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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.

When Nobody Bought $100 Lots in Corona del Mar

Paul Wormser - Wednesday, November 08, 2017
The oldest structure at Sherman Library & Gardens is a single-room adobe house built by Lawrence and Pauline Lushbaugh in the late 1930s.  The Lushbaugh’s story is interesting:  the young
  

Lawrence and Pauline Lushbaugh in front of their house, which is now part of Sherman Library & Gardens.

couple bought a plot of land, and taught themselves how to make fired-adobe brinks to build their own home. Yet if a single element of the story fascinates people, it is this:  the Lushbaughs bought the land for their house from the City of Newport Beach for $600.00, an amount that would not cover the cost of a square foot of a typical house today.

Selling land in Corona del Mar in the years before the World War II was challenging at best. Lots that now sell for millions of dollars were priced at a few hundred dollars, remaining unsold for years.  An aerial photograph in Sherman Library’s collections is graphic evidence.  Taken in 1940, the photograph shows a scattering of homes and business in the flower streets.  Whole blocks were nearly vacant. In fact, in 1940 the City of Newport Beach owned a considerable number of Corona del Mar “tax lots,” which it acquired when the owners failed to pay property taxes.


 Aerial photograph of Corona del Mar, 1940. 

The man who first envisioned Corona del Mar – and named it – was George E. Hart, a Los Angeles real estate salesman.  In 1904, Hart bought 706 acres of land for $125.00/acre from The Irvine Company.  One 1904 advertisement announced people could buy lots starting at $100. At the time he made the deal, Hart expected that the Pacific Electric Railway, the so-called Red Cars, would extend as far as Corona del Mar.    However, when the railway was extended south in 1906, the terminus was the Balboa Peninsula, not Corona del Mar.  Corona del Mar had a geography problem – the only way to the new subdivision was by boat from Balboa or by a road owned by The Irvine Company.  When it was clear that the Pacific Electric would not reach Corona del Mar, Hart tried to cut his losses by deeding back 359 acres to The Irvine Company.  In 1907, he built the Hotel Del Mar at the corner of present-day Carnation and Seaview, to encourage people to visit – and he hoped – buy land. By 1915, Hart was ready to wind up his Corona del Mar adventure.  

Hart sold his remaining land, including the Hotel Del Mar to the F. D. Cornell Co. The F. D. Cornell Co. tried to rename the tract Balboa Palisades, to take advantage of better-know Balboa. The Hotel Del Mar was renamed the Palisades Tavern. But it did not work.  By 1920, Corona del Mar had fewer than 50 homes. Moreover, those few residents resisted the new Balboa Palisades name, which was later abandoned.  
 
 The Hotel Del Mar, later known as the Palisades Tavern and then the Balboa Palisades Club. Courtesy Sherman Library

The F. D. Cornell Co. sold the Palisades Tavern in 1925 to a group of investors who formed the Balboa Palisades Club.  The investors promoted the club in the characteristically overblown language of real estate ads at the time.  “Situated atop the Balboa Palisades will be the new Club house as planned, commanding an unsurpassed view . . . a tumbling, sapphire sea breaking upon a beach dotted with multicolored tents and parasols, and people, young and old, pleasure bent in the life-giving, golden sunshine . . . here at this rainbow’s end is the Balboa Palisades Club. Here discriminating families may enjoy its many advantages in safety and seclusion.” 

The investors probably expected a real estate boom once Coast Highway opened in 1926. But, the boom did not materialize, and within a few years the Great Depression took hold.  It would not be until after World War II that Corona del Mar land would sell at a premium.