Newport Beach in the Rearview Mirror

Hosted by William Lobdell

A look back at the events and people—famous and forgotten—that shaped Newport Beach. Follow on Instagram (newport_in_the_rearview_mirror) and Facebook (@NewportInTheRearviewMirror).

All Episodes

Episode 14, "The Coastal Freeway: A Concrete Monster that Almost Destroyed Newport," has generated some amazing responses on social media. Some expressed disbelief  at how close Newport was to having a freeway (12 lanes at its widest) run through the center of town. Others simply wanted to thank the Freeway Fighters and others who thwarted this plan more than a half-century ago. And finally, we heard from some Freeway Fighters and their family members who provided first-hand recollections of the greatest "what if" moment in Newport Beach history. We've put together the best of these comments for a postscript episode on the Coastal Freeway. It seemed like the perfect way to wrap up this story.

Nov 30

8 min

In 1970, the Newport Beach City Council and California Department of Highways signed an agreement to build a coastal freeway—12 lanes wide in places—that would run through the heart of Newport and include a five-level interchange at MacArthur Boulevard and East Coast Highway. The route had been decided upon, funding was in place, and the Coastal Freeway appeared to be a fait accompli.  But then, the Freeway Fighters of the Harbor Area came to the rescue.

Nov 13

25 min 37 sec

In 1954, Dora Hill, housewife and grandmother, reluctantly entered the Newport Beach City Council race just 10 minutes before the filing deadline and unexpectedly won in a landslide. Garnering the most votes in city history, the victory surprised even her husband, who only agreed to her run for office because he was convinced she would lose. At her first council meeting, she was appointed the city's first female mayor. For the next four years, Mayor Hill would led a reformation of Newport Beach from a town run by a powerful good, old boys' network that traded heavily in cronyism to a transparent and professional city government that continues to this day.Mayor Hill's second greatest achievement was figuring how to stop 35,000 kids from their annual spring-break invasion (called Bal Week) of Newport Beach, a town at the time of just 17,000 residents.She did all this while battling the relentless chauvinism that came with being the city's first woman mayor. Special feature: This episode incorporates a rare recording of Mayor Hill that allows her to tell much of her story in her own words. 

Sep 1

32 min 12 sec

In our fourth, multi-choice pop quiz on Newport Beach history, find out:Why you would find horses on the beach at between the the late 19th Century and the 1930s.What was the castle on Collins Island converted to in the 1940s.Who were the previous tenants of the Mariners Mile building (a classic in Southern California modern architecture) now occupied by the upscale A'marees boutique.What were three things that Newport Beach could "crow" about, according to a Los Angeles Times article in 1883.Why a Newport Beach man generated international headlines in 1940.

Aug 5

13 min 46 sec

Newport Beach history is littered with fun, weird, amazing and/or mindboggling stories that are too thin to make into an entire episode, but too good to pass up. In "Newport Nuggets: Three Short Stories Lost to History," we explores a trio of tales from the early part of the 20th Century: Newport Beach's first doctor and the Spanish Flu pandemic.The summer camp on Little Balboa Island for orphans and children whose parents couldn't take care or them. The popular retreat lasted 30 years (1914-1944).The would-be (and massive) religious colony, Melrose Mesa, planned for the West Newport bluffs near present-day Hoag Hospital.  And why it didn't have a prayer at succeeding. 

Jul 1

17 min 28 sec

Joe Beek is known as the Father of Balboa Island and operator of the Balboa Island ferry for a half century (his family still runs it after more than 100 years). But he was so much more than that. Here's just some of his feats: He was Newport's first harbor master; he marked the bay's channels, built the channel-marker buoys himself, and, in 1923, climbed jetty rocks to place warning lights at the harbor entrance .He served on the city library's first Board of Trustees.He served in World War II at the age of 61 after forging his birth certificate.He founded Newport's Tournament of Lights Boat Parade in 1921, a summer event so popular that the city's police chief asked him to shut it down in 1949 because visitors were overwhelming the city.He was the developer of some of Newport's signature housing communities.He served a record 49 years as the secretary of the California Senate, receiving bipartisan support for nearly a half century.The story of his life is truly legendary. 

Jun 10

37 min 18 sec

The Corona del Mar jetty is in the process of getting a much-needed makeover. The tattered, 12-foot-wide boardwalk running 750 feet from Pirate's Cove to the rock section of the jetty is getting a new coat of cement, and more boulders are being added on the harbor side so they'll be at the same level as the boardwalk. The work now being done by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers caused me to look at the Corona del Mar jetty with fresh eyes. And I couldn't believe what I saw (and wondered why I didn't see it sooner!). The jetty looked like the work of Dr. Frankenstein. It starts off with about 750 feet of concrete that more or less parallels the West Jetty (at the Wedge), and then, just beyond the waterline, the jetty becomes large rocks and juts off several degrees west for the next 1,000 feet. This looks like a jetty that's been put together by committee. There has to be a story behind that, right?It turns out that there's a great story behind the Corona del Mar jetty's unique look, including lost lives, ignored recommendations, a self-dealing (and incompetent) city engineer, an accidental wave-generating machine, a citizens' revolt and more. The straightening out the story of Corona del Mar jetty is included in this pop quiz. The five questions are: What was the origin name of Balboa Island?In 1893, the first hotel was opened in Newport Beach near what today is the Newport Pier. What was its name?In 1916, Corona del Mar’s second developer, F.D. Cornell, attempted to change Corona del Mar’s name to what?In 1940, Newport Beach held a citywide election that asked voters what?Why does the Corona del Mar jetty start with 750 feet of concrete and then, just past the waterline, change direction slightly to the west and become rocks for the next 1,000 feet?Good luck, Newport scholars!

May 13

15 min 53 sec

Frank and Fran Robinson, an unassuming couple who moved to Newport Beach in 1962, learned about the already-approved plans to turn the Upper Newport Bay—also known as the Back Back—into a massive development of extended shorelines, homes, a marina, businesses, and a waterskiing and rowing venue. Even though the dredging had already begun, the Robinsons decided to take on the Irvine Company, one of the largest land developers in the country, to preserve for the public one of California largest estuaries. After a decade-long battle, David slayed Goliath and saved the Back Bay. Guest: Cassandra Radcliff, author of "Saving Upper Newport Bay: How Frank and Frances Robinson Fought to Preserve One of California's Last Estuaries." 

May 4

25 min 56 sec

On the morning of May 23, 1896, a 38-year-old man known as Fisherman Pete was found dead on the floor of his 10x12 shanty, about a 100 yards south of McFadden Wharf (now the Newport Pier). The right side of his head had been crushed, 40 gashes and cuts marked his body, and a number of his fingers had been chopped off. It was Newport Beach’s first murder. It also was the grisliest homicide ever in Newport Beach and maybe all of Orange County. But remarkably, historic crime had been lost to time. Until now. 

Apr 6

16 min 39 sec

A five-question, multiple-choice pop quiz on Newport Beach history. Here are the questions (no Googling before listening):Which Newport Harbor island was allegedly won in a high-stakes poker game by a Hollywood celebrity? Note: The seller was a hard-betting horse-racing aficionado, which gives some credence to the popular legend.What was the original use of the El Cholo restaurant building in Corona del Mar? If you don’t know, this will surprise you.What area of Newport Beach did a mayor in the early 20th Century call “a dump. It was sold by a lot of damn crooks to a lot of damn fools.” Here’s a list of five historical sites in Newport Beach. Which one is *not* an official California Historical Landmark. Before Corona del Mar Plaza was built at the corner of East Coast Highway and MacArthur Boulevard, what was planned for that land? Hint: It involved a famed Italian architect, Irvine Company Chairman Donald Bren and a local, national and even international controversy.

Mar 19

7 min 52 sec

In a traitorous act to bodysurfers, Newport Beach Lifeguard Chief Bob Reed asked the City Council in 1962 to permanently close the Wedge because the world's most dangerous bodysurfing spot was, well, too dangerous. The council voted 6-1 to approve the new ordinance to ban bodysurfing at the Wedge. But at the next City Council meeting, where the ordinance would get a required second reading (usually a formality), bodysurfers turned out en masse to prevent the proposed ban from becoming law. Here's the story.

Mar 12

3 min 48 sec

We take a visit to Newport Beach's quirky, beloved, doomed-from-the-start and (by today's standards) wildly politically incorrect Newport Harbor Buffalo Ranch. Guest: Author and local historian Duncan Forgey who fondly recounts attending a birthday party at the Buffalo Ranch as a 9-year-old.

Mar 4

23 min 58 sec

A five-question, multiple-choice pop quiz on Newport Beach history. Here are the questions (no Googling before listening): What eyesore did the  City Council nearly approve in 1956 that would have been just off the coast of Newport? What year were Corona del Mar's parking issues first brought to City Hall?Who was Bob Henry, the namesake of the park on the Castaways bluff?What amazing find did workers uncovered on the banks of the Back Bay during the construction of the Newporter Inn (now the Hyatt Regency)?What was Newport Center/Fashion Island's working name during its planning?

Feb 17

7 min 8 sec

If Newport Beach had a Mount Rushmore, Judge Robert Gardner would be on it. Among his legacies: Pioneering bodysurfer, groundbreaking judge and master storyteller whose tales of early Balboa provide the best (and most entertaining) account of the city's early days. Guest: Nancy Gardner, the judge's daughter.

Feb 2

34 min 56 sec

A killer whale trapped in Newport Harbor became the first orca in the world to be taken into captivity. The sensational story, which has tragic international legacy of more than 50 years, has become a largely forgotten chapter in Newport Beach history.

Jan 21

17 min 14 sec