Saturday, May 11, 2013

"The Lifeguard Tower", by Cal Porter


In the beginning there were no lifeguard towers on the beach; which is understandable since in the beginning there were no lifeguards on the beach.  There were lifeguards in the many indoor, salt water plunges along the bay in the early 1900’s but not out on the sand.   As a consequence drownings were not infrequent.   When Hawaiian George Freeth arrived in California in 1907 and became a lifeguard in the Redondo Salt Water Plunge he set about organizing volunteer beach lifeguard squads along the busier beaches of Santa Monica Bay.   
                     1909, Freeth on the left with the volunteer lifeguards he organized at Venice Beach 

These unpaid volunteer lifeguards could be found during the summer months at Redondo Beach and Venice Beach and spotted here and there along the bay, but the other miles of beaches remained unprotected.  At first the volunteers simply roamed the sand on foot with primitive rescue equipment, but they did help to save many lives.  By the early 1920’s a few, very small enclosed towers were placed on the busier beaches.  These were uncomfortable; room for just one man and reached by a ladder, but it did get the lifeguard up above the crowded beaches where he could better view the swimmers.  
                                1920’s Lifeguard tower, Venice Beach  

The first open box towers appeared in the 1920’s on the beaches in front of the salt water plunges and a few of the beach clubs.  These towers afforded good visibility and could be easily moved around to different locations.  A beach umbrella could be opened if the guard desired respite from the sun.                                             

1920’s lifeguards in front of the Venice Plunge.  I lifeguarded with these fellows at the plunge as a teenager; many of them became L.A. County and City Beach Lifeguards later.    

The first two professional, paid beach lifeguards were hired in 1926, George Wolf in Venice and Jim Reinhart in Hermosa.  They had no towers.  Jim roamed the sands on foot and George patrolled the beaches from Venice to Playa Del Rey in a car.  The following year many more lifeguards were hired, and the little wooden towers seen above were quickly assembled and scattered along most of the beaches. 

In those days (over 70 years ago) a friend, possibly bringing you a cold drink, could visit at the tower.  Today the girls in the towers are all professional, trained beach lifeguards. 

In the 1940’s the little wooden towers were deemed to be inadequate for the job.  More roomy towers with more storage space were called for.  The maintenance foreman designed the new towers and through the years they replaced almost all the old ones.

A place for everything: rescue board locker, dressing room, and lookout tower.

Well, then along comes the 60’s and who needs all that space, and why a paddleboard at every tower?  A smaller, more economical, functional tower is what we need, one with an outside deck to sit on.  Soon most of the old ones were removed and made room for the new ones even though we kind of liked that dressing room with individual lockers. 
                      My last tower, Nicholas Beach, Zero Point, 1976

One more and the evolution of the lifeguard tower is finished.  The same principle as the above tower but today’s tower is more roomy, more functional and maybe even more attractive.


It’s pretty nice alright but for some reason I really liked those little white, wooden, open towers with all that fresh air and sunshine over seventy years ago.

And the visitors weren’t too bad either.


("The Lifeguard Tower", by & Copyright 2013 Cal Porter. All Rights Reserved.  Used here with permission.  All photos courtesy of Cal Porter.)

*** Many Thanks to Cal for stepping up once again and sharing another great story with all of us. ***


Until next time.....

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1 comment:

Mary Ann Henderson said...

My daughter who resides by the Atlantic Ocean in the Hamptons and Florida found your website. Lee Porter was my brother-in-law.I have heard about Cal and Lee's adventures for years I am delighted that Cal is putting some of them in print. We are sharing them with Marge, Lee's wife of many years, and with their children.

My daughter, Ivy Rauscher, is married to a veteran of water sports. He mainly wind surfs now.

Thank you for sharing. Mary Ann Henderson