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Hermosa’s History Gets Its Day in the Sun : Books: Former Mayor Patricia Gazin fills in some gaps in the city’s past. Her ‘incomplete compendium,’ while not definitive, serves up colorful historical slices.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After 17 years of poring over tattered newspaper clippings and reviewing historical documents, former Hermosa Beach Mayor Patricia Gazin has produced a history of her city that resembles the city itself: quirky, unconventional and full of interesting characters.

“Hermosa Beach, though wishing to be pastoral, remote, relaxed, the perfect environment for family life, suffers all the slings and arrows faced by big cities,” wrote Gazin, who in 1959 created history herself by becoming the city’s first councilwoman. “We have had our luminaries, celebrities, vagrants, mendicants, criminals, spendthrift drunks, unsolved murders and beach riots.”

Gazin, 67, who served as mayor during her two terms on the council, began work on her account in the early 1970s after noticing that there were no existing histories of the city. The project dragged on for years, and she came to realize why: The city’s records were a shambles, with huge gaps in the collection of documents.

Gazin, a former newspaper reporter, put her journalistic skills to work. She interviewed old-timers and examined whatever historical treasures she could find. One invaluable source was the former Hermosa Beach Review, a weekly paper that covered the beach scene from 1903 until it closed in 1984. She wrote the book in her cluttered upstairs den overlooking the ocean.

“Footnotes on the Sand,” as her 168-page book is titled, does not purport to be the definitive history of Hermosa Beach, which became the county’s 19th incorporated city on Jan. 14, 1907. Instead, Gazin says, she picked nuggets from Hermosa’s early years and compiled them with little attention to chronology. Her subtitle says it all: “An Incomplete Compendium, an Arbitrary Selection of Events, Rumor, Speculation, Some Fact and Some Fiction About Hermosa Beach.”

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The book, designed and typeset by Gazin’s husband Myron and available only by mail order, reads like a conversation with the author, quickly jumping from topic to topic. It also reflects Gazin’s journalistic roots, as she quibbles with anything not backed up by the facts, points out inconsistencies in the records and exposes the city, warts and all.

Gazin spends two pages reviewing the evidence suggesting that the Ku Klux Klan had a presence in Hermosa Beach in the 1920s. Although she found no proof that a Klan chapter existed in Hermosa, she said local officials sought during the early part of the century “to keep blacks off their ‘white beaches.’ ”

In explaining how Hermosa Beach earned its name, Gazin dismisses suggestions that Spanish sailors discovered the city in the 15th Century and named it for the Spanish word for beautiful.

“Every city along the coast claims to be discovered by some Spanish explorer, and it’s a bunch of nonsense,” Gazin said in an interview. “I have no faith in that at all.”

Her book takes a less romantic view: “It has been generally conceded that the name of Hermosa Beach was coined on the spur of the moment by one of the early real estate developers, perhaps Burbank and Baker, agents for Moses Sherman.”

A chapter on local luminaries indicates that Hermosa Beach was a popular stomping ground of Hollywood celebrities and other notables. Ozzie and Harriet Nelson lived in Hermosa, as did author John Steinbeck and poet Robinson Jeffers. William Jennings Bryan and Clark Gable were visitors.

It is Hermosa’s local heroes who make some of the most interesting reading: Ralph Matteson, a man widely regarded as the city’s founder, who fell out of favor when his banks closed; Lady (Bob) Montgomery, a wealthy local daredevil, and Beverly Aadland, a schoolgirl who became a companion of Errol Flynn.

Gazin also traces the early history of the beachfront Biltmore Hotel, which was seized by the Internal Revenue Service for unpaid taxes and later demolished in 1969. The 0.82-acre Biltmore site remains in the news today, with discussions raging over how to develop the now-vacant plot.

“Footnotes on the Sand” is not Gazin’s first work on Hermosa Beach. In 1977, in the middle of her historical research, she published “Castles on the Sand,” a look at the city’s old homes.

Since “Footnotes” was printed late last month, Gazin has become a frequent speaker before local community groups. Those who have grabbed up early copies say they appreciate the book’s gossipy tone and its preservation of Hermosa’s history.

“She did a wonderful job,” said Rick Learned, a past president of the city’s Historical Society, whose family has lived in Hermosa Beach for decades. “Her book is the best compendium we have. It captured a lot of the colorful past of Hermosa. It’s full of interesting vignettes.”

Gazin, an avid book collector whose house, decorated with local memorabilia, resembles a shrine to the past, said she appreciates all the praise she has received but has no illusions about becoming the next Danielle Steele.

“It’s strictly a local book,” she said. “Hermosa Beach is kind of a footnote city. Nothing earthshaking has happened here. It’s not that important to the world, but those of us who live here really identify with the city.”

Copies of the book can be ordered by writing to 1250 First St., Hermosa Beach, Ca. 90254. Hardbound copies cost $25, paperbacks $15. Add $3 for postage and handling.

Excerpts From ‘Footnotes on the Sand’ Early histories of Southern California give short shrift to Hermosa Beach and most other beach cities. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, the debut of Hermosa Beach onto the world stage was not an earth-shattering affair. With no turbulence, little fanfare, the city was born, became of record and disturbed history not at all.

It is generally conceded that the name (Hermosa Beach) was not applied by any of the Spanish sailors cruising our West Coast in the 15th Century. Nothing so romantic. Those Spanish seafarers doubtless sailed right by our place, pushing on to the greater rewards of finding and settling Los Angeles, San Gabriel, San Francisco and other alluring spots. It has been generally conceded that the name of Hermosa Beach was coined on the spur of the moment by one of the early real estate developers, perhaps Burbank and Baker, agents for Moses Sherman.

From “Footnotes on the Sand” by Patricia A. Gazin, copyright 1991


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