Dana Point in the Good Old Days: Old-Timers Tell How It Used to Be


Go ahead. Just start Lorrin Harrison reminiscing about old Dana Point, about surfing “Killer Dana” or making surfboards or diving for pink abalone. Then sit back and be prepared to listen.

“After they dredged out the channel between Corona del Mar and Newport Beach in 1935 and wrecked it for surfing, we came down to Dana Point and San Onofre looking for another place to ride waves,” said Harrison, 77, an Orange County native and 1932 graduate of Orange High School who still surfs several times a week. “I had a surfboard shop in Dana Point in 1936, made redwood and balsa wood boards. That was way before Hobie.”

Ask the Buchheim brothers, Carl and Larry, about Capistrano Beach, where they have lived since the 1920s, and, again, get ready to listen. Or talk to Mel Pierce, who moved to Dana Point in 1930, or Rosemary Osburn, who grew up in the 1920s on the beach in what is now Dana Point Harbor.

Go ahead and ask.


That’s what local author and historian Doris Walker did in the video “Dana Point . . . I Remember It When,” which premiered recently for students at Richard Henry Dana Elementary School. With the help of a $9,000 grant from the city of Dana Point’s cultural funding program and the South County Senior Services organization, she gathered a group of natives and longtime residents, asked them about the old days, and put them in front of the camera.

“Dana Point is young as a city, but it has an old and interesting history,” Walker, a 28-year resident, explains in the opening narrative to the 50-minute film that resulted from those reminiscences. “Before any of us lived here, there were ranchers, fishermen and farmers here. Even before any of those, many thousands of years ago the first people lived in Dana Point. They were the Native Americans with villages along the coastal bluffs and San Juan Creek.”

The film is based on oral histories as told in a series of workshops conducted by Walker last year. Because the film is dedicated to Dana Point’s “new generations” and will be used for local schoolchildren, among others, Walker asked her subjects to talk about their young lives in the South County, what they did for play and fun.

“Everyone likes to go to the beach; well, Indian people liked to go to the beaches too,” said Teeter Romero of San Juan Capistrano, a member of the Juaneno tribe. They fished, rode their boats and collected shells that were used in stick dolls and other Indian art.


Doris Drummond, who spent summers in Dana Point in the early 1900s, remembers Del Obispo as a dirt road called McKinley Avenue, and Spanish being spoken in the markets of San Juan Capistrano. There was no Coast Highway and no bridge across San Juan Creek, but she recalls cottages belonging to Russian commercial fishermen along the beach that is now the harbor.

Mel Pierce, 67, knows the exact day his family moved to Dana Point--July 4, 1930. He remembers riding the 1929 Nash that also served as the school bus, driven by the school janitor who doubled as the bus driver.

Oral histories such as these are precious ways to save the past, said Marilyn Ditty, executive director of South County Senior Services.

“They are the very best ways to maintain the historical relationship of a community, from what it once was to what it is today,” Ditty said. “These are not just trips down nostalgia lane. . . . They give a feeling of a legacy. This area didn’t just have houses pop up on the landscape. . . . I think we have a responsibility to try and preserve the feelings, the ambience of a community.”