Beach Road began life in 1924, when much of Southern California was booming. As houses sprung up all over the greater Los Angeles basin and investors snapped up Wilshire Blvd. land, Edward Doheny Jr. a member of the oil-rich Doheny family, bought 1,000 acres in south Orange County, including 3 miles of beach frontage that was known as Boca De la Playa, from the heirs of Don Juan Forster. He commenced to create a subdivision named Capistrano Beach.
Doheny built four handsome Mission Revival-style houses (still standing today) and the similarly designed Beachcomber’s Club at the head of the new road, where the county park is today. He also built a few more red-tile roof houses up on the Palisades. He planned to build more houses on Beach Road as well as to sell lots to prospective home builders. His vision: To create a relatively unspoiled, peaceful beachfront community that was far removed from the urban sprawl of Los Angles yet was within a half day’s drive. In those days, it took several hours to drive a Model A from downtown L.A. to Capistrano Beach, on a route through mostly open rolling hills and ranch land.
Doheny alas, was not to realize his dream. The Teapot Dome scandal hit the national news, limiting the Doheny family’s time for real estate development projects, and soon after, Edward was murdered. Unwilling or unable to continue to invest in their beach community, the Doheny’s simply put it in trust with their banks.
The subsequent Depression years were quiet on Beach Road, with community life focused on the Beachcomber’s Club, whose members included the few residents of Beach Road and some from the scattering of houses up on the Palisades. During this era, houses existed only north of the turnaround.
During the war years, after the return of prosperity, L.A.’s Harvey family, owners of Harvey Aluminum bought the property from the Doheny heirs. Their purchase included the Beachcomber’s Club, which it leased to private operators, many Beach Road lots, the water company that supplied the community, and a great deal of land in the Palisades. The Harvey’s sold individual lots to people looking for an idyllic second or retirement home.
A particular boom time for the road was the decade after World War II, when such current residents as Wayne Schaffer and Eileen Short settled here. “There wasn’t much here when we came in 1947, says Mrs. Short. “The Schaffer house was built but not yet occupied. There were the Doheny houses and the water company, but no sewer or gas. My mother put up the cost ($2,000) of a lot at 35735 providing my husband Bud and my brother would build the house. They did that on weekends over the next year or so and I doubt we had more than $20,000 invested in the whole project, furniture, appliances included.
In those very early years, from the 30”s through the 50”s, the homeowners’ association Capistrano Beach Road Association (CBRA) provided a way for neighbors to band together and share interests, even though the group had no actual power. As the community grew, however, they saw the need for a stronger organization. So on December 31, 1959 the community incorporated the self-governing Capistrano Bay Community Services District (CBD), giving it authority to assess Beach Road residents through taxes to manage the infrastructure. The two groups have co-existed since that day, with the CBD handling the serious stuff and the CBRA taking care of Beach Road’s social and aesthetic needs.
Around this time there was bustling economic activity in and around Capistrano Beach. The Harvey family opted to sell its entire holdings to developers Hadley-Cherry, who in turn sold the remaining ten lots at the end of Beach Road as well as the Beach Club and parcels of acreage on the Palisades.
With Interstate 5 now completed, Capistrano was about 75 minutes from Los Angeles and it became an increasingly desirable vacation –home community.
Says longtime resident Wayne Schaffer, “Suddenly we had L.A. money and property really started to move. Capistrano was a private beach that was comparatively inexpensive, and the surfing scene was exploding, fueling interest in beach-oriented living.”
Perhaps the preeminent center of Southern California’s surfing community in the late 1950”s and 60”s was Poche (“po-chee”), the section of beach at the south end of Beach Road. The “Poche” railroad sign that once fronted this part of the beach marking a railroad siding (a sort of train passing lane) has been gone for 30 plus years but the name remains.
The stories of those days remain as well when Poche was the unofficial social club, think tank, and surf spot for legendary big wave surfers Walter and Philip “Flippy” Hoffman. (Walter still resides at Poche today, filmmaker, Bruce Brown, surfboard foam inventor Gordon “Grubby” Clark ( a former turnaround resident), world famous surfer and surfboard designer Hobie Alter (for many years a resident) and Surfer magazine editor Pat McNulty, whose widow, Mary, still owns their longtime Beach Road home. In fact, it was right at Poche that Hobie Alter and pals spent countless hours testing, redesigning and perfecting the Hobie Cat, which would become the world’s most popular sport sailboat. Some of the next two generations of the surfing cabal went on to achieve fame of their own starting with world champion surfer Joyce Hoffman in the 1960’s. The 70’s and 80’s saw the rise of pro surfer brothers Sean, Brian, Terrence and Joe McNulty and a little later, Walter Hoffman’s grandson Christian Fletcher, considered the father of modern aerial-style surfing. The tradition continues today with such residents as the Trette family, one of the many Trette brothers is acclaimed big wave surfer Jacob Trette.
But back to the 1970’s. The next Beach Road boom came as a result of the imposition of statewide limitations on the ability to own beachfront property enacted by the newly created Coastal Commission. Consequently, houses shot up in value and once plentiful vacant lots became precious commodities.
Summers saw a steady increase in renters, especially from L.A., Arizona and Utah seeking cooling beach breezes. Residents became more active in both the CBRA and in CBD affairs, in the process making Beach Road safer and more attractive. In 1989, after 61 years as part of unincorporated Orange County, Capistrano Beach became part of the newly expanded city of Dana Point. This gave the Capistrano Beach District better access to local services. Now well into the 21st century, the community continues to see the quaint beach houses and cottages of early years being replaced with significantly larger and more elaborate homes. These have been complemented by a road that was completely rebuilt in 2003, followed by an extensive renovation of the road entrance, gate, and parking areas in 2010-2011.
Over the years the community’s ties have strengthened. Residents have succeeded in creating a model-private beachfront community that offers physical beauty, neighborly camaraderie, and an undeniably exceptional quality of life.
Beach Club in the 1930's
The author of this article, Joe Dunn, has been a Capistrano Beach homeowner since 1963. In his book A Pocket of Paradise, Joe Dunn tells the story of Capistrano Beach's Beach Road. From introducing the locals who first lived there, complete with countless pictures, he brings life to the small beach heaven in Southern California that has influenced the surf and beach-lifestyle culture across America. Reach out to us to purchase a copy! 949.498.7711.