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Big Corona Beach – Then and Now

Picture of Paul Wormser, Library Director

Paul Wormser, Library Director

corona del mar beach with pier

On March 18, 1914 someone stood on the Corona del Mar bluffs to snap a picture of the beach, now known as Big Corona. This photograph is interesting, both for what it includes and what it does not include. There are no people and no homes. The only sign that the beach was ever used is the pier. In more than a century, this scene has transformed. Just compared it to another picture recently taken from the same spot.

corona del mar beach with houses on the cliffs

George Hart, the original promoter of Corona del Mar, constructed the pier about 1904 as part of a deal to acquire Corona del Mar from the Irvine Company. The pier extended out in line with Marguerite Ave., which was originally called Pier Ave. It does not, however, seem to have ever seen much use. Mary Burton, an early resident of Corona del Mar, wrote in her memoir Happy House: Early Days in Corona del Mar, “Over the years most of the flooring had been stripped off, probably for beach fires, but the pilings themselves were pretty much in place.” She also recalled the day, about 1917, when the pier washed away, “I rushed out to see the biggest waves I’ve ever seen rolling in. It was a perfectly clear sunny day…As each wave came in and hit it would snap the piling off just like a matchstick. “

When the 1914 picture was taken, Corona del Mar was not yet part of Newport Beach and the beach itself was private property. Recognizing the value of the beaches for tourism, the City of Newport Beach eventually took action to acquire the land. In 1931 the city filed a suit again the Citizens National Trust and Bank, which then owned the beach, to clarify the title on the beach lands. The suit lasted for five years before the city and the bank negotiated an agreement that gave the beach title to the city in return for other land in Corona del Mar. Then in 1947 the city agreed to deed the land to the State of California in return for the State acquiring additional parcels on the bluffs and declaring the site as Corona del Mar State Park. In 1963, it was re-designated Corona del Mar State Beach.

The homes that now dot the cliffs for the most part started to appear in the 1950s. As for the spot where the 1914 photograph was taken, it too has changed. Were it not for a kind Corona del Mar resident who let me tromp through her backyard, I could not have taken a photo from the same vantage as the 1914 photographer.

gif animating between old corona del mar image and current corona del mar image