Editor’s note: This monthly feature uncovers Santa Monica’s history by compiling notable city happenings from a century ago. The stories are found in old newspaper archives.

Developers and engineers were trying to turn Santa Monica beaches into a “bathers’ paradise” a century ago this month.

Money was pouring into projects to make the local coast more desirable, one of several signs of growing interest in the area.

Frank E. Bundy, manager of the beach property of the Santa Monica Land Company, was conducting “an experiment in beach-making” by constructing groins, according to an archived Los Angeles Times article. Groins are shoreline structures that interrupt the longshore flow of sand.

“When the ingenuity of man and the work of the sea have completed the task, the company will spend a large sum in making the new beach, now filled with gravel and small rocks, one of the most attractive pleasure spots in Southern California,” the article reads.

“The property of the Santa Monica Land Company has long presented a serious problem,” the article continues. “Being below the famous Palisades Park at Santa Monica, it was considered valuable, but bathers avoided it because of the gravel and sharp rocks.”

The success of Bundy’s plan convinced associates to build groins along other parts of the local coast, according to the article.

Crime ring

A man accused of spearheading a real estate crime ring across 36 states was arrested 100 years ago this month and booked in Santa Monica — on an erroneous murder charge.

Robert Connely’s operation included allegedly giving a woman a deed to a nonexistent Santa Monica property in exchange for a truck valued at more than $2,000, or more than $44,000 in modern currency.

There were numerous alleged victims, according to an archived Times article.

“One of them alleged that the old man had convinced them that he had property in Arizona through which a new railroad was soon to be run,” the article reads. “They declared that he showed elaborate maps of the land on which the railroad lines had been drawn, and also produced stock certificates of the proposed road … of which no record could be unearthed.”

Authorities believed Connely had knowledge of a San Bernardino man’s death in an automobile accident, and a telephonic miscommunication between investigators led to the mistaken murder charge.

Connely denied ever faking documents and called his arrest “an outrage,” according to the article. Connely also said that he did business with the San Bernardino man, Henry Clay Crowell, but had no connection to his death.

“A rather strange feature of the case is that the old man, despite the abundant evidence of his trades and his own acknowledgement that he has vast property holdings, has little if any cash,” the article reads.

Relatives were unable to pay his bond of $3,000, about $66,000 in modern currency.

Murder trial

A bizarre murder trial was unfolding a hundred years ago this month in the case of Benton L. Barrett, a 64-year-old Santa Monica man who was charged with killing his wife and stepson and then incinerating them.

Barrett confessed to the slayings but argued that they were in self-defense, according to archived Times articles.

“From all sides comes evidence that the old man was of unsound mind,” an article reads.

Dive for cash

A man accepted a $100 dare to jump into the ocean from Santa Monica’s former Crystal Pier a century ago this month.

The man completed the feat with his clothes on and was back at his table at Nat Goodwin’s cafe within half an hour, according to an archived Times brief, “wet but smiling, and $100 to the good.”

The reward from Bill Hendry would now be worth about $2,200.

jeff@smdp.com

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