As residents, hardly a person is not familiar with the brig Pilgrim as she is tied up at the Ocean Institute in the harbor and what she stands for. The brig Pilgrim has become part of the fabric of our history and to have this replica here is indeed an honor. Both the original Pilgrim and this replica have a unique history that we all should be fluent with.
The Pilgrim of old became a part of our history in 1835 when Richard Henry Dana Jr. was aboard as a sailor and wrote of the area as “the only romantic spot in California.” Built in the fall 1825 in Medford, Mass., she was one of many ships named Pilgrim, going back as far as 1786. The original owners were Blake, Stanton, & Hallett, all of Boston. A detailed history of the brig can be found in “The Medford Brig Pilgram—1825” by R. M. Biddle, 1999, a recent speaker on the subject at the Dana Point Historical Society. Pilgrim was small, at a length of 86 ft, with a crew usually made up of nine (Master, mate, cook, carpenter and five seamen). After several changes in ownership, Dana boarded her in August 1834, then owned by Bryant & Sturges. In July 1837, the brig Pilgrim was recorded as arriving in San Diego with 11,055 hides and 12,006 horns. By 1841, she was owned by Robert Haley and sailed between South America, the Caribbean and Boston. She reportedly was in distress at St Thomas in March 1841. But by mid May she was back in Boston and by June she was in New Orleans delivering hides, hams, and pork, then returning to Philadelphia from Canada in August. On her ill fated voyage, reported on November 22, 1841, the Pilgrim under command of Capt. Shephard, was sailing from Maine to Alabama with a cargo of lime and was destroyed by fire at sea. The captain and crew were removed and taken to Pensacola by the schooner Lady Washington. Subsequent reports had her lost in 1854 due to recollection.
The proximity of the beach to San Juan Capistrano has always given it the name of Capistrano Beach. One of the earliest uses of the name was in 1901 when the Capistrano Oil Company was drilling for oil to 1200 foot depths, unsuccessfully. Then in 1925 began the ads for the “Birth of a City.” It boasted of oiled surfaced streets and Motor Transits from Los Angeles in just 2 hours and 15 minutes. A promenade was promised along the three mile shore line with concessions and places of amusements and would become one of California’s favorite resorts, and a home to 70,000 people. Excursions were planned which included transportation, bathing parties, lunches on the sand, and tickets to San Juan Capistrano’s Sunday performances of the historic pageant or a Beach Rodeo or an open air dance floor.
By 1926, portions of an old Spanish land grant were made available for development and improvements continued over the next few years. In 1928 an announcement was made of one of the largest residential projects in the area which included free membership, to those who purchased a lot, to an already existing $125,000 beach club. But this new development added a new three story tower of Spanish design. Soon business sites were being offered for the first time in 40 years. Competition was beginning with the development of Dana Point and brought plans of an airport and new train station.
Paraphrasing Gertrude Stein, we are referring to PCH. That is local lingo for Pacific Coast Highway. The Post Office shows it as Pacific Coast Hwy, and it is posted as Coast Highway when you enter from the south. But officially it is California State Route 1. But there has to be a beginning, right? Why else are you reading this?
It actually has a physical beginning and an end. Today it begins in Mendocino County in the north and ends in Capistrano Beach. But as it developed it had various names in various locations and was built in pieces. It is best known as a historic scenic highway to some awesome views of rugged California coastlines. The first state highway construction project in 1912 was Highway 1. In 1919 the legislature planned Route 60 from El Rio (Oxnard) to Serra (Capistrano Beach) along the coast. Its construction was announced in 1921 for a total of 430 miles of which 261 had already been built, and was named the Roosevelt Highway, after President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1923 the first gas tax was created to fund the highway system and set at 2 cents a gallon.
In South Orange County, motorcycle hill climbing became a popular sport in 1916. With a crowd of about 2500 people, the inaugural hill-climb began on Sunday, April 16, as a contest sponsored by the Orange County dealers of San Juan Capistrano. The “hill” was just two miles south of San Juan Capistrano. Cleared of weeds and obstructions, the hill was from 40 to 50 percent grade with a seventy-five-foot level start.
During the late 1920s, the Capistrano Beach area was selected for development but was bought out by succeeding developers each expanded the land use. As incentives to buy residential and business lots two amenities were constructed, the pier and the Capistrano Beach Club. But age and the ocean seafront was to overpowering. The pier was demolished in 1965 and a remodel for the clubhouse in 1969 found to much interior damage and it was demolished too.
Blue Lantern Fountain Lunch – Constructed in 1924, it was built as a gas station with a residence on top and on the side is the Blue Lantern Fountain Lunch, with its name still toweled in the stucco above the entrance door. It has been a Shell Service Station, a Texaco Service Station, a Farmer’s Market, Marine Hardware, a ceramic shop and a boutique store. Trihawk auto sale – a three wheeled motorcycle- first manufactured in 1982 in Illinois, and moved to Dana Point in 1983, closed in 1985 with less than 100 produced. One local, Mel Pierce, used to pump gas here while at the same time flipping burgers across the street.
The Dana Point Inn was started in January of 1930, but the stock market crash of October 1929 was just too much for the developers to recover from.
An elevator shaft was created for the visitors to get from the Hotel, located between Amber Lantern and Violet Lantern, to a pocket beach below. Shown is the ground level door before the harbor was constructed and after.
Plantation Motel – Built in 1942 with 27 units, it had an original look of a southern plantation with a widow’s walk over the two story office. But its promise appears to have been less than desirable. It was listed as outstanding and near new in Mar 1950. Listed again for sale in 1955, then it was in a forced court ordered sale for $25,000 cash with a balance of $55,500 in 1957. It actually went into foreclosure in 2009 after changing hands in 1992 and 2002. The name was changed to Dana Marina Inn. Tripadvisor has rated this as “Terrible.” Of course current plans are to replace the build with a new three story structure.
The Army’s Western Defense Command was established in 1941 and located at the Presidio of San Francisco. They established the emplacements which were connected to each other by telephone. Due to a shortage of artillery, not all emplacements were equipped with artillery. For Los Angeles and the adjacent coastline, the plan called for 120 three-inch anti-aircraft (AA) guns. But at this time there were only 12 guns available to protect the defense plants in the area. The army had no mobile AA guns to assign to San Diego. The Dana Point Headlands were one of these outposts. Locals recall the requirement of driving without headlights along the coast during announced blackouts. The order was to eliminate a submarine threat created by the silhouette of the coast line.
The promontory of the Dana Point Headlands provides an indescribable view of the ocean and the coastline of Orange and San Diego Counties. At an altitude of about 200 feet, the horizon would be about sixteen miles out. Originally graded in 1925 for the first planned development of a new community to be called Dana Point, Scenic Drive, which exists today, looped the point and five cross streets with 50 ft. wide lots. Nearly 100 homes were planned for the point below the Nature Interpretive Center. Decades passed until someone finally found a useful use of the property, the government, albeit temporary.