Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Historic Walking Tour #19: Dr. George A. Shank House

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)

-Updated July, 2014-

   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.

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."

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)

   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.  

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."**

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.

   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."**

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)

*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

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  1. My girlfriend (now wife) lived upstairs in 1970 there were several surfers who also rented rooms there at the time.

  2. My grandparents lived in HB in the early 20's and Dr. Shank delivered my mother in August, 1920


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