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The Balboa Peninsula History


In the late 1800's, the Balboa Peninsula served as a landing to load goods for exports.  It began as a thriving commercial trade and shipping center, continuing until this era drew to a close with the opening of the San Pedro Harbor and the sale of the Newport townsite.  Developers saw the Balboa Peninsula in a different light and soon envisioned the potential for this area to be the newest resort and recreation spot outside of Los Angeles.


In 1905, The Pacific Electric "Red Cars" were extended to include service to the Balboa Peninsula bringing thousands of vacationers from Los Angeles right to the Pavillion front.  This was just the beginning and with the launch of aggressive promotions to build the Peninsula, Balboa soon became the premier summer getaway in Southern California.  Young Hollywood flocked, the Peninsula became a back drop for movies, and a stage for some of the biggest bands to perform - Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman, Nat King Cole, Dorsey Brothers, Harry James, Glen Miller, just to name a few.  The wealthy from Los Angeles and Pasadena began buying the subdivided land and buildling vacation homes.


Today the Balboa Peninsula still allures travelers with history and charm, and remains SoCal's #1 destination with endless activities.


Balboa HotelThe Balboa Hotel (1905), was located on the site where our Balboa Post Office stands today.  Built in only 10 days to be ready for the arrival of the big Pacific Electric Red Cars, this two-story, single wall structure wasn't pretty, but it housed thousands of tourists throughout the years.


Balboa Pavillion 1906The Balboa Pavilion (1906), is the unquestioned focal point of the Balboa Peninsula, built as a Victorian bath house and terminal for the Pacific Electric Red Car.  Fashionably dressed bathers arrived from the Greater Los Angeles area to spend the day at Balboa frolicking in the Bay.  The Pavilion has been home to the big bands of the 30's & 40's, bingo parlor, amusement arcade, sport fishing, harbor cruises, Catalina ferry service, seafood restaurant, shell museum, and the first home of the Newport Harbor Art Museum.  The Balboa Pavilion, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is still the center for marine recreation in Newport Beach.


Catalina FlightThe Catalina Flight (1912).  Today, a plaque at the foot of the Balboa Pier, honors the memory of Glenn Martin, aviation pioneer, who, on May 10, 1912, flew from Balboa Bay to Avalon and back in a primitive hydroplane which he built in Santa Ana.  The flight took 37 minutes and was the longest, fastest over-water flight ever recorded at that time.


Balboa FerryThe Balboa Ferry (1919), began as a skiff, "The Ark," powered by an outboard motor and carried oars, just in case.  Later, the ferry graduated to a cumbersome craft, "The Fat Ferry," which could carry only one car.  Founded by a Balboa Island pioneer, Joe Beek, the ferry, running between the Balboa peninsula and Balboa Island, remains in the Beek family.  The sleek modern craft crossing the bay today has come a long way, and, they each carry 3 autos, as well as passengers.


Balboa Fire StationThe Balboa Fire Station (1927), was for years the only governmental building in Balboa.  While primarily a fire station, it did double duty on Saturday nights as an impromptu holding cell for the numerous citizens arrested for over-consumption of alcohol during the rowdy days of Prohibition.  Balboa was pure honky tonk in those days.  Today, the location of the Fire Station/Police Station is a parking lot adjacent to a public restroom... known at the time as a "comfort station."


Rendevous BallroomThe Rendezvous Ballroom (1928), was Southern California's premier dance hall throughout the Swing Era of the 30's and 40's.  All the "Big Bands" - Stan Kenton, Dorsey Brothers, Harry James, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman - played at the Rendezvous until 1966 when it succumbed to fire.  Today a condominium stands on the locale.  A marker on the corner of Washington Street and Ocean Front commemorates the site.


Balboa InnThe Balboa Inn (1929), in its day, The Balboa Inn was the number one hostelry on the Orange County Coast.  At one time the Balboa Theater, operated by the colorful, hard-drinking, hard-swearing character Madame La Rue, stood next to the Balboa Inn.  Our early photo of Main St. shows the theater on the far right.  The Balboa Inn was, and still is, a favorite getaway spot for Hollywood stars.  For example, Olympic athlete and Tarzan star Johnny Weissmueller stayed there.  Legend has it that Weissmueller swam the distance between the Balboa Pier and Newport Pier on a regular basis.


Today, Balboa Inn The Resort is one of the most popular resorts on the West Coast.  The Inn has been remodeled and modernized a number of times, but its graceful Spanish architecture remains virtually unchanged.  The most famous room at the Inn is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Suite with its 9 foot high doors.


Soto'sSoto's (1935) Japanese Curio Shop, stood at the corner of Bay Avenue and Main Street.  Soto's was headquarters for all the curious Balboa youngsters who pawed over his exotic merchandise.  While Soto was one of the most loved men in Balboa, he fell victim to World War II hysteria and, with thousands of other loyal Japanese-Americans, was sent to an internment camp.  He was sent to one of the worst, Poston, located on the Colorado River in Arizona.  Soto never made it back to his beloved shop.


Balboa Fun ZoneThe Balboa Fun Zone (1936), was built on Abbott's Landing where Mr. Abbott brought soil from the mainland and planted the Peninsula's first trees.  At one time the Fun Zone, a miniature amusement park, covered the entire block between Palm Street and Washington Street on the Bay Front.  The ferris wheel and the merry-go-round remain, nostalgic memories from an era which provided pleasure to generations of visitors to Balboa.