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.
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.
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.”
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!”
Click here to go to: Crystal Cove Part 2