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Newport Beach Meets Hurley-on-Thames

Picture of Jill Thrasher, Librarian

Jill Thrasher, Librarian

Perhaps the most iconic building in the Newport Beach neighborhood of Corona del Mar is the tutor-style Five Crowns. Thanks to one woman’s remarkable foresight and intuition, Corona del Mar hosts a traditional English inn. Matilda MacCulloch was a woman with vision. After traveling throughout Europe, marrying a Scottish nobleman, and living for many years in England, she wanted to have a taste of England to Southern California. Through her determination and love of architecture, Corona del Mar has its very own English inn.

MacCulloch studied art at both at the New York Academy of Fine Arts and Julian Art Academy in Paris. She married a Scottish Nobleman and moved to England where she lived for many years with her two children, Harold and Marguerite. They lived in a beautiful country estate, Brockencote Hall, until their son Harold tragically died in World War I. After his death MacCulloch and her daughter traveled around England but eventually came back to America to reside in Balboa. Fond of unique buildings, MacCulloch bought “The Windmill,” a three-story Dutch inspired house, complete with a windmill around 1933. She liked the architecture so much that she built another Dutch-style house right next door. (MacCulloch also tried her hand at modern architecture and built a steel and concrete building that was once the iconic Orange Julius building at Main Street and Balboa.)

image of lady from early 1900 posing in white dress and wide brimmed hat
Portrait of Matilda MacCulloch, the woman who built the Hurley Bell, ca.1900. Marguerite Atkinson Collection, Sherman Library.
old image of a road with ouses on the right and trees on the left
A photograph of Ye Olde Bell in Hurley, England, which was the model for the Hurley Bell. Marguerite Atkinson Collection, Sherman Library.

Having spent many years in England, MacCulloch wanted to bring some English culture and tradition to Southern California. So for her next and last construction project, she decided to build a traditional English-style Inn. She and her daughter, Marguerite, traveled to England to look for an English inn to duplicate. Around 1935, she discovered Ye Olde Bell an inn at Hurley-on-Thames, took many photographs of it, and hired Shelby Coon, an architect to design it. Both the inside and outside were identical to Ye Old Bell. Once construction was completed, she decorated the interior with plates, vases, artwork, glassware and furniture from her English estate. She even hung her son’s oars from his rowing days, which still hang on the walls today. She had created her Corona del Mar English inn and brought a small taste of England to the town.

Initially, in 1936, she intended to open her English Inn to the public and even made a public announcement of its opening. However, shortly after her announcement, she changed her mind and decided to make it her new home. She and her daughter lived in it for several years before it finally became a restaurant.

old announcement card about the ne whurley bell
An announcement for the spring opening of the Hurley Bell. Marguerite Atkinson Collection, Sherman Library.

In 1940 she decided to lease her English inn to two prominent restaurateurs, who owned the Tail O’ The Cock in Hollywood. Thus for a short time the English inn was also The Tail O’ The Cock. Yet, it was not successful, so in 1943 Mrs. MacCulloch took control, renaming it The Hurley Bell, and operating it until her death in 1948.

 Her obituary in the Los Angeles Times states, “She had a dynamic personality, courage and ability, and contributed greatly to local architectural taste; the Hurley Bell of Corona del Mar is a well-known example. To her the beauty of a structure was just as important as its functional uses.

old image of plane on tarmac with aerial banner behind it
An airplane set to tow an aerial banner advertising the Hurley Bell. Marguerite Atkinson Collection, Sherman Library.