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Main Street Branch Library: Part 6 -- Enjoying Life in Huntington Beach

Enjoying Life in Huntington Beach

Photo #20 – Lake Park – Lion’s Club Breakfast – 1960’s

This photo features one of the most popular traditions at Lake Park – the Lions Club Community Pancake Breakfast.  This picture was taken some time in the 1960’s.  The Huntington Beach Lions Club began in 1938, with the purpose of “doing whatever is needed to help the local community”. Up until recent times, the club held around 20 pancake breakfast fundraisers every year.  Surf City’s chapter is one of 46,000 world-wide, and the entire service club has 1.4 million members all over the world.

Photo #21 – Lake Park, early 1970’s

Lake Park, located in between Main and Lake Streets at 11th Street, was established in 1912, and is the second park developed for the City of Huntington Beach.  The land purchased for the park included two lakes, including a small fly-fishing lake, so the park was named “Lake Park”.  Evidentially, this park was never officially dedicated by the city, and during the early 1920’s oil boom, it was often occupied by a pool of oily, smelly water.  Starting in the middle 1920’s, the city began to drain the water out of the lakes, leaving big holes in the ground.  To fill in the holes, workers brought a bunch of “old junk”, (made up of mud, trash and concrete), over from the oil fields. 


Scout Cabin, Lake Park, c. 1940.

In 1923, construction of a “rustic” boy scout cabin began on the first part of park land to be filled-in.  After Troop 1 of the Boy Scouts outgrew their former meeting place, Scoutmaster C.E. Morris and Troop 1 members began building the new scout cabin, with assistance from volunteers of the local Carpenter’s Union and the Lion’s Club.  The cabin’s log walls were made from power poles donated by the Edison Company.     Troop 1’s Boy Scout cabin was completed on May 2, 1924.  An interesting note is that up until a complete renovation that was approved by the city in 1968, the floor of the scout cabin was about eighteen inches below ground level, a result of the unstable land-filled ground upon which it was built.    In 1967, due to lack of maintenance, the scout cabin was condemned.  Then, thanks to the efforts of the Adults and Friends of Troop 1, it was rebuilt and dedicated as the Russ Paxson Scout Cabin In 1974.  (Mr. Paxton was one of the first Troop 1 scouts back in 1933).  At that point, the entire lake was filled in with dirt and eventually turned into a children’s playground area during the park redesign approved in 1968.  Finally, in May of 1974, the scout cabin was recognized for its historical significance to the community and was designated as an historical site by the City. The Boy Scout Troop still meets there for meetings to this day.

Pictured here is the Lake Park Clubhouse circa 1942.

In 1938, the city was able to take advantage of President Roosevelt’s WPA and PWA programs created after the Great Depression as part of the New Deal of 1933.  The Works Progress Administration and the Public Works Administration were federal assistance programs that put unemployed Americans to work, mostly on public facility projects like highways and schools.  With little cost to the community, the city was given funds to build the Lake Park Clubhouse that same year.

In 1941, during World War II, Lake Park Clubhouse and the Boy Scout log cabin were pressed into service by the war effort and used as a supply and logistics post.

Lake Park Clubhouse, after the war, in 1946

Photo #22 – Girls at the HB Pier, 1924

This group of women, wearing their “heavy wool suits” (rented from the Salt Water Plunge, seen in the background), are either “bathing beauties” spending a day at the beach, or female lifeguards, posing in front of one of the city’s lifeboats near the pier (also seen in the background).  Some of these women’s suits feature the HB emblem, which could indicate they were either their uniforms or a rental swimsuit.  While there wasn’t an official rule saying that women couldn’t be lifeguards, or even employees, lifeguarding was, for the most part, considered at the time to be a “man’s job”.  The first official female lifeguards weren’t even hired until the mid-1950’s, when perhaps the young “lifeguard in training” would have been able to participate (see the tot in the first row.)  The Plunge had a laundromat where these rented suits were “washed and dried each evening after being soaked in a “sheep-dip” disinfectant.” 

The Salt Water Plunge, ca. early 1900’s.

The Plunge was an open-air salt water swimming pool built in 1911, just west of the pier.  It became quite popular since some swimmers preferred a more comfortable, controlled area minus ocean waves and sharks.  This plunge featured both heated and non-heated sections.  Around 1925, a roof was added to the plunge structure, allowing both indoor and outdoor swimming.  The Plunge, which was advertised as a way to go beach bathing without having to brave the waves, remained standing until 1962.  By that time, amidst the surfing frenzy, most people had lost their phobia of the ocean’s waves. Today, Huntington Beach has a swimming pool at another historic city building (see part 5 of this guide), the City Gym, located on Palm Street.

Photo #23 – Oil derricks, north of the pier, circa 1940. 

PHOTO CAPTIONThe Town Lot Oil field opened in 1926 on the north side of downtown, continuing the 1920’s oil boom in Huntington Beach.  There were over 80 production companies actively drilling in this field, swelling our population to 12,000 people.  To the right of this depression-era photograph, you can see the salt water plunge at the foot of Sixth Street.

Oil was first discovered in Huntington Beach at the corner of Goldenwest and Clay Streets by the Standard Oil Company of California, in December of 1919.  By May of 1920, Standard Oil had set up oil field Huntington A No. 1 and began producing 45 barrels of oil a day.    This discovery came at a time when the city of Huntington Beach was near broke with a dwindling population.  In less than a month, the city’s population went from 1500 to 5000 people.  By November of that same year, Bolsa Chica No. 1, another Standard Oil well, produced a total of 1742 barrels of oil alone in one day.  The oil field featured in the above photo was part of the second oil boom, with oil wells stretching along PCH from 8th St. to 23rd St.

Soap Box Derby, c. 1940.  Probably taken near the oil fields in the north part of the city.  Note the oil derricks looming nearby.

By 1928, the oil wells were everywhere.  People visiting town would often remark to their loved ones at home that “this town [was] ruined by the oil wells.”  Although the beaches in Huntington Beach during the 1920’s were overshadowed by oil derricks, beach lounging was still a very popular event.  In addition to beach strolls, compromised by the smell of oil and sound of oil derricks, there were plenty of things to do at the beach on beautiful sunny days in Huntington Beach.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Soap box derby – A very popular contest for kids who enjoyed building their own cars.
  • Motorcycle Picnics -- Up to 2,000 bikers roared into the city each year for the annual motorcycle dealer’s picnic, meeting next to the Pacific Electric Railway Depot (near the Pier) in the 1920’s.
  • Ferris Wheel – during the summer months, amusements and carnival rides were set up near the pier in the 1940’s.

Huntington Beach Pier and Bandstand, ca. 1914

  • Boardwalk/Beach play area for children, featuring toy boats, swings and see-saws – located on the beach next to the pier in the early 1900’s, replaced by the Salt Water Plunge in 1911.  Later on, the city set up new swing sets on the beach further south from the plunge.
  • Concession Stands—in the 1930’s, Dwight Clapp, a pioneer beach vendor in Huntington Beach, would rent up to 200 umbrellas a day.  He set up his operation in front of the Plunge.  The very first waterfront concession stand in Huntington Beach was opened in 1935 and most likely sold food along with other sundries.  Other concessions were added to the pier area to service the tourist trade.
  • Beauty Contests – beach beauty contests were very popular during the summer months from the 1920’s until well into the 1950’s.
  • Outdoor Band with Concerts on the beach – (see photo above) -- A community band held concerts on the stage, which was right on the beach between the pier and the plunge. 

The Pav-a-Lon, circa 1946.  Notice the banner on the right of the building announcing an upcoming performance of “Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band”.

  • Dancing at the Pav-a-lon – this building was constructed in 1938 to replace the pavilion that was placed at the front of the pier in 1906.   The pavilion was a light summerhouse-type of structure built on the oceanfront, and was used as a shelter for musical concerts and dancing.  This building, along with the adjacent pier, were very popular tourist attractions in the 1910’s and 1920’s.   After it was rebuilt as a Ballroom in 1938, it was renamed the Pav-A-Lon as a nod to the building’s former glory.   Concerts in the 1940’s featured popular big band and swing music groups led by such bandleaders as Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. In 1951, the Pav-a-lon was even host to the Southern California Twins Convention.  Unfortunately, in 1966, during a night of dancing, faulty wiring started a fire that resulted in $31,000 worth of damage.  Luckily some of the building’s structure remained, and was used to create Maxwell’s (formerly named Fisherman Restaurant), whose sign featured the same Art Deco font of the Pav-A-Lon building.  In 1994, Maxwell’s was torn down, to make room for the current Duke’s Restaurant, which still stands at the same location today.

Oil fields near Lake Street downtown, 1950’s

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the city’s oil fields became quite vulnerable due to the threat of enemy bombing along the coastline.  By the mid-1950’s, oil wells on PCH near Lake and Main Streets had become aesthetically “quite invasive”.  At the end of that decade, the fire department and the oil companies began cleaning up the old wooden derricks and replaced them with steel pumping units, By the early 1980’s, Chevron began selling off its land downtown, thereby closing down most of the oil pumps.  At that point, the city of Huntington Beach shifted its focus from “oil town” to “Surf City USA”.  There are still some 400 oil wells (as of 2014) still running along PCH between Goldenwest Street and the Bolsa Chica wetlands, but they are partially hidden by shrubbery-lined fences.

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