These 5 Visionaries Helped Establish Newport Beach

People in Newport Beach have a way of living each day for all it is worth. Beautiful weather and endless recreational opportunities will have that effect. Paddling through the harbor, walking along the pier, or sitting in the shade enjoying a frozen banana, one cannot help but appreciate the city’s timeless charm.

Newport was not always such a hospitable place, however. A century and a half ago, government officials described this part of the state as “swamp and overflow land.” The railroad did not yet reach this far south, and large ships were unable to navigate the shallow, silty bay. Balboa Island – undeveloped as it was at the time – had an assessed land value of close to zero.

Then came a handful of pioneers who saw opportunity where others did not. Their hard work and determination paid off. By the late 1920s, Newport Beach was a bustling commercial center and resort destination, well on its way to becoming one of the nation’s most prestigious cities.

Here are five of Newport’s early visionaries and a brief discussion of their accomplishments:

1)  James McFadden

James McFadden first visited the Newport area in 1868. He recognized the area’s potential as a commercial shipping hub and began to purchase surrounding lands. As far as his shipping business was concerned, the biggest obstacle was the bay itself – it would be years until dredging made it safe for large commercial vessels. So he decided to relocate the wharf to the peninsula (where Newport Beach Pier is now located). The move was a success. His business, and the community, began a period of rapid growth.

2)  Stephen Townsend

Stephen Townsend was a prominent businessman and land speculator responsible for developing large tracts of land located inland from Newport Bay. In 1906 and 1907, he purchased thousands of acres from local ranchers, then subdivided his holdings into five-acre parcels. In one year alone, his development company sold 200 of these parcels for a price of $1,500 each.

3)  Henry Huntington

When Henry Huntington extended rail service to Newport after the turn of the century, locomotive travel was not an entirely novel idea on the West Coast. The Last Spike joining the rails of the transcontinental railroad had already been driven in 1865. But Huntington’s Pacific Electric Railroad (or the “Red Car,” as it was known) was different. As the name indicates, these commuter trains ran on electricity, and they made for a much more efficient mode of interurban travel. Huntington’s decision to extend service to Newport marked the beginning of the city’s long history as a summertime tourist destination.

Henry Huntington’s Red Car system

4)  Joseph Beek

Ten cents will not buy much these days, but in 1920 it was enough to have an automobile ferried across Newport Bay. Joseph Beek obtained a franchise and began operating a ferry boat capable of transporting two vehicles at a time from the peninsula to Balboa Island. Incredibly, the automobile ferry is still operated by the Beek family and the ticket price is only two dollars.

5)  Duke Kahanamoku

Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku came to Newport Beach in 1922 and brought the sport of surfing with him. Kahanamoku, a Native Hawaiian, preferred the long and heavy surfboards used historically in his homeland. Three years after his arrival, in 1925, he used his longboard to rescue eight fishermen when their ship capsized in Newport’s harbor (17 other fishermen drowned in the accident). The incident garnered a great deal of attention and led lifeguards across the country to begin using longboards as a rescue device.

Visionaries find success by seeing what other people have overlooked. At Neale and Fhima, we take a similar approach to our personal injury and vehicle accident cases. Whereas other firms might accept a police report at face value or choose not to interview a particular witness, we make that extra effort to find the facts that will win your case. Contact our office for help in Newport Beach and throughout Orange County.