The earlySpaniards called it Bolsa de Quigara, the bay with the high banks. Duringsubsequent centuries it had several other names—Bolsa de San Joaquin, theGospel Swamp and Port Orange. As the place began to bloom in the '20s, a fewhandsome yachts rode at their moorings in the shallow bay, and somecomfortable, unpretentious beach houses sprouted out of the scrubby sand flatsof the peninsula that separated the bay from the booming breakers of thePacific Ocean. In those days it was getting to be quite the thing to go down toNewport Beach, as it was by then formally christened, for the weekend or thesummer. It didn't attract rich Easterners the way Santa Barbara and PebbleBeach did, but it was a place good, solid southern Californians liked to taketheir kids for the holidays.
Now, some 30 to40 years later, Newport Beach and its appendages of Balboa and Corona Del Marcomprise the most remarkable collection of mansions and bungalows, yachts anddinghies, pensioners and teen-agers, supermarket millionaires and lettucepickers that could be shoehorned into a dozen square miles of seaside realestate and bright blue water on this or any other planet.
When youapproach it from across the brown-baked upland mesas, it looks like nothing somuch as a Cinerama version of Vacationland, U.S.A. You see the wide white beachstretching six miles along the southern California coastline. You see the solidquilting of houses built so close together that a housewife can borrow an extraTV dinner simply by sticking her arm out the kitchen window and into herneighbor's freezer. You see the occasional bone-bare masts of an enormousschooner reaching skyward from its mooring and the endless parade of sails ofthe little boats gliding up the narrow channels of the bay with only thetriangle tips of their canvas visible above the rooftops. In the distance atireless Ferris wheel revolves in the fun zone, and rising above all this isthe friendly, shingled tower of the Balboa Pavilion, a relic of the earlyhorseless carriage era and one of the few historic architectural landmarksremaining in this new and restless civilization.
You know you'vereached Newport Beach when you arrive at the overpass crossing U.S. Highway101, the route that borders the Pacific Ocean from Mexico to Washington State.It was at this spot not long after the Kaiser's war that Mary Pickford showedup one day in her Stutz Bearcat and cut the ribbon to open the firstsubstantial bridge across the mouth of the Santa Ana River, where it used todump its floodwaters into Newport Bay. Alongside the bridge is a landmark ofsorts—a Union Oil service station called The Arches that has been there sincethe early gas buggies first went wheezing past.
September 2, 1962
Beyond TheArches you begin the familiar drive down the five-mile spine of road thatsplits the Newport Beach peninsula. Familiar drive? Well, that's a bit of anexaggeration. The drive would be familiar only to those who had made it duringthe last twelvemonth, for Newport Beach has a way of changing face as rapidlyas a repertory actor in the sticks.
Take that highlychromed shopping center on the left, for instance, just after you reach thefirst stoplight. It doesn't seem as if it has been there more than a couple ofweeks. And what is that four-story checkerboard of red, white and blue squaresdown at the end of the row of stores—the grandstand for a new trotting track?No, that's the Newport Balboa Savings and Loan Association. It reminds you howfar things have come since the night of the big bank robbery down here in1912.
The famous heistwas made by three obvious beginners when the only bank in town was a modestlittle frame shack. For a getaway, they swiped somebody's horse and buggy inthe middle of the night and then tried to blow the bank's safe with dynamite.The first blast merely served to wake up half the town, including a couple ofbartenders who rushed to the scene with their shotguns. The second blast wasnot much better, and the third blew down half the building, scattering cashthroughout the debris. The robbers stuffed $2,600 of the loot in the horse'sfeed bag, $500 in their pockets and hightailed out of there while thebartenders peppered away at them through the windows. They escaped with thehaul and were never heard from again, and the only casualty was a localbystander who got a blast of buckshot in his back.
That was NewportBeach in the days before the yachts arrived, and most of the boating fleetbelonged to the commercial fishermen who brought albacore, bonito, halibut andsea bass into the little harbor cannery. Tooling on down the main street thesedays with the bay on your left—to the north—and the ocean on your right, you nolonger see any water through the thickets of cheap frame cottages and lavishredwood ranch houses.
This was nevermuch of a swimming resort in the past, and the people who were afraid of theenormous breakers used to alibi that the surf was full of stingarees. But anintrepid new breed of Californian has put the lie to this fable. Now the oceanbeach and the pounding waves are aswarm with surfers—hardy, handsome blondyoung men who look as if they had taken postgraduate degrees with CharlesAtlas. It's a society as strictly compartmented as a beehive. The nobility aresimply called surfers, and they ride their boards with a lordly disdain,waiting for only the biggest waves and proving their worth and courage byexecuting the "10 over." That's when you stand on the bow of your boardwith all 10 toes curled over the front edge.
Next in thepecking order are the hodaddies, whose bleached hair is just a little longerand blonder than the surfers', just a little more carefully coifed, but whospend very little time in the water. They have their eyes on the gremmie girls,the blondined and suntanned chicks who lie on the beach in their"shifts" (muumuus cut off at the thighs) and gaze rapturously at thesurfers. At the bottom of the order are the male gremmies, little fellows whohope someday to be surfers or hodaddies when they get bigger but are, in themeantime, just getting in everybody's way.
Surfing is verymuch the thing these days in California's adolescent society. There are manybetter places to do it than Newport Beach, but even so the area will have asmany as 500 surfers on a fine summer weekend—so many in fact that thelifeguards have to blow the whistle on them at noon so they won't behead thecasual bathers.
The protectedharbor waters of Newport Beach form an hourglass, roughly speaking. Just wherethe lower bay, called Balboa, begins to reach the narrows is the anachronisticPavilion (see cover), standing today like an imperious dowager who once had tohock the family jewels to survive the bad days but has assumed a new majesty,heightened by age and memories. Some early pioneers built it on the bay's edgein 1904 as a bathhouse and boathouse, and in the enormous old ballroom on thesecond floor the great bandleaders of the '20s and '30s—Paul Whiteman and AbeLyman among them—played California sweet music for the high school and collegekids of that generation. It was here that the Balboa hop and so many other hepdances of the era originated. But in the late '20s the old pilings on which thePavilion stands had begun to groan and complain, so they moved the dancing tothe new Rendezvous Ballroom a couple of blocks away and abandoned the oldballroom to danceathons and walkathons and other, less frenetic, activitieslike badminton and bowling and pool and, finally, bingo.
From thePavilion docks the sightseeing excursions used to leave on the hour with therubbernecks, and the big fishing boats took their loads of sport fishermen out40 and 50 at a time, just as they do today. In the good summer months when thealbacore are running some 50 miles out to sea, you pay $12.50 for a day'sfishing on one of the Pavilion's two big boats, which set out just aftermidnight. For another $1.50, if you book ahead in time, you can reserve one ofthe 30 bunks and sleep aboard until you reach the good fishing waters at dawn.With luck the boat may bring in a hundred or more albacore weighing up to 40pounds apiece.
From time totime there have been proposals to tear the Pavilion down, but in 1961 theDucommun Realty Co. bought it and gradually, and with loving affection, broughtit back to grandeur. Now cheerful Art Gronsky, a remnant of the old Balboa,runs the sightseeing and fishing excursions, and will rent or sell you justabout anything you might need for boating or fishing. There is also a fine newglass-fronted restaurant overlooking Balboa Bay.
It is anothercouple of miles from the Pavilion to the two great stone jetties at the mouthof the harbor where the Newport Beach peninsula ends. Just as so much of thehistory of modern Europe has been dictated by coal and iron, so that of NewportBeach was written by the jetties. The shifting sands at the harbor entrance hadvirtually closed the bay to all but the most adventurous oceangoing trafficbefore the big stone breakwater was built early this century. Even then, thechannel was narrow, and treacherous in heavy seas, and on some days enormouscombers would seal off the entrance completely. As long ago as 1913 the yachtBalboa tried to brave the harbor entrance in a heavy sea with 17 of the city'sleading citizens aboard. It was swamped by the breakers, and the alarm went outfrom a man who spotted the accident from the tower of the Pavilion, which inthose days gave an unobstructed view of the entire peninsula. Duke Kahanamoku,the great Hawaiian swimmer, happened to be on the opposite shore for somesurfing, and he and a friend paddled out on their surfboards to rescue many ofthe party.
Some years laterthe long, black-hulled schooner Muriel was overturned by the heavy seas insidethe jetty, and for two years she lay on her side on the beach in front of thehouse of King Gillette, the razor blade man. A Captain Eliason was probingaround inside the hull one day and found himself in a life-and-death strugglewith a 15-foot octopus that he finally subdued and put on display in a tankalongside the Pavilion.
It wasn't untilthe second jetty was built on the southern side of the channel, and the wholeentrance dredged to 20 feet, that Newport Harbor was opened to the fabulousyachting boom that followed Hitler's war.
Sitting now on asunny Sunday afternoon on the veranda of an oldtimer's bayside house in Balboa,you see much of the miraculous new scene spread before you like a gargantuantapestry. The palisades across the bay to the east, where 30 years ago thecattle and horses of the Irvine Ranch grazed placidly, are a solid bank ofmodern architecture clinging to the side of a 100-foot cliff. You couldn't buyone of those houses for less than $75,000 or even $100,000. The rambling greenhouse over there is the one that the late Myford Irvine built for himself a fewyears ago. It was sold recently to a 7-Up executive for $600,000, which maywell be the largest price ever paid for a single residence in the state ofCalifornia.
The sand flatson which your sailboats occasionally went aground in the old days are gone now,and the deep-keeled oceangoing racers that sail to Acapulco and Honolulu passunconcernedly over the sandbars in the middle of the bay where you once playedsoftball and dug for cockles at low tide.
On a midsummerSunday afternoon the Flight of the Snowbirds, some 200 thick, comes sailingpast, a Newport-Balboa tradition as ceremoniously observed as the St. Patrick'sDay parade on Fifth Avenue. You remember back in-the '20s when a race amongthese little 14-foot catboats could scarcely round up 20 entrants.
"How muchdoes a Snowbird cost?" you ask.
"About$1,100," someone says, and you remember the $150 check you so proudly tookto the boatyard to buy your first one.
"Have youvisited Lido Isle yet?" comes the question. "If you want to see what'sreally happened to this place you'd better go there." The last time youwere here it was just another sandbar in the middle of Newport, the UpperBay.
Edgar Bergen,one of the many Hollywood celebrities who have found a summertime haven inNewport Beach, welcomes you to his house on Lido Isle. Bergen, along with hisfriends Walt Disney and David Rose and several others, is a steam engine buff,and he has put one in the S. S. Poopalong, a little Monterey fishing boat hebought several years ago. You chug quietly up the bay while Bergen stokes thefurnace with a special smokeless coal imported from Wales. Everywhere you look,the bay front is a solid wall of houses, each with its dock jutting into thewater and each dock with its yacht or two moored alongside.
Bergen shows youthe "character boats," as they call them in Newport—a Chinese junk, aperfect miniature replica of an old Mississippi sidewheeler, a Norwegianfishing vessel. This week, before Labor Day, some 50 of them will compete inthe character-boat parade, when Bergen will con the Poopalong in his vintageadmiral's costume.
Back on thefront porch of his house, Bergen tells you a little of what life is like onLido Isle. "It's something like Venice," he says. "All your friendsgo by in their boats, and you can wave to them in different ways. Just afriendly wave means hello, nice to see you. If you beckon, it means come in andhave a drink. Then they tie up to your dock and come into the house. If theydon't know you too well, they bring their own drinks from their boats."
"It's justastounding what's going on here," Bergen added. "I read not so long agothat they sold almost as many boats as automobiles in southern California lastyear."
"That LidoIsle," said a real estate man the next day. "You wouldn't believewhat's going on there. I remember back before the war I had a waterfront lot onLido Isle to sell—60 front feet on the water—and I had a hell of a time gettingrid of it for $4,500. Now they're getting $2,000 a front foot, and there aren'tmore than half a dozen bay-front lots left there, and they aren't for sale.
"But theplace is changing from when you knew it," he went on. "After Labor Daythere weren't more than a few people left in the whole area, and the wholesummer population wasn't more than 5,000. Now we have a year-round populationof 30,000 and only about 10,000 or 12,000 more who come just for the summer.Some weekends, though, we'll have maybe 100,000 people here. You can commute todowntown Los Angeles in an hour, and we've got a lot of new electronics plantsgoing up in the area.
"It'sfabulous, it's really fabulous," the real estate man continued. "Justlook at these figures here. Ten years ago the assessed valuation for NewportBeach was less than $40 million. Today it's more than $140 million. At 25¢ onthe dollar that means the property values here come close to $600 million.
"And theboats. Right now there are more than 7,000 boats of all kinds in the harbor.Those are official statistics. That's about $75 million worth of yachts for40,000 people. There's nothing like it anywhere else. Why, you couldn't buy thecheapest lot anywhere in the area—that would be a lot about 40 by 120—for lessthan $15,000 or $18,000. How do you like that?"
"Actually," said the real estate man, "we haven't got any more roomhere. The sewage system and the water system and the other facilities wouldn'thandle much more traffic. And Alamitos Bay—that's the only other resort harborbetween L.A. and San Diego—that's about full up, too, only not nearly so big ashere. The new marinas will have to take over. Places like Playa Del Rey,Redondo Beach, Oceanside and Huntington Beach's new Huntington Harbour, whichis currently advertising real estate on nine islands—'for families in love withthe water.' And then there's Mission Bay down in San Diego, although that's alittle far for the people that come here."
"Then Iguess Newport Beach can't get much bigger, just more expensive?" he wasasked.
"Correct—forthe time being," the man said. "You see, counting Newport and BalboaBay and all the eight islands in the two bays, we've got a little over 18 milesof waterfront property, and that's all used up. But in five or 10 years we'llbe developing the upper bay. That's all Irvine Ranch Co. property up there, andit is being developed into a fabulous new community under the supervision ofArchitect William Pereira. There will be a campus of the University ofCalifornia and for its use a 2000-meter rowing course that will take as many assix eight-oared shells abreast. The whole area will be at least twice this sizein another 20 years.
Suddenly youremembered about the man from Pasadena who owned a 60-foot yawl. Last winter hewas telling some people how he found it cheaper to keep the boat in Italy thannearby Newport Beach. "It costs me $1.50 per foot per month to tie it up atone of the marinas down in Newport," he said.' 'That's more than $1,000 ayear. For that amount of money my wife and I can fly to Italy and back and takeour summer cruise over there in the Adriatic. I don't know how people canafford to live in Newport and Balboa anymore."
NEWPORT BEACHTRAVEL FACTS
STAYING THERE:Newport Beach is primarily a residential area, but there are two excellentmotels. The Jamaica Inn, overlooking the Newport Bay area at Corona del Mar,has 100 spacious rooms, two swimming pools, tennis courts. Summer rates (May27-Oct. 1): poolside double rooms $18 or $20, rooms overlooking the pool $14 or$16, patio rooms $20. The Newporter Inn, which opened in April, overlooks theNewport Dunes playground, the Back Bay, all of Lido Isle, Balboa and the CoastHighway. There are two pools, a nine-hole golf course, water skiing, and boatsfor hire. Each of the 115 rooms has its own private balcony facing the Pacificor the pools. Summer rates for a double room, ocean-side, are $20 or $22;poolside $18 or $20. Winter rates for both motels drop by about $5 a room. TheNewporter Inn has four private villas as well, each with its own pool andterrace, which go for $100 a day in summer, $75 in winter. Seasonal housing,when available, comes cheaper: anything from $400 to $2,500 per month for anapartment in the June-through-August season.
PLAYING THERE:The only golf course within Newport Beach city limits is the private IrvineCoast Country Club, which has exchange privileges with many country clubs insouthern California. There are two public golf courses in Huntington Beach, onein Santa Ana, one in San Clemente, and a nine-hole course in Laguna Beach, allless than 30 minutes' drive from Newport. Newport Beach will build an 18-holepublic course within the next two years. There are plenty of public tenniscourts. Boats and surfboards can be rented by the hour, the day or the week,and there is no shortage. A skiff to go fishing in the bay costs $12.50 a day,including motor, gas and bait. Fishing off the dock at the Pavilion costs $1.50a day, including bait, and the Balboa Pavilion Co. will rent tackle for $2 aday or $1 a half day. Next to the Pavilion there is a small fun zone with allthe games a kid ever heard of. All beaches on the ocean side of Balboa andCorona del Mar are open to the public, and there are three public beaches onthe bay side of Balboa. Lido Isle has no public beaches.
DINING THERE: Inthe southern California tradition there are some very fancy restaurants where$20 won't cover the check for two, and there are plenty of 19¢ hamburgers, too.One of the plushest restaurants is Karam's, Newport Beach, which serves ahighly recommended duck bigarade ($12.50 for two, to be ordered in advance).Weekend reservations should be made by Wednesday. The Stuft Shirt, NewportBeach, is—despite its name—an excellent steak-and-chop house (flaming saddle oflamb, $5) in a neo-Venetian décor. The Hurley Bell, Corona del Mar, serves ahealthy filet mignon steak sandwich for supper at $2.95, and children's dinnersare half the price of the entree. The Newporter Inn serves excellent pastries.Christian's Hut, now located next to the Jamaica Inn, is well known for itsPolynesian dishes. The Pavilion's new restaurant overlooks the boating activityin Balboa Bay. Berkshire's has the best view on Lido Isle. There are two goodplaces on the Coast Highway: Reuben's, Newport Beach, has a porterhouse steak,cattleman's cut, at $4.35; Robert Hill's Chefs Inn, Corona del Mar, is anexcellent all-purpose family-type restaurant with good food at reasonableprices.
MOVING THERE: Nomatter where you look for property in Newport Beach the price is high andavailable land is scarce. On the oceanfront of Balboa, lots run around $100 perfront foot, but on Lido Isle the going rate is $3,500 per front foot for abay-front lot with dock privileges. Inside lots—beach privileges but no view—gofor $800 to $900 per front foot. If you want a bay lot with no dock privileges,you might be able to scare up a piece of property for around $2,000 per frontfoot on fashionable Lido Isle.
CORONA DEL MAR
SCALE OF MILES