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By Carlos N. Olvera
When Dana Point became a city in 1989, it was the time to state what was important to the residents. The first governing document was the General Plan. In the Land Use Element is mentioned the historic Dolph House—considered to be the city’s first residence—inserted by this author when acting as chairman of the Planning Commission in 1990. Subsequently, the Dana Point Historic Register was established and the Dolph Mansion, by name, was listed as eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
The original blueprints are dated Jan. 26, 1914. The architects were A.R. Walker and J.T. Vawter of Los Angeles, and the home was built for Miss Blanche Dolph. Walker and Vawter were also the designers of a home in Los Angeles, now No. 980 on the list of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monuments.
Dolph, the daughter of Edward S. Dolph, was born in 1849 in Scranton, Penn., where the family first settled in 1795, coming from Connecticut with the name De Wolf—the French equivalent of the English Dolph. The family made their fortune in the coal industry.
Dolph was an avid traveler, missionary and philanthropist, who made her first visit to California in 1879. She also made missionary trips to China and India. In 1889, she played with the Seventh Regiment Band, as solo cornetist, in Los Angeles at the Armory Hall as she did previously at the YWCA in 1886. In 1914 she decided on building a home in what she called “San Juan Capistrano.” The land was described as a barren, windswept hilltop with a panoramic ocean view, a place Dolph thought ideal to erect a home for herself and her accompanying secretary.
In 1926 she and two others organized the Community Presbyterian church in San Juan Capistrano.
Based on her eastern experiences, she wanted lawns and flowers for her nearly 10-acre home of some 6,000 square feet, with six bedrooms and six bathrooms. For the water supply, concrete cisterns were built to catch rainwater and a small pumping station was erected to bring water from San Juan Creek across several hundred feet and then up to the mesa and the home site. The brown clay soil only bore cactus, seacoast chaparral and flowing muster weed but demanded a garden, fruits and berries. One night, it was said, the gardener forgot to turn off the pump and soon all the grapes blossomed, oranges and pears were plenty and olives were ready for pickling.
Dolph also bought property in Aliso Canyon, as did her sister Florence. But by 1925, the state was planning on extending Coast Boulevard from Laguna Beach to Serra, now known as the Doheny Village area of Dana Point. This involved a condemnation suit against several land owners in the area which prevailed but access to the coastal land proved valuable. In late 1926, Dolph sold a 200-foot strip of ocean frontage for $150 per foot, a record price. The land, said to be the most scenic on the coast, went to a Hollywood motion picture director.
In 1936, at the age of 87, Dolph died and was buried in Santa Ana, in a lot she bought in 1913. Her estate was valued at $500,000. Property in Pennsylvania with a value of $300,000 and annual income of $5,000 was also added. Her sister Florence filed for administration of the estate due to the absence of a will. A will was later filed by Lucilla McGaughey, her assistant, and O. Howard Lucy, her friend of 25 years. Florence got a rug and a picture for her efforts. Just prior to her death, Dolph donated two acres of Aliso Canyon to the Girl Scouts of Laguna Beach.
An end result of the estate was the gift to the Community Presbyterian Church of Laguna Beach of $5,000, which relieved the church of its indebtedness. By 1962 the property was acquired and named Capistrano-by-the-Sea Hospital, considered a most unusual facility, with 60 rooms, each with a patio and ocean view. Music was piped into each room. Today, the property has been reduced to a 1-acre, opulent, private, restored family residence with a peek-a-boo view of the ocean from one closet window. The home is now surrounded by the Bal Harbor development.
Carlos N. Olvera is vice chairman of the Orange County Historical Commission and a Dana Point City Councilman.