THE DISTANT PAST — One hundred years ago this month, Santa Monica’s mayor and police chief completed the organization of the Municipal Life-saving Corps but “Baywatch” it was not.

The original crew was described, in the Los Angeles Times archives, as a dozen “husky” men.

Lifeguards were a novel idea in the early 1900s and it’s unclear when exactly they first came to Santa Monica beaches. Today, the Los Angeles County Fire Department provides the lifeguards and October of 1914 marked the first mention of a “Municipal Life-saving Corps” in the city by the sea but there were likely some people guarding our water prior to the official formation of this corps.

“At least one man will always be on watch,” the archive said of the corps, “so if swimmers become exhausted or women lose their nerve while fighting breakers, they will only have to call for aid and help will be given.”

It would have been nice to have one of those guys around earlier in the month when Clarence Gifford, a proofreader at a Los Angeles newspaper, walked into the ocean with no intent of coming back out. Proofreading will do that to you.


Gifford’s death wasn’t the only one in Santa Monica in October of 1914. In fact, five Santa Monica pioneers died over a two-day period, according to the Times archive.

Emily E. Potter, 90, descended from Rhode Island pioneers and she crossed the plains to California in the 1860s to join gold rushing relatives.

“She built one of the first substantial homes erected in this city and was active in establishing the free public library and founding the Women’s Club,” the Times article said.

Her niece, the article said, was “the first white child born in Santa Monica.”

George Evans was 80 and related to the founder of the Soldiers’ Home.

Stephen Carpenter, one of the first residents of the city, was laid in Woodlawn Cemetery at 80 years old. His daughter was “one of the principals” in the first marriage in the city, according to the article.

Benjamin Van Tress, a resident of Santa Monica since 1859, had come to California from the “Great Salt Lake.” No mention was made of the fifth pioneer, or the age of Van Tress, but the article notes that their combined age was 401.

Film industry

Film was big business in Santa Monica — one article notes that a farm for movie animals opened in the city in October 1914 — and as with many big businesses in Santa Monica some locals started to chafe with the industry.

“A director and a whole company of movie actors were this morning deluged with water from a garden hose wielded in the hands” of Mrs. Heunecke, who owned land at Third Street and Santa Monica Boulevard, according to the Times archive.

She was known to dislike people walking on her property.

“When two movie heroes today engaged in a bloody battle off the public street she started in to fight,” the article said.

The soaking was followed by “a shrapnel-like fusillade of rocks and stones,” which continued until the cops showed up.

Any developer believing in the repetition of history may be wise to invest in a sturdy umbrella.

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