"County Recurrent" is pleased to present another gem by our very own Cal Porter, this time about lifeguarding in the 40's. All photos are courtesy of Cal Porter and used here with permission.
A SOJOURN IN THE SOUTH BAY
In 1949, after having worked for some years as a Los Angeles County Lifeguard at Santa Monica Canyon State Beach, and before that as a Los Angeles City Lifeguard in the Venice area, I transferred to the South Bay Division of the county beaches. There I enjoyed my assignments at El Segundo, Manhattan and Hermosa Beaches, with their numerous rescues, and then settled in for a longer spell at Redondo Beach before moving on to Zuma Beach later that year. I mainly worked out of the small lifeguard headquarters building on the beach at the foot of Sapphire Street which was there at that time a few blocks south of the Redondo Piers. Our territory extended from the pier south to Topaz and Knob Hill Streets, a distance of about a mile. There were no enclosed lifeguard towers at the time, just the little, open, wooden box types. It was a pleasant stretch of beach, with the grassy, tree shaded Veterans Park as a backdrop just across the boardwalk. I worked with a bunch of great guys and enjoyed my time there.
(Monstad Pier, Redondo)
(Lifeguard Headquarters, 1949)
Our busiest section of beach was alongside the Monstad Pier which was connected to the Pleasure Pier and the Horseshoe Pier. The whole complex was referred to as the Redondo Pier or simply as the Municipal Pier. The lifeguard tower there was called Ainsworth Court after a small street that ended there at the beach. Crowds of people frequented this beach due to its proximity to the popular piers. There the Redondo Beach Saltwater Plunge once stood, opening in 1909. I swam in it many times as a kid but in 1943 it was torn down, as were all the other beach plunges when their popularity waned.
(The Redondo Plunge)
This is where George Freeth from Hawaii became the first professional lifeguard and probably the first surfer in the United States. Starting in 1908, “The Man Who Could Walk On Water” as he was called, gave surfing demonstrations for the many tourists arriving at the beach on the big, red streetcars. The King Harbor for small boats just north of the piers would not be there for many years, but at one time 25 cents would take you from the pier by water taxi on a three mile trip to the gambling ship, “The Rex”. It was operated by the underworld notable, Tony Cornero, a recent prison inmate jailed on bootlegging charges. It was eventually raided at gun point, and Tony and The Rex were put out of business for good in 1940. I frequently saw The Rex out there but was a bit young to get involved, although a paddle-out occurred to some of us from time to time in order to see just what went on in that infamous boat.
(George Freeth surfing at Wharf #3, 1908)
This now leads us to the main idea of this story and to another pier that was once in the area. It was called Wharf #3 or The Lumber Pier. It ran some distance out to sea just south of the lifeguard building where I worked. It was a major shipping pier until San Pedro Harbor took over most of the business. It was demolished in the late 1920’s so I probably saw it but don’t remember since I was a young kid then. However, when they took down the pier they cut the pilings and left the stubs imbedded in the sand that were offshore out in deeper water. Nobody I talked with seemed to know anything about the old pier or remembered it, but those pilings had to still be out there when I was lifeguarding at that beach. And so once I heard that there had been a pier there I just had to check it out. With my swim fins and diving mask one early morning I started exploring in the crystal clear water, not knowing exactly where the pier was. After some time I located it and found that the first sets of pilings were not too deep for free diving, which was good since that’s all we had, as scuba diving was many years away. From then on each day that I went diving on the old pier I would try to go deeper, go to the next set of pilings, and then the next. I found that I was diving much deeper than ever before by gradually increasing the depth over a period of time. What I also found, clustered around and under the overgrown bases of the pilings, were lobsters, dozens of lobsters, hundreds of lobsters, lobsters of all sizes, a bonanza of lobsters. I had been diving for lobster and abalone for years but I had never seen anything like this. I had been diving ever since I was a kid with goggles, before fins and face plates. I had set lobster traps in the waters off Palos Verdes from a boat my brother and I had. I had a commercial fishing license. But this looked like no one had ever touched or trapped this area. At first I would just take a couple home for dinner. Then I started giving them away.
(Cal Porter, "Bugs", 1949)
Then one day I talked to the owner of the fish market on the Redondo Pier. He said he would take all I could bring him, his local source wasn’t reliable, and I did have a license. So now I would often arrive at the beach long before I was scheduled to work, attach two burlap lobster bags to my floats, and out I would go to the remains of the almost fifty year old pilings. It would take a while, with a great many dives, and there were no wet suits in those days, but in the cold, deep water I would fill the bags as quickly as possible and then haul the lobsters down to the pier. I never saw anyone else dive there, and I didn’t exactly spread the word. This went on for some time that year, and the extra money was good, especially since during that time I became the father of a son who is now over sixty years old and worked as a lifeguard himself for some time.
The days turned into weeks, then months. I did a whole lot of diving and time passed quickly. Then the day came when I left Redondo Beach with its old pier and all those lobsters and transferred to the Zuma Beach area in the Northern Division. It was there that I lifeguarded for almost the next thirty years right into retirement.
I never dove Wharf #3 again.
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Many Thanks to Cal for sharing this lobster bonanza and bit of Southern Section history with all of us, including the great photos. And don't ya'all agree it was smart of Cal to not spread the news around about the lobster bonanza at the Wharf #3 pilings?... otherwise guys like Asturias and his buddy Ned would have taken too many bugs...
Until next time.....
Will Maguire, Editor
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