Photos: A Historical Look at SoCal's Beaches

Crowded day at Ocean Park beach in Santa Monica. From the USC Libraries' California Historical Society Collection.

Now that Memorial Day has (unofficially) ushered in the summer season, join us for a look through historical images from several regional archives at how Southern Californians have used the region's extensive beaches over the years. Much has changed—note the evolving fashions in swimwear—but the photographic record attests that Angelenos have long enjoyed playing in the meeting-place between surf and sand.

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Braun Research Library - Autry National Center

With its origins in Charles Fletcher Lummis' Southwest Museum, the Braun Research Library—part of the Autry National Center for the American West—preserves tens of thousands of images related to Southern California history.

Lantern slide of a scene at Balboa Beach, late 1800s to early 1900s. LS.12885 (Braun Research Library Collection, Autry National Center)

Lantern slide of Venice Beach at Sunset, early- to mid-1900s. LS.13682 (Braun Research Library Collection, Autry National Center)

Lantern slide of bathers on Alamitos Bay Beach, circa 1925. LS.13675 (Braun Research Library Collection, Autry National Center)


UCLA – Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive

Preserving decades of photojournalism from L.A.'s preeminent daily newspaper, the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive at UCLA's Young Research Library is an invaluable resource on Southern California history. The collection includes negatives dating back to 1913--many of them digitized and accessible through the UCLA Library's Digital Collections portal.

Bathers and a lifeguard on the boardwalk in front of a Venice bath house, circa 1925.

Actress Jane Wyman, later to become the first wife of Ronald Reagan, on the beach in 1935.

Bodybuilder Abbey Stockton lifts a dumbbell as a crowd looks on at Muscle Beach, 1947.

Contestants for queen of Newport Beach Tournament of Lights, 1947.

Surfers walk out of the waves in Santa Monica, 1964.

Beachgoers on Redondo Beach, 1977


California State University Dominguez Hills Archives and Special Collections

The CSU Dominguez Hills Archives and Special Collections' South Bay History Collection, from which the following images are drawn, chronicles the early history of the South Bay area, including the beach communities of Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Torrance.

Postcard depicting the town of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island, 1907. From the James H. Osborne Photograph Collection

Postcard depicting the Manhattan Beach Pier, 1941. From the James H. Osborne Photograph Collection

Postcard depicting Manhattan Beach, circa 1950s. From the James H. Osborne Photograph Collection

A man sits on a pier in front of the Redondo Hotel on Redondo Beach, 1894. From the South Bay Photograph Collection


Center for the Study of Political Graphics

Beaches are not only a place of recreation but can also be the focus of political causes. The following posters come from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics' collection of more than 75,000 posters related to political movements for peace and social justice.

6383, Bikecology, Artist Unknown, Offset, circa 1972, California. Courtesy of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics www.politicalgraphics.org

18845, "3459 Species Live on the California Coast", © Robert Giusti, Offset, circa 2005, California. Courtesy of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics www.politicalgraphics.org


Center for Oral and Public History - California State University Fullerton


Based in Cal State Fullerton's Pollak Library and operating under the aegis of the university's history department, the Center for Oral and Public History holds roughly 3,000 images in addition to its 7,500 hours of recorded oral histories. The following images from the center's collections show early scenes from Orange County's miles of white sand beaches. (Correction, 06/03/11: an earlier version of this post misspelled the name of Pollak Library.)

Beach scene (probably Newport Beach), circa 1910. From the Reverend Holcomb Collection.

Postcard featuring Newport Beach, California, July 1912. From the Reverend Holcomb Collection.

Family celebrating the Fourth of July on Laguna Beach, 1912. From the Knowlton Family Collection.

The beach during World War II: lifeguard station and Dwight's Beach Stand in Huntington Beach, California, with a Navy vessel at the end of the pier.

Photograph of Junamay Coffey and other Marines cooking over a campfire at Laguna Beach, 1945. On the backside Coffey wrote: Laguna Beach, CA, 1945.  Operation...46, Weiner Roast.


USC Libraries - Regional History Collection

The USC Libraries' Regional History Collection preserves several extensive photographic archives related to Southern California history—with many of the images publicly accessible through the USC Digital Library.

Horses and carriages on the beach near the Long Beach Pier, circa 1900.

Visitors to Long Beach model their bathing suits, circa 1910.

A boxing match takes place on a Southern California beach. From the California Historical Society Collection.

Men in police costumes measure a woman in a bathing suit, circa 1920. From the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce Collection.

Women chase a ball on a Los Angeles-area beach, circa 1930. From the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce Collection.

Women subdue a (fake) dragon on a Los Angeles beach, circa 1940. From the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce Collection

UPDATE:

Metro Transportation Library and Archive

As the official archive of the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Metro Transportation Library maintains a vast collection of photographs, maps, reports, employee newsletters, and other documents related to the region's transportation history. The following photos from the library's Flickr feed highlight the perhaps unexpected interaction between mass transit and the beach, including the Southern California Rapid Transit District's 1974 "Street Fleet" of shore-bound buses.

Streetcar along Redondo Beach, 1939

Street Fleet bus on display in downtown Los Angeles, 1974

A Street Fleet bus at the beach, 1974

Many of the archives who contributed the above images are members of L.A. as Subject, an association of more than 230 libraries, museums, official archives, personal collections, and other institutions. Hosted by the USC Libraries, L.A. as Subject is dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden stories and histories of the Los Angeles region. Our posts here will provide a view into the archives of individuals and cultural institutions whose collections inform the great narrative—in all its complex facets—of Southern California.

About the Author

A writer specializing in Los Angeles history, Nathan Masters serves as manager of academic events and programming communications for the USC Libraries, the host institution for L.A. as Subject.
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