Thursday, December 11, 2014

Pacific City: Our first City Hall

ABOVE: Pacific City Hall remains standing today at 122 Main Street, in its new life as Mangiamo's Gelato Caffe.  It was a cash grocery and feed store on the lower level, with the town governance meetings held upstairs.  This photograph is from a booster flyer entitled, "Homes with Pleasure and Business," circa 1904, which included the new Pacific Electric Railway station near the Huntington Beach pier and Ocean Avenue (now Pacific Coast Highway). Sanborn fire insurance maps document the building at this site in 1909, while the Historic Resources Assessment report by PCR Services Corporation dates the building to this location in 1902. Research by the City Historic Resources Board, with assistance from the Orange County Archives, documents the building was at 122 Main Street in 1901, placed there by Pacific City founder Philip Stanton.  (Photograph courtesy of the Helme Worthy Collection) © All rights reserved.

Updated January 29, 2015 - On January 20, 2015, the Huntington Beach  City Council voted 4-3 to approve the environmental report and demolition of the majority of the Pacific City Hall building.  The action requires the property owner to move their structure back six feet, with an attempt to save the facade on the building as an architectural treatment for a new four-story building.

   The picture worth a thousand words is above.  And, the question about whether or not 122 Main Street was our first City Hall has been answered.  It's right there, painted on top of the wooden pioneer building, right above the grocery and feed store.

A "filler" advertisement for Pacific City in the 1903 Orange County Directory. (Image, Fullerton Public Library)

   This is where pioneer business was conducted, perhaps the first discussions about how to  get Henry Huntington to bring the Pacific Electric Railway to town.  Pioneer leaders might have sat on the hanging balcony to survey the comings and goings on Main Street, smoking their cigars and making big plans. Or, more likely, anxiously wondering if this dusty little seaside village was going to succeed and how on earth could they attract investment. 

   This first seat of city government is now living large more than a century later serving up Italian ice in Mangiamo's Gelato Caffe, something pioneers probably would have loved in ice box days.

LEFT: Peek in the back of 122 and 124 Main Street to find 122's original hardwood batten board in remarkably pristine condition (to the left). An early 1900s storm drain solution runs the gap between the buildings.  The original corrugated tin siding from 1910 can be seen on 124 Main Street, now a souvenir shop.(Photo, December 2014) © All rights reserved.

   In ironic timing, the question of the building's history and fate comes at a time when the "new" Pacific City* is taking shape along Pacific Coast Highway, more than a century after the original Pacific City was dreamed up in 1901.  This sturdy little building has a story to tell.

ABOVE: A bit neglected on the alley side, a doorway to the second floor once had an outside stairway, direct to Pacific City Hall meeting rooms. This is an easy preservation fix, considering the hardwood construction.  (Photo, December 2014) © All rights reserved.

Pacific City
   The City of Huntington Beach Historic Resources Board (HRB) explained at a recent planning commission meeting the significance of 122 and its neighbor, 124 Main Street, which "critically document the commercial development of Huntington Beach.  These lots were originally surveyed as Lots 22 and 24 of Block 5 of Pacific City dating back to our city's infancy.  This, combined with the paucity of commercial buildings in the first decade of the 20th Century, reinforce the probability that 122 Main Street housed the early City Hall.  Certainly, it is among the earliest structures on Main Street."

ABOVE: Main Street prior to the 1909 incorporation of Huntington Beach, in 1907.  The distinctive balcony of 122 Main Street can be seen on the south side of the dusty, unpaved road. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   HRB member and historian Kathie Schey further detailed in a supplemental letter to the planning commission, "the evidence for this conclusion has stemmed from the recollections of Mr. Bud Higgins.  Higgins, an early resident of Huntington Beach was certainly in a position to know.  Not only had he lived in the city for many years but he had known others who had been alive at the time of the city's creation who had first-hand knowledge of those earliest years."

   "Further, there was no reason to embellish this information since there was no threat to this structure at that time and no reason to inflate its importance," Schey explains.  "Far from simple 'hearsay' this evidence is important to oral history, a type of resource widely recognized by historians today."

   Delbert "Bud" Higgins was one of Huntington Beach's first surfboard shapers (he had met Duke Kahanamoku in the 1920s), first lifeguards, and also its first fire chief.  His oral and personal historical accounts of Huntington Beach history are retained at California State University Fullerton, Center for Oral and Public History.

A snip from the Los Angeles Times article, 'Shrine' a Target for Condemnation, from December 1989, indicates the Pacific City Hall survived an earlier demolition threat.  The article references the building had been the first city hall with a quote from Charles Sarrabere, whose pioneer family owned the building for over six decades. (Image, Los Angeles Times, December 5, 1989)

   Schey further documented that, "In his memoirs, My Sixty Years in California, Huntington Beach pioneer Tom Talbert notes the first city post office was located on Main Street "where Sarrabere's have their cleaning shop (122 Main St.)" 

   Talbert , one of Huntington Beach's early mayors, published his book in 1952.  The Sarrabere family's 65-year ownership of the building began in 1916, with Charles Sarrabere running the family's cleaning business there until 1981.

   In the late 1980s, the City of Huntington Beach pursued acquisition of 122 and 124 Main Street under California redevelopment law, "authorizing the acquisition of such property by eminent domain" for development purposes of what was known as the "Main-Pier Redevelopment Project Area."  Many of the structures noted as contributors to the historic district were on the list for acquisition.

A July 1990 letter from the Huntington Beach Historic Resources Board to the Planning Commission included this list, noting 122 Main Street was "Pacific City City Hall." The letter was signed by Jerry Person, the present-day historian for Huntington Beach.  Note, the Historic Wintersburg property on Warner Avenue in Huntington Beach also is on this list, listed as "Japanese Church Buildings." (Image, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   More than one Sarrabere family property was proposed for acquisition, including the property that was the family residence on Pacific Coast Highway, south of Main Street.  Charles Sarrabere sent a letter to the City registering his opposition, stating his family's long land ownership in Huntington Beach.  When interviewed by the Los Angeles Times in 1989, Sarrabere, then 78, commented about 122 Main Street that, "I was practically raised there."  

   Local businessman and then member of the City of Huntington Beach Historic Resources Board, Douglas Langevin, told the Los Angeles Times in 1989 the building was "one of the very few of the original wood structures left in the city...In my view, that is the most important (of the old wooden buildings) given its history with the city."  Langevin faced opposition from the city council when he went about restoring another wooden pioneer structure: the 1904 Talbert-Leatherman building at 217 Main Street, now the Longboard Restaurant and Pub.

ABOVE: A closer look at Pacific City Hall, a center of community activity with the market below and the barber next door.  Both 122 and 124 Main Street were included in a map sent by the California State Office of Historic Preservation to the City of Huntington Beach in 1988, outlining the downtown structures they believed contributed to a historic district that would qualify for the National Register of Historic Places. (Photograph snip courtesy of the Helme Worthy Collection) © All rights reserved.

   Then, the photograph appeared, courtesy of the Helme Worthy Collection,** with "Pacific City Hall" painted in large letters on the building's Western False Front facade, further confirming its history.  This is where the founding fathers of Huntington Beach dreamed up a resort town with a pleasure pier and "Red Car" train.  How much we owe that little building, which has survived the 1933 earthquake, the ups and downs of the last century's economy, and the 1980s redevelopment era that removed many of its brothers.

   Nevertheless, the building's important civic history was misplaced over the years, while half of the community's historic structures were lost to development.***

   This is how we lose things.  Time fades community memory, as documents and historical photographs are lost.  Ultimately, pioneer roots are removed and the sense of place is altered.  Then, people pay to have the history they miss "re-created."  

   But, it's not the same.  New buildings weren't touched by earlier generations.  They don't tell the authentic story of horse-drawn wagons, land baron schemes, the oil boom wildcats, the lean Depression years, two world wars, and the earthquakes and floods that made Californians more resilient.  For more than a hundred years, 122 an 124 Main Street shared our journey, from the settlement of Huntington Beach into the 21st Century as Surf City.

ABOVE: The corrugated siding on 124 Main Street likely dates back to 1910 when the building was constructed, just after the incorporation of Huntington Beach in 1909.  The building originally was the Tripp Market, then the location of O'Barrs Drugstore in 1914.  After that, it became the U.S. Restaurant (1919), the Huntington Beach Stock Exchange, Fowler's Paint, the Buckhorn Cafe (1939), and the 20/30 Cafe (1943). (Photo, December 2014) © All rights reserved.  

   The fate of 122 and 124 Main Street, will go before the Huntington Beach city council soon.  The original Western False Front facade with hand-painted sign on 122 Main Street is believed to be under the facade added in the 1920s; covering over building materials was the practice of the day when materials were scarce.  

   As the historical consultant, PCR Services Corporation, notes: "The false front commercial building type is an icon of the urban pioneer West.  When movie directors or theme park designers erect a typical western town, the false front commercial building usually plays a prominent role. Unlike many myths of the West, the false front commercial building truly was a common sight in Colorado as well as California."

   "For a developing town in the early 20th Century, like Huntington Beach, the false front commercial building was an economical solution," further explains the historical consultant. "Sound business economics led commercial building owners to budget their spending for substantial facades while relegating the secondary sides of buildings to a cheaper utilitarian treatment."

   PCR Services later explains "fire often swept through early commercial districts, eliminating most of the wood western false front buildings."  How lucky we are that 122 Main Street survived.  Even the later embellishment of the fancy Western False Front facade---telling the story of pioneer business practices in a developing town---is now nearing the century mark.

   The history is undeniable.  But, history repeats and some of our history is the removal of historic places from our landscape.  On December 1, people gathered to watch the unveiling of a plaque for the Golden Bear, another important icon of Huntington Beach history lost to 1980s redevelopment.  The looming question now is what can be done to save the very beginnings of Pacific City and Huntington Beach.

ABOVE: Main Street in 1906, looking from the second block west toward the Pacific Ocean and the pier.  The balcony of Pacific City Hall can be seen on the south side of the street. (Photo snip, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   "It is extremely clear that these two buildings, born with our city, have stood mute witness to our city’s growth and historic legacy," explained the HRB in their November 26 letter to the planning commission. "Closely surrounding structures that may also have remained to celebrate even some portion of this past are long gone.  Even the adjacent Standard Market, which replaced an earlier structure when it began operations as early as 1926, is gone today.  This loss of most of the historic fabric of the downtown area  has been tragic."

   These are not just buildings any more, remarked a planning commissioner after seeing the photograph, "It's now a place."  

MORE THAN A CENTURY OLD: 124 (circa 1910) and 122 (circa 1902) Main Street, two of the handful of pioneer structures left in downtown Huntington Beach. (Photo, December 2014) © All rights reserved.

*Learn about Huntington Beach's "new" Pacific City at

**The Helme Worthy Collection is held by Susie Worthy--the great grandaughter of pioneer and early mayor Matthew Helme--and her husband, Guy Guzzardo.  They currently are restoring the M.E. Helme House Furnishing Co. and Worthy House in the historic downtown on Walnut Avenue, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Read more about the Helme-Worthy buildings at

***Over half the properties noted in a 1986 survey of the city's historic resources have been lost to demolition and development.  An update initiated in 2009 is pending review by the city council in 2015.

READ the Huntington Beach Independent article about the discussion at the December 9, 2014, planning commission meeting:,0,2345434.story

Frequently Asked Question: What makes a property historic?
AGE - A property must be at least 50 years old as a general rule of thumb, but, not always if there has been a significant event or person associated with the place.  It must be old enough to have been studied by historians, architectural historians, or archaeologists regarding its place in history.  Both 122 and 124 Main Street have been studied, as part of the 1986 historic resources survey almost 30 years ago, and by the State Office of Historic Preservation as part of their recommendation for a downtown historic district in 1988.
INTEGRITY - In addition to age, a property should retain its historic physical integrity.  For a building, structure, landscape feature, historic site, or historic district, this means the property is relatively unchanged. Some alterations made 50+ years ago can be considered part of the history, reflecting certain time periods.
SIGNIFICANCE - A property can be defined as significant in three ways: 1) direct association with individuals, events, activities, or developments that shaped history or reflect important aspects of history; 2) by embodying the distinctive physical and spatial characteristics of an architectural style or type, method of construction, or craftsmanship; 3) having the potential to yield information important to our understanding of the past.

© 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, December 3, 2014

Holidays in Huntington Beach, 1914

Celebrate the holidays, pioneer style, with the Huntington Beach Historical Society and Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach!  More event details on our sister blog, Historic Wintersburg, at

Saturday, October 11, 2014

New historical photography displayed at Huntington Beach's Main Street Library

ABOVE: Enter the main reading room at the Main Street Library and look up! An exhibit of historical images from Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach grace the walls.  Informational materials are at the front counter. (Photo, October 2014)

   It's only fitting that the Main Street Library---listed along with Triangle Park on the National Register for Historic Places in fall 2013---host historical photography exhibits that share the story of Huntington Beach.

  The third in a series of exhibits---organized by the Huntington Beach Historic Resources Board---was just installed, featuring images from the Wintersburg Village (AKA Historic Wintersburg).  The Wintersburg Village---which began forming in the late 1800s---was a distinct population center from the Huntington Beach Township on early U.S. Census records.  It was annexed into Huntington Beach in 1957, but was connected with Huntington Beach commerce, civic events and daily life from the beginning.  

ON THE NATIONAL REGISTER - The Huntington Beach historical photography exhibit is at the Main Street Library, 525 Main Street, on Triangle Park. Both the mid-Century modern Library and Triangle Park were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in fall, 2013, after an effort by local residents. Look for the grandfather clock inside, crafted by the Huntington Beach High School class of 1915.

   The photography exhibit images reveal shared history with the pioneer settlement era of Huntington Beach.

   Historic Wintersburg was named in June 2014 as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  There is a current effort to save the six historic structures and 4 1/2-acre property from demolition, which could occur as early as May 2015.  It is the only historical place of its type in California.

INSPIRED - The images of Historic Wintersburg have caught the imagination of many across the country.  This painting is the work of Phoenix artist, Julie Cox, inspired after reading the the blog and book, Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach. (Image courtesy of Julie Cox, Phoenix, Arizona, 2014) © All rights reserved.

Here's what you'll view:

A BUNGALOW IN WINTERSBURG: Yukiko Furuta, standing on the steps of her new home in Wintersburg Village in 1913, facing what was then the muddy country road that was Wintersburg Avenue (now, a paved, multi-lane Warner Avenue). This bungalow---with its original red iron oxide paint and sharp, white trim---is one of six historic structures still standing at Historic Wintersburg

FOUNDING FATHER - At left, a snip of the full image in the exhibit, taken on the steps of the Huntington Inn, May 1912.  The exhibit photograph shows Huntington Beach's first mayor, Ed Manning, among a crowd that included four of Huntington Beach's first mayors, along with goldfish farmer Charles Furuta and a founder of the Wintersburg Mission, Reverend Hisakichi Terasawa. (Photo courtesy of the Furuta family) © All rights reserved.
CROWDFUNDING FOR THE PIER, VERSION 1912: On the steps of the Huntington Inn in 1912, leaders from Wintersburg Village’s Japanese American community and the Huntington Beach township leadership, standing together. In the photograph are four of Huntington Beach's first mayors: Ed Manning, Matthew Helme, Thomas Talbert and Eugene French (front and center). Historic Wintersburg's Charles Furuta is standing at the front left row below the first step.  It is believed this meeting was about fundraising to rebuild the Huntington Beach pier, which had just been blown down by a Pacific storm.  When the pier was rededicated in 1914, the Japanese community was prominently featured in the celebrations right after a surfing demonstration by George Freeth.  Placed high on the agenda (indicating significant support), they performed a sword dance just before the concert band finale and illumination of the pier.  Thousands attended the ceremonies.

AFTER 26 YEARS - At right, a snip of the full image in the exhibit, the congregation and clergy from Wintersburg and nearby Westminster gather to celebrate their official designation as a Church in 1930. (Photo courtesy of Wintersburg Presbyterian Church) © All rights reserved.

A DREAM REALIZED: An image of the community and congregation that supported the Wintersburg Mission effort, founded in 1904 after clergy began reaching out in 1902 to workers arriving in the celery fields.  The Mission group first met in a barn in Wintersburg Village. The first Mission building was constructed by 1910.  In 1930, the date of the exhibit photograph, the Mission had been officially recognized as a Church by the Presbyterian Church USA.  Look in the distance, and you'll see the bungalow of Charles and Yukiko Furuta.

DON'T LOOK DOWN - A snip of a full image similar to that in the exhibit, Charles Furuta of Historic Wintersburg, driving his horse and wagon up the Southern Pacific Railroad siding at Wintersburg, circa 1914-1915. The full image at the Main Street Library shows Furuta dumping the wagonload of sugar beets into a railroad car. (Photo courtesy of the Furuta family). © All rights reserved.

SUGAR BEET DAYS: Did you know Huntington Beach, Wintersburg and Smeltzer once produced thousands of tons of sugar beets?  Huntington Beach township was the site of one of the Holly Sugar Company factories, processing the giant roots into the sweet stuff we love.  The exhibit includes an image of Charles Furuta dumping a wagonload of sugar beets from an elevated platform into a Southern Pacific rail car at a railroad siding in the Wintersburg Village area, circa 1914-1915.  The Southern Pacific tracks can still be seen today, parallel to Gothard Avenue.

PIONEER AVIATION - A snip of the full image for the Smeltzer Flying Company, a photograph taken by Charles Furuta on the day aviator Koha Takeishi flew into Wintersburg, March, 1913.  The farmers in Wintersburg and Smeltzer raised $4,000 to buy Takeishi his plane.  The entire Wintersburg community came out to see the plane, dressed in their Sunday best. (Photo courtesy of the Furuta family) © All rights reserved.

SMELTZER FLYING COMPANY: At the time of the Wright Brothers, Japanese aviator Koha Takeishi was a young man visting from Japan, attending college in Utah.  Takeishi worked the celery fields in Wintersburg during his summer breaks and managed to take flying classes at the Curtiss Flying School in north San Diego County.  Japanese farmers in Wintersburg were so impressed, they formed the Smeltzer Flying Company and raised $4,000 to help him buy his own plane.  This photo, taken by Charles Furuta in March 1913, is from Takeishi's flight from Dominguez airfield in Los Angeles a field in Wintersburg.  Read more about the Smeltzer Flying Company on our sister blog, Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach,

GAMUT OF EMOTIONS - A snip of the full image in the exhibit reveals the range of emotions on school picture day at Ocean View Grammar School.
(Photo courtesy of the Furuta family) © All rights reserved.

GRAMMAR SCHOOL DAYS: Farm children in the Smeltzer and Wintersburg Village areas (now both part of north Huntington Beach) attended the Ocean View Grammar School which was located at the southwest corner of Beach Boulevard and Warner Avenue (where the Comerica building stands today). Among the students in the photograph are children from the Furuta and Akiyama families, two of Wintersburg Village’s three goldfish farmers.  You can almost feel the anxious excitement of the children in this photograph, ready for the end of the school day when they can run back through the rural countryside to home.

Learn about Huntington Beach's unique pioneer history!
   Stop by the Main Street Library to see the full, original images from our pioneer settlement days!  Learn more about Historic Wintersburg at our sister blog,

© 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.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The National Trust for Historic Preservation visits Huntington Beach

On a hot August afternoon, the team from the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Washington D.C. and West Coast offices tour downtown Huntington Beach.  They stopped in to meet the owners at the M.E. Helme House Furnishing Co. on Walnut Avenue, now an antique store and a National Register for Historic Places property. (Photo, August 20, 2014)

   In town to see Huntington Beach's Historic Wintersburg property---named this year as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation---a team from the National Trust also viewed some of the historic downtown.  One of their stops was the M.E. Helme Furnishing Company and Worthy House (read about it at

   This is the first time ever in the 27-year history of the America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list that an Orange County historical site has been included.  Historic Wintersburg is the only historic site named in the western continental United States, the majority on the list being east of the Mississippi.  Also on the list are historic places such as Frank Lloyd Wright's Spring House in Tallahassee, Florida; The Palisades in New Jersey; the Union Terminal in Cincinnati, Ohio; and the Chattanooga State Office Building in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

   Read about why Historic Wintersburg made the list here and about how preservation of Historic Wintersburg can transform a north Huntington Beach neighborhood here

Southern California photographer Prentice Danner was assigned the feature about the effort to save Historic Wintersburg for the Summer 2014 edition of the National Trust's Preservation Magazine, Penning History. (Photo, April 18, 2014)

   The endangered pioneer farm and mission property of Historic Wintersburg is bringing national and international attention and recognition to the rich history of Huntington Beach.  A sampling of the regional and national media coverage:

Preservation Nation:

Smithsonian Magazine:

Rafu Shimpo:

KPPC Southern California Public Radio:

   Aptly put by the National Trust, "This site has a much broader and much more uplifting story about building community, establishing your identity.  The ultimate American immigrant story."  An American story embodied by a Huntington Beach pioneer property.  Help save Historic Wintersburg's historic goldfish farm and mission from demolition.

Join the effort to save Historic Wintersburg:


DONATE to the dedicated Historic Wintersburg Preservation Fund

TWITTER @SurfCityWriter and  @WintersburgHB

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. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day!

The crowning of "Miss Firecracker," circa 1960s, in Huntington Beach, California. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

1914 to 2014: Huntington Beach, surfing, and the longest pier on the coast

ABOVE: A group of children, moms and a safety line at Huntington Beach, circa 1915, a year after the pier was re-dedicated.  From the first arrivals in the post-rancho era, the beach and pier have been a focus of community activity. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   The landscape in Huntington Beach was dramatically different in 1914.  The City had incorporated five years earlier and still had a population of under a thousand.  The area was rural farm and grazing land, with vast stretches of empty beach.  

   There was a "booster" effort to bring people to town to help development and commerce, with the Pacific Electric Railway offering Huntington Beach excursion tours.  A real estate advertisement that year assured, "High tides and mighty breakers bring no misgivings to inhabitants nor property owners of Huntington Beach."  The advertisement exclaimed the town had "all modern improvements," like "soft water under 50 pounds pressure, electric lights, gas, telephone, oiled streets and a new sewer bond" with more improvements on the way.

ABOVE: A Pacific Electric Railway "Huntington Beach Excursion" car at the station near the pier, circa 1915.  At the time of the pier re-dedication in 1914, the Pacific Electric "Red Car" had been shuttling people from Los Angeles to Huntington Beach for a decade.  Read more about the Red Car at Take a ride on the Red Car: When the Pacific Electric Railway came to town, (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   The Huntington Beach township was clustered around Main Street and the pier, all within two miles from the beach.  Incorporated in 1909, the climate, beach, and the investment by Henry Huntington brought the railroad line to town and created a desirable environment for the spirited pioneers who settled what became Surf City.

ABOVE: The old wooden pier at Huntington Beach, circa 1910. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   Land lots up to five acres or more were going for----get ready for heartbreak----$300 to $450 per acre.  With ten percent down ($30 to $45) and payments of five percent quarterly, people were arriving by train car after train car to take a look around and buy a piece of land by the ocean.

LEFT: Huntington Beach resident Alva Reynolds flying his "Man-Angel" aircraft over Los Angles in 1906.  Reynolds proposed to race the Man-Angel against an automobile from Los Angeles to Pomona in July 1906 for a $1,000 bet.  He also proposed selling his aircraft for individual use, as a type of air cycle.  (Los Angeles Herald, July 1, 1906)

   By 1914, Huntington Beach resident Alva Reynolds had already flown his "Man-Angel" over Los Angeles and attempted to create wave motors with his brother, George Reynolds (an early Huntington Beach lifeguard), at the industrial pier near present-day 22nd Street. (More at Masters of the Ocean Waves,

ABOVE: "Sunshine and Shadow," toddlers at Huntington Beach old wooden pier in 1906, before Pacific storms washed it away. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   In the year 1914, the year the final pole was set for the first telephone line that crossed north America, east to west.  The innovation of the automobile assembly line in 1914 made road travel more affordable, and, locally, people were beach camping in greater numbers.   The Orange County supervisors voted in 1914 to support construction of a road along the coast, the future Pacific Coast Highway.  The local newspaper reported in June 1914 that 21 building permits had been issued, which they considered a "splendid showing."   The future was bright and nothing seemed impossible.

ABOVE: Students at the Huntington Beach Grammar School, located at 5th Street and Orange Avenue, circa 1910.  (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   The Holly Sugar Company was already a booming industry, getting a sweet return from local sugar beets.  The Carnegie Library was open and would remain the City's sole library through World War II.  The Pacific Oilcloth Linoleum Company was under construction near Holly Sugar, touted as the only oilcloth manufacturer west of St. Louis.

   Internationally, conflicts grew in Europe during 1914, leading to World War I.  In Africa, Mahatma Gandhi was arrested campaigning for Indian rights.  In Latin America, the Panama Canal opened, providing easier steamship travel between the Pacific and Atlantic.  Pancho Villa was leading rebel forces in Mexico.
Right: An excerpt from the minutes of the May 13, 1912, board of trustees meeting-- the predecessor to the city council--approving Ordinance No. 91 regarding the issuance of a $70,000 bond for the "construction and completion of a municipal wharf for the water front." (Image, City of Huntington Beach archives)
   But, of all the news in 1914, the newly rebuilt Huntington Beach pier was the happiest.  It had been missed after being blown away by Pacific storms.  After a $70,000 bond and fundraising campaign, the community geared up for a celebration.

ABOVE: A group photograph for the annual relay race in Orange County in 1913. A banner for the $70,000 pier bond can be seen in the background. (Photo, Anaheim Public Library)

A gathering on the steps of the Huntington Inn, May 31, 1912.  Following the May 13 board of trustees meeting supporting the pier bond, this gathering is thought to be about fundraising support for the pier.  The crowd includes Huntington Beach's first mayor, Ed Manning (second row, far right in light-color suit),   another Huntington Beach mayor, Orange County supervisor, and pioneer realtor, Thomas Talbert (second row on step, fourth from left with hat in hand). Joining Huntington Beach officials are residents from the Japanese community in nearby Wintersburg Village, including Wintersburg Mission clergy, Reverend Hisakichi Terasawa (front row, fourth from right) and Charles Mitsuji Furuta (front row below step, second from left), and at center next to Rev. Terasawa, a gentleman identified as clergy from the Westminster Presbyterian community, thought to be Reverend R.A. Weed. (Photo courtesy of Wintersburg Presbyterian Church) © All rights reserved.

The pier dedication in 1914
   The Huntington Beach News reported the dedication ceremonies for the "Pride of the Pacific" would last two days in 1914, June 20 and 21.  The pier was the longest concrete pier on the Pacific Coast at 1316 feet, "being only four feet short of a quarter of a mile" explained the News.

ABOVE: The Huntington Beach pier and bandstand, 1914, with a crowd that would be considered overdressed a century later.  The City supported a concert band for many years, with concerts at the beach bandstand a regular event. (Photo, Library of Congress)

   During the two-day celebration, a reported 20,000 people came out to see the pier.  The Huntington Beach News noted 1,500 automobiles packed the streets.  It was the probably largest number of people ever assembled in the new town, all taking part in sporting events, musical concerts and the grand finale illumination of the pier.

LEFT: George Freeth, the first documented surfer in California, was featured at the 1914 re-dedication ceremony for the pier.  According to the Encyclopedia of Surfing, Freeth helped revive the sport of surfing in Hawaii after the missionary era, riding his board standing (instead of prone) and angling it across the waves.  Author Jack London watched Freeth surf in Hawaii in 1907, learning to surf from him.  This led London to write Riding the South Sea Surf for Ladies Home Companion in 1907 and The Cruise of the Snark in 1911. Freeth sailed for California in 1907, where he became the first professional lifeguard, was honored for his life-saving actions, and gave surfing and swimming demonstrations up and down the coast.  Born in 1883 in Honolulu to an Irish sea captain father and a half-Polynesian mother, Freeth passed away in San Diego in April 7, 1919, at age 35 during the Spanish Flu pandemic. (Photo, WikiCommons)
   One of the highlights of the 1914 pier ceremonies was a surfing demonstration by Irish-Hawaiian George Freeth (more about Freeth and Huntington Beach surfing history at Boards on the beach,  It was the first time many had witnessed surfing, the sport that would become so entwined with Huntington Beach and inspire so many to head for the water.

ABOVE: The Surfing Walk of Fame on Main Street in the historic downtown recognizes the "first surfer at the HB pier" in 1914, George Freeth.  (Photo, 2014)

After 1914
  After Freeth, came Duke Kahanamoku and his redwood surfboards.  By the early 1900s, redwood from California was being shipped to Hawaii for construction.  The availability of imported redwood in Hawaii led to more boards according to the Surf History Preservation Collection in Hilo "since boards were able to be made in large numbers and various sizes."

ABOVE: Tucked inside a canoe building at the Bailey House Museum in Wailuku, Maui ( is a redwood surfboard belonging to Duke Kahanamolu.  Redwood now grows on Maui. (Photo, M. Urashima, May 2014) © All rights reserved.

ABOVE: The 1910 redwood surfboard displayed under glass at the Bailey House Museum measures  ten feet in length, almost two feet in width, and is almost two inches thick.  A museum spokesperson says the board "was given to Bailey House Museum by Sam Pryor who received it from Dr. George Fish who was in the Olympics with Duke."  Fish was a rugby player and Californian. (Photo, M. Urashima, May 2014) © All rights reserved.

   According to Legendary Surfers, "Duke had the biggest board of anyone. It was a 16-footer, made of koa wood, weighing 114 expression heard the most, when he caught a wave, was his yell of 'Coming down!'"  His redwood boards in California were equally large.  Getting in the way of the old redwood boards was like getting hit with a telephone pole.

ABOVE: Duke Kahanamoko returned to Huntington Beach for a surfing contest in 1963.  Near the pier is a statue dedicated to Duke. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   Huntington Beach lifeguards Bud Higgins and Gene Belshe met Duke and "the Hawaiians" in the 1920s when they were in Southern California working in a film.  Duke was already known for his swimming and surfing, and happily played small roles in film to support his passion.  A natural ambassador for the sport of surfing, he shared what he knew.  Higgins and Belshe were in the right place at the right time.  They learned how to construct redwood boards, big boards, like Duke's, buying what they needed at the lumber yard.  And then they began surfing near the pier.

   The local story is that the boards were too big and too heavy to cart to the beach and back home every day, so surfers would often bury them in the sand.  Since few were surfing at the time, the boards safely waited to be unearthed by their owners for the next day's waves.  Others with access to the laundry room at the Saltwater Plunge next to the pier stacked their boards inside near the dryers, to dry out their boards for the next day.*

ABOVE: A postcard of the Saltwater Plunge next to the Huntington Beach pier, circa 1910. The Pacific Electric Railway's "Red Car" and train station can be seen in the background.  The Plunge was advertised as a way to go beach bathing without having to brave the waves.  A few years later, braving the waves was exactly what surfing was about. (Image, City of Huntington Beach archives)

ABOVE: A beauty contest near the Saltwater Plunge, circa 1925, with fashions considered daring for the day. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   Surfing might have seemed only a simple coastal pastime.  But, it changed one day in Orange County.  Relaxing at Corona del Mar beach with friends in 1925, Duke witnessed the capsizing of the fishing boat, Thelma, caught in rough waves.  He set out to rescue passengers, using his surfboard.  The rescue at Corona del Mar beach was lauded in the media.  

   "Of the 29 people on the Thelma, 17 died and 12 made it through," reports biographer Malcolm Gault-Williams. "Of the 12, eight were rescued by the Duke using his surfboard."  California lifeguards would get boards after that.

ABOVE: The Huntington Beach pier grew a few more feet in the early 1930s after another Pacific storm swept through town, requiring repairs.

What it means to be Surf City
   Over the past hundred years, surfing has simply become part of daily life in Huntington Beach.  No longer struggling with heavy redwood boards, it's commonplace to see barefoot surfers of every age cradling a board under one arm while cycling or walking barefoot to the beach. 

   Eateries near the beach offer "grinds" to satisfy surfers more-than-hungry after a few hours riding the waves (which means it's food all of us love).  Lifeguards have boards.  We have dog surfing contests (the coolest canines in the country).  Our high schools have surfing teams.  There are boards on top of cars, in back of trucks, and peaking out of sunroofs.  Wetsuits dry out on balconies, front porches and laundry lines all over town.  There is an annual "blessing of the waves."  And--in moving final tributes to those important to the community who have passed--surfers organize "paddle outs" near the pier to scatter flowers in the water.

ABOVE: Bicycle racks shaped like, what else, surfboards, at Huntington Beach City Hall. (Photo, M. Urashima, 2014) © All rights reserved.

   We might be a big city now with paved roads, indoor plumbing, shopping malls and urban conveniences unknown in our pioneer days.  But, we'll always be a surf town happiest with sand between our toes and a "pride of the Pacific" pier.  

ABOVE: Cleaning barnacles off a pier piling, circa 1920s-1930s. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

ABOVE: A concession stand and beach-goers near the Huntington Beach pier, circa 1930s. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

ABOVE: A jitney ferrying passengers from the Main Street end of the pier to the ocean end of the pier, circa 1940s. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

ABOVE: The rustic boardwalk along the beach at the pier, circa 1940s. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

ABOVE: Corky Carroll of "Endless Summer" fame, emerging from the surf near the Huntington Beach pier, circa 1959. Corky offers a surfing school at Huntington Beach today. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

ABOVE: A surfing contest near the Huntington Beach pier, circa 1963. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

ABOVE: Surfboard shapers Sam Hawks, Clive Chapman and David Brewer, circa 1970. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

ABOVE: Near the pier at a 1972 surfing contest. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

ABOVE: Surfers near the Huntington Beach pier, circa 1985. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

ABOVE: Huntington Beach's International Surfing Museum in the annual July 4 parade, circa 1992.  Visit the museum at 411 Olive Avenue in the historic downtown (an art deco building dating back to 1935, once a doctor's office).  You'll find local surf history and one of the old redwood boards. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

ABOVE: The crowd of thousands at the U.S. Open of Surfing, July 2013. (Photo, M. Urashima, July 2013) © All rights reserved.

ABOVE: A surfer heads out to the waves next to the Huntington Beach pier, 100 years after George Freeth. (Photo, M. Urashima, 2014) © All rights reserved.

   News about the 100-year event at the pier on June 21, 2014, and beyond.

Visit Huntington Beach,

Surfing Walk of Fame,

*"An Early History of Surfing in Huntington Beach," by Dilbert "Bud" Higgins, circa early 1960s, courtesy of Gae Treece, Bud's Granddaughter and as posted on

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.