They may not be listed among the Seven Wonders of the World, but Newport-Mesa has its own historical gems that should not be missed.
Giza has its Pyramids, but Costa Mesa has the Ali Baba Motel, something no one on Newport Boulevard can miss. And what do the Hanging Gardens of Babylon have on the Corona del Mar Tide Pools?
These are some of the places that make Newport-Mesa what it is.
A steak at the Arches, a beer at the Goat Hill Tavern or a stroll along the Balboa Pier — they're almost mandatory to the local experience.
And then there are the landmarks: Who could forget the lights at night on the Balboa Pavilion or the bell tower at Newport Harbor High School?
There are some landmarks that have been lost but not forgotten. Many have fond memories of their first strike at Kona Lanes or seeing a second-run double feature for $1 at the Mesa. And don't forget the less-than-frightening Scary Dark Ride at the Balboa Fun Zone — what a thrill.
We wanted to take a look at some of the local landmarks in the area and explore their histories. We came up with this list of 14 places that hold a spot in local history — twice as many as the Seven Wonders of the World. Take that, Giza.
Click here to see a slide show of the 14 Wonders of Newport-Mesa.
The 14 Wonders of Newport-Mesa
3334 West Coast Highway, Newport Beach
Restaurant owner Dan Marcheano is counting down the days — 88 to go, as of today — until he gives up the historic building that is his Arches Restaurant, a fine dining establishment that specializes in steak and abalone dishes.
But soon Marcheano will be packing up and heading to another Newport location to open up a barbecue version of the restaurant, which he says will retain the Arches name. Newport native Joseph McGinty Nichol — better known as McG, a Hollywood film director and TV producer — announced earlier in the year his plans to take over the restaurant's lease and retain its Newport charm.
"We just want this to be a reflection of everything that is so great about this town — the Wedge, the Dory Fleet, the junior lifeguards," McG told the Daily Pilot earlier this year.
Even if McG is not able to keep the name, stories about the Arches will likely not fade away. The building was constructed in 1922, Marcheano said, and has catered to a host of celebrities and sometimes illicit activities over the last eight decades.
Waitresses who worked at the restaurant in the 1930s told Marcheano of knife fights happening at the now upscale eatery.
"There were rum-runners across the street — they used to get the rum coming right here in the bay illegally and the Arches would be serving it," Marcheano said.
Marcheano heard numerous stories about city council members coming to have drinks, cigars and dinner with businessmen before council meetings.
"By the time they went to City Hall, everything would already be done — the good old days," Marcheano joked.
Over the years, the Arches has become an iconic building and restaurant with generations of people continuing to make reservations.
ALI BABA MOTEL
2250 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa
Built in the 1950s, the Ali Baba Motel may seem out of place in coastal Orange County. But as soon as you spot its gold, domed roof and Moorish architecture, you know you've hit Costa Mesa. And while it enjoyed a flicker of fame for appearing in the 1987 film "Dragnet," starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks, the motel could be better known today because of its tenants.
Last year the motel was named by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as one of five motels in the area designated to house convicted sex offenders. According to the Megan's Law website, there were no registered offenders living there as of April 26.
The motel made the news earlier this month when police shot at a man reportedly fleeing the parking lot in a stolen car on April 6, police said. Gregory Laumann, 31, was later arrested at Newport Boulevard and Del Mar Avenue.
GOAT HILL TAVERN
1830 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa
The Goat Hill Tavern is a no-frills neighborhood bar, complete with sawdust on the floor, 141 beers on tap, peanuts (and you get to toss the shells on the floor too), foosball, a pool table, shuffleboard and historical relics hanging on just about every inch of wall.
Although the Goat Hill Tavern may not have technically been around since the early days of the city, the row of buildings it sits in has been around since the early 1920s, Costa Mesa Historical Society director Mary Ellen Goddard said.
But the location has housed a number of taverns since the 1930s, Goat Hill Tavern owner Robert "Zeb" Ziemer said. Ziemer came to town in the early 1980s and set out to make it comfortable for the locals.
"We turned it into a real nice bar — a real nice neighborhood bar," Ziemer said. "It was really a dive before, you know, and our beer is probably the cheapest in town — the biggest selection and the coldest too."
He said much about the bar has stayed the same, except the music.
"We're not playing much Mitch Miller anymore," he said with a hearty laugh.
Despite the Top 40 tunes sometimes playing over the loud speaker, Ziemer's bar still has all the old military regalia up, honoring the time he spent in the Naval Air Force during the Korean War. Old photos of Costa Mesa hang on the walls, giving drinkers a chance to check out the town before most of them were around. It may not smell like a fancy watering hole, but that's not the point. It's a place to gather, play a game and make friends, Ziemer said.
"The Goat Hill Tavern [has] been in the same spot since I was a wee child — now that's a landmark," Costa Mesa resident Tom McGee, 30, wrote in a message to the Daily Pilot.
Since he was 21, McGee often hit the bar to enjoy a pitcher or two with friends.
400 Main St., Newport Beach
More than 100 years ago, the Balboa Pavilion was built above the waters of Newport Harbor and became a place for recreation, sport fishing and eating.
History aside, the building's mere location makes it a notable structure. It's built on pilings on the water, something that would probably never happen today, said Bob Black, general manager of Catalina Passenger Service and Balboa Pavilion.
In November, Leo Gugasian bought the Balboa Pavilion and continued the restoration started by former owner Phil Tozer. But other than the ownership, not much else has changed recently. The Harborside Restaurant and Grand Ballroom, Catalina Passenger Service and Davey's Locker Sportfishing operate from the pavilion today.
Although a bowling alley that once graced the upper level is no longer there, the restaurant does seem to be taking a note from the past — booking live entertainment weekly.
Tourists and locals alike often go to the pavilion in search of its roots in Newport Beach history, Black said. The pavilion connected Los Angeles and Newport Beach in the early 1900s.
The Balboa Pavilion has been immortalized on countless postcards, paintings and photos. Images of it at nighttime with its iconic lights reflecting off the surface of the bay are especially popular.
"The history of the place is what's important, which goes along with the whole area really…. It kind of gives a little quaint feeling down here," Black said. "It's neat. I like it that way."
300 E. Coast Highway, Newport Beach
It may not be an iconic landmark that can be seen for miles, but Pearson's Port has been a mainstay in the Newport Beach fishing industry for 35 years.
The small shop, bolted down to a dock under the Pacific Coast Highway Bridge, has had for 35 years some of the freshest fish, lobster, shrimp and crab available — and those who shop there get to know the fisherman who caught it.
Tom Pearson goes out fishing from Mexico to Monterey about five days a week, weather permitting. His wife, Terese Pearson, holds down the fort, weighing out the goods for customers.
San Clemente resident Charlotte Off said she's hooked on the place. She originally came for the store's fresh seasonal lobster but quickly came back to buy live shrimp — something in high demand.
"It's the freshest fish I've ever had, plus I come in because Terese and Tom are such a kick…. You walk in there and they treat you like family," Off said.
The small shop has evolved over the last three decades, originally being just a walk-up shop built and run by Tom Pearson's dad.
"Our goal is just to continue serving our community," Terese Pearson said.
Now it has a roof that doesn't leak and tanks full of live rock crab, fresh snapper, halibut, salmon, octopus and harpooned swordfish — all caught in the Pearsons' boats.
One thing that hasn't changed over the years is Mother Nature, and the weather determining whether it's ice or seafood that fills their tanks, Terese Pearson said.
"She still has her own agenda," she said, laughing.
ROBINS HALL BELL TOWER, NEWPORT HARBOR HIGH SCHOOL
600 Irvine Ave., Newport Beach
After June 22, Newport Beach will be without what is perhaps its most visible landmark — one that has towered over Newport Harbor High School for 77 years.
The Robins Hall bell tower once served as a landmark for sailors, but now because it was deemed seismically unsafe, the landmark will be torn down.
But it's not the end of an era, Newport Mesa Unified School District Assistant Supt. Paul Reed said. A new bell tower will be built, but the designs are quite similar to the building that stands today.
"It's an honoring of history," Reed said. "Is it the end of an era? No. I think it's an extension of an era."
School Assistant Principal Dave Martinez said they have been working since the building was condemned in 2003 to clean out the buildings, saving what historical artifacts they find along the way. Things that can't be salvaged, including specially carved beams, will be replicated in the new building.
"The building really speaks to the heritage of the high school," Martinez said. "It is really the oldest school in the district — I mean it's a landmark, for the community's several generations have gone through that school and [Robins Hall] is where the high school started."
One thing that won't be saved is the writing on the wall. Although Martinez hasn't seen it, workers have told him there is quite a bit of writing and messages at the top of the tower.
3459 Via Lido, Newport Beach
On Saturday, John Wayne's "The Searchers" played as the last feature of the Newport Beach Film Festival and John Wayne Centennial Celebration.
And the Lido Theatre was the perfect place for a historically relevant film to screen. The theater was opened in 1938, and the walls are adorned with films of the time. Its marquee, with its neon lights, and box office are all original, and much of the theater has been restored to look as such.
The theater has found its niche, often running surf flicks — the world premiere of "Riding Giants" was held there — and independent movie screenings that have balcony seating at a premium.
The Regency Theater chain owns and operates it.
East Ocean Front, between Washington and Palm streets, burned down in 1966
Before "The OC" and other TV shows catapulted this area into TV fame, Newport Beach was renowned for its world-class entertainment at the Rendezvous Ballroom. A wide range of people would come, all dolled up in suits and ties and dresses and skirts to boogie down at the block-long dance hall on the Balboa Peninsula.
Newport Beach resident Bill Grundy used to work as a bouncer and ticket-taker, much like other high school students during the 1930s, he said.
"It was the place to go…. I remember working there and seeing Frank Sinatra with [Tommy] Dorsey when [Sinatra] was just a young punk kid," Grundy said. "He was all skinny, and so forth, wearing a big bow tie."
Grundy remembers seeing Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and other big band icons play there.
But in 1935, a fire badly damaged the Rendezvous. But later that year it was rebuilt and later became a hub for surf music.
Original Surfaris guitar player Bob Berryhill, who helped the band rise to fame when he and his mates recorded "Wipe Out," played the hall when he was only 16. He said he remembered a sea of heads, with just about everyone dancing to the beat of their surf jams. Legendary surf music pioneer Dick Dale was a frequent player at the club.
"So many great acts would come through the Rendezvous," Newport Beach historian Chris Trela said. "A lot of careers were launched there."
BALBOA FUN ZONE
Along the bay, between Palm and Main streets
For years a staple of summer beach crowds, the fun zone has changed a little in the last year, but it's still an icon of old Newport Beach. Visitors can buy a souvenir in the shops, enjoy a Balboa bar, play Skee-Ball in the arcade or look at the homes along the water from the top of the Ferris wheel.
The latest addition to the fun zone is the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum, which started moving into a new space at the fun zone in September. Also that month, three rides — the Scary Dark Ride, Drummer Boy and the bumper cars — closed to make way for future expansions of the museum. Some of the new exhibits have opened, including a touch tank of sea animals that came in March.
DIEGO SEPULVEDA ADOBE
Estancia Park, Costa Mesa
In the early 1820s a small adobe structure was built as a station between the missions along the California coast. The Diego Sepulveda Adobe, as that humble building is now called, served later as a ranch house and an American Legion Post before the land was bought by the Segerstrom family.
The adobe is now a museum, open twice a month, and run by the Costa Mesa Historical Society. In 1963 the Segerstroms donated the property with the charge that it would be restored. Three years later the restorations were complete and a piece of the city's history was revived.
"It tells some of the history of Costa Mesa, back about the time when the area was used for cattle raising…. It's important for people to understand that. We're so urbanized now that it's hard sometimes for people to realize it hasn't been like that forever," Costa Mesa Historical Society director Mary Ellen Goddard said.
Estancia Park has also provided relics of the past — the skeleton of a mastodon was found there in 1962.
1890 Newport Blvd., Costa MesaAlthough it smelled musty and the floors were sticky, the Edwards Mesa Cinema was a landmark for Costa Mesa with its $1 movies and its original box office.
The Mesa stood on Newport Boulevard and 19th Street and was demolished about 10 years ago to make way for Borders Books and Music.
Despite a group called Save the Mesa apparently forming under the direction of former City Councilman Al Pinkly, according to news reports, the Mesa was not spared.
Costa Mesa resident Bill Turpit was one of the only people to address the council about saving the theater in 1997.
"It really had two really important characteristics: One was it was a historical structure because Costa Mesa isn't very old and most people who had grown up in Costa Mesa had gone to the movies there … but I think the other feature of it that really struck me was its geographic importance," Turpit said. "It was the landmark entrance to our downtown community — when you came down Newport Boulevard or off the 55 Freeway, the Mesa theater was there and immediately announced to you that you were in Costa Mesa and you were in downtown Costa Mesa."
The theater showed second-run movies but apparently was not enough of a money-maker at $1 a show to make it work.
"The seats were a little lumpy, the floor was very sticky, but it was wonderful," Turpit said.
2699 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa
For 45 years, Kona Lanes and its famous Googie marquee sign attracted residents to the 40-lane bowling alley, but in 2003 Kona Lanes was demolished in the name of progress.
C.J. Segerstrom and Sons proposed bringing a Kohl's store to Harbor Boulevard and Mesa Verde Drive, but the city spiked the idea because of traffic and other issues. Regardless, lanes owner Jack Mann closed the doors, with the Segerstrom demolition crew following closely.
"It would've been very easy to renovate that facility," former planning commissioner Tim Cromwell said. "I get irritated and disappointed every time I drive by and see a bunch of weeds within a fence when our Costa Mesa kids could be having fun" there.
The land is vacant on that corner, and Segerstrom representatives did not return phone calls about what, if any, plans there are for the parcel.
Cromwell, a shopping center developer, was vocal in trying to save the lanes.
"There was an operator financed, ready and willing and the owner of the property would not meet with them," Cromwell said. "The owner stated publicly and in front of the City Council it had no interest from bowling operators."
But all is not lost of Kona Lanes. Part of the neon sign lives on at the American Sign Museum in Ohio. It was one of the first 20 signs the museum took in, founder and president Tod Swormstedt said Tuesday by phone.
On Corona del Mar's beaches, rare and delicate creatures dwell in the tide pools. Tentacled sea anemones, prickly purple urchins, crabs and the slug-like sea hare can be found at low tide among the rocks. But be sure to obey the rule all school children know: Look, but don't touch.
Tide pool creatures are fragile and may not survive being picked up or exposed to the hot sun, and it's illegal to take them away from their habitat. An important marine sanctuary, the tide pools are seen by thousands of school children and beachgoers every year. The best time to see them is from April to June at low tide, which comes twice a day. For tide information, go to www.tidelinesonline.com.
NEWPORT AND BALBOA PIERS
One is as old as the city of Newport Beach, the other is older. The first pier here — today's Newport Pier — was built in 1889 to serve McFadden wharf, an early commercial port that went by the wayside after its railway was shut down by more powerful concerns. Its partner, the Balboa Pier, was built in 1906.
Both piers had to be reconstructed in 1939, after major storms the previous year destroyed them in places. Newport Pier, which was moved slightly east of its original spot when it was rebuilt, is the longer of the two at 1,032 feet. The Balboa Pier measures 919 feet.
Even though they're now approaching 70, the piers are in good shape after nearly $3 million in renovations that replaced the concrete decking, reinforced the pilings and generally spruced them up in 2002. In summer the piers see heavy traffic, with the lifeguard headquarters at the Newport Pier's foot and restaurants at the end of each — Ruby's at the Balboa Pier, and Newport Pier Seafood just where you'd expect it.
Click here to see a slide show of the 14 Wonders of Newport-Mesa.