Mid-20th century Newport

By DUNCAN FORGEY

Growing up in Newport was a wild ride. America was in a mood of post WWII celebration. Life was beautiful among a collection of the rich and not so rich. Living Newport reflected a Napoleon Hill-like world. As children, we were surrounded by the socially connected, but grew to know beatniks and beach bums as we grew into the coming Age of Aquarius. We learned the box step, specialized the surfer stomp and ended up acid dancing. Boomers became a generation of patriot soldiers and peace freaks, athletes and couch potatoes. Many were fierce hunters of nature, while others became concerned conservationists.

Born into a black and white world with three channels, Boomers graduated high school in NBC peacock color with 13 options. By the age of 4, Mickey Mouse captured our hearts, followed by Soupy Sales and multitudes of others. Surfer Magazine was born, and we grew up with Playboy. Boomers knew JFK and Cassius Clay intimately. We were taught to read the classics, but preferred comic books. Because of boomers, schools became overcrowded and family neighborhoods sprung up everywhere. We traveled to the moon and learned how to “duck and cover.”

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Courtesy of OC Archives

Dick Dale and the Deltones

Folk music was celebrated, Beatlemania was born, psychedelic rock blasted eardrums and Dick Dale was a glorified local. To this day, age-old boomers rock with Honk (surf band out of Laguna Beach, best known for the soundtrack for the documentary surf movie, Five Summer Stories). Marilyn and Elvis shocked societal norms as the ‘60s brought southern and Chicago blues to blue-eyed beach kids. We opened up the Olympics to the handicapped and created protests ranging from the draft and civil rights, to the burnt bra and conservation. Boomers lit a fire of revolution that traveled the world. Telephones were tied to walls and cars became our greatest obsession. Disneyland was an orange grove and Newport Coast belonged to Mr. Irvine’s cows. New freeways sprouted up and actually worked for a while.

In reverence to previous generations, baby boomers were definitely not “The Greatest Generation.” They barely lived up to the great expectations thrust at them by World War II and depression-weary parents. Boomers did “nothing,” but somehow overdid everything. They were the largest and most contradictory generation ever, and today they are still clinging on to power.

In Newport, famous people were everywhere. Attracted by the unique harbor and fantastic homes, the smart and talented wanted to live here. The largest natural small boat harbor in the world celebrated all manner of successes. Business was won and lost in poker games at the Irvine Coast Country Club, while secret love affairs blossomed at the Balboa Bay Club. The tuxedoed worked and played alongside the blue collared, amid a mid-century financial explosion. Fathers strived to get further ahead and mothers dedicated themselves to the children. Alcohol was the single greatest disrupter of this perfection.

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Courtesy of OC Archives

Entrance to Corona del Mar with the Orange Inn, circa 1960s

For kids, endearing friendships matured over many years. Life in Newport was a live-in Disneyland. Personal freedom flourished. Boys, muscled and tan, showed off burnt and peeling noses like badges of honor, as girls lathered on coconut oil to look beautifully tanned. Forever days ended only when darkness caused streetlamps to light.

Throughout the city, open lands vastly outnumbered structures. Vacant lots, empty shorelines and open fields became laboratories of nature. From the Back Bay to CdM and Balboa to West Newport, “gangs” of children grew to know their surroundings intimately. Secret spots were everywhere and best yet, parents didn’t care. The town was beyond safe, with beaches and open spaces caring for children like a loving nanny.

Insects, birds and animals, now deceased, drove youthful fascination. Giant flocks of noisy gulls notified us of incoming storms, while roadrunners and burrowing owls made the Irvine Ranch their home. Children appreciated the winds, tides, waves and weather.

No channel was too wide, no bluff too steep and no beach too scary to explore. As vacant lands were replaced by homes and buildings, excess lumber was recycled for homemade skateboards and firewood for the beach. Houses were smaller than today because family rooms were patios open to the sky. Outdoors was our Eden and sunshine our savior.

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Courtesy of Duncan Forgey

Balboa Blues album

Boats were everywhere. Perfect for the perennial bay cruise, Catalina weekend, four o’clock fishing excursion or dangerous adventure down to Mexico. Sailboat races pitted captains against each other in fierce competition. Expansive mountains, deserts and even skiing were but hours away.

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For much of the time, Newport was a single town, and Newport Harbor High School stood alone. Its tower was our Taj Mahal, the promised land and the last bastion for young Newporters to ready for the world. Taught an old-school education, graduates learned structure and discipline, despite powerful urges to rebel or excel. Whether receiving a prestigious award or becoming notorious for getting caught off campus, everyone was a VIP; many were too insecure to know it.

Sounds of slamming lockers, closing doors and echoing buzzers rose above the constant chatter spreading throughout the hallways.  Wentz, Orbach, Hemsley, Hailey, Sloniger, Cauldwell, Lyons and Echternach kept kids inquisitive, yet under control. Teachers injected us with influences of an older generation. Song leaders wore blue and athletes in ties walked straight and proud. Others hustled to class head down in determination, carrying heavy books like treasures, or inconvenient burdens. Cigarettes were snuck “off campus” next to a church and cars kept getting faster and faster. Life after the 16th birthday, became a blur, seemingly gone in seconds.

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Courtesy of Duncan Forgey

St. Christopher medals

New loves were announced with class rings, athletic jackets or St. Christophers. Tokens of innocence soon gone. The shy and the lonely looked upon these unions from afar, covering their broken hearts with tentative smiles. One day, a naive freshman, the next a know-it-all senior. Time was schizophrenic: way too fast or painfully slow.

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Courtesy of OC Archives

Newport Harbor High School graduation, 1957

Girls graduated as young ladies, gracious and directed; boys were maybe men or a little less. A line of caps and gowns symbolized one of the greatest days in young lives. As tassels flipped, another generation of Newporters moved toward an unknown future, super excited to “see the world.” Boomers of the harbor spread like seeds, germinating the world with their unique zest for life. Future athletes, academics, professionals, soldiers, adventurers, tradesmen, wives, husbands and parents left Newport on a mission to live as ambassadors for joy. Each and every day in mid-century Newport represented another bookmark in our daily diary of a gold medal childhood.

“Today is the Oldest You Have Ever Been and the Youngest You’ll Ever be Again.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

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Duncan Forgey, long-time resident, photographer and historian of Newport Beach, makes his home on Kaua’i and is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport. His first novel “Flyin’ Kai: A Pelican’s Tale,” which received a recommendation by Kirkus Reviews, is available through his website – www.duncanforgey.com. He would love to hear from you.


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