History of Hermosa Beach:
THE EARLY HISTORY
1900 - 1930
by FERN RHEIN - 1933
Hermosa Beach was originally part of the ten-mile Ocean frontage of Rancho Sausal Redondo. In the year of 1900 a tract of fifteen hundred acres was purchased for $35.00 per acre from A. E. Pomroy, then owner of the greater part of Rancho Sausal Redondo. Messrs. Burbank and Baker, agents, bought this land for Sherman and Clark who organized and retained the controlling interest in the Hermosa Beach Land and Water Company. The first election for city officers was held December 24, 1906, and the town incorporated into a city of the sixth class. Its Charter was obtained from the State on January 14, 1907.
In early days, Hermosa Beach like so many of its neighboring cities - Inglewood, Lawndale, Torrance - was one vast sweep of rolling hills covered with fields of grain, mostly barley. During certain seasons of the year large herds of sheep were grazed over this land, and corrals and large barns for storing the grain, as well as providing shelter for horses and farm implements were located on the ranch between Hermosa and Inglewood. The Spanish words, Rancho Sausal Redondo, mean a large circular ranch of pasture of grazing land, with a grove of willows on it.
Old time residents claim that the climate in early days was much pleasanter than at present, being warmer and having less fog; but much sand was always blowing from across the sand dunes. Mrs. Dorcas Ingram, early resident and author, wrote a pleasing bit of verse about Hermosa in which she describes the beach wind in these few lines:
"But my inmost being shrank From the greeting chill and dank Of a wind forever blowing O'er the sand dunes of Hermosa."
One can visualize those early uninhabited sandhills as they stretched along the coast in dreary wastes of fine white sand, and a wind forever blowing it in clouds across the gentle slopes of green hills beyond. We can imagine, too, the gold of sand flowers blooming and the purple wild verbena trailing their flower wreaths over every mound from one sand dune to another.
It must have made a beautiful picture for one who stood on the hills beyond the dunes on an early morning, looking at the panoramic view of the distant Santa Monica Mountains pushing their way far out into the sea on the north, the green Palos Verdes hills on the south, and perhaps, if the day was clear of haze, see Catalina Island in the distance. Directly in front lay the boundless Pacific lashing far distant shores of the Orient as it, at the same time, drove its mighty cavalcade of "sea horses" with white manes flying, dashing across the gleaming sands in rolling breakers that washed the level beach reaching for ten miles from Santa Monica to Redondo.
We can easily understand why those early pioneers, far visioned, planning for a future prosperous, home-loving city, named it Hermosa, meaning "beautiful." Only this softly accented Spanish word could express their delight in its natural beauty; and always to those pioneers who are still living, has it remained not only "home" but "hermosa."
In subdividing this acreage, Messrs. Burbank and Baker realized that some day the beaches around Los Angeles would be valuable as land for pleasure resorts and summer playgrounds for vacation seekers of that fast growing city, and that this two miles of level beach would be very accessible by electric transportation to Los Angeles. They, also realized that this beach was one of the finest, having few rip tides or dangerous undertows and that it sloped gradually into the water. Its sand was washed clean and fine, with no outlying kelp beds to litter it with seaweed at low tides; naturally, they also figured it to be a good financial investment and it proved to be a better one than they had hoped for.
The first official survey was made in the year 1901 for the board walk on the Strand, Hermosa Avenue and Santa Fe Avenue; work on these projects commenced soon after.
In 1904 the first pier was built. The first wooden pier It was constructed entirely of wood even to the pilings and it extended five hundred feet out into the ocean. The pier was constructed by the Hermosa Beach Land and Water Company. In 1913 this old pier was partly washed away and later torn down and a new one built to replace it. This pier was built of concrete one thousand feet long, and paved with asphalt its entire length. Small tiled pavilions were erected at intervals along the sides to afford shade for fishermen and picnic parties. A bait stand was built eventually out on the end. Soon after, about 1914, an auditorium building was constructed; it has housed various enterprises and at present the public rest rooms, the Los Angeles Life Guard Service, and the local branch of the Los Angeles County Library occupy rooms in the building. This pier is municipally owned.
Hermosa Avenue was the first street to be paved. Asphalt was used for surfacing and supplied by the Barbour Asphalt Company who built a plant on the corner of Eighth Street and Hermosa Avenue for the purpose of furnishing the paving material and surfacing the streets of Hermosa. The asphalt used probably came from Ventura. In 1908 this plant burned down and was never rebuilt.
The board walk on the Strand small photo of the first boardwalk on the Strand was next undertaken and the lumber ordered for this purpose was planks for a walk sixteen feet wide and for side walks twelve feet wide. The board walk extended the entire length of the two mile strand. High tides sometimes washed portions of this walk away and in 1914, part of it was replaced with cement. The remaining two thousand feet on the north end was finally completed with cement material in 1926.
The water supply for the town was installed by the Hermosa Beach Land and Water Company in 1901. They located a well near the old Duncan ranch on the north city limits and a storage tank was built on top of a sand dune near the site of the Ocean View Schools. Later the company bought an artesian well and built a reservoir just outside of the east end of the town. The water from this well was drawn from a limitless subterranean reservoir three hundred feet below the surface of the ground and has proved of the finest quality, being free from mineral content.
The Santa Fe railway was the only transportation system through Hermosa Beach. Tracks for this railroad run south through the valley back of the sand dune and into Redondo. It was some seven blocks back of the beach and the street that led out to the tracks was called Santa Fe Avenue but was afterwards renamed Pier Avenue. This street was paved in 1904 as far as the railroad and today is a well paved, broad avenue extending east to the city limits where it meets the County Redondo-Riverside Boulevard. There was no railway station for Hermosa but Burbank and Baker built a platform on the west side of the tracks near Santa Fe Avenue, and later the Railroad Company donated an old boxcar to be used as a storage place for freight.
In 1926 the Santa Fe Company built a modern stucco depot Old Santa Fe Depotand installed Western Union telegraph service in it. This is located on the north side of Pier Avenue opposite the location of the old boxcar and its platform.
Sherman and Clark, part owners of the Hermosa Beach Land and Water Company, built the first electric transportation line into the city in 1904, and called it the Los Angeles Pacific Railway. The Pacific Electric Railroad took it over and built a freight office and passenger station on the northeast corner of Pier and Hermosa Avenues where the First National Bank building now stands. This building was torn down about 1914, and a ticket office and waiting room was installed in one corner of the Walker Bank building that was then built on this corner. On the north city limits, the Pacific Electric Company built a power sub-station very similar in construction to the old freight station, and this still stands though now out of use.
The first election for city officers was held December twenty fourth, nineteen hundred and six, and the town incorporated into a city of the sixth class. Its Charter was obtained from the State on January 14, 1907. The first City Councilmen elected to serve were: John Q, Tufts, who was appointed the first Mayor of Hermosa Beach, Herman Vetter, who was the first City Clerk; John Bunz, Otto Meyer, Benn H. Hiss and Arthur Jones were the City's first trustees. Judge Wilbur E. Curtis and Ozias Willis served occasionally as legal advisors. At this time the city acquired ownership of its two mile stretch of ocean frontage, this being included in an original deed to the city from the Hermosa Beach Land and Water Company; this did not include the two hundred and ten feet on each side of the pier. The deed stated that it was to be held in perpetuity as a beach playground, free from commerce, and for the benefit of not only the residents of Hermosa, but also for the sea lovers of Southern California. Hermosa Beach has never permitted cheap amusements along its Strand and its original ideals are its present day standards. The sports of fishing and swimming have always been ideal here, and many famous anglers have reeled their lines off its pier and people of world renown have splashed through the ocean's rollicking surf on their vacations at Hermosa.
Hermosa Beach sewer system was first a septic tank system located, and treated, on a lot where the City Hall now stands. The residue was pumped through pipes to a sewer dumping ground West of the Santa Fe tracks in the valley half way between Pier Avenue and the south city limits. Right well do early Hermosa residents remember this old sewer dump and the gentle zephyrs that blew across the hills on foggy nights with the southwesterly winds.
The city Fire Chief, when no fires called upon his office, ran the pumping system. In March, 1926, a lateral sewer system for the city connected up with the $350,000.00 trunk line of the South Bay Sanitation District and was designed to care for a population of thirty thousand. The Hermosa system is now a part of the extensive project that will care for the southwestern portion of the Los Angeles County and is a link, in the county-wide metropolitan sewerage systems.
Ocean View was the first school building erected, First Public School and it was built on a lot deeded to the city for a school structure. It was located on top of a sand dune four blocks back from the beach, and no walks or streets of any kind led to it when it was built. It is still used and accommodates the first four grades of school work. It was constructed of wood, two stories high with a belfry. Its first desks and equipment had to be carried through the deep sands of the dunes on the shoulders of one of the school trustees, because of an excessive drayage charge of $15.00 which could not be afforded by the school board. This was a loving task, however, performed by him who shouldered the load for the welfare of the first pupils who attended its classes. In 1911, the Pier Avenue School was built to further accommodate the increasing school demands and this took care of the children from the third to the ninth grades. Later new additions to this school were built with a large civic auditorium included, and, in 1929, two new schools were constructed to care for the fast growing school attendance at each end of the city limits. High school students from Manhattan and Hermosa attend the Union High School at Redondo.
The Pioneer Hotel was the first to accommodate the city's visitors. It was built by two deaf mutes and for a time was used as temporary school quarters before the Ocean View School was built. Mr. Ben H. Hiss afterwards acquired it and used it as a hotel and rooming house. Mr. and Mrs. Berth built the next hotel in 1907 and it was long known as the Berth Hotel. It still stands on the corner of the Strand at Tenth street and is now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Morrison, and is named The Breakers.
The pavilion was the first public building erected by the Hermosa Beach Land and Water Company and was located on the south corner of Pier Avenue and the Strand near the Pier entrance. The company had offices in the building and the local Post Office was housed in it at its commencement. On the ocean side was an open pavilion for picnic parties and outdoor dancing, benches and tables being provided for public accommodation. For a short period the City Hall, or rather the Civic Center, was to be found in this pavilion, but, after the incorporation of the city, it was moved across the street on Pier Avenue into a one storied building, later it was again moved on to Thirteenth Street and housed in a building belonging to Otto Meyer who built these quarters to accommodate the City Hall. When the city, in 1914, took over the sewer system from the Hermosa Beach Land and Water Company and also the lot on which the septic tank was located, it built a two story brick building to be used as a City Hall Building; this was constructed by John MacCready, Contractor, and here were installed the Police, Fire, and Street departments on the main floor, and offices on the second floor for the other official activities. In this building, also, the local, inadequate sewer system was operated for a number of years.
The first Post Office was located in a room in the pavilion building with Miss Sarah Beane installed as postmistress. She received her appointment to this federal office through the recommendation of the Hermosa Beach Land and Water Company. From this location, the Post Office was moved into the Pacific Electric freight building. Later, Miss Beane erected a building at 26 Pier Avenue and the Post Office was located there as long as she remained its Postmistress. It being a fourth class office, she was permitted to operate other business in connection with her federal duties and, with Miss Eliza Smith, she established one of the early real estate offices which was known as the Beane-Smith Real Estate firm. The Post Office remained in the Beane building for eleven years when it was moved into the Walker building on Hermosa Avenue with Mr. M. M. Pilkington as Postmaster. In 1920, Reinbolt and Guernsey built a brick building across the street for its accommodation with Mr. Devine as its next Postmaster. Mr. C. H. Salinas received the next federal appointment five years ago and is still in charge of the office.
St. Cross-Episcopal Church was the first church building erected in the city of Hermosa Beach. Donations, subscriptions, and entertainments provided the finances for the lumber and carpenter work. Mr. J. W. Rodaway was the contractor and builder employed on its construction. Miss Sarah Beane was its founder, and Father de Garmo, then pastor of the Redondo parish, was its visiting clergyman for a number of years. St. Cross started as a little mission Sunday school in an unused store room in the P. E. freight building and was located just back of the Post Office. Here, through the benevolent efforts of Miss Beane, the Hermosa children were gathered into the first Sunday school in the new community. One of its scholars constructed a large wooden cross for the Sunday school room and when the new church was completed, this same wooden cross was again set up above its alter and from it the church received its name - St. Cross. A lovely interpretation of the name as given by those early members follows: "Saint Cross, the word saint means holy, Santo Fe means Holy Faith. The room in which we are gathered together today is bare and plain and without any of the luxuries of worship. At one end of this room has been placed a large wooden cross, even rugged in its simplicity and, as it marks the spot where missionaries first preached the Gospel in Hermosa, we have named our Mission after the Holy Cross and to show forth the sacrifice of service and prayer. Saint Cross then, means the first holy worship of the Holy Cross of Christ celebrated in Hermosa Beach."
Mr. Otto Meyer opened the first grocery store and fish market. He tells an amusing story of how he came to open a fish market. Being hungry for fish one day, he tried to buy one from a fisherman he met coming from the pier with a large box full of freshly caught fish. This toiler who "goes down to the sea" to fish told Mr. Meyer that he was not allowed to retail his catch but would sell him the whole box full if he wanted them. Here was a predicament! He was fish hungry and with a big box of fresh fish before him was unable to buy even one of them. But being determined to have a fish if it did mean buying the whole box full, he made the deal - right down to the last glistening fish scale. In order to get rid of all but the one he desired for his evening repast, he decided to buy a pair of scales, set up a counter on a likely site for a fish market and go into the retail fish business, at least for the time being. He sold one lone fish for twenty-five cents; somewhat disgusted with his experience, he induced his sister, who had a horse and light wagon, to peddle the fish from door to door. Her efforts were more successful and she returned in the evening tired of fish too, but with enough money to pay Mr. Meyer for his original investment. Thus is related the tale of the inception and unprofitable ending of the first fish market in this fair city by the sea.
Morse and Morse, or "the Morse boys" as the firm was more often called, were also pioneer grocers, and their store was located on the northwest corner of Pier Avenue and the Strand, in a building belonging to I. C. Squires. Here they operated a market selling groceries, fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. They were also the local expressman, delivering trunks and baggage for the summer visitors at the beach. The corner room of their store was rented to George Sudborough who had a cigar and fishing tackle stand. Mr. Sudborough was a cigar maker, making cigars in his home to supply his trade, his home being conveniently located on the Speedway just a block back of his store. Later, Mr. Sudborough owned a pool room and cigar stand located on Hermosa Avenue in the Walker Building, and Mrs. Sudborough carried on a fishing tackle and bait stand. She was famous for her hand-wrapped and decorated fishing poles, and many a notable personage fishing here on the municipal pier has returned to his home with one of these much prized poles in his possession. The Sudboroughs are still here and now own a popular restaurant at 51 Pier Avenue.
The first boarding and rooming house was conducted in a frame building on Pier Avenue where Kerwin's Bakery now stands. Mrs. M. Darling operated it and also sold bread occasionally if she happened to feel benevolently inclined. John Kerwin bought the property and operated a bakery in the building during the summer months. A bowling alley was the only amusement house operated. It was located in a long one story building on the corner of Tenth Street and the Strand. It housed several activities during its time. Here, at one time, was to be found the Tax Collector's office; and again, the press rooms for the Hermosa Beach Review, the pioneer and official newspaper of the city, were located here. Parties, dances and club meetings were often held within its humble walls. Its last occupant was a tango game which operated during the summer before the old building was torn down in 1920 for the erection of the Baird Apartments. The first theatre building was owned by a woman. She bought the lot of Ben Brown and had constructed a frame building upon it. It is strange but today no one seems to remember this woman's name. Mr. Brown explains that she did not operate the theatre long and moved away after a short period of residence here. The building was eventually turned into a garage and is located just back of the Barlow building on Tenth Place. In 1915, C. D. Barlow built a small brick building which he used as a Motion Picture theatre. The pictures shown by him in this theatre were the finest that could be obtained and his service to the amusement of the community was greatly appreciated by all. The first motion pictures were shown in the Otto Meyer building on Thirteenth Street. This building had formerly been used as the City Hall.
The first library was a pay circulating library sponsored by a committee of club women and opened first in the Ocean View school building with Mrs. Mary Montgomery as custodian. In 1907, it was taken into the Los Angeles County Public Library service and became a public library occupying a room in the Walker building on Hermosa Avenue. Later, it was moved to the tower room of the Pier auditorium and again moved down stairs into the north room of the building with Mrs. Montgomery still in charge as its librarian. In 1925, it was moved into the present location in the south room of the auditorium where it is still functioning as a branch of the Los Angeles County Public Library.
Hermosa Beach Civic Club was a Citizen's Improvement Association and was the only civic club ever organized in the community. The Women's Club dates back to 1907 and some of the original members are still living in the city. Some of the earliest members were Mrs. Mary Montgomery, Mrs. Florence Bolton, Mrs. Laura I. Robinson, Mrs. Ella Porter, and Mrs. Elizabeth Jones. The Hermosa Beach Chamber of Commerce was organized also in 1907, and is still active, a praiseworthy organization and much of the city's popularity and publicity is owed to the faithful and enthusiastic service promoted by this chamber of public service to the city. The California slogan of "Leave it to the Chamber of Commerce; what the Real Estate agents can't do, the Chamber of Commerce can.", has been expounded by this local organization. It has occupied various locations but can usually be found in rooms in the Auditorium Building on the Pier, where it is located at present.
The first bank was organized by James Walker, who built the first bank building on the northwest corner of Pier and Hermosa Avenues on the old site of the Pacific Electric freight offices. It was called The First Bank of Hermosa Beach, and its board of officers included: Mr. James Walker, President; Messrs. Hellman, Luxford, Mattison and others. Later, it was known as the First National Bank.
The Hermosa Beach gas plant was a privately owned and operated plant, and was owned by I. C. Squires. It was located on Second Street near the Santa Fe's spur track. It was not in operation long and evidences of it have long since vanished, nothing remaining to identify its location but a portion of its cement flooring, Gas service was soon installed in the district by the Southern California Gas Company, and the beach was the first part of the city to receive this public service. The old Pacific Light and Power Company installed the first electric light service which was later continued by the Southern California Edison Company who took over this company. The lighting service rates were not excessive in early days. The first street lighting system in the community consisted of one 40 watt light bulb at the end of each side street along the Strand. If you were out on a very dark night and fortunate enough to locate the board walk, you could then use this little dim light as a beacon to light you on your precarious way to the next corner.
The Hermosa Beach Review, established by Ed Thomas in the old Bowling Alley was the inception of the first city newspaper. It was later bought by F. H. Johnston and moved to press rooms on Hermosa Avenue where it is still located at 1306-8 Hermosa Avenue in the Review building, and published every Thursday by Mr. F. H. Johnston, owner and publisher. Through its columns its publisher loyally supports and endorses all constructive civic activities for the city's public welfare.
A box factory was located at one time back of the sand dunes, west of the Santa Fe tracks and near the present site of the lumber yards. The buildings were erected and owned by the Cleghorn Brothers, and Mr. Peter Guernsey first came to the city to take charge of this factory. It burned down one Sunday night a few years after its construction, no one ever being able to determine the cause of the fire. Mr. Guernsey is still active in the contracting and building trade of the city and both he and his wife are ardent beach lovers through the years of Hermosa, "the beautiful."
Only one park has this city and it is located on the small triangular plot of ground just east of the Pier Avenue school. It divides the boulevard, the right turn taking one into Pier Avenue, and the left into Camino Real and leading thence to Redondo Beach. The ground was donated to the city for park purposes by Mrs. Robert Montgomery and for a number of years, or during her residence in Hermosa, she supervised its care. If the city put up benches or planted anything that did not meet with her approval, she would threaten to take it away from them. When they permitted Mr. Anderson of the Olympic Barge to put up a sign at its entrance, she very nearly kept her promise of taking the ground back. The city fathers finally pacified her, but the unsightly sign still remained, and does so to this day.
The first City Marshall and likewise tax-collector, was Herman Smith. As an officer of the law and custodian of the city's revenue he was not exactly a shining light. Whenever the citizens could find him to pay their tax money to, he would proceed to Redondo taking the money with him, and there entering into a state of ebullition produced by the sweet spirits of aqua vitae, his responsibility to the city faded from his memory. He kept this up until he owed the City $500.00 and the citizens threatened dire proceedings against him. Mrs. Mary Montgomery pitied him for the sake of his family and was influential in leniency being shown him until he could raise enough money to pay it back. Through the sale of a lot for $400.00 and a gift of $100.00 from-his father, he was able to reimburse the city for the shortage.
• Early Hermosa
Santa Fe Railway