From Sherman Library's Collections

A Day at the Beach

Paul Wormser, Library Director

Paul Wormser, Library Director

With the arrival of summer and the end of the school year, the beaches are filling with people, in a tradition that goes back far more than a century.  Beach culture always been central to Newport Beach’s identity.  Long before the Newport Harbor Chamber of Commerce issued its first promotional brochure in 1924 depicting a woman preparing to dive into the water, the beach drew people to Newport.

While the beach-going experience in many ways is unchanged, some aspects have changed. For instance, you can no longer rent a tent cabin on the beach. Local beaches once had “swim lines,” heavy ropes extending into the surf for people to hold onto, rather than lifeguards. Early in the 20th century, people could also rent swimsuits for the day. These early swimming “costumes” were full-length woolen garments, designed more for modesty than swimming.

group of people posing on the beach around 1890
Group posing on the beach in about 1890.
brochure cover for newport beach in 1924
Cover of the 1924 tourist brochure issued by the Chamber of Commerce.

Some of the earliest pictures in Sherman Library’s collections show people on the beach. One of the more interesting aspects of these photographs is how swimsuit fashion has changed. Photographs from the 1890s show people in elaborate bathing outfits, which seem impractical for swimming by today’s standards. By the teens and 1920s swim suits had becomes less bulky and more revealing. In fact, promoters often held bathing beauty contests as a means of drawing people to Newport Beach.

people posing on the beach for a swimsuit contest in 1922
A "bathing girls parade" held at Balboa on June 25, 1922.

Today we look upon these swimsuits with fascination. In fact, this interest with changing swim fashions predates even the appearance of the bikini. In 1934, the Newport Harbor Chamber of Commerce created a float for the Tournament of Lights (now the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade) illustrating the evolution of swimsuits. At the time, some people surely marveled at how revealing bathing suit had become.

men and women posing in swimsuits in 1934
The Newport Harbor Chamber of Commerce float in the 1934 Tournament of Lights.