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San Clemente Journal

The Nine Lives of North Beach

Feb 28, 2020 06:21PM ● By Don Kindred

Arial from 2000

by Don Kindred

The history of North Beach reads like a nine-part mini-series. It is filled with bold dreams and dramatic failures, it has been a victim to the years, the economy, social changes, floods, political discourse and other natural disasters. Now, just a few years shy of her 100th birthday, the area is poised for yet another rebirth, ready to shine again as the recreation and entertainment center it was always intended to be.

North Beach is home to at least five of our more iconic Spanish-Colonial structures, all in various states of repair. Recently the City of San Clemente, with the support of the San Clemente Historical Society, has taken action to create a North Beach Historic District. I believe it is a perfect time. 

While the designation itself will mean little more than a few monument signs, it will hopefully contribute to the appreciation of the area and restore pride in its historical significance. 

I’ll make my case with a brief tour.
Beginning with the Ole Hanson Beach Club. It was built in 1928 and originally called “The Plunge,” it was the only Olympic-sized pool south of the Coliseum. It hosted Olympians like Buster Crabbe, Johnny Weissmuller and Duke Kahanamoku prior to 1932. Recently the Beach Club has been fully restored, better than the original, for swimming, recreation and other special events.

The unique Aquarium Restaurant opened in 1931. It was renowned for wall-sized aquariums filled with large ocean fish that were fed through a pipe that went down to the beach and back, has been recently restored, without the aquariums, and is now open as OC Frescas Mexican Restaurant. (See page 36).

The Casino San Clemente opened in 1937. Five thousand people showed up for the grand opening, five times more than our population at the time. 

Performing stars included Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. It later opened in the 70s as California’s first dinner theatre, Sebastian’s/West, which featured too many stars to name. The Casino has now been beautifully restored as a wedding and special events venue.

The movie theatre that is currently called the Miramar, was finished a year after the Casino, 1938. It was known as one of the most superbly-appointed movie theatres on the West Coast. This long-blighted landmark has recently been purchased, with plans for restoration and re-use approved. Along with the former bowling alley (built in 1947) the combined property will soon offer a live-entertainment venue with a unique food court.

When you combine all that with the northern trailhead of the San Clemente Beachtrail, and the southern head of the Dana Point Bicycle Trail you add in a commuter train station and a trolley pick up/drop off spot ... 

North Beach is a special place. 


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