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Photos: A Historical Look at SoCal's Beaches

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

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 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 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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Contestants for queen of Newport Beach Tournament of Lights, 1947.
Surfers walk out of the waves in Santa Monica, 1964.
Surfers walk out of the waves in Santa Monica, 1964.
Beachgoers on Redondo Beach, 1977
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 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 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
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
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
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