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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.

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.

The 1928 Pacific Coast Surf Board Championship

Paul Wormser - Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Recently, both Huntington Beach and Santa Cruz have claimed the moniker, Surf City, USA.  While today nobody considers Corona del Mar the center of surf culture in California, in 1928 it might well have claimed the title Surf City, USA.  In that year, Corona del Mar had the only surf club on the Pacific Coast (with twelve members) and was the site of the first Pacific Coast Surf Board Championship. One of the most popular photographs in Sherman Library's collection shows contestants in this race posing next to their redwood longboards.

In 1928, the entrance to Newport Harbor was a perilous place for boaters.  Boats entering or leaving faced the real possibility of running aground or being swamped in the high surf.  Only three years earlier five men died when the charter fishing boat Thelma was swamped in the harbor channel. Attempts to quiet the water by building jetties on both the east and west side of the harbor entrance had failed.  However, the same waves that imperiled boats made for excellent surfing. Duke Kahanamoku, the 1912 and 1920 Olympic gold medalist and the man credited with popularizing surfing, considered the waves breaking into the entrance to Newport Harbor to be the best on the California coast. 

 

 
  Contestants in the Pacific Coast Surf Board Championship, August 7, 1928. 
Sherman Library Photograph Collection.

At noon on Sunday August 7, 1928, the Corona del Mar Surf Board Association sponsored the first Pacific Coast Surf Board Championship and Sparr Bathhouse manager, T. W. Sheffield, organized the event.  The competitions included a paddling contest from Corona del Mar beach to the west jetty and back, a canoe tilting completion, a demonstration of the use of surfboards for life saving, and finally a "rough water" surfboard race from the bell buoy off the harbor entrance to the channel nearest the east jetty.

The event organizers undoubtedly timed it to take advantage of the crowds gathering to watch the Star Class International Championship sailing race being held off the Newport Beach coast.  Several hundred people lined the beach to watch the surfing contest.  Fifteen contestants entered, coming from Corona del Mar, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Redondo and Santa Ana.

Had Duke Kahanamoku been at the race, he would have been the favorite to win.  Kahanamoku, however, could not attend, because he was filming a movie title The Rescue. The contestants included Tom Blake, who later would write the first book on surfing and revolutionize board designs, and Gerard Vultee, a pioneer in the airspace industry.  Blake took home silver trophies for first place in both the paddleboard and surfing competitions.

Eight Decades of Change in Two Photographs of Corona del Mar

Paul Wormser - Wednesday, August 01, 2018


At first glance, this photograph may seem uninteresting.  It is after all, a shot of a nearly empty street with a few buildings.  If you look closely, you will see a number of clues to the location and date.  To the left, you can see the Goldenrod footbridge and to the right a grocery store, which also served as a post office.  The store was Scott's Grocery, which city directories indicate was on the corner of Coast Highway and Marigold Ave.  In the distance toward the center of the photo, you will notice two additional buildings. The nearer of the two, on the left, was Brigg's Service Station, and the smaller building in the distance was the K. I. Fulton real estate office.

The photograph is undated. However, some elements help us to pinpoint the probable year as 1932.  First, are the facts that Coast Highway was opened through Corona del Mar in 1926 and the Goldenrod footbridge was completed in 1928.  So, the photograph has to be dated after 1928.  Samuel Scott, the grocery store owner, was also the Corona del Mar Postmaster from 1927 to 1934, when he sold his business and moved out of the area. This means the photograph was taken no later than 1934.  The final clue is more difficult to discern.  If you look to the right of the Fulton real estate office, you can see a white fence across coast highway.  Even though it was only six years old, in 1932 the State of California began widening Coast Highway between Newport Beach and Dana Point.  It seems likely that this photograph was taken in 1932, when parts of Coast Highway were temporarily closed while the road was widened.

This contemporary photograph was taken from the same spot as the original, the median of Coast Highway, looking toward the intersection at Marguerite Ave.  Scott's grocery is long gone, replaced by a dry cleaner.  The footbridge is no longer visible, the line of sight being blocked by businesses.  The service station was roughly where the Rite Aid is now. In the time since the first photo was taken, Coast Highway has also been widened even more, and medians added.  

This animation shows the 1932 photograph dissolving into the 2018 image, and back again.  It is a stark demonstration of the changes eight decades have brought to Corona del Mar.




A Day at the Beach

Paul Wormser - Monday, July 02, 2018
Cover of the 1924 tourist brochure issued by the Chamber of Commerce.

With the arrival of summer and the end of the school year, the beaches are filling with people, in a tradition that goes back far more than a century.  Beach culture always been central to Newport Beach's identity.  Long before the Newport Harbor Chamber of Commerce issued its first promotional brochure in 1924 depicting a woman preparing to dive into the water, the beach drew people to Newport.

While the beach-going experience in many ways is unchanged, some aspects have changed. For instance, you can no longer rent a tent cabin on the beach. Local beaches once had "swim lines," heavy ropes extending into the surf for people to hold onto, rather than lifeguards. Early in the 20th century, people could also rent swimsuits for the day. These early swimming "costumes" were full-length woolen garments, designed more for modesty than swimming.

 
 Group posing on the beach in about 1890.

Some of the earliest pictures in Sherman Library's collections show people on the beach. One of the more interesting aspects of these photographs is how swimsuit fashion has changed. Photographs from the 1890s show people in elaborate bathing outfits, which seem impractical for swimming by today's standards. By the teens and 1920s swim suits had becomes less bulky and more revealing. In fact, promoters often held bathing beauty contests as a means of drawing people to Newport Beach.

 
  A "bathing girls parade" held at Balboa on June 25, 1922.

Today we look upon these swimsuits with fascination. In fact, this interest with changing swim fashions predates even the appearance of the bikini. In 1934, the Newport Harbor Chamber of Commerce created a float for the Tournament of Lights (now the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade) illustrating the evolution of swimsuits. At the time, some people surely marveled at how revealing bathing suit had become.

 
The Newport Harbor Chamber of Commerce float in the 1934 Tournament of Lights. 

The Wreck of the Muriel

Paul Wormser - Monday, November 20, 2017

In the 1920s, silent movie production companies often used Newport Beach and the surrounding coastline as backdrops.  Unlike the bustling port of Los Angeles, Newport Bay and Catalina had few people and little development, providing excellent natural backdrops for the movies.  One silent film, shot largely off Catalina in 1924, was The Sea Hawk, the story of a 16th century English captain unjustly imprisoned before returning as a pirate. 

The production was elaborate by the standards of the day and included four ships that were refitted to look like 16th century galleons, at a reported cost of $84,000.  One of these ships refitted for the movie, Muriel, a 162 foot, four-masted schooner was built in Alameda in 1905.  After nearly 20 years as a trade ship in the South Pacific, the conversion of Muriel to a movie ship was undoubtedly a sign of her diminishing usefulness. Less then a year later, however, Muriel would become both a landmark and a warning to sailors in Newport Beach.

The Sea Hawk premiered to glowing reviews in 1924.  But, by early 1925, Muriel’s movie days were over. Eventually, R. J. Shafer of Newport Beach purchased the ship for use as a fishing barge, anchored off the coast. In August of 1925, Shafer attempted to tow the schooner through the notoriously treacherous mouth of Newport Bay.  The towline broke and the schooner grounded on a sand bar on the Corona del Mar side of the harbor entrance.  Shafer’s attempts to free the ship failed. In 1926, a strong winter storm dislodged the hulk and sent it to a sandbar just off the Balboa Peninsula. For five years the wreck of Muriel remained at the harbor entrance, accessible to the curious at low tide.

 


 Children exploring the wreckage of Muriel, as a couple picnics in the ships shade, June 19, 1927. W. C. Sawyer Collection, Sherman Library
That Shafer lost Muriel in the turbulent waters of the channel is not surprising.  Only months before, the charter fishing boat Thelma was swamped while trying to leave the harbor.  Five men drowned.  More would have died, had it not been for the bravery of a group of surfers, including the legendary Duke Kahanamoku, who paddled out to bring men back to shore.

Then, with Muriel as mute witness, another tragedy unfolded on June of 1926, when 16-year old George Rogers, Jr. drown after his Dodge Water Car capsized in the heavy surf at the entrance to the harbor.  The young man’s father, George Rogers, Sr. then embarked on a decade-long campaign to make the harbor entrance safe.  Rogers, along with leaders of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce, worked to pass a local bond measure and to lobby the federal government for funds to make the harbor safe.

The Army Corps of Engineers removed Muriel in 1930, citing it as hazardous to navigation.  Perhaps the only people disappointed by this were the rum runners rumored to use the hulk as a warehouse. It would be another six years until the jetties that made the harbor entrance safe were completed.

 

 
 

Muriel, lodged on a sand bar just off the Balboa Peninsula, June 19, 1927. W. C. Sawyer Photograph Collection, Sherman Library.

Sherman Library’s collections include photographs of Muriel and a large volume of material relating to the development of Newport Harbor, all of which is open for research.


Preserving the History of Newport Beach

Paul Wormser - Thursday, September 07, 2017
For the last 50 years, Sherman Library has been collecting valuable historical materials about the history of the Pacific Southwest. One of the strengths of the collection is the history of Newport Beach.   For the first time, information about these collections is now available in a Guide to Newport Beach Historical Collections in Sherman Library.




How Jamboree Road Got its Name

Paul Wormser - Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Every day countless people drive on Jamboree Road in Newport Beach without knowing the origin of the street’s name. Today it is hard to image that 45,000 Boy Scouts once camped on the spot now occupied by Fashion Island.  But, in 1953, when Irvine Ranch hosted the Third National Jamboree, that was the case.

 


 
      
 
Pamphlet advertising the Jamboree.  
Sherman Library Collections.
 
  Jamboree commemorative patch.  
Sherman Library Collections.
 

The Jamboree was an extraordinary local event.  For a single week in July 1953, a full-scale city, larger than the permanent population of Newport Beach materialized.  Scouts attending the Jamboree pitched more than 25,000 tents on the site bordered by present-day MacArthur Blvd., Coast Highway, Back Bay Drive and University Drive.  Irvine Road, which ran through the site, was later renamed Jamboree.

Well in advance of the scouts’ arrival, planners surveyed the site and installed the infrastructure. Workers built more than 8 miles of roads, installed over 36 miles of telephone and electrical lines and constructed a water works capable of pumping 18 million gallons of water per day.  The encampment also had its own telephone exchange, short wave radio station, hospital. employing 164 doctors, fire department consisting of four companies, and police department with a staff of 150 officers. By the time the Scouts arrived, the site also included a theater, store, zoo, bus line and a parking lot capable of holding 16,000 cars. 

 


Scouts attending a performance at the theater.

Sherman Library Collection. 
 

The boys could select from many traditional camping activities like archery and pottery making.  For many, no doubt, a highlight was taking a bus to the beach.  An enormous theater offered formal entertainment, including visits from Hollywood stars, such as Danny Kaye and Debbie Reynolds.  Even Vice President Richard Nixon made an appearance, flipping pancakes for a few troops.

For people wanting to know more about the Jamboree, Sherman Library has a collection of publications, photographs and newspaper clippings and other items – some of which you see here – available for people to use.