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Main Street Branch Library: Part 2 -- Huntington Beach VIP's

Part Two -- Huntington Beach VIP's

Henry Huntington – 1850 to 1927

Henry in 1907

Henry Edwards Huntington, future head of the Huntington Beach Company, was born on February 27, 1850 in Oneonta New York to Solon and Harriett Sanders Huntington.  He was educated in local schools, and at age twenty, went to New York City to work for a large hardware firm.  In 1871, his uncle Collis Huntington asked him to manage a sawmill in West Virginia, and by 1881, he took a job with one of his uncle’s railway lines.  This involvement in rail was what brought him to California, in 1892.  During the eight years he worked for Southern Pacific Railway, he became interested in street transportation services within cities, such as San Francisco.  After he expanded that railway system, he set his sights on Southern California around the turn of the century. 

A young Henry, ca. 1875

Huntington Beach started out as Shell Beach, in 1889.  Although our town was named after Mr. Huntington in 1904, he reportedly did not actually visit Huntington Beach at all during his lifetime.  The farthest south he came was San Marino, where he both lived and established his famous Huntington Library, full of splendid British and American fine art and rare books, in addition to the lush botanical gardens outside.  Pacific City officials (as it was called in 1901) were very grateful to Mr. Huntington and decided to honor him for bringing the Pacific Electric Railway system to the coast, which stopped in Huntington Beach at the corner of Ocean Avenue (now Pacific Coast Highway) and Main Street.  He was also instrumental in the development of our city, being both widely known as a railroad magnate and real estate developer of the Huntington Beach Company.  The city was eventually incorporated in 1909, with a population of 915.

The "Red Cars" of the Pacific Electric Railway stopped in Huntington Beach, 1904

One of Mr. Huntington’s favorite sayings, when asked of the secret to his success, was “Always be on the job all the time”.  Despite being very dedicated to his work, he was married twice, first to Mary Alice Prentice in 1873 and then to a lady named Arabella, in 1913.  These marriages produced four children.  Henry died on May 23,1927 while undergoing surgery in Philadelphia, PA.  He and his wife had ensured that his legacy would live on by transferring their estate to an educational trust with money for its continued operation. He was later buried in the Gardens of the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA.

Thomas Talbert – 1878 to 1968

Thomas, as Orange County Supervisor, 1910

Thomas Benjamin Talbert was born on March 5, 1878 in Monticello, IL to James T and Rachel Weddle Talbert, natives of Kentucky and Illinois respectively.  (His family roots trace back to France and England.)  He and his family made their way to California, settling first in the Cerritos/Long Beach area, and then the Santa Ana Valley in 1898.  Thomas eventually made it to what is now called Fountain Valley, but at the time, the town had no name.  So naturally they named it “Talbert”.  Soon after his arrival, he was appointed Postmaster of the Talbert Post Office in 1899, and he worked there for five years.  In 1903, he moved to the City of Huntington Beach.  This new city along the coast was then named Pacific City, and Mr. Talbert took advantage of the many opportunities offered there, a place which he called “one of the greatest natural habitats for wildlife and game birds in the world.”  In addition to his appreciation of the local fauna, Mr. Talbert was involved in real estate, oil development and the sugar beet industry, eventually founding his own business, Talbert and Company.  He operated a Ford car dealership, owned the City Garage on 8th Street (located near his home on 6th and PCH) and was even director of the local First National Bank downtown.

Some of Thomas’ professional accomplishments include being:

  • Member of the County Board of Supervisors from 1909 to 1926
  • Mayor of Huntington Beach from 1934-36 and from 1942-46.
  • City council member in 1933, and again between 1942 and 1954.
  • 1950 “Man of the Half Century” by the HB Chamber of Commerce
  • Namesake of streets, a lake, schools, and  even a drainage channel

Mrs. Talbert, ca. 1970's with former Library Director Walter Johnson

In addition to his comprehensive involvement in the City of Huntington Beach, Mr. Talbert was married twice and became the father of two sons.  His first marriage was to Addie J. McGowen in 1901, welcoming Gordon, and in 1912 he wed Margaret Elizabeth Crum.  Their son Thomas Van has ties to the Huntington Beach Library through his wife, Gwendolyn Reeves, whom he married in 1942.  Known to her co-workers past and present as “Mrs. Talbert”, Gwendolyn worked at the library for 42 years, before her death in 1979.  She made such a positive impact on the library that her favorite chair still sits in the Central Library’s basement in her memory!

Thomas, as Mayor of Huntington Beach, 1934

After a life well-lived both personally and career-wise, having enjoyed attending the many parties and events that took place during the early years of Huntington Beach and serving the public as an elected official, Mr. Talbert passed away on January 13, 1968 in his beloved city, and is buried in the Good Shepherd Cemetery located on the corner of Beach Blvd and, you guessed it, Talbert Avenue.

Alicia Wentworth – 1926 to 2006

About the Photo:  Norma Gibbs, the city’s first female mayor, and Alicia Wentworth, former city clerk and City Historian, worked together continuously to get the city’s business done.  Pictured here in 1976, the two celebrate yet another accomplishment.  Because Alicia was the city clerk during the time Norma was serving as mayor, the two had many an opportunity to interact.

Alicia Mae Becker Wentworth was born in Rochester, NY on December 1, 1926 to William and Alcey Mae Cole Becker.   Ever since she was a child, history has played a big role in Wentworth's life.  It all started when her parents told her and her ten siblings that two of their ancestors immigrated to America on the Mayflower.  After moving to Huntington Beach with her sister’s family in 1947, she met her husband Vern Wentworth while walking on the beach. They were soon married, and in 1948 welcomed twins David and Donna, eventually followed by Duane and Diane.  Ties to Huntington Beach ran deep in the family, as native Vern’s grandfather was the city’s first Mayor, Ed Manning.  During the 1950’s, the Wentworth family lived at 222 Joliet Avenue in Huntington Beach.  She began working in 1961 for the City at the old Civic Center on 5th and Orange, and after her divorce in the early 1970’s, she became City Clerk, (1973) where she served for 15 years.

In keeping with her interest in all things historical, she began collecting photos and other ephemera of old Huntington Beach.  This certainly helped in her being appointed the second ever City Historian in 1988.  She enjoyed sharing stories about our city’s history and took care to preserve historical facts, photos, maps and statistics for posterity.  In 1989, Ms. Wentworth compiled a 95 page book called the “City of Huntington Beach Miscellaneous Historical Data”, published by The City.  In her spare time, she enjoyed crossword puzzles, continuing to work as City Historian until her death in town on September 1, 2006.  One of her obituaries called her the “Keeper of the Flame in Huntington Beach”.  Everyone who had the pleasure of knowing Alicia would definitely agree with this moniker.

Norma Gibbs  1925-2019

Norma, as Mayor of Huntington Beach, 1975

Norma Brandel Gibbs was born on July 8, 1925 in Chicago, IL to Swedish immigrant parents David and Elin Brandel.   A year after her 1957 arrival in Seal Beach California, she met and married her husband William S. Gibbs, Jr, becoming step-mother to his two children Kathryn and Barbara.  The couple later welcomed a son and daughter, whom they named David and Normajean.  The Gibbs family moved to Huntington Beach in 1963.

Norma, (on right) with Interval House Executive Director Carol Williams

In addition to being Huntington Beach’s first female council member, from 1970-1978, as well as the first female mayor elected in 1975, Norma played an extensive and impressive role in the history of our city, and leaves behind a truly formidable legacy.  Some of her major professional accomplishments include:

  • Being instrumental in encouraging stay-at-home mothers to both vote and get involved in their community
  • Working as a teacher in Educational Psychology at Cal State Long Beach for forty years
  • Founding the “Interval House” for victims of abuse, in 1979.
  • Being the recipient of the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.  (President Barack Obama awarded it to her.)

Norma, relaxing at home, ca. 2010

When asked what she considered to be her main accomplishment in our community, she proudly responded that it was her involvement in the development of the Central Library and the Senior Center.  Some of her more personal achievements include being a survivor of tuberculosis three times, at age 9, 20 and 36, and having a park named after her on her birthday in 1995 – The Norma Brandel Gibbs Butterfly Park.  One of her favorite sayings was “Bloom where you are planted.”  Based on her track record, she truly took her own advice.  In her later years, she visited places like Tibet and the Antarctic with her best friend Kay Goddard, who eventually moved into Norma’s Huntington Harbour home with her.  She died in Huntington Beach on August 25, 2019, after having lived a long and happy life.

Huntington Beach Public Library
7111 Talbert Ave. Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Phone 714-842-4481