Balboa Island for History & Fun

I have been coming to this little 'island' since I was a young child.

We moved from San Diego, around 1970, when my dad accepted a job with the Irvine Company to be the Marina Manager. His office was upstairs in this building. Though here often, I didn't really care about history then like I do now.
As we strolled Balboa Island's main street, Marine Avenue, we stumbled into the Balboa Island Museum. What a great find. Jennifer Keil, the Museum Director, was a wealth of knowledge and so delightful to speak with. She really knew her stuff.
The museum, housed in a 1947 cottage, tells the history of just how this place came to be the residential community it has become. It started with William S. Collins, a man with a vision. During the first decade of the 1900s, the unspoiled beaches of Orange County were being rapidly snapped up by developers, who were eager to create new towns to make use of new transportation opportunities. In 1902, Collins and his business partner bought approximately 900 acres of land centered around Newport Bay, including half of Balboa Peninsula and the swamplands that would become Balboa Island (named after Vasco Nunez de Balboa, who discovered the Pacific Ocean for Europe in 1513).

They teamed together with Pacific Electric baron Henry E. Huntington to form the Newport Beach Company. In 1905, Huntington extended his red car service to the new town of Newport. Collins began developing the mainland and peninsula, but his real dream was to create a series of small, luxury islands in the middle of the bay. It seemed like a pipe dream. But a dredger was purchased and an island was formed with bay sand and silt. The story is a long one, filled with broken dreams and promises, but 100 years after its true beginning, Balboa Island is still thriving and the perfect spot to spend a warm almost spring day!
The Museum's exhibits offered us a chance to travel back in time to learn as much as we could about this area. This vintage cottage showcases artifacts and photographs depicting early island life.

I delighted in the Hollywood Hallway. Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to spot a movie star or two on and around Balboa Island. Many celebrities owned homes and/or docked their boats here.  Shirley Temple and Buddy Ebsen lived here. They even created the film Captain January together (1936). The one that we always knew about was John Wayne and his beloved yacht, the Wild Goose. Boating by his house was always 'a must' when I was a kid. That said, I wish I would have seen Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball aboard the Desilu. Wow.
A very big part of my memory here is riding aboard the Ferry. In 1919, Joe Beek, still a college student at the time, saw the possibilities for Balboa Island. He was granted permission to begin a ferry service between the Balboa Peninsula and the Island. Starting with one ferry – basically a large rowboat with a small motor – Joe began offering crossings for a nickel per person. He didn’t have a regular ferry schedule; instead folks who needed to cross the harbor made an appointment over the telephone. Today, the Beek family still runs the Balboa Island Ferry. They now have multiple ferries, in continuous service, that carry up to 3 cars, as well as passengers.

So after filling our brains with as much history as they could hold, we headed out into it all. The first stop was to ride on Beek's Ferry. It could not have been a more gorgeous day to be in Newport Bay.

Wandering about, we discovered treasures along our way. Something about these two faces made me smile. I love whimsy!

I was smitten with this sculpture called Sunsets. I had to know the story... The couple were real people, Herman and Lois Dorkin. They had discovered the Island in the 1940s and had lived there ever since. During one of their daily walks around the island in 2003, the couple — he 92, she 89 — sat on a bench to rest and watch the gentle waters of Newport Harbor. Lois nestled against her husband's shoulder, the brim of her hat pushed against his rosy cheek, and closed her eyes. He wrapped his left arm around her lower back and she gently rested her hand on his leg. This sweet scene was witnessed by artist Miriam Baker. Long story- short, the Dorkins agreed to having their images immortalized for all to delight in. I just love her expression of contentment.
Lunch was at Ruby's at the end of the Balboa Pier. There we watched the seals steal fish off the anglers' lines. What a crack up.

Home for the night is The Newport Dunes, a camping resort we have been coming to for decades. What a great day of learning, exploring and remembering.

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