You Must Remember This: CdM aka Red Hill


In the early days of our city, CdM voters were entirely ignored when it came to city politics. Why was that? At that point, CdM wasn’t part of the city, CdM residents didn’t vote in city elections, and as my father put it, “in politics, if you can’t vote, you don’t exist.” Politics 101.

This all changed in 1923 when CdM was annexed. Suddenly – and I’m sure they were very happy to know this – CdM residents actually existed. This coincided with the takeover of city politics by the Balboa sector, led by Lloyd Claire who was pretty much the boss of the city. As is the case with any successful political boss, Claire led a very well-organized machine and part of that was a very well-organized get-out-the-vote routine. At election time every single voter was contacted at least once by a city hall advocate and not by a flyer or a robocall. This was a personal contact, something possible when we were a small town. As the election neared, Claire would get his minions together and go over the voter rolls. As he read each name, there would be a nod and the assurance that the person was voting for the administration. Newport, Balboa, Balboa Island, Lido Isle, Newport Heights – as they went through the districts there was the same chorus: That person will be voting for the administration – until they got to CdM.

You’d think that as the new kids on the block, the CdM folks would want to fit in. This wasn’t the case. The administration’s man in CdM was Johnny Siegel, the assistant city engineer. As Claire called out the CdM names, there was no longer the confident assurance of each vote. Instead, time after time Siegel would shake his head in embarrassment and say he didn’t know how that person would vote. No one could question his loyalty to the effort, so there was only one logical conclusion to this lack of avowed support for the administration. CdM was full of subversives. As a result, CdM came to be known as Red Hill.

I doubt you could find an actual Communist in CdM, but there must have been something in the air or water that differentiated CdM from the rest of the city. Not only did they not march in lockstep with everyone else during the Lloyd Claire reign, it was CdM people at the forefront of the effort to overthrow Claire.  People like Braden Finch, Clyan Hall, Jay Stoddard, Andy Smith, Hanz Lorenz, O.Z. Robertson and Les Steffensen – they were leaders in creating the city charter and shepherding the city through the transition.

Today, CdM is no longer called Red Hill or viewed with any more approval or dislike than any other part of the city. Most of us will never get a personal visit about our vote, but we will be inundated by flyers and robocalls and social media postings, all of which might have made Johnny Siegel’s life a little easier, at least when it came to getting out the vote. That’s just a small part of his role in the city’s history, however. Siegel oversaw the construction of the CdM footbridge which was completed in 1928. More than that, he was instrumental in getting it approved in the first place.

You Must Remember Goldenrod Footbridge

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Amy Senk

Goldenrod Footbridge

In 1926, Coast Highway through CdM was completed, making CdM much more accessible. There were great hopes that this would boost land sales, increase visits and that sort of thing, but not much of this happened for a simple reason. What is now Bayside Drive was then Pacific Gulch which was just what the name suggests – a weed-choked gully. If you wanted to get to the beach, you had to go well out of your way from the inland side of Pacific Gulch to the sea side, or scramble through the dense, prickly undergrowth of the gully. History tells us that after much thought and discussion, the city decided that if they wanted to improve property values, boost tourism and the like, a bridge should be built across Pacific Gulch, connecting both sides of town. That is what the histories say.

According to my father, the real reason the bridge was built was because Siegel’s mother lived on the ocean side of Pacific Gulch, and she was tired of the inconvenience and travail associated with grocery shopping and whatever. She kept bugging her son to build a bridge, he kept bugging the administration and they finally went along with Siegel probably in recompense for having to deal with all those Red Hill voters. Of course they would never admit to doing favors, so they clothed it in lofty civic justifications. Thank heavens today’s politicians would scorn such doings.


Nancy Gardner, former Mayor of Newport Beach, long-time resident and daughter of Judge Robert Gardner, is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.