by Don Kindred
Hanson knew well the roller coaster of economics and the ups and downs of the real estate market. He had the spirit and the drive to accumulate great wealth more than three times in his life, with “each time leaving him penniless, but unconquered.”
San Clemente would become his greatest accomplishment, but it too would take its toll on his fortunes.The founding of San Clemente really is an amazing story. It is the tale of a man with a master plan, trying to build a whole city at once in a place where only cattle had roamed. And on a site more than sixty miles from any population center large enough for a potential homeowner to find work. No freeway, one road in, one road out.
His was a plan filled with beautiful, extensive public amenities but governed by strict architectural guidelines. It was made more challenging given that in 1925, the real estate market in general was non-existent.
As historian Homer Banks described it, “The order takers who had waited under bright colored umbrellas until their customers awoke them to buy a lot in the years between 1919 and 1923, were now allowed to sleep undisturbed ...”.
The news of Ole’s “Spanish Village by the Sea”, an isolated community with a single architectural style - met with immediate criticism from fellow developers. Others were outspoken in their condemnation of the “hair-brained scheme.” Even some of his backers were more than a little pessimistic, with some saying the man was “just plain crazy.”
But those who had met with Hanson, who had heard his passion and had seen his vision came away inspired. Ole Hanson, Jr., the eldest of Ole’s six sons, became the sales director. He knew that to sell these lots and this whole concept, it would take Ole Hanson himself. It would take his father’s words to paint the verbal portrait of what San Clemente was to be, but he wanted to do it en mass. Not one at a time. So he finally talked his father into the “tent plan”. Ole, who was known to dislike both crowds and public speaking would now have to deal with both.
The tent plan was simple but innovative. They put a big tent up at what was to be El Camino Real and Avenida del Mar. They ran ads offering a chicken lunch to anyone interested in hearing about San Clemente. Then Ole would speak. For a guy who didn’t like public speaking, he could get pretty worked up. Then the salesmen would be available to make sales in smaller tents nearby.
On December 23rd, 1925, San Clemente began. Mike Cotter explains
on page 13, how nervous the investors and salesmen were until a crowd finally showed up around noon. By the end of the first day, San Clemente’s success was assured. More than a hundred lots were sold.
Then homes were built ... then the pier, the community center, the public pool, the stable and riding trails, three miles of beach, all the streets, golf course and water system. All in Spanish Colonial Revival design as approved by the architectural review board. Three years later, upon incorporation in 1928, all of the public amenities were given to the city, all unencumbered by debt. At one time San Clemente was generally considered to be the richest city per capita in the United States.
The fact that Ole succeeded in his quest is beyond debate to me, now given the perspective of time, but for him it would be a success shortlived. Timing is everything. San Clemente’s original growth peaked a year before the stock market crash of 1929, the whole country went into depression. Our town nearly evaporated in the early thirties, with lots selling occaisionally off of billboards for as little as $300. Hanson’s own beautiful bluff top home, now known as Casa Romantica, was foreclosed on. The bank took the keys, and Ole left his beloved village.
Only now, as the Marblehead development fills in the last piece of what he called “ ... a painting, three miles wide” will we see the fruition of the original dream. While we veered away, a bit, from the mandated Spanish colonial architecture when the rules were lifted in the thirties, San Clemente remains a beautiful place to live, work and play.