by Shelle Sandberg
, historic photos by California State Parks
In 1925, the new city of San Clemente was being created along the south coast. The planning took into consideration not only the architectural style and civic design, but the natural elements of what would be a coastal wonderland.
Hansen once wrote of his original vision for this new city: “I vision a place where people can live together more pleasantly than any other place in America. I am going to build a beautiful city on the ocean where the whole city will be a park; the architecture will be all of one type, and the homes will be located on sites where everyone will have this wonderful view preserved forever…”
The state of California would soon share Hanson’s vision and select San Clemente for the site of a new state beach. In the early ‘30s, there was intense competition across the country for funding to build a state park. Fortunately for San Clemente the land in question belonged to Hamilton Cotton. Cotton had been the treasurer for the National Democratic Party and had a close friendship with the sitting president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. This fortunate relationship had tremendous influence on the success of having the park built.
San Clemente State Beach Dedicated
“On Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12, 1932, members of the San Clemente Post No. 331 of the American Legion participated in planting the first tree at San Clemente State Beach. In attendance were Post Commander Earl Moore, fellow Legionnaires, Mayor Murphine, and members of a local Boy Scout troop. One year later, on July 1, 1933, almost in spite of the economic depression, state, county, and local officials and businessmen invited the public to a gala dedication celebration at the new State Beach. Celebrations included parades, games, sports, “señorita contests;” and men, women and children dressed in “Spanish” regalia. A group of Native Americans from Riverside “presented tribal dances.” After a number of speeches by such notables as California State Senator Nelson Edwards, Assemblyperson Ted Craig, Mayor Murphine, Henry H. Cotton, and Vicente Yorba, California State Parks Commissioners Hart and Hatch accepted the park on behalf of Governor Richardson and then participated in another tree-planting ceremony. Following this, everyone attended an early California barbecue in the “natural amphitheater” featuring “whole sides of barbecued meat, great tubs full of beans, and hundreds of loaves of bread.” After which, Ole Hanson, World Champion Rope Jumper Buff Jones and members of the San Clemente Riding Club presented a two-day rodeo exhibition at the latter’s club grounds.”1
Prior to its July 1, 1933, dedication ceremony, local residents assisted the State in purchasing 100 acres for a state beach from H.H. Cotton, co-developer of the nearby city of San Clemente. Between 1934 and 1937, under the direction of the National Park Service, members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were based here. CCC enrollees built the infrastructure and the north campground. Rustic rockwork on picnic tables and roadgutters were signature CCC features.
Park improvements at the time were benches made from wood that the County had donated from outdated bridges, shade ramadas and comfort stations, as well as a potable water system.
Ongoing improvements included treeplanting; and roads sut down the bluff to the railroad track, where a series of tunnels would provide safe beach access.
The real construction began in 1933 at San Clemente as well as Doheny State Parks, and when they were completed in 1936, both became instant attractions of affordable, if not cheap, recreation and beautiful coastal campgrounds. They had an incredible draw from the communities that they still maintain to this day.
President Richard M. Nixon purchased the Hamilton Cotton mansion in 1969, for $340,000, and it became known as the Western White House. Nixon added another state park to California’s roster of treasures in 1971 while Ronald Regan was California’s governor. It became San Onofre State Park, only known before as an awesome year-round surf break and home of the beloved Nofre surf club. It is interesting that three POTUSs (President’s of the United States) have had a hand in influencing the conception and manifestation of these treasures.
A Simple Past
Pre-dating any city here, Sano was just a little fishing village, consisting of about 200 people. It was just large enough to be a voting community, having a gas station and train station. There was a small sign that simply read “Fish Camp.” When the consistent break at San Onofre was discovered, the sign was changed to “Surf Camp,” and nothing was ever the same. In 1942, President Roosevelt created Camp Pendleton and the village went out of existence.
The land at SOSP has been leased from the Department of the Navy since 1971, forming a partnership with the Marine Corp. Although the lease expires in 2021, it is in earnest hope the lease will be renewed for another 50 years, allowing the continued use of the white sand surf beaches, biking trails, and the San Mateo and San Onofre campgrounds.
There are just over 2,000 acres of the park with five and a half miles of it being coast line. Along this coastline are breathtaking bluffs that were destroyed by SONGS in 1968. Although it sounds lovely, SONGS stands for San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, owned by Southern California Edison and City of Riverside Utilities Department. Three nuclear units operated beginning in 1968 until 2013, and employed over 2,200 people. The plant was permanently shut down for proving to be “unsafe and posed a danger to the eight million people living within 50 miles of the plant.” according to Senator Barbara Boxer.
The anti-nuclear protests began in 1977 and continue to this day. We will be dealing with the nuclear and political fall-out for years to come, since the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository plan was terminated in 2008. The waste will remain on-site at San Clemente until another location is found by Congress for a nuclear waste repository.
Other than the park’s natural resources and beauty, their most valuable attribute is the San Onofre Parks Foundation, a non-profit charitable corporation. Their Mission Statement: “…to provide for education and interpretive services regarding all aspects of the natural, cultural, historical and biological diversity of California State Parks at San Onofre and San Clemente State Beaches; promoting environmental awareness and ethics; and enhancing the quality of recreation experiences at these unique coastal parks.”
Educating our local youth to what is available to them here is the goal to the members of the SOPF. The Boys and Girls Club in San Clemente is just one example of a benefitting organization. Concordia School is so close, the students are able to walk to the park to explore the amazing trails, cliffs, and beaches. The curriculum is science as well as environmentally based. Our local lifeguards give safety demonstrations prior to the children playing in the water, some of them for the very first time!
During summertime, inner city students are bused down to our little slice of paradise to participate in this educational excursion. The activity is sponsored through grants or various fund raisers to provide the busses, food, and sleeping bags for these overnight campouts. The children are given the bags to take home with them after the experience. What an amazing opportunity for these kids who might never see the ocean another way!
1 - Excerpt from Blythe Wilson, California Parks