Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Early Lifeguards and Old Friends", by Cal Porter"

Early Lifeguards and Old Friends

The 1922 photo I used recently in the story, “The Flood”, is to me of great historical interest, but probably of very little interest to anyone else, except perhaps a handful of fellow lifeguard history buffs. Although the photo was taken two years before I was born, in later years I became acquainted with all of these fellows when I, too, joined their ranks of Lifeguard in the year 1939.

Photo above shows Christy and Mac in 1922,
The Lifeguard Crew, Venice Plunge

Photo above shows Christy and Mac in 1946,
The County Crew, Santa Monica Canyon, (me, back right)

The photo at the top shows the 1922 crew of the Venice Salt Water Plunge, built by Abbott Kinney, the founder of Venice, in the days long before there were paid city or county beach lifeguards. There was, however, back then, an unpaid, volunteer beach lifeguard group that was sometimes in evidence but most times not, so the plunge mostly provided its own beach lifeguard, with backup, if needed, from the crew of four or five guards inside watching the usually very crowded pool. As evidence that the plunge guards also guarded the beach and ocean in those early days, the photo above shows the open air tower on the beach in front of the plunge with equipment labeled “Venice Bath House”. In chatting with Mac, above in the photo, during the 1940’s when we guarded together at State beach, he mentioned that the rescues there were numerous since many of those early ocean bathers were non-swimmers. The beach was private down to the mean high tide line but plenty of non-customers drifted over to use the beach due to the availability of renting umbrellas, chairs and towels, and the immaculate cleanliness of the sand, all of this made possible in my day by us fabulous beach boys (before I attained the status of lifeguard). In 1926, the Los Angeles City Lifeguard Force was formed consisting of one man, George Wolf, with about fifteen miles of beach on his hands. He was headquartered at the plunge. The force grew rapidly in ensuing years though and soon a city lifeguard was stationed at the new Westminster Ave. tower on the beach adjacent to the Venice Plunge eliminating the need for a plunge guard out there. However, the plunge guards continued to keep an eye on things out front, especially in the winter months when the nearest city guard was stationed several blocks away at the Brooks Ave. Headquarters.

Two of the men in the photo above became Los Angeles County Lifeguards when the force was established in 1930. One was George “Mac” McManus at the bottom of the photo, the lifeguard involved in the 1910 San Gabriel River rescue. The other was Christy Miller at the top left. Both of these men became lifeguards at the Venice Plunge soon after it was built on the sand in 1907, where the new Venice Skateboard Park is now. Both also were 45 years old when they became L.A.County Guards in 1930, the County wanting a nucleus of men with experience on the new squad. Both also spent almost their entire county service at Will Rogers State Beach, Mac at Santa Monica Canyon and Christy at Castle Rock. Lucky for those of us working the area, Christy’s wife was the manager of Ted’s Café across the street from the headquarters resulting in many a free or reasonably priced meal for hungry lifeguards. Their last two years before retirement were spent at Zuma Beach after the City of L.A. took over the operation of Will Rogers from the County in 1949.

The guard in the photo just above Mac, I have been told, was Wally O’Connor (I didn’t know him until much later when he was older in the 1940’s). Wally became an L.A. City Guard later and was the swimmer who was called the greatest water polo player of all time, having participated and been captain in four Olympic Games. He was the flag bearer for the U.S. in the 1936 Berlin Games refusing to dip the flag while passing before Adolph Hitler.

Photo above shows Wally O'Conner. Photo source: Arthur C. Verge, Los Angeles County Lifeguards.

I knew all the others in the photo. Frank Rivas, second from top right, was the chief lifeguard at the plunge through the years and hired me as a guard there in 1939 after watching me in many of our Venice High School swimming meets. The pay was 35 cents an hour. Incidentally, we seldom lost a swimming meet in our big, warm, salt water plunge against teams coming from their little cold, fresh water tanks. During the time I worked the plunge the L.A. City Guards were out front taking care of the beach and ocean. However, we could see out the large plate glass windows what was going on out there and we did run out to help once in a while if needed because many of the victims were our people out of the plunge. While I guarded there, County Guard Christy Miller worked the evening shift at the plunge after finishing his day shift at Will Rogers. Elmer Orr, top right, gazing out to sea, was the pool’s long time lifeguard, swimming instructor. Lifeguards from all over the bay area would come to the plunge for their workouts, County, City, Santa Monica and others. After a couple of years, when I was old enough, I left the plunge and became an L.A. City Lifeguard myself, enjoying a raise to 75 cents an hour.

It was a sad day when the plunge was condemned and torn down in 1943, the end of the many salt water plunges along the coast. Olympian, Wally O’Connor, and I were the last to ever swim in the old Venice Plunge, sneaking in one late afternoon, for old time’s sake, long after the building had been locked, boarded up and waiting for its demise.

Cal Porter


Copyright 2011 Cal Porter. All Rights Reserved. Used here with permission.

Many Thanks to Cal for contributing and sharing this great story with all of us.

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1 comment:

Originalwatermen said...

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