You Must Remember This: Dora Hill, first “feminine” mayor



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Courtesy of Nancy Gardner

Political language has changed. I was looking something up in the book, Fifty Golden Years, the Story of Newport Beach, by S. A. Meyer, when I came across this heading: First Feminine Mayor. Interesting. Presumably all prior mayors had been macho types, and this particular mayor was more in touch with his feminine side. Intrigued to learn more about this early metrosexual, I read on, only to learn that the writer was actually talking about the first woman mayor, Dora Hill. If the heading seemed a little odd, it was nothing compared to what followed: “Her pictures never do justice to the soft impeachment (sic) of sparkling eyes, petal-toned cheeks and alluring lines.” Okay, the book was written in 1957, and times change, but if you know your city history, Dora Hill was not just the first woman mayor. She served three terms as mayor and was the driving force behind the city’s Charter, the document that completely changed the way the city was governed. All this, and the best the writer can come up with is petal-toned cheeks? Still, to give him a break, he was trying to add color to what otherwise would be little more than a name in a history book, so here’s some color on three signers of the city’s Charter, people I actually knew because they were friends of my parents.

When I first looked at the list of signers, it took me a moment to realize I knew Lawrence Broering since I never heard him called anything but Hans. Hans served a couple of terms on the city council and owned La Cantina liquor store in Corona del Mar. He and his wife Marge lived on Balboa Island where Marge was known for her knitting talent, creating sweaters that were of remarkable quality. At some point, Hans moved out, earning him bad marks with my mother who was close friends with Marge. They eventually reconciled – Hans and Marge, that is. I don’t think my mother ever quite forgave him.

According to my father, Marco Anich, another signer, was the best waterman he ever knew. He was so good that he was adopted by the beach boys at Waikiki as one of their own when most haole (individuals who are not descendents of native Hawaiians, and usually born on the mainland) were driven off the sand. Marco’s father, Pete Anich, was like the godfather of the fishermen in town. In the early days, if you were a local politician, you wanted Pete on your side because he could bring all those fishing votes…so it’s no surprise that Marco was involved in city government. After leaving the beach boys, Marco got into insurance and married his wife Pat who was a fabulous cook. She gave me my first garlic press. I remember asking my mother what it was, and she hadn’t a clue. If she needed garlic, she poured it out of a shaker.

The final name I knew was that of Les Steffensen, a white-haired man who came over to visit my parents occasionally. He sometimes brought his wife Mary who for some reason reminded me of Glinda in The Wizard of Oz. I knew Les the least of the three, but from everything I’ve heard or read, he was a very witty man. He and my father were founding members of Amigos Viejos, the organization established as the flip side of such worthy groups as the Rotary Club and Kiwanis. The purpose of Amigos Viejos was not to have a purpose, so the monthly “meetings” were an excuse to have a very wet lunch and be amused by the emcee combination of Steffensen and Gardner.

So, there are three of the charter signers with a little bit of color added to their names, if not their faces. And just as a reminder of who Dora Hill really was, here’s my father’s description of her: “One of the all-time greats in Newport Beach political history…strong, intelligent, capable.” Just think, all that and petal-toned cheeks.


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