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The 25th anniversary celebration of the Dana Point Historical Society on Wednesday brought the organization full circle as they returned to the old Bluff Top Trail, the site of the Historical Society’s first major project—preserving public access to the historic landmark.
A crowd of over 100 gathered near the Bluff Top Trail at around 6 p.m. for the anniversary fete dubbed “Sunset at the Drogher,” to enjoy signature sunset cocktails, canapés and conversation as well as speeches by Historical Society, city and county officials commemorating a quarter century of historic preservation.
Speakers included Historical Society President Barbara Johannes, Director Elizabeth Bamattre, Assemblywoman Diane Harkey and Mayor Lara Anderson. Harkey and Anderson presented the Society with proclamations recognizing the organization’s milestone anniversary.
Attendees reminisced about the group’s past struggles, accomplishments and the dedication of departed members—such as founding member and Dana Point historian Doris Walker who passed away last October—while witnessing the colorful sun cast multi-colored light on the Hide Drogher statue as it set behind the headlands.
The statue, by artist F. Benedict Coleman depicting a hide drogher throwing a hide from the top of the trail to awaiting ships below was unveiled at the site in 1990, and is but one of the many significant accomplishments of the Historical Society in its 25 years of service to the community.
The formation of the Historical Society was inspired by a lecture given by Walker, to attendees of a Dana Point Civic Association meeting. Energized by the idea of formalizing an organization to preserve the rich history of the area, Barbara Brown and Sue Emery stepped up and scheduled the Society’s first meeting. And the rest, as they say, is history—pun intended.
In 1987 the newly-created Dana Point Historical Society immediately took on the important task of maintaining public access to the Bluff Top Trail—the 1924 scenic beach hide trail used during the 19th century by hide traders who tossed hides off the trail to ships below—before the ink on the organization’s articles of incorporation had a chance to dry.
“The Bluff Top Trail was our first signature ‘project’ and there were several individuals who aided the effort,” said Bamattre.
In 1977 Eric Jessen (retired Orange County Harbors, Beaches & Parks, now OC Parks) was charged with developing and implementing the county’s Private Encroachment Abatement Program for the removal of private encroachments on the Harbor bluff top, in order to open the area for public viewing. Jessen was also instrumental in leading the Admiralty development to dedicate substantial bluff top land.
Kevin Darnall of the Pulte Corporation was also helpful, attending many of the Planning Commission meetings in Santa Ana—before city incorporation in 1989.
“Thanks to their work and the work of many others, the Bluff Top Trail today is a remarkable stretch of public park access,” Bamattre said. “I walk it myself three times a week and take pride in the history that has been preserved and documented through the bronze plaques, the concrete arches, remnants of the original fieldstone trails and the Hide Drogher statue.”
Other longtime Historical Society members—including past President Carlos N. Olvera who recently stepped down to concentrate on his City Council election campaign—were recognized for their unique contributions to the organization.
“I think Doris Walker is here with us today, in spirit, in more ways than one. She was such a huge part of archiving the history of Dana Point and all of Orange County for that matter,” said Anderson. “Without the Historical Society and people like Doris, I don’t think we would have nearly the treasures, the knowledge that we have. It is through the dedicated work of so many volunteers that we have such a wonderful, rich history, archives and photographs. Tonight’s turn out is testament to how strong, vibrant and alive history is in Dana Point.”
Judy Henderson, who like Walker, has served the DPHS since its establishment, was surprised by fellow board members who honored her with the status of Director Emeritus.
“Judy has always been content to work in the background but was invaluable to me when I took over as president in the early days of incorporation as a nonprofit and stirring the fledgling organization,” said Bamattre as she presented Henderson with her new title and award.
“This honor is very well deserved and I feel Doris would have been leading the cheering section tonight if she were here.
Johannes called the anniversary event an important celebration of everything the Historical Society’s amazing volunteers have accomplished to date.
“A quarter century ago founders of the Historical Society were inspired by Doris Walker’s stories of Dana Point history and were motivated to save public access to a portion of our bluffs, now the Bluff Top Trail. Today, the Historical Society continues our mission to preserve Dana Point’s heritage, our historic buildings, artifacts, documents and photos, for present and future generations of Dana Point residents and for visitors to our city. As you know, our member-based nonprofit organization works to promote public appreciation of our history and we continue to welcome everyone who appreciates the cultural and economic benefits of preserving the historic resources of Dana Point’s unique coastal landscape to join us.”
Johannes told attendees the Historical Society’s next step will bring the organization full circle in yet another way when she announced the signing a lease at City Hall where a new Dana Point Heritage Museum will be located
“Our goal is to have an opening for our members and the general public before the end of the year if at all possible,” Johannes said.
A Quarter Century of Accomplishments
1987: Dana Point / Capistrano Beach Historical Society established, inspired by Doris Walker’s lecture on Dana Point history at a Civic Association meeting. The Bluff Top Trail is preserved, saving remnants of Sidney H. Woodruff’s Dana Point Inn.
1990: F. Benedict Coleman’s Hide Drogher statue is unveiled. The First News Drogher newsletter is published.
1992: The Dana Point Museum is established at City Hall then subsequently moved to other locations. The Archival Photograph Collection is established, beginning with the First American Title Collection.
2000: The Inaugural Annual Home Tour is held featuring Doheny homes. The Baby Beach Tile Wall program and Historic Walking Tour are established.
2001: Founders Day Award begins and a History in Public Places program established, distributing historic photographs throughout the community.
The annual June Doheny Beach BBQ is launched. Two scholarship awards to area high school students and the Pat Plepler Award are established. Years of advocacy result in the adoption of a Historic Ordinance by the City of Dana Point.
2005: The DPHS Preservation Initiative is established to encourage owners to register historic homes and buildings, historical sites and a schooner vessel. An inventory of the city’s curb and sidewalk stamps is recorded. Acquisitions include original Dana Point lanterns, the Woodruff Collection, the Doheny Collection of Roy C. Kelley’s original house plans and the architectural drawings of the 1914 Dolph House. A DVD on local history, Dana Point: My Home Town, is released to elementary schools and to the public.
2009: The 20th Anniversary of Cityhood Celebration was held aboard the brig Pilgrim. A history, The Rough Road to Cityhood, was published. The annual public reading of Richard H. Dana Jr.’s Two Years Before the Mast is established.
2010: New Dana Point Historic Walking Tour and Driving Tour brochures are published.
2011: Doris I. Walker and Jack P. Smith’s Celebration of Life was held in November creating a tribute to Doris Walker as a champion and author of Dana Point and Orange County History.
2012: A Historical Society Tribute Committee is working with the city’s Arts & Culture Commission and the artist on a sculpture to be placed in Walker’s honor at Heritage Park. Four structures in Dana Point were placed on the city’s Historic Resources Register, after the Planning Commission unanimously adopted two resolutions. Two city-owned structures, remnants of the 1924 scenic beach hide trail and the arch ruins of the 1930 Dana Point Inn, were placed on the register. The Dana Point Inn, located along the city’s bluff top trail between Amber Lantern and Violet Lantern, began construction in 1930 by Sidney H. Woodruff but left uncompleted due to the Depression. Two county-owned structures were also placed on the register: the Blue Lantern Gazebo, located at the southern end of the Street of Blue Lantern, and the picnic facility and restrooms on the site of the Scenic Inn.
–Special thanks to Barbara Johannes and Elizabeth Bamattre for their contribution to this article.