Crystal Cove (2)


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.

Crystal Cove 1940's

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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Crystal Cove (1)


There once was a place along the Southern California coast between Newport and Laguna Beach where residents spent laid back summer days sunbathing on the sand, pulling halibut and perch out of the surf, and where the martini flag was raised each afternoon at 4 o’clock when the trumpet sounded.

The beach attracted its first visitors at the start of the 20th century, when tent campers from the cities came to spend summer nights. Later visitors built the beach cottages in the 1920s and 1930s. Many of those summertime cottages became year-round homes, and remained so until the state bought the land and took the cottages over to renovate them for park guests.

Crystal Cove State Park - Newport Beach, California

In 1941 my dad was only 7 or 8 my Grandfather Dr. James S. Craig DDS purchased Cottage #35 on the bluff overlooking the Cove, which is now the Office/Visitor Center. He paid $2,500 for the “Beach House”, although the Irvine’s actually owned the property. The first two leases were for 10 years each at $37 a month. The 2nd and consecutive leases were for 5 years each; thereafter the Irvine’s leased the property on a month to month basis.

Crystal Cove59
Dr. James Craig

After my grandfather retired he lived at the Beach House full time for many years. In 1973 he sold the cottage to Jim Throbe, Jim his girlfriend Pam Gardener lived there for another 20 plus years.

Archaeological studies have indicated Crystal Cove was inhabited by ancient Native Americans who spent the warmer months fishing and hunting the area which remained untouched until the 1920’s when James Irvine Jr. a naturalist and powerful land owner allowed a handful of families to camp in the little cove and eventually build primitive cottages without the right to sell or develop the land.

Like a rainforest or a coral reef, the unique diversity of native plant and animal life in the region has led scientists to identify it as one of the world’s biodiversity “hot spots” – an area with large concentrations of species found nowhere else on the planet and due to the uniqueness and untamed isolation the cove became a destination of prohibition-era rumrunners, post-war tiki parties, and silent filmmakers!

Crystal Cove was locked in time and continued on as a simple beach colony and in the 1910s, before summer visitors built their own cottages, silent-era Hollywood studios used the site as a stand in for South Seas locations. The film crews built small thatched huts and trucked in palm trees from Los Angeles nurseries and the many movies were filmed there including the 1918 Treasure Island silent film adventure based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson and 1988 Beaches starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey as well as 1923 “Stormswept” 1928 “Sadie Thompson” 1929 “The Isle of Lost Ships” 1934 “Treasure Island” 1951 “Two of a Kind” 1974 “Herbie Rides Again.”

Historic Cottages at Crystal Cove State Park

Cottage # 13 “Beaches” with Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey

Crystal Cove was named by Beth Wood who was involved in running the concession stand for the film crew. Beth was an avid swimmer said “the water was so clear you could see right down to the sand, crystal clear!”

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Crystal Cove Book

Get your copy at Barnes and Nobel


Tucked between the housing developments and golf courses of the Orange County coast lies a small settlement of rustic beach cottages seemingly frozen in time. Crystal Cove Cottages is the first history of this uniquely preserved beach spot that has lured travellers and campers since the 1920s. Deemed by the National Register of Historic Places to be “the last intact example of California beach vernacular architecture,” it is now a registered state park whose cottages are newly available for public overnight visits. From silent-film location to rum-runners’ hideout, scenic setting for a vibrant landscape painting community to 1950s luau-party headquarters, Crystal Cove has all the while remained a bohemian yet family-friendly village. Ten sidebars on notable individual cottages highlight the Cove’s distinct and often amusing architectural evolution. Crystal Cove Cottages captures the nostalgic ambiance of seaside Americana.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

The allure of the Southern California beach is amply illustrated in this intriguing record of Orange County’s distinctive Crystal Cove from Steen (senior editor at Metropolis) and contributors Meriam Braselle, an expert on the landscape painting tradition of Crystal Cove; Laura Davick, a third-generation resident and active protector of the cove; and John Connell, a California-based photographer who specializes in landscape and architectural photography. Originally the property of a Spanish land-grant family, the secluded Cove was acquired by rancher James Irvine and his partners in 1864. Although the Irvine family eventually moved from ranching to property development, Crystal Cove retained its sense of isolation until the end of the 20th century. An early mecca for plein air painters, filmmakers, beach campers, and rustic cottage builders, The Cove continues to attract artists and other bohemians. This handsome coffee-table book, the first history of the area, captures the uniqueness of this preserved settlement (now a state park and the property of the state of California) and will be an important acquisition for any library, including academic libraries with a substantial California history collection.-Janet Ross, formerly with Sparks Branch Lib., NV Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.