Sowing Nostalgia

Recently I spent an afternoon in our harbor swapping memories with a fellow lifelong Dana Point resident and boater. As we explored our shared history in this town, in this harbor, naturally we succumbed to the bittersweet lure of nostalgia. There’s a subtle melancholy at the root of all the joyous recollections of our past. But even more, there’s a sense of pride, almost a badge of honor, to recall and share experiences of places and things that no longer exist in our home town. The Dana Villa Motel, or Papa Pio’s restaurant.   Buying a board from Hobie himself at his original shop. The vast, empty west marina before the docks were built. Renting roller skates at Dana Wharf and cruising the harbor like a 1970s disco star. And before my time, surfing the great Killer Dana break.

Nostalgia demands change; it can’t exist without it. Yet, often we fight change. Change disrupts our comfort.   It discards our routines. Change requires adaptation. Adaptation is work. Ugh, work.

Dana Point Harbor is on the brink of massive change. Our entire boat marina will be replaced, as will the hotel and many of our shops and restaurants. Hardly a corner of our harbor will be left unchanged. How we experience our harbor today will be cast to the past, replaced by a new vision designed for the next generation and beyond. This is a frightening prospect for so many of us old-timers who center our lives in this harbor.

Over the 20-year evolution of the Harbor Revitalization Plan, this project has encountered plenty of opposition, and certainly the motives of the opponents vary. However, the most common argument against reinventing our harbor is resistance to change. Dana Point Harbor is wonderful the way it is. Why change it? Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that our marinas and buildings are far beyond their planned life expectancy and are in a state of disrepair out of reach of routine maintenance. Harbor renovation, done properly, with faith to our community’s established character and charm, in honor of its history, can inspire renewed affection for our harbor, regenerate our enthusiasm and provide new experiences. And perhaps equally important, renovating our harbor will seize what it is today and deposit a nostalgic moment into the vaults of our shared memories. An investment that will gain value over time, with a currency shared in a bond among those of us here today, and passed along as fond tales to those that follow.

More than ever, I plan to spend time over the coming year with my family absorbing our harbor.   Saturday nights at Harpoon Henry’s lounge. A fine dinner at the Harbor Grill. California Bagels at Coffee Importers.  Mai Tais at Wind and Sea. Sunset dinghy cruises around every dock in our harbor. Maybe even a night or two in the Marina Inn, despite living a short walk away. I plan to record to memory every bit of today’s Dana Point Harbor to sow the seeds for tomorrow’s nostalgia.

This is paradise. It’s almost embarrassing how good we have it in Dana Point Harbor. Standing in defense against changing it is instinctive. Why risk ruining a great thing? It’s a matter that’s been debated in our community since Harbor Revitalization was first announced in 1997. I’m nervous about it. Yet, I convince myself we’re on the right path partly on the expectation that we will be archiving so many great memories for tomorrow’s tales of the good ol’ days. New badges of honor for those of us here today.

Thirty years from now, when my boys are my age, perhaps they will spend an afternoon in the harbor swapping memories with friends, or describing to their kids what our town was like when they grew up. I will listen in with pride, and a touch of melancholy. Then I will reach into my vault and withdraw tales of roller skating through our harbor in 1978 like a disco king. I’ll show them!

James Lenthall is a lifelong Dana Point resident and boater, and presently serves as president of the Dana Point Boaters Association, chair of the Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board, and as a director on the board of Dana Point Yacht Club.

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