Exhibitions and Events
In 1913, the first group to perform lifesaving work in Newport Beach was formed and named for Lowell C. Frost, who lost his wife and son in a Newport Bay drowning accident. Dr. Frost presented the Fire Department with a Pulmotor Resuscitator in their memory. In 1923, the Frost Life Saving Corps was organized to utilize it under the direction of Captain Antar Deraga. The county had previously hired Deraga to man a weather station on the cliffs of Corona del Mar. From a cottage, he commanded a view of the harbor entrance and used a system of lights and flags to signal boats about weather and surf conditions. Through the 1920s, dories, buoys, and resuscitation were the primary tools of lifeguards. While preferred, the ability to swim was not a requirement for early guards.
For over a century, brave men and women have guarded over 40 miles of ocean and bay shoreline in Newport Beach. Their unselfish dedication saved countless lives and makes them true heroes in the eyes of our citizens and visitors.
William S. Collins was born in Marion, Indiana in 1863, and raised on farms in Liberty and Green, Indiana. He was primarily homeschooled, became a teacher and later a school principal while still in his twenties. In 1889, he moved with his young wife, Annie, and 3-year-old daughter, Bonibel, to Riverside, California, in hopes of improving Annie’s health. His parents moved with him to pursue farming in the rich soil that California had to offer. Unfortunately, Annie passed away that same year. Collins kept busy dabbling in a variety of businesses including citrus, oil, cycling, ice cream, and musical instruments. In 1891, he married Mary Ann Lukens, the daughter of a Riverside peach farmer. Over the next decade, he had four more children and settled into the real estate development business.
Collins and partner, A.C. Hanson, purchased most of Newport Bay and the sand spit (later Balboa Peninsula) from James McFadden – approximately 880 acres for $50,000. He was now the owner of Newport Beach Township and all the mud flats that would later become most of the islands in our bay.
1904 – 1905
Collins had ended his partnership with Hanson by 1904. In order to lure Henry Huntington, owner of the Pacific Electric Railway, into his venture, he offered Huntington an easement down the center of the spit and an interest in his business. Collins wanted Huntington’s Red Cars to reach Newport so he could sell lots to tourists who made their way down the rails from Los Angeles. Huntington agreed and the line reached West Newport Beach (at the wharf) in 1905. Huntington’s Red Car was the best way to travel from Los Angeles to Newport. The fare was $1 each way and the ride took about one hour.
In anticipation of its 1906 arrival in East Newport, the Balboa Pavilion and Balboa Pleasure Pier were built. The Pavilion would become the focal point of the Balboa Peninsula. It was originally built as a Victorian bathhouse and terminal for the Pacific Electric Red Car Line but soon became a destination throughout the southland for dancing and revelry. The pier had become a popular place to stroll and fish.
1906 – 1908
Collins began the task of dredging the bay to form Balboa Island. For eight years his dredger spits sand and silt up onto the existing mud flats. Large draft horses pulled heavy rakes to smooth and level the sand. When the dredging was finally complete, Collins had turned a 2-acre mud flat into a 35-acre island. In 1908, still, during the dredging process, the first homes were built on the higher, western side of the Island, including “The White Swan”, a home at Pearl Avenue and North Bayfront built for his third wife, Jessie. A handful of Collins’ realtors begin selling 30’ x 85’ lots – $300 for an inside lot, $600 for a bayfront lot. Collins needed to sell all 1,400 plotted lots in order to pay for the utilities and infrastructure promised to buyers. The East Newport area was renamed “Balboa”, by Mr. E.J. Lewis, then President of the Newport Bay Investment Co., in honor of the explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa.
The Festival of Lights was born on August 23, 1908, when Balboa’s gondolier, John Scarpa staged a small, illuminated parade with eight canoes and Scarpa‘s gondola, all lit by Japanese lanterns. In the 1920s, the parade was directed by Joe Beek, who called it the Tournament of Lights. Today the event takes place during the Christmas season and is a favorite holiday event for all of Orange County.
Collins built an “island villa” on Collins Island – Collins Castle. While still dredging, Collins began construction of 14” wooden bulkheads around the West End. These were later reinforced with the same cement used to build Collins Castle. That year, Collins filed the first plot map (West End) and began ferry service off Pearl Avenue. Collins secured a 2-foot strip around the Island for himself, so he could control the transport of visitors on and off the Island by his own ferryman, Captain John Watts, in his 10 passenger motorboat“The Teal”. He also made plans for a park in the middle of the Island, a casino on Channel Island (Little Island), a hotel on Moonstone Ave. (Grand Canal) and a race-car track just inside the Bay Front homes. Harbor boosters pressured him to dredge the Island smaller than his original plan, leaving more bay for sailors to enjoy. By 1912 all the plot maps were filed, including one with a street named for his new wife Apolena, and a wooden bridge was constructed on the North side of the Island. In 1913, Collins completed his dredging by carving out the Grand Canal.
Collins gave 28 lots on Little Island to the Covina Masonic Home for Orphans, known as Camp Collins, (later renamed Camp Tucker). The Covina Masons operated a residential home for orphans and children of absent parents. The lifeguard dock was an irresistible magnet for Camp Tucker Children.
The first sidewalks were laid in 1914, but lot sales had already peaked and began to fall due to the onset of WWI and poor Island conditions, including crumbling seawalls and flooding, mosquitos, poorly made sewers and a lack of water and power. Collins had sold half the lots on the Island and mortgaged most of the rest.
Collins dream had come to an end. He had failed to sell enough lots to complete the infrastructure and Collins Castle was deeded to his 4th wife, Apolena. Collins left California for Texas and later Wichita, Kansas, where he finally settled in and enjoyed a 25-year marriage to his fourth and final wife, Marie, until her passing in 1943. William S. Collins died in Wichita, Kansas on April 18, 1952, at the age of 88.
For Balboa Island, it was a slow road back, but a steady one. Lot owners agreed that the only way to recover was to become part of the City of Newport Beach, which had incorporated with Balboa in 1906. So, with a 1916 annexation to Newport Beach, Balboa Island had access to city utilities. Lot owners now had to pay taxes, and many decided to cut their losses and gave lots back to the bank. At this time, banks were selling lots for $25 to $50, the price of the tax bill. Now, enter the Balboa Island Improvement Association, formed in 1918 by a group of Island lot owners. A priority list was made, funding secured and we were on our way to becoming the beautiful Island we are today. And that 2-foot strip around the Island? When Collins didn‘t pay the taxes on that piece, three Island supporters purchased it and gave it to the City of Newport Beach, which, to this day, enables us to stroll around the Island and absorb the beauty of Newport Bay from our shores.
On July 1, 1966, the K-12 Newport-Mesa Unified School District formed with the unification of the Costa Mesa Union School District, the Newport Beach City School District and the Newport Harbor Union High School District. It currently serves 32 schools, and 22,000 students, in Newport Beach, Corona del Mar and Costa Mesa.
In 1919 Joseph Alen Beek obtained the rights from the city of Newport Beach to provide a ferry service across the Newport Harbor between Balboa Island and the Balboa Peninsula. Before starting the ferry service Beek owned The Ark. The Arkconsisted of a giant rowboat with a small engine which Beek used as his first ferry vessel. The Ark carried oars in the event of engine failure. There was no regularly scheduled service and customers telephoned Beek when they needed a ride across the harbor.
In 1919 Beek charged a nickel (5 cents) per person. Three years after commencing operation, Beek built the Fat Ferry. This vessel held twenty passengers. Beek later built a small one car barge which the Fat Ferry pushed across in front of it.
In the 1950s Beek built three double-ended wooden boats for his ferry service: the Admiral, the Commodore, and the Captain.These three boats are still in service and have transported over two million persons. Each ferry holds three cars and 75 people. As of 2007, the Beek family charges $1 per adult, $2 per vehicle, $.50 for children ages 5–11, $1.25 for adults on bikes, $.75 for children on bikes, and $1.50 for motorcycles. Children under the age of 5 are free.
The ferry boats need constant maintenance but this does not usually interrupt the ferry service. For two weeks in 2008 the ferry service shut down for an extended period, for the first time in 50 years, to rebuild the automobile ramp leading to the boats.
Currently, Beek’s three sons run the business and it has been in the family for close to 100 years.
To learn more about this pioneer family, read Carroll Beek’s oral history and see Seymour Beek’s family album. We also recommend Balboa Island Yarns, written by Joseph Beek in 1950 for more details.
Joseph Allan Beek, while still a student at Pasadena City College, was enchanted with the area, and became one of Collins’ salesmen. Joe Beek played a crucial role in the development of Balboa Island and spent a lifetime devoted to it. In 1919, Joe got the first contract for a ferry between the Island and Balboa Peninsula. In 1920, the first car was pushed across the bay (for 10 cents). In 1922, Joe Beek got a 15-year franchise, using the ferry boat “Joker”, which could hold two cars. That franchise has continued to this day, with three 64 ft (20 m) boats, named “Admiral,” “Captain,” and “Commodore,” that can each carry three vehicles. Beek later became Secretary of the California State Senate, where he served until his death in 1968.
The creation and extension of the two Newport Harbor jetties altered the area around them in three important ways- they tamed the Harbor entrance, blocked the wave action to Big Corona Beach and created “The Wedge” at the eastern tip of the Balboa Peninsula. Only the most experienced surfers can conquer the shore break and strong backwash at the Wedge during a strong southern swell. Large crowds form to thrill at the sight of skilled bodysurfers skimming through waves up to 30-feet tall.
PLAN YOUR VISIT
The New Balboa Island Museum pays homage to the island so many of us know, love and call home – and a place that continues to capture the imaginations and hearts of visitors the world over.
Hours of Operation: Monday – Thursday 10am to 5pm, Friday – Sunday 10am to 6pm
Admission: Free general admission on all days. We gladly accept cash donations!
Ask about our Kids Scavenger Hunt!
Parking: Two hour parking is available on Marine Ave. You can park in the surrounding neighborhood for the extended day.
949.675.3952 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Balboa Island has long been one of the most popular destination for Orange County residents and visitors, alike. Now, since the grand opening of the New Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society on November 30, 2018, locals and tourists can experience Balboa as never before, with an entertaining and in-depth look at the rich and storied history of this beloved island.
Originally founded in 2000 in a much smaller space a few blocks away, The Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society – now located in a historic building at 210 Marine Avenue – has nearly tripled in size. The new facility allows for expanded exhibits, new collections and other amenities, including a children’s interactive zone and space for community gatherings and events.
The Museum’s new home, at 210 Marine Ave., was first developed in 1927 as “Richardson’s Yacht Club Garage,” for boat repair and boat storage. Throughout its years, the building has housed a temporary fire department (1927-31), the lab for California Vitamins, Inc. (AKA: Nutrilite, 1937-1939), a series of locally owned hardware stores (1942-1979) the famous Original Balboa Beach Company (1984 – 1998) and the beloved Art for the Soul (1998 – 2018).
OUR Mission and Vision Statement
To collect, preserve and promote the culture and history of Balboa Island and Newport Beach.
Inspiring our community. A place to gather. Celebrating our heritage.
Board of Directors
Jo Ellen Heck
Brenda St. Hilaire
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