by Rebecca Parsons
San Clemente is home to five miles of stunning coastline, boosts 300 days of sunshine annually, is the headquarters for world-famous Rainbow Sandals, The Surfer’s Journal, and Stewart Surfboards, and is populated by just north of 67,000 residents. But this bustling “Spanish Village by the Sea” wasn’t always the classic surf town we know and love today. It was once inhabited by the native indians people before being colonized by the Spaniards when Mission San Juan Capistrano was built in 1776, and it wasn’t until 1928 that San Clemente was officially recognized as a city when Ole Hanson, an out-of-town land developer, built up and popularized the region.
Hanson was the former mayor of Seattle but saw the potential of San Clemente as a popular residential area. Before building any actual structures, Hanson drew out plans for the 2,000 acre community complete with residential homes, restaurants, a clubhouse, public parks, a public pool, and a fishing pier based on the Spanish Colonial architectural style. His initial plan submission to the Orange County Board of Supervisors was rejected, as it was simply unheard of to fund a community when no buildings yet existed.
A go-getter, Hanson didn’t lose hope. In December, 1925, he was able to draw in 600 people from Los Angeles and the surrounding area to listen to his real estate pitch. Luckily, it was a hit. Hanson sold 1,200 lots in the first six months, a record at the time. Average lots sold for $300 while premier lots sold for $1,500. Hanson oversaw the construction process, making sure homes adhered to the Spanish Colonial Revival style. The majority of homes were single level with white stucco walls and red brick roofs, but a number of large, two-story homes were built as well. Slowly, an empty piece of land between San Diego and Los Angeles was transformed into a beautiful Spanish Village by the Sea. On February 27, 1928 San Clemente, named after San Clemente Island, was officially recognized as a city.
“I get credit for building San Clemente. I am doing my best, but San Clemente’s development was as natural as a well-watered and fertilized tree to grow,” Hanson said in the late 1920s. “It is on the coast. Its climate is superb. It is far enough from San Diego and Los Angeles to fill a real necessity. Besides, people love the beautiful things.”
Rancho San Clemente, 1986.
As time moved forward, more and more people made their way to San Clemente and the city grew alongside its increased number of residents. Although not all the current buildings adhere to the original Spanish style, the majority of the city follows a Spanish and Mediterranean architectural design. San Clemente is committed to preserving and restoring historical sites and as such was designated as a Preserve America community in 2005.
Today, there remain a number of “Ole Hanson” original homes as well as a number of historical buildings. Some famous historic structures include the Ann Harding House (1926), Administration Building (1926), Hotel San Clemente (1927), Ole Hanson Beach Club (1927), Community Center/Ole Hanson Room and Site (1927), San Clemente Municipal Pier (1928), San Onofre Inn (1928), Old City Hall (1928), Casino San Clemente (1937), and L.S. Frasier House (1938), to name a few. Perhaps, the most famous historical structures are Casa Romantica (1928) and Casa Pacifica/Cotton Estate (1926).
Casa Romantica was designed by architect Carl Lindbom and was built for city founder Ole Hanson. Today, it is a cultural center and garden and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Casa Pacifica/Cotton Estate was also designed by Lindbom and was built for Hamilton Cotton. The building is perhaps most famously known as the Western White House-it was purchased by President Richard M. Nixon in 1969. Today, the property spans six acres and includes 9,000 square feet of living space.
As the coastal city became increasingly popular, San Clemente began expanding inward. Prior to 1999, neighborhoods were constructed off Camino de los Mares and Avenida Vista Montana, along with a neighborhood between Pico and Avenida Vista Hermosa, as well as some commercial areas along Calle Negocio.
Then in 1999, San Clemente began the construction of its largest inland expansion project yet-the Talega residential community. Talega spans across 1,500 acres and is a planned community, located three miles inland between Avenida Pico and Camino De Los Mares. The first neighborhoods in the community were those built along Avenida Vista Hermosa: Terra Linda, San Rafael, Monterey and Pacific Talega. After the completion of the project, roughly 2,640 single-family homes were built in addition to a number of multifamily units, increasing the population by approximately 11,500.
The history of San Clemente is unique and like the tide, it is ever changing. As the population continues to grow and the city continues to expand, the future is uncertain but the past of our beautiful city remains a story worth telling.