When Oxnard Beach Became 'Hollywood-by-the-Sea'

In 1926, a stretch of Oxnard's beach was transformed into Hollywood-by-the-Sea, fifty miles west of Tinseltown. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - Dick Whittington Photography Collection.

Never mind that Tinseltown was five or even fifty miles away. By the mid-1920s, the Hollywood brand was so strong that communities across Southern California were affixing it to their names. Toluca became North Hollywood. Sherman became West Hollywood. And in distant Ventura County, Oxnard Beach became Hollywood-by-the-Sea.

There was some truth in the glitzy moniker of the beachfront resort, built atop the sand dunes of Leon Lehmann's beachfront ranch. Disguised with papier-mâché palm trees as the Arabian desert, the dunes had starred alongside Rudolph Valentino in the 1921 blockbuster, "The Sheik." A few years earlier, Douglas Fairbanks spent time on the same dunes while filming "Bound in Morocco."

That Hollywood connection was enough for real estate developers to establish the Hollywood Beach subdivision just north of Lehmann's ranch in 1924 and the Silverstrand ("silver screen") tract just south of it in 1925. And so it's hardly surprising that Lehmann himself soon capitalized on the connection. In 1926, he sold his 80-acre ranch to developer Fred J. Cutting, who leveled the dunes, carved out 100 individual lots, and christened the site Hollywood-by-the-Sea.

Atop the flattened dunes, Cutting platted a tiny street grid that honored both of Hollywood-by-the-Sea's namesakes. Streets nearest the ocean bore the names of the Channel Islands: Catalina Avenue, Anacapa Avenue, Santa Rosa Avenue, and so on. Further inland, street names recalled the thoroughfares of Hollywood: Sunset Drive, Laurel Court, Cahuenga Drive. To maximize waterfront property, Cutting placed a five-acre lake, its sandy shores planted with iceplant, a few hundred feet from shore.

Ironically, the transformation into Hollywood-by-the-Sea promptly drove away motion picture productions, which valued the location for its desert-like landscape. But the lack of any actual movie stars didn't stop Angelenos from making the long drive out to Oxnard. Visitors could buy their own housing lot for a vacation home, but they could also stay in a 40-room hotel or simply camp on the beach. Perhaps drawn by memories of Valentino, a crowd of several thousand flocked to Hollywood-by-the-Sea on its first Fourth of July in 1927.

Around that time, a photographer from the Dick Whittington studio visited Hollywood-by-the-Sea. Commissioned by Cutting, these photos -- recently digitized by the USC Libraries with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities -- reveal the resort in its early stages of development, a sandy expanse dotted with a few rudimentary buildings.

The scene has changed. Houses eventually rose on vacant lots, and Hollywood-by-the-Sea, Hollywood Beach, and Silver Strand are now billed as a more affordable version of Malibu -- the "un-Malibu" is what the New York Times called the area in 2007. Furthermore, construction of the Channel Islands Harbor in the 1960s inserted a waterway and jetties directly through Hollywood-by-the-Sea, splitting the community in two.

But one thing remains the same: the aura of silver-screen fame. Clark Gable supposedly lived in at least two houses on Oxnard's beaches. Local lore recalls Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo vacationing there. And travel guidebooks dutifully report that the Latin Lover, Rudolph Valentino -- who likely never returned after "The Sheik" wrapped -- later bought a vacation house atop the leveled sand dunes of Hollywood-by-the-Sea.

Kollaboration: Setting the Stage for Visibility and Empowerment

The soul/R&B group The Primaries performs onstage at West Hollywood's The Troubadour club during Kollaboration's annual showcase. | Photo: Elson Trinidad

A long line formed outside legendary doors of The Troubadour, the famed West Hollywood music venue that has hosted acts from Elton John to Guns N' Roses in its storied 57-year-old history. Long queues before showtime outside its hallowed doors along Santa Monica Boulevard are certainly not at all uncommon, but what was different on this late June evening was the predominantly 20s-30s-aged Asian American crowd.

They were here to see Kollaboration. No, not a band, nor a festival, but rather, a movement.

Improving California Means Doing Some Things and Not Doing Others

As KCET begins to celebrate its 50th Anniversary, we're engaging the public in a series of conversations, starting with "How do you envision a better state?" Contributor Erin Aubry Kaplan shares her ideas below. Share yours here.

Maybe this goes without saying, but at the top of the list of what I want to see is what I don't want to see, which is California split into six states. Or three or even two, even though many people argue it's been two states, North and South, for a long time, maybe since its inception. People say that California is two states that are related but different, like the Carolinas or the Dakotas. That may be true, but the fact is that we've been one state for a long time, one known for its topographical, natural, climate and cultural diversity. California has built its reputation as the anything-possible state based on this breathtaking diversity of elements, this embarrassment of riches, and though that reputation has certainly been tarnished in the last generation, it's still standing. People still look to us as a bellwether for certain kinds of innovation and progress, and we often deliver. Why mess with that kind of mythology?

Across America, Trust is Freefalling

Recent studies claim most Americans no longer trust each other. According to recent research, nearly two-thirds of Americans say other people can't be trusted. An Associated Press-GfK survey found that most of us (75 percent) mistrust other drivers, mistrust folks who swipe our credit cards (67 percent), don't trust others on social media (59 percent), and trust politicians only part of the time (81 percent).

Frankly, I'm a little suspicious of an organization that doesn't know how to use the caps key or spell out its name.

According to something called the General Social Survey, our trust levels have fallen precipitously. In 1972, when the General Social Survey first asked if we trusted our fellow man, half of Americans did; which was pretty good considering Richard Nixon and other murky sorts were making headlines with something called Watergate. Now, apparently only a third of us trust our fellow man.

I raise the topic of trust because it comes up all the time, and we must deal with it in the manner we choose.

The other day I was walking along Main Street here in Ventura when I spotted a man sitting on a bench. He was waving his arms and barking oddities. The rest of the world (and I don't blame them) walked quickly past, as if they were G. Gordon Liddy, just summoned to the Oval Office. I stood for a moment, watching. The man bent and picked up a bag of fries, soggy and enormous. There were a lot of fries. He pulled out a handful, more like a softball, and began gnawing around the edges. I am not a private detective, but it looked to me like someone who worked at a nearby restaurant had given him the fries, and not this afternoon.

When PCH Blasted Through Point Mugu

From 1937-40, workers blasted a roadcut through Point Mugu. The rocky stub of the headlands, Mugu Rock, now appears frequently in car commercials. Undated photo courtesy of the Santa Monica Public Library Image Archives.

Today, Pacific Coast Highway passes effortlessly through Point Mugu between Oxnard and Malibu. But when highway engineers began plotting the route in 1919, the rocky promontory presented a colossal challenge.

Then, Point Mugu was a near-vertical ridge of resistant volcanic rock -- an igneous dike that in a distant epoch intruded the Topanga formation's softer sedimentary strata--standing some 150 feet tall against the pounding surf. As the westernmost tip of the Santa Monicas, it represented the last hurrah of the rugged mountain range. Just north and west of the point, the land opened up as the Oxnard Plain. (The Santa Monicas don't truly end at Point Mugu. Instead, geologists speculate, the thrust fault that gave rise to the mountains plunges beneath the waters of the Pacific only to reemerge far to the west as the northern Channel Islands.)

Point Mugu was a formidable barrier to the planned coastal highway, but California's state highway engineers attacked it with a full arsenal of geologic weapons.

First, in 1923-24, they blasted a road cut around the base of the headlands. Workers scaled the cliff with ropes and drilled a series of 30-foot holes into the rock. Into the holes went 18 tons of hand grenade powder left over from World War I and 25 tons of black blasting powder, and down came 108,000 cubic yards of rock -- much of it used as fill for the adjacent road embankments. By October 1924, a narrow road snaked around the point where waves once lashed at its stony face.

The coast highway's original alignment bent around Point Mugu where waves once lashed at its stony face. Photo from the October 1924 issue of California Highways, courtesy of the Metro Transportation Library and Archive.

Professor Money, God, and the First Book Published in Los Angeles (Maybe)

Los Angeles Star
| Photo: Courtesy USC Libraries

"San Francisco had its Philosopher Pickett, its Emperor Norton and a host of others of like ilk," wrote James M. Guinn in the 1902 annual publication of the Historical Society of Southern California. "Los Angeles had representatives of this class in its early days, but unfortunately the memory of but few of them has been salted down in the brine of history."

Guinn fished out of history's pickling barrel one notable Los Angeles character from the mid-19th century in whom eccentricity and enterprise were strangely blended. He might be described as the founding father of "kooky LA." His name was William Money. He insisted that the name be pronounced "Moe-NAY." Or maybe it was "Moe-NEE."

"By a singular circumstance," he said of his birth in 1807, "I was born with four teeth and the likeness of a rainbow in my right eye," as well as a caul, all of which guaranteed mystical powers.

According to Cecilia Rasmussen, writing for the Los Angeles Times in 2004, Money got the word to go west from Jesus himself while standing on a New York street corner.

He may also have published in 1854 the first English-language book printed in Los Angeles, but the priority of his claim is disputed. Other sources say that Horace Bell's Reminiscences of a Ranger: Early Times in Southern California, published in 1881, was the first book to be printed in Los Angeles.

If Money's book was first, it was a peculiar achievement. As a review in The Southern Californian in 1854 put it, "We are in luck this week, having been the recipients of a very interesting literary production entitled, Reform of the New Testament Church by William Money, Bishop, Deacon and Defender of the Faith ... . We pronounce it a work worthy of all dignified admiration," the newspaper reviewer said with a wink and "a reform which ecclesiastics and civil authorities have not been able to comply with yet."

Perhaps because they hadn't yet read Money's book. "From the foregoing, our readers can form an idea of this great work," concluded the reviewer. "It forms a volume of twenty-two pages, printed in English and Spanish, with notes, etc.; price not yet determined. We would advise all to procure a copy, as there being no stereotype edition, the present few numbers will end the supply."

Fortunately, the Huntington Library has a copy.

In defense of his church, Money entered into a long and disputatious correspondence with the editor of the Los Angeles Star (coincidentally the first newspaper published in Los Angeles as well as the printer of Money's book). Money's frequent letters also castigated the Reverend Thaddeus Amat, the first Catholic bishop of Los Angeles. Amat did not see the truth of Money's revelations.

In a small town where not much happened, the Los Angeles Star was happy to print everything the entertaining Money had to say. He had a lot to say. Leading his reformed church was only one of Money's professions.

Money was an armchair explorer who reasoned that the earth was hollow and that the oceans of the world ran into a crater at the North Pole, turned to steam in the fiery interior of the globe, and blasted from another opening at the South Pole. As Professor Money, he presented a representation of these findings to the County Board of Supervisors in the form of a map entitled "Wm. Money's Discovery of the Ocean."

Money, who didn't like San Francisco, thought the interior fires of the earth were unusually close below the brothels and barrooms of the city. He predicted a terrible cataclysm that would soon engulf the entire town and everyone in it. (Even cranks are sometimes right.)

Defender of his revelations, explorer, and also physician. As Dr. Money, he treated the sick (only four of his 5,000 patients had died under his care, he claimed). He advanced several systems of healthy living in his California Family Medical Instructor in 1855. It may have been the second book written in Los Angeles.

Study in Brown: The Mixed Messages of Water Conservation

The couple in Glendora whose brown lawn was the subject of media hyperventilating has, I hope, moved on in their lives. (The house in photo above is not theirs, by the way.) The media's fondness for irony, the public's readiness for sympathetic outrage, and the web's infinite capacity to make the outrageous ever new is going keep their story going without them. Too bad that story isn't the one you heard.

At least, that's how Glendora City Manager Chris Jeffers tells it. In a letter to California CityNews, a news site for local governments, Jeffers outlines Glendora's water conservation history and explains why conservation doesn't have to turn Glendora's lawns into dust bowls. I wish him well.

A Travel Listicle About Ventura Has Put Me Over the Edge

We inhabit a world of lists. I do not need to list them. If you read anything online in the past minute, you can cite your own example. I confess, I am not a fan of these lists. To be blunt, I think lists are lazy and shallow, requiring little effort on the part of the writer, or the reader. Let me ask you; read a list of "30 Things to Love and See in Amsterdam," and, five minutes later, how many of the items do you recall, discounting the ones related to the red light district?

My personal distaste for lists is not affecting their pace. Lists are everywhere, and they show no sign of abating. I confess I have written my share of lists. Editors assign them, and I write them to put food on the table. I try my best to make them accurate, and I attempt to toss in an item or two that might enhance the reader's world, but honestly, it is hard to convey much of merit in four sentences.

I have a particular gripe with travel/destination lists. I address this particular genre of list for two reasons. Let me list them. One, I believe these lists are the antithesis of true travel. Two, yesterday someone brought yet another destination list to my attention. In the vast deluge of lists, this one caught my attention because it was about my hometown.

"30 Things You Need to Know About Ventura Before You Move There," addressed, surprise, 30 things you ostensibly need to know about my hometown before you move here. In the interest of honest journalism, I must say I commenced my reading already biased: any piece of writing sponsored by a real estate company ("Movoto. Real Estate Made Easy") makes me both skeptical and nervous.

For a Better State, Give Local Government What It Needs

As KCET begins to celebrate its 50th Anniversary, we're engaging the public in a series of conversations, starting with "How do you envision a better state?" Contributor DJ Waldie shares his ideas below. Share yours here.

All the boom times that inflated our desires and our demands have ended. The California good life that millions took for granted for so long belongs mostly to digital billionaires. And the billionaires want to set up their own insular state -- the ultimate in Californian narcissism.

For the rest of us, the hope is for enough of the California Dream to make fit lives for ourselves and our children.

Better government for California is tangled in that incoherent expectation. I call it incoherent because the several historical strands that have made up California politics since the 1970s have never resolved what government is supposed to be. And yet, California's voters are asked every election season to pass on constitutional initiatives that redefine how government will realize the California Dream.

1 2 3 4 5 Next >