Monday, May 27, 2019

Pirate Tower

William E. Brown was a California State Senator in the 1920’s.  His politics were progressive, and campaigned using the slogan, “Let the people rule.” He was particularly known for his attempt to outlaw prize fighting which he felt were brutal slugging matches that fostered illegal gambling.  His legislation failed, and in the 1920’s he decided to retire from politics and move his family to pristine Laguna Beach.

He built his home on a bluff above Victoria Beach with sweeping vistas up and down the coast, with the sun setting daily (how else?)  by or behind Catalina Island.  The spot was perfect, except for one thing. Even though the house was right on the water, high on the bluff made it a long and sometimes difficult walk to the beach below. So William came up with a plan. He would build a staircase to the beach, and disguise it as an old lighthouse.
photo by roadtrippers

Nearly 100 years later, the lighthouse still stands, thanks to the many who have resided in that home since Brown passed on, including singer-actress Bette Midler, who spent some good time and attention restoring it.  The Divine Miss M no longer lives there, but owners are careful to keep their personal landmark well maintained.

During the 1940’s one of those owners was a man named Harold Kendrick.  Kendrick was a retired Naval officer, and evidently quite a character.  Kendrick was known to frequently dress up as a pirate, and swagger around town telling tales of treasure to be found down by the tower on Victoria Beach.  He would place coins around the tower for children to find, and soon everyone was calling Brown’s staircase “Pirate Tower.”  The name continues today.

Since it is actually built on public property, from time to time the California Department of Parks and recreation checks out the structural worthiness of the building. They describe it saying “the architecture of the house and tower are closely interwoven with the natural precipitous quality of the cliffs… The style on both is outstanding. The house rightfully serves as one of Laguna’s landmark homes.”

Pirate tower is a popular sight for those in the know.  Next door neighbors have also built a tower reminiscent of a medieval castle to disguise their staircase too, so the rocky outcrop has a bit of a Game of Thrones feeling to it.  One caveat: Time your visit carefully, because you can easily be caught by high tides.  You can get to Pirate Tower via any of the public access pathways to Victoria Beach. Parking along Pacific Coast Highway can be tricky, so be careful, and follow the signs.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Andrew Dreger's Clock

Andrew Dreger’s family were some of the earliest pioneers in Southern California, coming from Germany and settling in a general area especially known for German immigrants.  The German community stretched from Anaheim all the way to the coastline just about where the Orange County, Los Angeles county lines meet.  Anaheim Landing was built, and the German-now-American farmers were able to ship their produce all along the California Coast.

Dreger had an amazing mind for mechanics, and honed skills as a blacksmith, bicycle repairman, and watchmaker.  He was highly skilled at repairing and making timepieces, and had a workshop at his home in Long Beach. It was there that he  got the idea to build a large mechanical clock utilizing a motor as a driver.  He completed one, but thought he could do better.

The second iteration is a work of art.  It took nearly five years for him to complete it, and when it was finished, he installed it outside his Long Beach home in 1933.  There it stood for twenty years. Upon his death, his family sought a place for the clock to reside so it wouldn’t suffer the whims of whoever any future tenants of the home might be. They were disappointed to learn the city of Long Beach was not interested.

Along came Walter Knott, who had this splendid little Berry Farm in Buena Park, CA.  The Dreger clock was moved out by the ticket booths and was crowned with plaques that said Knott’s.  There it resided for over 50 years. But in 2006, it was clear the Dreger Clock was in certain need of repair… and adjustment in time standards!

But first, a little description of the clock.  The four-sided clock originally stood fifteen feet tall, and features not only local time, along with eleven more time zones.  It also shows the phases of the moon and the day and date as well.  It is run by a single 110 volt motor, and all the movements are geared or mechanically manipulated (including a bicycle chain).

Especially unusual though is that Drager’s clock was originally built according to the solar time standard, instead of traditional time zone designations. The end result is that cities like London or Moscow showed different… but accurate second hand settings. 

In 2008 the Buena Park Historical District purchased the clock… or more accurately rescued it from being sold on Ebay. They began a long restoration process, this time aligning the second hands according to the more accepted time zone configuration.  The date and phase of the moon dials were completely restored, and a new base was built.

The Drager clock now stands at the "Plaza Buena" park near the Whitaker/Jaynes House on Beach Blvd (at 10th street across from the City Hall) running perfectly. The fourth face features a plate that tells about Andrew Drager.   

Monday, May 13, 2019

Bennett Rock

Jerry Bennett liked rock, but not the roll.

Along the route of the proposed CA241 transportation corridor sat a very large boulder that posed a logistics problem for Bennett.  The new toll road was destined to go right alongside the ground on which it sat, and the engineer hated to see it go in the name of progress.

The transportation corridor had been planned for decades, but actual construction of the south county short-cut to the 91 never found funding until the early 1990’s, when construction began. There were the customary environmental fights, and even a controversy involving some native American burial grounds.  Today disagreement still continues regarding the final stretch originally intended to connect the 241 to the 5 freeway by San Onofre.  It is unlikely to ever resolve. 

The road provides plenty of visual interest along the way with sweeping views toward the ocean, and layers of various red and white materials as it approaches the junction with CA91.  The toll road runs along much of the Irvine Ranch property that was donated to the state to be preserved as open space, including a stretch above Irvine called Tomato Springs, which we wrote about earlier. 

Bennett was named construction manager of the project, and when he discovered one particular boulder that was adjacent to his construction site, he was impressed.  Standing tall above the construction site just to the east, Bennett thought the monolith needed to be preserved, so as they worked around the adjacent land, he instructed workers to do all they could to ensure the ground below it was well supported.

But that year, the storms were mighty, and one day workers reported to duty only to discover that the ground below the stone washed away, and the boulder had rolled into the canyon below. Bennett’s pet project was destroyed. Sadly, he passed away before the road was completed.

Yet you will note that today it appears the stone has remained.  Appearances can be deceiving, because the original rock that fell could not be recovered.  To honor Bennett, three workers volunteered and hauled materials and tools to the top of the hill.  There they reconstructed the thing, in much the same way movie sets are produced. Made from concrete and completely hollow, they matched the new rock perfectly to its surroundings, and they dubbed it “Bennett’s Rock.”

It has been twenty-plus years since it was built, and Bennett’s rock still stands.  You can see it on the east side, south of Santiago Canyon from either direction. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

So, Long, Frank Lloyd Wright… Jr.

On the corner of Springdale and Warner in Huntington Beach sits a worn grave marker. 

Nothing too unusual about that.  Orange County has its fill of cemeteries with stone markers. But this one is unique.  It isn’t in a cemetery.  In fact, it sits behind an Arco gas station.

No, it isn’t for the former gas station owner. Or even the owner of the strip mall that sits behind it. And while Google Earth doesn’t drive through every shopping center to capture details, the Google cam car evidently got tipped off to take a special spin past the back of the gas station and get a picture of the marker. There on an otherwise unnecessary little patch of dirt behind the waste disposal cage sits a simple stone tablet dedicated to a bad idea that died on the site.

Everyone knows Frank Lloyd Wright.  Famous architect, writer and educator responsible for over 1000 groundbreaking structures… though if you think about it, every structure has a groundbreaking.   Wright also was a father to seven children, including his namesake, Frank Lloyd Wright Jr.

Lloyd Wright was also an architect, and created many fine structures in Southern California, including the Hollywood Bowl, and Wayfarer’s Chapel, a glass gem in Palos Verdes, and many residential projects that remain today.

But one project faltered, and that brings us to our humble little Arco station in Huntington Beach.  Lloyd Wright took on the design of the Westfield Shopping Center for developer Stanley Fann, which included plans for a 94’ tower to mark the center as a tribute to Huntington Beach’s oil industry.  As you can see in the rendering, above, it was a doozy.

It seems the locals weren’t very keen on the idea of living in the shadow of a towering eyesore. So they rallied together creating a petition to vote the thing out of the plans.  The will of the people prevailed, and Lloyd Wright was run out of town.  It was to be his final work.

Just to pour salt on the wound, Fann erected the marker to commemorate the event. It reads
“In recognition of Lloyd Wright’s 94 foot high sign tower that was to be erected on this spot. It’s defeat is symbolic of the democratic process in which we live. The people did not wish this sign tower to be erected as they felt it was not needed and would blight their community. Their wishes were heard and adhered to by the developer Stanley Fann. 1970”

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