With Pacific Coast Highway completed on Oct. 9, 1926 more and more people discovered the beautiful little cove which was no longer a secret held by the Hollywood sect and soon the beach was lined with families pitching tents, fishing and collecting shells from the tide pools.
Longer stays demanded durable structures and the campers saw the movie huts as a way to make their stays homier and a sand free place to cook and eat. It just so happened in 1927 a 287 foot schooner by the name of Ester Buhne ship-wrecked on Balboa Point and much of the teak lumber floated into the cove, perfect for building more permanent housing. Little one room makeshift cottages sprang up without plans or building permits. By the late 1930’s there were at least 45 cottages with gas, electricity and plumbing.
The Great Depression brought severe worldwide economic despair in the decade preceding World War II, yet those were some of the happiest times with dances and campfires every night. The Irvine Ranch was recognized as the state’s most productive farm and the largest producer of beans, oranges, cauliflower, grapes and even papayas, making it a forerunner of the state’s large-scale agricultural operations. Latino farm laborers and Japanese sharecroppers would fish in the cove and sell produce from roadside stands.
Even through the country was in the mist of the Great Depression little was needed to live a good life on the beach; entertainment was free, clothing casual, building materials scavenged and the fishing was plentiful.
January 1, 1940 the Irvine Company issued 10 year leases with the provision any buildings on the property would become part and parcel of the land and belong to the Irvine Company. Tenants would sign the leases and forego ownership rights to their cottages. With no legal claim to the land the tenants had no choice but to comply.
On the upper bluff to the right of my Grandfather’s house the Japanese Sharecroppers built a school house and their children would come on Saturdays to practice traditional martial arts. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor the Japanese Sharecroppers were sent off to internment camps, the little roadside stands were left vacant. The California coast was declared dangerous due the threat of Japanese submarines patrolling local waters so the schoolhouse was taken over by the Coast Guard who patrolled the beach at night.
The general store and soda fountain which were right on the beach was the center for social life and not just a place to buy groceries or order lunch, it was also a where the residents picked up their mail. In the evenings a windup Victrola played and teens danced on the wooden patio until curfew at 8 pm. Tent camping and bonfires were prohibited and the cottages were required to put up blackout curtains but but Crystal cover never lost its allure.
(to be continued)
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