Huntington Beach California Historical Information
 

 

Huntington Beach, California has been in existence for over 100 years as an incorporated city. Long before that time Indians lived in the fertile coastal area, hunting and fishing and residing in Huntington Beach region during the warm summer months, it is believed.  Below are various resources compiled and supplied for your interest to  help paint a picture of what Huntington Beach may have been like during an earlier era.

 

HUNTINGTON BEACH HISTORY  By: Carolyn F. Baily - 1981

The city of Huntington Beach is situated on a wedge-shaped mesa on the Pacific Ocean. In its original state, the mesa was almost surrounded by swamp land. Continued seepage from widespread artesian wells combined with the estuary of the Santa Ana River on the south to form acres of peat bogs and willow thickets. At the foot of the west bluff a tidal lagoon harbored various water fowl, shellfish and related fauna and flora. These natural condition virtually isolated the mesa from the valley, well into the mid-19th century.

 

Archaeologists have located sixteen sites of varying antiquity on the mesa where Indians, called by the Spaniards Gabrielinos, made camp. One of these, a major camp and burial ground, overlooked the Santa Ana River. It was located on part of what is known today as the Newland property, opposite Wycliffe's 4.6-acre plot on Beach Boulevard.

 

From 1542 to 1822, Spain ruled what is now California. a few large land grants were made during that period and when Mexico achieved independence in 1822, the Mexican governors of Alta California made additional grants. Among these were the Rancho Los Alamitos and the Rancho Las Bolsas, by Governor Jose Figueroa. A Yankee trader, Able Sterns, began lending money to the grantee of Rancho Laos Alamitos and when the owner could not pay the debt, Sterns acquired the Rancho. His next acquisition was the 156,000-acre Rancho Las Bolsas that included what later would be called the city of Huntington Beach as well as most of Orange County.

 

In 1862 Sterns sold the Rancho to The Los Angeles and San Bernardino Land Company. The land was then placed under the agency of Sterns' Rancho which acted as a Realtor. This set the stage for rapid development of the Santa Ana Valley, which eventually included the founding of the city of Huntington Beach--a unique story, so recent in history that some of its participants are still living.

 

STERNS RANCHOS COMPANY

 

After California was admitted to the Union in 1850, a Land Commission was established to verify early surveys and proof of ownership. The owner of the Rancho Las Bolsas, which included modern-day Huntington Beach, could ill afford the Land Commission's fees. So Abel Sterns loaned the parties involved 50 young cows to meet the commission's fees and cash for other needs. The interest on the loan was five percent compounded monthly! In little more than a year's time the interest rate had caused the debt to double. On February 14, 1861, the Rancho went at public auction to Stearns for $15,000, making him the wealthiest ranchero in the Santa Ana Valley.

 

The year held additional rewards for Stearns. On Christmas Eve, 1861, rain began falling in the valley and continued for four weeks. The swollen Santa Ana River left its banks and when the water receded, the river had moved from the west bluff of the Huntington Mesa tot he east bluff of Costa Mesa. Since the river acted as the eastern boundary of the Rancho Las Bolsas, Stearns claimed the added strip of land for the Rancho. A survey was ordered and filed with the Land Commission which upheld Stearns' claim. Curiously, the only remaining maps showing the old and new boundary lines are copies made by a 16-year-old-boy. The originals were destroyed when the Stern's home office was razed in the great San Francisco fire of 1906.

Riding high on financial and property gains, Abel Stearns entered 1862 expecting even greater things. But a two year drought set in causing the loss of thousands of cattle. By 1868 Stearns had suffered such financial reverses that he had sold most of his land holdings to the Trust which controlled the Stearns Ranchos Company. the era of the large cattle ranchos was on the way out. In its place came agriculture, as ranchos were broken up and generally sold in 40-acre farms.

 

Between 1894 and 1897, Colonel Robert J. Northam, manager of the Stearns Ranchos Company, acquired seven parcels from the company. His activities as manager and as a landowner on the Huntington Mesa are inexorably tied to the Mesa's development.

 

THE STANTON SYNDICATE AND PACIFIC CITY

 

Colonel Robert J. Northam's ranch house was located where the Huntington Beach Company stands today. From there the view was grand. The mesa's verdant barley and alfalfa fields, interlaced with a chain of sparkling fresh water pons, spread all the way to colorful Shell Beach. Seed barley from the mesa was sold to farmers who had purchased, drained and cultivated the rich alluvium of the swamps. Farmers fed the grain to their cattle, and one by one, many farmers began growing celery, an excellent money crop. Of interest was the Colonel's use of a flag system to signal prospective feed buyers. When the flag was raised he was ready to transact business; when lowered, it signaled "no business at this time."

 

Early in 1901, Philip A. Stanton and Colonel H. S. Finley are reported to have looked down the mesa escarpment to the lovely beach and rolling surf, visualizing it as a perfect location for a west coast rival to Atlantic City. With the development of a resort city in mind they formed a syndicate, The West Coast Land and Water Company. Through it they acquired 1,500 acres of land for $100,000 from Colonel Northam. On high ground adjacent to the beach, 20 acres on either side of Main Street were divided into lots and streets. They named this 40-acre development, Pacific City. To lend it an air of life and permanency, they moved several houses and a church on to the town site--the houses from Newport, via the beach at low tide, and the church from Fairview.

 

Stanton sold his interest in the company in 1902 to three businessmen who collaborated to buy out the West Coast Land and Water Company and stimulate interest and growth in Pacific City. Their plan included securing mass transportation to the town. Pacific City was still essentially isolated from the valley, except for a wagon trail that snaked over the mesa, and from other beach towns at high tide. Therefore, they sought out one man, Henry E. Huntington, setting the stage for the next step in the founding of Huntington Beach.

 

PACIFIC CITY BECOMES HUNTINGTON BEACH

 

The men who purchased Stanton's interest formed a new syndicate that permitted unit holders of the original Stanton syndicate to retain their interest and take stock in the new company. Several did, including Colonel H. S. Finley.

 

Although the site of Pacific City held great promise, it lacked easy access for prospective citizens and land speculators. The syndicate, headed by J. V. Vickers, approached Henry E. Huntington, owner of the massive interurban electric railway in southern California, and asked him to extend the Long Beach line to Pacific City. In return, Huntington was offered a large block of stock in the new company, free right-of-way along the ocean front, one-twelfth of all subdivided land lots and one-fifth interest in all ocean front bluff property. The company would be named The Huntington Beach Company and, the coup de grace, Pacific City would be renamed Huntington Beach. Huntington agreed to extend the Long Beach rail line.

 

On Monday, July 4, 1904, a crowd estimated at 50,000 witnessed the dedication of the city of Huntington Beach and the arrival of the first Pacific Electric red cars. Following the dedication 11 beeves provided dinners for all while eager customers besieged 52 real estate agents for lots.

 

The Company invested heavily in city improvements. A generator was built to provide electricity. Telephone service operated from 6 A.M. to 9 P.M. Sidewalks, curbs and gutters were built. A pavilion, an indoor plunge and a hotel were constructed. Parks and a nursery, providing free plants to residents, were among the major projects undertaken

 

Within a year the surge of growth declined. The Huntington Beach Company was in debt and the community lay in economic doldrums. At this juncture an event occurred that brought much-needed cash to the Company. Encyclopedia Americana adopted a promotion plan offering the purchaser of a Student's Reference set a free lot as a bonus. A total of 420 "hillside and . . . canyon" lots were purchased for this purpose from the Huntington Beach Company. Little did each "bonus" recipient know that in less than two decades his lot might be worth a fortune.

 

DISCOVERY OF OIL DEFERS DREAM OF RESORT TOWN

 

Evidences of gas and petroleum in the Huntington Beach area date back to prehistoric days. Indians used pitch from the bogs to waterproof their baskets and reed boats. The Spaniards added to this the use of oil for fuel and medicinal purposes.

 

As the area came under cultivation, wells were dug for water. Colonel Northam drilled a well on the eastern slope of his property in order to irrigate an alfalfa field that extended east to Adams and Beach Boulevard. More gas than water came in so the water could not be pumped. The flow of gas was directed into his house where it was used for light and heat for many years.

 

In 1919 representatives of the Huntington Beach Company met with Standard Oil and leased 500 acres to Standard for exploratory drilling.

 

Standard's "Bolsa Chica" No. 1 is considered to be the Huntington Beach Discovery Well. It came in as a gusher producing 2,000 barrels per day (B/D). Development of six areas and five major booms followed, putting Huntington Beach on the map as California's fourth largest oil field.

 

The initial boom, located in the Golden West-Garfield area, lasted from 1920-1923. From 1922-1926 the low yield Barley Field area was developed. The second boom began when the Lower or Main Zone of the 17th Street Townlot area was tapped in 1926. On the Pacific Coast Highway, Wilshire Oil drilled "Huntington Beach" No. 15, producing 4,800 B/D! Excitement ran high over the production and the indication of the Offshore Tidelands pool. Hundreds of wells were drilled along the coast highway using McVicar's whipstock tool for directional drilling. The third boom was on.

 

A forest of derricks had arisen around and in the town, but more were to come. In 1936 the Five Points area was developed. This was followed by a resurgence of activity in 1943 and the drilling of "Mize" No. 1 in the Townlot Tar Zone that triggered the fourth boom. A dozen years later the last boom occurred with the development of the Southeast Townlot Extension. During this period oil was discovered on the property where Wycliffe's new offices are being completed. Unfortunately, the wells on the property are no longer productive!

 

THROUGH SEVEN DECADES

 

When Philip Stanton sold his interest in the West Coast Land and Water Company in 1902, Colonel H. S. Finley opted to join the new syndicate that formed the Huntington Beach Company. It was Finley who, as a boy of 16, had copied the map and notes, the only surviving evidence of the 1862 survey of the Stearns Ranchos Company. And it was Finley who owned the land upon which Wycliffe's international offices are being built.

 

In 1915, Finley sold this property to C. G. Ward who owned it until 1948. Between 1948 and 1953 the property changed owners twice and in 1953 Ralph E. Welch purchased the land. Three years later he deeded over a portion of it for use as Welch's Ready Mixed Concrete Company and so it remained until approximately 1969 when the plant was dismantled and moved by Welch to another location.

 

After the discovery of oil in Huntington Beach, drilling on geologic "highs" was common. Oil speculators leased one of these "highs", known locally as the Golden Dome, from C. G. Ward. Mrs. Maud Brown, whose property fronted on Quincy (now Adams), recalls that a well on the Dome came in as a gusher in the early '20s, "spreading casing-mud, rock and crude oil over everything in its path." Oilman Howard O'Brien remembers driving by on Harrison (now Beach Boulevard) and seeing the gusher. "My car wasn't affected," he says, "but those passing on Quincy were a sight to behold."

 

In 1931 the "Turner" No. 6 well was completed, the first of three wells to be drilled on that part of the Dome mow owned by Wycliffe. "Diane" No. 1 and "Paul III" No. 1 were completed 26 years later. None of the wells were large producers, "Turner" No. 6 being abandoned within a relatively short time.

As production declined, the other two wells were abandoned also and the sites restored, opening the way for future construction. With this policy continuing in the Huntington Beach area, former Mayor Alvin M. Coen anticipates that "even a few decades hence" all signs of the oil industry will have vanished. Then Huntington Beach will realize at last its potential as a resort city.

 

Huntington Beach History from City of Huntington Beach

 

In 1895, the Southern Pacific Railroad built a line to Huntington Beach, connecting the farming area to the Holly Sugar Plant which had relocated to Santa Ana.

In 1901, Philip A. Stanton and Col. H.S. Finley visited the area and recognized its potential as a west coast resort rivaling Atlantic City, New Jersey. They formed a syndicate called the West Coast Land and Water Co. They acquired 1,500 acres for $100,000 and began dividing the area around Main Street into lots and streets. They named their new development Pacific City.

 

Eighteen months later, they sold out to another group of investors, including Henry E. Huntington. Hence the city's new name. One of the first things the new Huntington Beach Company did was construct a wooden pier. The Pacific Electric Railway also now connected the city to Long Beach. The city's first telephone system was installed. It operated from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

 

The city incorporated on Feb. 17, 1909. The first mayor was Ed Manning. The city saw its first school built the same year.

 

In 1920, oil was discovered, and the small village quickly mushroomed into a full-fledged boomtown. Pacific Coast Highway was constructed in 1925, opening up access to 8-1/2 miles of virgin beach and ushering in the city's gradual transition to "Surf City." By the 50's and 60's, Huntington Beach had become the fastest growing city in the nation. Today a population of approximately 200,000, the city is world renowned for its surfing and is becoming a destination attraction.

 

The Pier is one of Huntington Beach's focal points. The first pier, a 1,000 foot. long timber structure, was built in 1904, five years before the city's incorporation. In 1912, winter storms nearly destroyed the pier, and a $70,000 bond issue was approved by the voters to build a new one. The new 1,350 ft. pier was the longest, highest, and only solid concrete pleasure pier in the United States at that time. In 1930, the pier was lengthened by 500 ft. with a café at the end. In 1939, a storm destroyed the end of the pier and the café. After reconstruction, it was re-opened in 1940. In 1941, the Navy commandeered the pier for submarine watch during World War II. In March of 1983, storms severely damaged the end of the pier and the café, necessitating demolition and closure of the end of the pier. In September 1985, the rehabilitated pier reopened with a new two story "End Café," only to be washed away again on January 17, 1988. The pier was declared unsafe and closed on July 12, 1988. In July 1990, the construction bid for the new pier was given to Reidel International. The new pier replicated the historic architectural style of the original 1914 concrete pier, complete with arched bents. The pier was built to withstand not only wave impact and uplift, but also earthquakes. Today, thousands of visitors stroll along the pier and enjoy a meal at Ruby's Restaurant at the end of the pier.

 

Huntington Beach is rich in history with its beginning as an oil town. Today, the Newland House still stands proud at Beach Boulevard and Adams, a reminder of the architecture as well as furnishings of the early 1900's. Also of great historic value is the City Gym & Pool located next to Dwyer Middle School on Palm Avenue. The building was constructed in 1931 and survived the 1933 earthquake, while other buildings did not. In the 1960's, many buildings were destroyed because they failed to meet new earthquake standards. The School Board chose to donate the facility to the City of Huntington Beach. The city made structural upgrades and it has since served as a recreation center that has served the community with a variety of programs and recreational opportunities. The City Gym & Pool was renovated using the original wood in the gymnasium, and most of the fixtures and windows were restored. The building was rededicated on October 12, 2000.

 

 

 
book nav


 

Huntington Beach Hotels

 

Click to Save


hornblower

Newport Beach


Discount Disneyland Tickets

Anaheim


catalina express
Long Beach, Dana Point


Catalina Flyer

Newport Beach


Universal City

 


Knotts Berry Farm
Buena Park


Discount Legoland California tickets

Carlsbad