was re-designated Corona del Mar State Beach.

The homes that now dot the cliffs for the most part started to appear in the 1950s.  As for the spot where the 1914 photograph was taken, it too has changed.  Were it not for a kind Corona del Mar resident who let me tromp through her backyard, I could not have taken a photo from the same vantage as the 1914 photographer.

Newport Beach Meets Hurley-on-Thames

Paul Wormser - Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Perhaps the most iconic building in the Newport Beach neighborhood of Corona del Mar is the tutor-style Five Crowns. Thanks to one woman’s remarkable foresight and intuition, Corona del Mar hosts a traditional English inn. Matilda MacCulloch was a woman with vision. After traveling throughout Europe, marrying a Scottish nobleman, and living for many years in England, she wanted to have a taste of England to Southern California. Through her determination and love of architecture, Corona del Mar has its very own English inn.

 
Portrait of Matilda MacCulloch, the woman who
built the Hurley Bell, ca. 1900.
Marguerite Atkinson Collection, Sherman Library.

MacCulloch studied art at both at the New York Academy of Fine Arts and Julian Art Academy in Paris. She married a Scottish Nobleman and moved to England where she lived for many years with her two children, Harold and Marguerite. They lived in a beautiful country estate, Brockencote Hall, until their son Harold tragically died in World War I. After his death MacCulloch and her daughter traveled around England but eventually came back to America to reside at in Balboa. Fond of unique buildings, MacCulloch bought “The Windmill,” a three-story Dutch inspired house, complete with a windmill around 1933. She liked the architecture so much that she built another Dutch-style house right next door. (MacCulloch also tried her hand at modern architecture and built a steel and concrete building that was once the iconic Orange Julius building at Main Street and Balboa.)

 

 
A photograph of Ye Olde Bell in Hurley, England, which was the model
for the Hurley Bell. Marguerite Atkinson Collection, Sherman Library.

Having spent many years in England, MacCulloch wanted to bring some English culture and tradition to Southern California. So for her next and last construction project, she decided to build a traditional English-style Inn. She and her daughter, Marguerite, traveled to England to look for an English inn to duplicate. Around 1935, she discovered Ye Olde Bell an inn at Hurley-on-Thames, took many photographs of it, and hired Shelby Coon, an architect to design it. Both the inside and outside were identical to Ye Old Bell. Once construction was completed, she decorated the interior with plates, vases, artwork, glassware and furniture from her English estate. She even hung her son’s oars from his rowing days, which still hang on the walls today. She had created her Corona del Mar English inn and brought a small taste of England to the town.

Initially, in 1936, she intended to open her English Inn to the public and even made a public announcement of its opening. However, shortly after her announcement, she changed her mind and decided to make it her new home. She and her daughter lived in it for several years before it finally became a restaurant.

 

 
An announcement for the spring opening of the Hurley Bell. 
Marguerite Atkinson Collection, Sherman Library. 

In 1940 she decided to lease her English inn to two prominent restaurateurs, who owned the Tail O’ The Cock in Hollywood. Thus for a short time the English inn was also The Tail O’ The Cock. Yet, it was not successful, so in 1943 Mrs. MacCulloch took control, renaming it The Hurley Bell, and operating it until her death in 1948.

 

 
An airplane set to tow an aerial banner advertising the Hurley Bell.
 Marguerite Atkinson Collection, Sherman Library. 

Her obituary in the Los Angeles Times states, “She had a dynamic personality, courage and ability, and contributed greatly to local architectural taste; the Hurley Bell of Corona del Mar is a well-known example. To her the beauty of a structure was just as important as its functional uses.

The Corona del Mar Pier

Paul Wormser - Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Sometimes it is difficult to recognize the location in an old photograph because the landscape has changed so radically.  This photograph is a prime example.  It was taken in 1910, at a point just north of China Cove and the William G. Kerckhoff Marine Laboratory in Newport Harbor, looking toward Irvine Terrace.  Today the shoreline and hillside are crowded with houses, making it difficult to see any landmarks visible in the 1910 photograph.

The pier - now long gone - was Corona del Mar's lifeline to the outside world.  When George Hart bought 706 acres of Corona del Mar from the Irvine Company for $106,000 in 1904, the contract required Hart to construct a pier in Newport Harbor.  One might wonder why the Irvine Company would be concerned with a pier.  The answer was probably that the best land route to Corona del Mar was through the Irvine Ranch and presumably the company did not want residents and perspective buyers crossing their land.  So, visitors and residents of Corona del Mar had to take a ferry, Flora, from the Balboa Pavilion to the Corona del Mar Wharf. This would be the case for nearly two decades, until Coast Highway open through Corona del Mar.

Re-creating World War I in Corona del Mar

Paul Wormser - Tuesday, February 19, 2019

A century ago, America went to war. Men from Orange County and across the nation heeded the call to service during World War I.  By the end of the war, 4 million men served, half of those going abroad to fight.  More than 100,000 American “doughboys” lost their lives in World War I.

In 1917, Corona del Mar was a peaceful rural enclave, -- as far from the battlefields in France as one could imagine. So, it might seem ironic that a decade after the end of the “War to End All Wars,” movie makers arrived in Corona del Mar to recreate World War I. In fact, the Academy Award winning All Quiet on the Western Front, included battle scenes filmed in Corona del Mar.

 
Sherman Library.

In 1928, Erich Maria Remarque published All Quite on the Western Front, which immediately became an international best seller, selling more than 2.5 million copies in 22 languages in its first 18 months after publication. Hollywood filmmakers took notice, and before the year was out, began production of a film version.


 
 
Scene fromAll Quite on the Western Front, filmed in Corona del Mar, Briscoe Collection, 
Sherman Library.

Filming of All Quiet on the Western Front began in November, 1929 at a variety of locations, including Universal Studios, RKO-Pathe in Culver City and Laguna Beach. The battlefield scenes, however, were staged in a Corona del Mar field, bordered by present day MacArthur Blvd, San Miguel Dr., San Joaquin Hills Rd., and Crown Dr.

Universal Pictures hired about 150 World War I veterans through the American Legion posts in Los Angeles and Santa Ana. They also bought 250 real World War I uniforms, complete with rifles and field kits for $29,000. The battlefield included trenches, craters and denuded trees.

 
Scene from All Quite on the Western Front filmed in Corona del Mar, Briscoe Collection,
Sherman Library.

All Quiet on the Western Front was filmed at the time that the industry was transitioning to “talkies.” In September 1929, the Ritz Theater in Balboa even announced that it would only show “talkies” from then on. The movie went from the start of production in November 1929 to its Los Angeles premier on August 24, 1930. All Quiet on the Western Front won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1930.

A Birds Eye View of Corona del Mar in 1929

Paul Wormser - Monday, February 04, 2019

Sherman Library has an extensive collection of aerial photographs of Corona del Mar.  This photograph from the collection shows just how quiet and undeveloped Corona del Mar was in 1929.  Entire blocks were vacant, while others had only a single residence.  Even though access to Corona del Mar improved with the completion of Coast Highway, which you can see running across the top of the photo, sales of lots in Corona del Mar were rare. 

In the foreground of the photograph is the harbor entrance, which includes some interesting landmarks.  The large ship in the channel was the stranded hulk of the Muriel, a cargo ship that also appeared in the movie The Sea Hawk (1924) and later served as a fishing barge.  In 1926, it ran aground on a sandbar and remained there until its removal in 1931. 

Across from the Muriel is a beach, now known as China Cove.  The current name for the beach came from a house with Chinese-inspired architecture that was constructed a year after this photograph was taken.  One the left side of China Cove is the Kerckhoff Marine Laboratory owned by Cal Tech, one of the few landmarks remaining today.   Directly above the Kerckhoff is Dahlia Ave.  Two streets over and higher up on the photograph is the Goldenrod footbridge.

Finally, in what is today called Pirates' Cove stands the Sparr Bathhouse.  Early surfers, such as Duke Kahanamoku, used this bathhouse built by William Sparr, one of a succession of unsuccessful Corona del Mar real estate promoters.