A tiny building in the alley behind Lake Street near Pecan Avenue bears the street number 505 1/2 and the hand-painted name, "Gordie." (Photo, September 2012)
Who is Gordie and why does the tiny building behind 505 Lake Street bear his name? If you're a surfer, you might already know.
Gordie Higgins was one of Huntington Beach's first surfboard shapers at a time when boards were actually, well, boards. The 1920s Lake Street home behind which the tiny "Gordie house" sits belonged to his brother, Bud Higgins, who made one of the first redwood surfboards after watching Duke Kahanamoku and other Hawaiians surf Corona del Mar in the 1920s.
The Los Angeles Times wrote in 1989, Long May They Wave, that "along with lifeguard Gene Belshe, Higgins decided to try to make what is
regarded as the county's first homemade board. Kahanamoku suggested
that his 11-foot board was too large for the Corona del Mar breakers, so
the young locals set out to make two scaled-down, 10-foot boards."
Left: Gordie Higgins was one of Huntington Beach's first lifeguards, along with his brother, Bud Higgins, who was the first chief lifeguard. (Photo, SurfingWalkofFame.com)
Bud Higgins is reported to be the first surfer to shoot the pier. Both Bud and Gordie are on the Surfing Walk of Fame Honor Roll (1997). They surfed solely to surf.
By 1913, steamships advertised pleasure trips to Hawaii for surf-boating and surf-boarding. Shortly after this, the Hawaiians landed along the California shores, bringing their boards with them. (Image, Los Angeles Herald, 1913)
When Nancy Wride wrote about Gordie for the Los Angeles Times twenty-three years ago (Mixed Feelings in Huntington Beach: Wave of Development Rolling Into 'Surf City'). She wrote about the affection with which people greeted him and about Gordie's concerns for a changing town.
"Sweet-faced Gordie Higgins, 75, grew up here when the streets were dirt,
the sidewalks wooden and oil--not surfing--was the lifeblood of
Huntington Beach," Wride reports.
Above: Duke Kahanmoku, circa 1920, inspired local boys to try their hand at surfing and surfboard shaping. You can find a statue of Duke on Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach.
"As he sits in the heart of downtown, cross-legged on a
bench smoking his Dorals, the old man speaks without nostalgia when he
says, 'It never will be the old town, such as it was,' Higgins told Wride, who noticed his board-toting soulmates. "The young surfers know it too--the ones who wave at him as they cycle
past towing their boards, hollering, 'How ya feelin' Gordie?' "
Tiny, but charming, Gordie's house in the alley behind Lake Street bears the number 505 1/2. It is a few minutes walking, barefoot, to the beach. (Photo, September 2012)
Wride continued to follow Gordie as he moved to his table at the Sugar Shack on Main Street.
"...Gordie Higgins continued to hold court, blue eyes
flashing as various friends stopped to chat. He can remember the days
when there were only two cars in the whole town of perhaps 3,500 people.
He remembers the tent city downtown where the roughnecks camped while
working the oil fields in the 1920s," Wride writes.
"He remembers the saltwater plunge and how people threw pennies into the
deep end for him and other divers. He remembers the first gas station in
town, the red cars that could get you to Los Angeles in 45 minutes."
Gordie served in the U.S. Navy from 1936 through World War II, surviving the sinking of the carrier Yorktown. He seems to have worked a variety of jobs, driving haul trucks, working as a locksmith. He married, but later found a home behind his brother Bud's house.
Left: Gordie's big brother Delbert "Bud" Higgins was the City's first chief lifeguard and, later, fire chief. For a July 4th celebration in the 1930s, he soaked himself in alcohol, set
himself on fire, and dove off a 50-foot platform above the pier into
City historian Jerry Person wrote about his friend, Gordie and his brother, Bud, in 2006 just after Gordie passed away (Huntington Beach Independent, A life lived in our city's golden days). As Gordie got older, Person would "would find
him sitting outside on a chair by his front door," ready to talk about the old days. He recalled the bond between the Higgins brothers, who shaped not just boards, but the growing town's culture for generations to come.
"Have you ever seen that TV commercial with those two old guys selling Medicare Part D insurance, and they walk away together?" writes Person. "When
I still had a store on Main Street, I have a vivid memory of Bud and
Gordie leaving together and walking up Main Street just like those two
guys on the commercial."
The Gordie House: Home of one of Huntington Beach's surfing pioneers, Gordie Higgins, 1913 - 2006. (Photo, September 2012)
Editor's note: The home of Bud Higgins, 505 Lake Street, and Gordie Higgins, 505 1/2 Lake Street (alley) was sold to a new owner in October 2012.
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