Vol. 1, Issue 25, July 25-31, 2008
By Nathan Wright
Dana Point Times
The Dana Point Historical Society has dedicated itself to preserving some of the community’s most precious artifacts
One stands outside the home of a prominent Dana Point developer. Two others outside historical S. H. Woodruff homes. A fourth rusts on a city sidewalk on Violet Lantern, while a fifth has been temporarily ripped from the ground by a construction crew renovating a home on Valencia Place.
The five lampposts are all that remain standing of the more than 150 lanterns that once lined many of the original Dana Point streets in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s before they fell into disrepair and were sold for scrap by the county. While most of the copper lanterns and the iron poles have been lost, a handful remain.
Of the five lampposts, three still have lanterns attached. Fifteen more lanterns stand atop modern poles in the Dana Point Plaza, restored and installed in 1989 after sitting in Marjorie Kinkaid’s basement for four decades. Others are prized possessions in personal collections, including four owned by the Dana Point Historical Society.
Members of the Historical Society have dedicated themselves to preserving these vestiges of the community’s past, hunting for lanterns and documenting their place in Dana Point history. “It’s a piece of our history,” said Carlos Olvera, society president. “Dana Point is a relatively new community, and to a lot of people it’s not that old when you talk about communities. My spiel is if you don’t save it now, how will it ever become old?”
While parts of the tale are hazy, the Historical Society believes the lantern story began in the mid-’20s with a widow named Anna Walters. “She was a Realtor out of Laguna Beach who moved down here after her husband died,” said Olvera. “She began selling lots in Dana Point around 1926.”
She is also credited with naming many streets, including the lantern-themed roadways. Why she decided dirt roads overlooking the Pacific should be named Street of the Golden Lantern, or Blue Lantern, or Green Lantern isn’t clear, although Olvera theorizes the lantern idea might have come from the legacy of tall ships that once moored off the point.
The actual lampposts and lanterns followed a year or so later when S. H. Woodruff organized a group of investors to purchase 1,300 acres from Chula Vista Avenue to San Juan Creek. His ideas included paving the streets, establishing underground utilities and installing lanterns.
Olvera believes that of the 150 or more lanterns, the famed, colored lights were located only on Roosevelt Highway, later named Pacific Coast Highway—and that the lanterns themselves weren’t colorful. Old photos show glass domes atop these select lampposts. “The lanterns were all clear glass,” said Olvera. “The domes were made of colored glass.”
Mel Pierce, 84, still remembers the domes from his childhood. His family moved to Chula Vista Avenue in 1930, and as a youngster he played in the lantern-illuminated streets. “The green lantern had a green dome, the blue lantern had a blue dome, down through all the colors,” he said.
The lanterns and street names even made the Los Angeles Times on January 16, 1927, although the report seems to go contrary to Olvera’s belief that the lanterns themselves were not colored and Pierce’s recollection of domes: “One of the interesting innovations at Dana Point is the unique system of lighting and naming the streets. The Roosevelt Highway, as the major-traffic artery of Dana Point, is crossed by a series of streets with street lights of special design, each having a beautiful ship’s lantern in various colors. The first is the Street of the Golden Lantern, and is entirely lighted by golden lanterns. The second is Street of the Green Lantern, and is lighted by green lanterns. Next is the street of the Amber Lantern, and so on, and as the streets wind up to the hillcrests, giving brilliant colorful effect,” the Times reported.
Woodruff’s Dana Point development hit a major roadblock with the Depression, and he later abandoned work on his hotel on a bluff above what is now the Dana Point Harbor. Woodruff’s failure did not end Dana Point’s development, and the lanterns remained in operation until the 1940s when, like the man who had them installed, they began to fade into obscurity.
“They had reached the stage of being old, but not antique old,” said Olvera. “They had become an eyesore.” And so, like most eyesores, they were removed. “The county took them down and sold them for scrap.”
The Lantern Revival
Not all of the lanterns were lost. Private citizens bought many of them from the county, and some even erected the iron poles outside their homes. Of the five still standing, four are located on private property. The fifth—located on Violet Lantern—appears to stand on a public sidewalk.
Peg Serence has had one in the front yard of her original Woodruff home since 1951 when she and her husband, John, moved to El Camino Capistrano to raise a family. She still remembers her neighbor — an electrician — dropping by with the lantern one afternoon and offering to install it. “We’ve had it all these years,” she said. “We’ve always tried to keep the house basically the same.”
Another stands across the street in Bob Theel’s front yard. Theel, a developer involved in the Town Center project, said the pole was there when he bought the property in 2003. “The previous owners were moving back East and wanted to take it with them,” he said. “My wife explained that it was a part of the city’s history and they agreed to leave it.”
Like Theel’s lamppost, many lanterns have been saved through luck. The Historical Society recently obtained three lanterns through lucky breaks.
Two were acquired from Joel Wadsworth of Washington State, who contacted the Historical Society about selling them. According to oral family history, these lanterns came from Laguna Beach where they were used as street lamps in the Heisler Park area before being gifted to the Wadsworths by former Orange County Supervisor Heinz Kaiser.
A third was recovered this month when a society member drove by The Cottage Restaurant in Laguna Beach and discovered that the lamppost and lantern located outside the restaurant had been removed. Further investigation revealed the lamppost had been torn out of the ground and was sitting in a Dumpster waiting for a Saturday pick up.
Olvera said the restaurant owner allowed the society to recover the lamppost and lantern free of charge, as long as they picked it up with their own truck before the Dumpster was emptied.
The society’s fourth lantern was donated by Bob Moore.
Olvera and the Historical Society plan to remain vigilant in safeguarding the community’s existing lanterns but aren’t necessarily hunting for new ones. “If they need to be saved, we’d like to restore them and give them a place of honor,” he said.
For more information on the lanterns of the society’s work, visit www.danapointhistorical.org.