Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Masters of the Ocean Waves

The demonstration Wave Motor at an industrial pier in Huntington Beach promised to harness the ocean's power for California.  (Los Angeles Herald, Dec. 19, 1909)

"The company had a model of their invention built at 21st Street in Huntington Beach in 1909. They claimed to have 'passed the point where we must stand over a working model and argue with crowds of skeptics as to whether or not our motors will work in the ocean.' ”
    "Three Inventors Who Tried to Bottle the Ocean's Power", Wired, April 8, 2011. 

   Early 1900s Huntington Beach sometimes reads like an explosion of new-fangled ideas and inventions.  Ornamental lighting was installed along "oiled" streets, public dancing was debated at the town's board of trustees meetings, Curtiss and Wright Brothers airplanes were buzzing overhead, and "wave motors" held the promise of mastering the ocean's energy.

Pieces and parts in the Axelson Machine Company for the "mammoth double acting force pump" wave motor planned for installation at the 21st Street industrial pier in Huntington Beach. (Los Angeles Herald, May 17, 1908)

    Wave motors were the early 20th Century's renewable energy dream.  It's an invention that sounds a little like grunion running at Huntington Beach to the uninitiated--a little like someone is pulling your leg.  However, what the April 8, 2011, Wired Magazine characterized as "another Rube Goldberg machine" was real.

   "The problem of extracting heat, light and power from the ocean's immeasurable energy has been solved by Alva L. Reynolds of Los Angeles and Huntington Beach," reported the Los Angeles Herald in December 1909, the year Huntington Beach incorporated as a city.  

   "We have made a capitol demonstration at our plant at Huntington Beach," Reynolds told the Herald, "We are making electricity every day, and hundreds of persons are calling at our pier to see our motors work, and they go away convinced that this age-long problem has been solved."

The California Wave Motor Company inventors Alva L. Reynolds and George A. Reynolds.  Their workshop in Huntington Beach was at an industrial pier located off present-day Pacific Coast Highway and 21st Street. (Los Angeles Herald, March 17, 1907)
   Wired's Alexis Madrigal writes the wave motor designed by Alva and George Reynolds was to be built like a pier,  "there were vanes on the pylons that would spin when the waves came in, turning a crank that would pump seawater to a reservoir on shore, where it would run down through a standard hydroelectric generator."

The California Wave Motor Company pressure tank at the end of the Huntington Beach pier. (Los Angeles Herald, Dec. 19 1909)

   The Los Angeles Herald reported in 1909 there were "175 different schemes for utilizing wave power,  each representing as many different notions, not scientific knowledge, about wave action."  They enthusiastically championed Alva Reynolds as having solved wave motor science, "Mr. Reynolds has profited by the many failures of other inventors by studying the science of wave action."

   The California Wave Motor Company installed two units at a Huntington Beach industrial pier, boasting they had "withstood for several weeks the severest storm known on this coast for many years." Alva Reynolds--who had applied for a U.S. Patent on the wave motor in 1907--claimed they had a "complete wave power system of production, equalization and transmission."
View of the power house interior for the Huntington Beach demonstration for the wave motor.  (Los Angeles Herald, Dec. 19, 1909)

   The California Wave Motor Company definitely had the backing of the Los Angeles Herald and its managing editor, Frank E. WolfeWolfe perhaps not so coincidentally was a director of the company; the Herald ran a multi year campaign of special features on the California Wave Motor Company.  They were in competition with the Starr Wave Motor Company which was running a demonstration at Redondo Beach.

   At the time, Alva Reynolds said, "We first intend to furnish electricity to the City of Huntington Beach.  Every housewife of the town will throw away her smoky and dangerous oil stove and replace it with the clean, comfortable electric cooker.  She will have a big oven with plate glass windows, electrically lighted and heated.  There will be no smoke and no ashes in the house." 

   Reynolds was convinced "one mile of the coast of California will suffice to furnish the power for everybody in the state...These are the facts of the situation.  Electricity is the coming fuel and it's coming from the ocean waves." 

RIGHT: Huntington Beach officials were willing to take a chance on local boys Alva and George Reynolds.  (Los Angeles Herald, April 25, 1907)

   In June 1909, after operating their demonstration plant at Huntington Beach for several months, the Reynolds constructed a new 500-foot wave motor wharf "at the foot of 21st Street" in Huntington Beach.   Requiring approval from the U.S. war department, the Reynolds were told "if you don't obstruct navigation, you may draw all the electricity you need from the ocean waves."

LEFT: George Reynolds surrounded by electricity, from a Los Angeles Herald feature on the Wave Motor.  (Los Angeles Herald, March 17, 1907)

The Reynolds: Huntington Beach boys
   Huntington Beach Lifeguards (Images of America, Arcadia Publishing), notes George Reynolds was the first Surf City lifeguard from 1904 to 1907, the first pier area manager in 1904, town constable in 1905, and the first volunteer community bandleader.  By 1908, he is reported as being a real estate agent and an engineer.  George also was a prolific fisherman, evidenced by a photograph in Huntington Beach Lifeguards that shows him with a lengthy stringer of fish next to his beloved pier.

   Asked by the Los Angeles Herald in 1907 to describe an influx of Portuguese man o'war jellyfish at Huntington Beach, George Reynolds is quoted at length and poetically, "they shone and scintillated as they danced on the rippling waters like one glittering flotilla of fairy ships."  Clearly, the Herald loved the Reynolds boys.

RIGHT: Alva L. Reynolds in a Los Angeles Herald Sunday Supplement, "World Wide Review of Achievements of Men and Women." (Los Angeles Herald, Jan. 12, 1908)

   Alva Reynolds, then living in Los Angeles, appears to have been a master at gaining investors and support for the Ideal Wave Motor.   Alva gained notice in 1905 for the Man-Angel flying machine, an 18-pound air boat that utilized a large "gas bag" (think dirigible) under which the pilot sat, paddling over-sized oars.  It actually flew.  

Alva Reynolds' Man-Angel flying over Los Angeles in 1906.  Reynolds proposed to race his Man-Angel against an on-ground automobile from Los Angeles to Pomona in July 1906 for a $1,000 bet held by the Herald.  Postponed due to lack of quality gas for the air bag, there is no record as to whether the race ever took place.  (Los Angeles Herald, July 1, 1906)

    A master showman, Alva Reynolds challenged Wardin F. Trombly (first president of the Southern California Aerial Navigation club) and his airship, "Bullet," to an air race in August 1905, that the Herald promised would make the eagles "pull out their quill feathers in sheer disgust and retire to a locality where powers of flight is no longer a necessity."  

   The Herald went on to report, "Trombly will attempt no greater height than is necessary to assure himself whether or not Saturn has six or seven moons."  Reynolds' pilot for the Man-Angel "has promised Reynolds that he will keep sufficient distance from the sun to insure him against burning his wings."  This was but one of a number of challenge races that appear not to have happened, although there were many demonstration flights.  

   Reynolds planned to make his Man-Angel available to the public for $100, according to a Herald article, Honk! Look out for air cycles, in November 1910.

Not the wave of the future, after all
   Wired Magazine reports the California Wave Motor Company's "trail goes cold" around 1909.  But, that's not the case.  It hung in there a few more years.  Newspaper archives show gold mining stock being offered in trade for shares of the California Wave Motor Company and a meeting of shareholders being held in Los Angeles in 1910.

LEFT: California Wave Motor Company advertisement touting "capital stock $1 million." (Los Angeles Herald, April 12, 1908)

   In 1971, the Los Angeles Times remembered, "a reporter from the Huntington Beach News visited the plant (circa 1909) and said he saw 'the waves furnishing power, saw the perfect method by which that power was properly utilized, and saw the steady blaze of electric lights created by electricity produced by the power generated by the Ideal Wave Motor.' " 

  The Times reports "it churned away there for several years, lighting light bulbs on the wharf and holding great promise."  But, the Reynolds' Ideal Wave Motor proved to be more of a dream, incapable of generating enough energy to make it worth further investment.  

   Once on the cutting edge of green energy, the twinkling lights powered by the ocean waves at the long-gone 21st Street wharf appears to have faded around 1913.

Editor's note: Google "power from ocean waves" and you will see about 14 million results. It is a concept that continues to be tested today as a potential source of green energy.

Patent drawing for the Reynolds brothers' Ideal Wave Motor. (Image courtesy of Wired Magazine)

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Huntington Beach blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.   

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Historic Downtown Walking Tour: Shank House

ABOVE: A classic Southern California bungalow, the Shank House is #19 on the walking tour in historic downtown Huntington Beach.  It is located at 205 5th Street, on the southeast corner of Walnut Avenue and 5th Street. (Photo, May 2012) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

-Updated April 2018-

   Constructed in 1913, the Dr. George A. Shank house originally had an ocean view.  It was moved from its original location at Pacific Coast Highway and 10th Street to its present location at 5th Street and Walnut Avenue in 1927, a time when a number of houses were moved out of the City's growing oil fields.

LEFT: The City Redevelopment Agency acquired the two-story bungalow in 1988 and it was provided to the Huntington Beach Police Department as a downtown sub station in 1991. (Photo, May 2012)

   Dr. Shank--one of the City's first medical doctors--served as the City's first health officer in the 1910s and as a member of the Board of Trustees for the City (predecessor to the city council) in 1926.

   It's fitting the bungalow is now used by the City's police department.  Dr. Shank also was responsible for financing the City's first city hall and jail complex, just a few steps away (see Historic Walking Tour #18, the Old City Jail at

   In August 1916, Shank offered to build for the City a 50' by 50' brick structure, with a 14' by 20' brick structure in the rear for a jail.*  The brick jail cells are still standing in the alley between 5th Street and Main Street, and are worth a stroll up the alley to take a look.  The windowless, brick jail cells--with their iron clad sliding doors--are across the alley from the oldest wooden building in the downtown, the present day Longboard Grill and Pub (built in 1904).  

   Shank later sold the city hall and jail buildings to the City for $12,000, allowing the new City to spread payments over a seven-year period.*  Today, Dr. Shank's home continues to serve the City as a police sub station in the historic downtown.

ABOVE: Huntington Beach police department circa 1920, shortly after Dr. Shank built the City a city hall and jail complex on 5th Street.  History came full circle when the Shank House was rededicated as a police substation in 1991. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   When John Penner, Huntington Beach Independent, wrote about the Shank House in 1991 (Officials Dedicate Police Substation), he reported that "rumors have persisted for years that the new police outlet at one time housed a brothel."  Unconfirmed.  Although it's a popular rumor for a few of Huntington Beach's historic buildings, due to the undeniably rowdy days of oil discovery in the early 1900s.

   Dr. Shank helped found the Huntington Beach Masonic Lodge #380 in 1906.  Local historian Jerry Person wrote about the City's early Masons in a 2006 Huntington Beach Independent column, Looking Back, when the Lodge was marking its century anniversary.  Person reports the City's Masons had to travel to the Lodge in Santa Ana by horse or buggy, taking up the better part of day.

   "Because the Santa Ana River bed that separates our town from Santa Ana was too soft to cross directly, one would have to travel up to Westminster and then out to Santa Ana," writes Person, "It was in January or February of 1906 on just such a trip that a group of masons were leaving that lodge in Santa Ana to return to their homes in our town.  The prospect of a long, cold, rainy ride back got the men to thinking about forming a lodge in Huntington Beach that would be easier for them to reach."

ABOVE: Mounted police on Walnut Avenue near the Shank House, an image reminiscent of a century ago when Walnut was an oiled roadway and horses outnumbered automobiles.  Nearby on Walnut north of 5th Street, is the National Register-listed M.E. Helme House Furnishing Company--now an antique store--which still has a few hitching rings out front.  (Photo, July 5, 2014) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   Shank was a key force on the City board of trustees when appointed in 1926--the year before he moved his house to its present location--serving on five committees, including finance, streets and parks, health and sanitation, music and promotion, and water.  By then, he was an old hand on city business and had lent his Ocean Avenue and 10th Street home's garage as a polling place in local elections. The Santa Ana Register had noted in May 1908 that, "Dr. Shank deserves the gratitude of the community for his interest in public matters, which takes in everything for the public good".

   As a country doctor, Shank had treated everything from gunshot wounds after a fight over a woman at the cannery, to an accident at the Holly Sugar factory where a worker dropped a lead pipe on his foot, to the 1909 case of a seven-year-old boy finally coughing up a tack he had swallowed a year earlier (Shank kept the tack in his office). Many of his unusual medical cases were reported in the Santa Ana Register as news of local interest. 

   The architect for the Shank House, British-born Frederick Harry Eley, also was affiliated with the Masons.   He is the architect of record for the Masonic Building and Lodge in Anaheim in 1913.  

ABOVE: Interior of the Ebell Club, 625 N. French St., in Santa Ana, one of pioneer Orange County's many buildings designed by Frederick Eley.  It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. (Photo courtesy of Chris Jepsen, OC Historical Roundup)

   Eley is noted as the first registered architect in Orange County.  In addition to designing the Santa Ana Fire Station #1 on Sycamore Street, Eley is credited with "24 main school least a dozen churches and Sunday School buildings. Most of the buildings at the Orange County Hospital and Poor Farm were of his design. Commercial buildings, a theatre, a Masonic Temple, the Santa Ana Valley Ebell Club, the Santa Ana Register building, the Pavilion at Irvine Park, and a post office were among the many well-designed buildings he has to his credit."**

ABOVE: Huntington Beach's City Gym and Pool, designed by Frederick Eley, was restored and rededicated in 2000. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo courtesy of Chris Jepsen and City of Huntington Beach archives)

   Eley also designed another of Huntington Beach's treasures, the Huntington Beach Elementary School Gymnasium and Plunge, 1600 Palm Avenue, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

   Eley worked largely in Santa Ana, but is credited with the design of approximately 125 buildings in Orange County, according to the Pacific Coast Architecture database.  Of the 49 residential structures he designed, the Shank House in Huntington Beach stands as one of the examples of his love for interesting design.

LEFT: George Shank passed away in May 1930, after spending three decades helping the Huntington Beach Township establish itself. His wife, Cora--who had helped organize the women's club in Huntington Beach--died less than a year later. (Santa Ana Register, May 20, 1930)

   Historian Diann Marsh writes about an elderly Eley's return visit to Orange County from England in 1967 "to help celebrate the 70th Anniversary of Irvine Park. He had designed most of the major buildings at the park, including the Dance Pavilion."

   "I stood there (in front of St. Paul's Cathedral in England)," Eley commented, thinking about modern architecture, "and thought if some of the young architects today could spend ten minutes looking at this beautiful cathedral, they'd realize there is more to architecture than putting up a packing case and punching a few holes in it for doors and windows."**

ABOVE: The Shank House is a Craftsman, or American Arts and Crafts Movement domestic architectural style, popular from the late 1800s to the 1930s. (Photo, May 2012) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

*City of Huntington Beach, archival records for the Huntington Beach Board of Trustees, predecessor to the City Council.
**Diann Marsh, Santa Ana, An Illustrated History, 1994, Heritage Publishing

© All rights reserved. No part of the Historic Huntington Beach blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fire pits and beach camping

Sea Breeze Auto Camp, circa 1935. (Photo, Pomona Public Library)

   Visitors to Huntington Beach always comment on the pit fires dotting the beach at night.  It's routine for locals to celebrate birthdays, reunions or ordinary get togethers with a circle of friends at a beach fire.  It's also a long tradition, dating back a hundred years to when beach living was a necessity.

One of the tent cities of early Huntington Beach. Tent cities were constructed for early residents and oil workers, until housing construction caught up. Other tent cities were constructed for the annual Grand Army of the Republic reunions, the Methodist tent city, and revival groups.

The Methodist Auditorium and campground at Huntington Beach, circa 1910.  (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

The Grand Army of the Republic annual reunion in 1913, with a tent city stretching from Acacia to Orange streets in Huntington Beach.  (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   "In the early years, before and after 1920, there was a lot of camping on the beach," writes former City Historian Alicia Wentworth in a collection of "miscellaneous historical data" updated in 2005.  "During the oil boom days, there were hundreds of oil workers who couldn't get a place to stay and they had to rent rooms by the shift.  As many as three people would sleep in the same bed because of the shortage of rooms in Huntington Beach." 

By 1940, there was a forest of oil derricks on the coastline of Huntington Beach.  Homes, resorts, restaurants and shops now occupy the inland side of Pacific Coast Highway, while miles of open beach remain.  (Photo, Los Angeles Times)

   Wentworth describes the beach as "covered with cardboard shacks" and World War I army tents.  Around this same time, Bungalet Court--a collection of batten board cottages--constructed in the present-day Main Street Branch Library - Triangle Park site, provided additional housing for early residents.  The temporary nature of the housing prompted locals to call it "Cardboard Alley."

An early 1900s advertisement cheered the new "coast boulevard" which gave travelers an easy route between Los Angeles county and Huntington Beach.

   The demand for beach camping continued into the 1930s, transitioning from needed work-force housing to Americans' new-found love of road travel.  

   Charles Henry Davis, President of the National Highways Association, wrote about our new love affair with the open road in the May 1915 edition of Travel Magazine, "People, like water, must move or stagnate. They must run and play like the brook itself or become sluggish and dull—to themselves as well as to others. Of the seven modes of intercommunication—water, roads, postal, railroad, telegraph, telephone and wireless—only one, roads, is free to all the people of the earth." 

A custom motorhome, early 1900s.  Before the mass manufacturing of motorhomes and camping vehicles, Americans jerry-rigged their own road travel contraptions.  (Photo, Motor Magazine)

   The City of Huntington Beach leased property from the Huntington Beach Company for a campground, adding facilities and picnic tables.  The Sea Breeze Auto Camp was located south of Lake Street, along Ocean Avenue (present-day Pacific Coast Highway) and the railroad tracks to present-day Beach Boulevard. 

   Later, the Huntington Beach Company property was deeded to William S. Ebert after he bought out the City's interest.  Ebert added an oil and gas station at the intersection of Ocean Avenue and First Street in 1928, to accommodate travelers.  At the same time the City was adding "ornamental lights" and traffic control signals at the intersection of Main Street and Ocean Avenue.  Life in Huntington Beach was getting busier.

Pacific Electric Railway "red car" bringing beach-goers to Huntington Beach, circa 1907.  (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   By 1938, Ebert reported to the city council a total of 57,000 registrations representing a total of 140,000 people stayed at Sea Breeze, at an average stay of 16 days per person.  The total number of beach goers that year was 630,000, a ninety percent increase over 1937.  Only three percent of the people reported at the beach were from Huntington Beach.

Girls walking on the Huntington Beach pier, circa 1939, #2 on the Historic Downtown walking guide. (Photo, Pomona Public Library)

    Ebert constructed beach cottages at Sea Breeze and later gained city council approval to install a neon sign at the entrance, still a novelty at the time.

Sea Breeze Auto Camp with beach cabins and palm leaf awnings, circa 1935.  (Photo, Pomona Public Library)

   In an effort to manage camping at the beach, the City constructed a municipal trailer park at the beach in 1933, with a first night fee of 75 cents.  By 1949, the City was charging a whopping $35.00 a month or $10.00 weekly for a trailer beach side spot, $25.00 a month for tents.  Camp sites were equipped with electricity, with a 50-cent charge for a blown fuse.

Beach goers near the saltwater "plunge" next to the Huntington Beach pier, circa 1935. Note the oil derricks in the background. (Photo, Pomona Public Library)

   In addition to the beach, campers enjoyed amusements at the Pavalon next to the Huntington Beach pier which featured live music and dancing, and--as of 1919, an amusement "new to the coast," a dartboard.*  Life at the beach was good.

"Down at the beach," circa 1895, just the beginning of our fascination with Huntington Beach. (Photo, Santa Ana Public Library)

*In April 1919, the Huntington Beach Board of Trustees (predecessor to the city council) listened to a proposal by a Mr. Jacobs regarding installation of a small pavilion with amusements next to the pier, including a dart board--a brand new amusement--for which he would provide the City with "50% of receipts." 

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Huntington Beach blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.   

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Historic Walking Tour #2: The Huntington Beach Pier

ABOVE: Huntington Beach near pier and bandshell, circa 1914.  (Photo, Library of Congress)

   The Huntington Beach pier--#2 on the Historic Downtown walking guide--has been a fixture on our coast for well over one hundred years.  (See a photograph of the original 1902 rough pine industrial pier at

   Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, the older pier was considered "locally important because it was constructed for the express purpose of establishing the city of Huntington Beach as a West Coast resort community" and because "it embodies elements of architectural design and engineering that were advanced for its period of construction, and is a rare surviving example of early 20th century reinforced concrete marine structures in the United States."

   Like a phoenix, the pier has risen a half dozen times after storms and ocean wear-and-tear have taken it out.  It would not be Huntington Beach without the pier.  Take a walk through time before you walk down the pier.

ABOVE: The "new" pier with a view of Catalina Island, circa 1914.

ABOVE: Datestone for the Huntington Beach pier, 1914. (Photo, Library of Congress)

ABOVE: Pier and bandshell, circa 1914. (Photo, Library of Congress)

ABOVE: Looking from Main Street and Ocean Boulevard (present-day Pacific Coast Highway) to pier, circa 1914. The "Pride of the Pacific"--designed by Ernest Rothenberg--is 1316 feet. (Photo, Library of Congress)

ABOVE: A saltwater "plunge" was a popular feature next to the pier, circa 1922. (Photo, Library of Congress)

ABOVE: The 1850-foot pier, circa 1930. The pier suffered damage during the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. (Photo, Library of Congress)

ABOVE: Longest pier on the coast, with "sun rooms," circa 1935.  In 1939, a hurricane tore off the end of the pier and it was rebuilt in 1940 to a length of 1822 feet. (Photo, Pomona Public Library)

 ABOVE: South side of pier, circa 1940s.  Note ship off end of pier.

ABOVE: Pier post WWII, re-opened to the public, circa mid 1945.  During the war, the U.S. Army used the pier for submarine watch and equipped it with a gunnery. (Photo, Library of Congress)

ABOVE: Pier photographed by California Department of Fish and Game, circa 1949.  Note oil well derricks throughout Huntington Beach.

ABOVE: Huntington Beach pier, circa 1950s.  (Photo, Los Angeles Public Library)

ABOVE: Tandem competition next to pier, circa 1962.

ABOVE:  El Nino storm strikes the pier and the cafe is lost to the sea, circa 1983.  After another damaging storm in 1988, the pier was rebuilt following the 1914 design. (Photo, Orange County Register)

ABOVE: Aerial view of pier looking toward Main Street, circa mid 1980s, before re-construction. (Photo, Library of Congress)

ABOVE:  View from end of pier deck toward Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway, circa mid 1980s. (Photo, Library of Congress)

 ABOVE: Captains Gallery, circa mid 1980s.  (Photo, Library of Congress)

ABOVE: Maxwell's Restaurant at the foot of the pier, circa mid 1980s (at the site of present-day Duke's). (Photo, Library of Congress)

ABOVE: Neptune's Locker, circa mid 1980s. (Photo, Library of Congress)

ABOVE: Underneath the pier, circa mid 1980s. (Photo, Library of Congress)

ABOVE: U.S. Open, 1999. The pier reopened in 1992 and is 1853 feet long. (Photo,

ABOVE: Water spout at end of pier, El Nino of February 2005 (we survived this one). (Photo, NOAA / NWS)

ABOVE: Cattle drive on beach, circa 2007, in conjunction with the U.S. Open of Surfing. 

ABOVE:  Surfing the Huntington Beach pier is almost a century-old tradition.  Visitors and locals alike walk down the pier, lean against the railing, and watch the experts at work. (Photo, Sacramento Bee)

ABOVE: The pier is the heart and soul of Huntington Beach.  Surfers' "paddle out" for the late Sean Collins of, January 2012. (Photo, Sacramento Bee)

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Huntington Beach blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.