Gallery: Capistrano Beach and Dana Point [7 Images] Click any image to expand.
by Bill Thomas
Deservedly, much of the recognition for establishing San Clemente is attributed to Ole Hanson, real estate developer, entrepreneur, and former mayor of Seattle. But Hanson wasn’t the only early mover and shaker of housing projects in South Orange County in the late ‘20s. Capistrano Beach, which later merged into Dana Point, had Ned Doheny and his syndicate, and Dana Point credits Sidney Woodruff with its first residential movement. Their contributions are summarized as follows:
In November 1925, Ole Hanson announced his ambitious plans to build a Spanish village, San Clemente, on 2,000 acres he and his backers had recently purchased. By 1928, there were more than 500 buildings, including two hotels, an apartment house, three office buildings, a hand-carved furniture studio, a lumberyard, a mortuary building, and ten retail stores. Additionally, the new homes, now called “Oles,” housed more than 1,000 permanent residents. They favored a Spanish motif with white adobe walls and Spanish tile, ribbed roofs. There was also a pier, a plunge, a golf club and course, a community center, a school, and a hospital. Hanson is rightfully credited with the creation of San Clemente. Unfortunately, the Great Depression crushed his dreams. Bankrupt and heartbroken, he and his family left his unfinished vision in 1931. Those of us who continue to benefit from the beauty, climate, life style, and physical results of Hanson’s momentous efforts have become so enamored with our own community by the sea, we may be unaware that others in the south of Orange County were also striving to make similar dreams become realities.
In 1928, a corporate entity of the American industrial giant Edward Doheny, who had built his fortune in oil production in Southern California and Mexico, purchased a number of lots in Capistrano Beach. Doheny’s son, Ned, formed a development company, the Capistrano Beach Company, which included his wife’s twin brothers, Clark and Warren Smith and Luther Eldridge, a contractor, to build a community of Spanish style houses. According to Dana Point historians Baum and Burnes,* Eldridge favored two dominant characteristics in his homes, a typically Spanish roof line and the use of large ceiling beams in the houses’ main rooms. The roofline, covered with red ceramic tiles, incorporated a low-pitched gable, spreading out to one short and one long roof. The ceiling beams were stenciled artwork painted by artist Alex Meston. Eldridge was able to complete the original Doheny family house on the bluffs, four houses on the beach, and 18 other homes scattered throughout the area before tragedy struck the ambitious project. Edward Doheny was preparing for his criminal trial for bribery in the Teapot Dome Scandal, and on February 16, 1929, Ned Doheny and, Hugh Plunkett, his friend and secretary, who were to testify in the trial, were killed in a murder that still remains unsolved. In 1931, as a memorial to Ned, Petroleum Securities Company, Doheny’s family-owned business, made a gift of 41.4 acres to the State of California, which is now Doheny State Park. The unimproved Capistrano Beach properties passed back to Edward Doheny, and, upon his death in 1935, to his wife and heirs. By 1944, all of the properties had been sold to private parties.
In 1923, Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler and General M.H. Sherman, Director of the Pacific Electric Railway Company, created a major real estate group to develop what is known today as the Hollywood Hills, with the famous, large-lettered sign mounted high above the city announcing “Hollywood.” Sidney H. Woodruff, already a prominent Los Angeles homebuilder, was hired to lead the project. The early posters promoted large estates and a horse-oriented hillside community. For promotional purposes, Chandler insisted on erecting a giant, lighted sign to be built on the hills above the housing development. The completed sign read “Hollywoodland.” Through the ensuing years, attacked by torrential rains and tenacious wind, the “land” part of the sign descended down the hill. What remains still proclaims the Mecca of tinsel town.
In 1926, Woodruff, Chandler, and Sherman created the Dana Point Syndicate. They invited other heavy hitters, company presidents, movie producers, and real estate investors, to join them in purchasing 1,388 acres of land, some of which includes the Headlands of today. Promising tree-lined, paved streets, electricity, telephones, sidewalks, water mains, storm drains, sewers, and other amenities, Woodruff built 35 homes and a number of commercial buildings. His crowning structure was to be the Dana Point Inn, a Mediterranean-like resort hotel. After a celebratory groundbreaking in 1930, a three-story foundation was poured and a 135-foot elevator shaft was dug. Unfortunately, the Depression caused construction to halt. Although Woodruff continuously sought financial support through the years, this project was abandoned in 1939. Subsequently, he sold the remaining holdings of the Dana Point Syndicate. Thirty-four of the original Woodruff residences are still occupied.
Despite the Depression and other setbacks that deterred the development of these local communities, they have flourished. We owe a debt of gratitude to these three visionaries and their colleagues for their architectural legacies in Capistrano Valley.
*Note: Materials on Capistrano Beach and Dana Point were obtained from the publications: The Dohenys and Capistrano Beach: The Untold Story and From the Hollywood Hills to the Sea written by Alice S. Baum and Donald W. Burnes, March 2003, with the permission of the authors.