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BOOM BEACH ON THE BLUE PACIFIC
Alfred Wright
September 03, 1962
At the end of a day in Newport Beach, two fishermen head home along the jetty as four boats put out to sea—a fragment of quiet in the bustle that is to be found in a southern California summer. The rest of the Newport Beach landscape is like nowhere else on earth. Its bays and lagoons swarm with a fleet of 7,000 yachts, tugboats, Snowbirds and power cruisers. And home is more than likely on a $100,000 lot that used to be a sandbar
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September 03, 1962

Boom Beach On The Blue Pacific

At the end of a day in Newport Beach, two fishermen head home along the jetty as four boats put out to sea—a fragment of quiet in the bustle that is to be found in a southern California summer. The rest of the Newport Beach landscape is like nowhere else on earth. Its bays and lagoons swarm with a fleet of 7,000 yachts, tugboats, Snowbirds and power cruisers. And home is more than likely on a $100,000 lot that used to be a sandbar

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The early Spaniards called it Bolsa de Quigara, the bay with the high banks. During subsequent centuries it had several other names—Bolsa de San Joaquin, the Gospel Swamp and Port Orange. As the place began to bloom in the '20s, a few handsome yachts rode at their moorings in the shallow bay, and some comfortable, unpretentious beach houses sprouted out of the scrubby sand flats of the peninsula that separated the bay from the booming breakers of the Pacific Ocean. In those days it was getting to be quite the thing to go down to Newport Beach, as it was by then formally christened, for the weekend or the summer. It didn't attract rich Easterners the way Santa Barbara and Pebble Beach did, but it was a place good, solid southern Californians liked to take their kids for the holidays.

Now, some 30 to 40 years later, Newport Beach and its appendages of Balboa and Corona Del Mar comprise the most remarkable collection of mansions and bungalows, yachts and dinghies, pensioners and teen-agers, supermarket millionaires and lettuce pickers that could be shoehorned into a dozen square miles of seaside real estate and bright blue water on this or any other planet.

When you approach it from across the brown-baked upland mesas, it looks like nothing so much as a Cinerama version of Vacationland, U.S.A. You see the wide white beach stretching six miles along the southern California coastline. You see the solid quilting of houses built so close together that a housewife can borrow an extra TV dinner simply by sticking her arm out the kitchen window and into her neighbor's freezer. You see the occasional bone-bare masts of an enormous schooner reaching skyward from its mooring and the endless parade of sails of the little boats gliding up the narrow channels of the bay with only the triangle tips of their canvas visible above the rooftops. In the distance a tireless Ferris wheel revolves in the fun zone, and rising above all this is the friendly, shingled tower of the Balboa Pavilion, a relic of the early horseless carriage era and one of the few historic architectural landmarks remaining in this new and restless civilization.

You know you've reached Newport Beach when you arrive at the overpass crossing U.S. Highway 101, the route that borders the Pacific Ocean from Mexico to Washington State. It was at this spot not long after the Kaiser's war that Mary Pickford showed up one day in her Stutz Bearcat and cut the ribbon to open the first substantial bridge across the mouth of the Santa Ana River, where it used to dump its floodwaters into Newport Bay. Alongside the bridge is a landmark of sorts—a Union Oil service station called The Arches that has been there since the early gas buggies first went wheezing past.

Beyond The Arches you begin the familiar drive down the five-mile spine of road that splits the Newport Beach peninsula. Familiar drive? Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration. The drive would be familiar only to those who had made it during the last twelvemonth, for Newport Beach has a way of changing face as rapidly as a repertory actor in the sticks.

Take that highly chromed shopping center on the left, for instance, just after you reach the first stoplight. It doesn't seem as if it has been there more than a couple of weeks. And what is that four-story checkerboard of red, white and blue squares down at the end of the row of stores—the grandstand for a new trotting track? No, that's the Newport Balboa Savings and Loan Association. It reminds you how far things have come since the night of the big bank robbery down here in 1912.

The famous heist was made by three obvious beginners when the only bank in town was a modest little frame shack. For a getaway, they swiped somebody's horse and buggy in the middle of the night and then tried to blow the bank's safe with dynamite. The first blast merely served to wake up half the town, including a couple of bartenders who rushed to the scene with their shotguns. The second blast was not much better, and the third blew down half the building, scattering cash throughout the debris. The robbers stuffed $2,600 of the loot in the horse's feed bag, $500 in their pockets and hightailed out of there while the bartenders peppered away at them through the windows. They escaped with the haul and were never heard from again, and the only casualty was a local bystander who got a blast of buckshot in his back.

That was Newport Beach in the days before the yachts arrived, and most of the boating fleet belonged to the commercial fishermen who brought albacore, bonito, halibut and sea bass into the little harbor cannery. Tooling on down the main street these days with the bay on your left—to the north—and the ocean on your right, you no longer see any water through the thickets of cheap frame cottages and lavish redwood ranch houses.

This was never much of a swimming resort in the past, and the people who were afraid of the enormous breakers used to alibi that the surf was full of stingarees. But an intrepid new breed of Californian has put the lie to this fable. Now the ocean beach and the pounding waves are aswarm with surfers—hardy, handsome blond young men who look as if they had taken postgraduate degrees with Charles Atlas. It's a society as strictly compartmented as a beehive. The nobility are simply called surfers, and they ride their boards with a lordly disdain, waiting for only the biggest waves and proving their worth and courage by executing the "10 over." That's when you stand on the bow of your board with all 10 toes curled over the front edge.

Next in the pecking order are the hodaddies, whose bleached hair is just a little longer and blonder than the surfers', just a little more carefully coifed, but who spend very little time in the water. They have their eyes on the gremmie girls, the blondined and suntanned chicks who lie on the beach in their "shifts" (muumuus cut off at the thighs) and gaze rapturously at the surfers. At the bottom of the order are the male gremmies, little fellows who hope someday to be surfers or hodaddies when they get bigger but are, in the meantime, just getting in everybody's way.

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