Long before Costa Mesa became a city, it was called the town of Harper, and its main street — in fact, it’s only significant business thoroughfare — was Newport Boulevard.
The first businesses on the street were the post office and Ozment General Store, which popped up in 1908, said Margy Johnston, who has been researching city history for years in preparation for a new city project.
Under the guidance of the Historical Preservation Committee, cast-iron plaques will soon be installed in front of the shops in the 1800 block of Newport Boulevard — Costa Mesa’s downtown — telling passersby the history of the buildings. The town really started to develop a decade or so after the general store opened, Johnston said.
“In the 1920s you started to see quite a few stores and by the end of the decade the whole block was a thriving business block. They had everything from shoe stores, to a soda fountain, barber shop, billiard parlor, bakery,” Johnston said.
Along with the plaques, the committee is printing glossy pamphlets with historical anecdotes, some pretty amusing. For instance, Meyers Department Store opened up in 1924 at 1806 Newport Blvd. (now a beauty salon). To draw in customers, the couple who owned it invited guests to guess their combined weight. The winner won $10.
As far as Johnston can tell, none of the original businesses on the block remains on the block in the present day, but two of them survived in other locations: the Daily Pilot (then called the Costa Mesa Herald) and the post office (then called the post office). The archives of the former provided much of the fodder for her research.
The last original business, Pink’s Drugs, shut its doors in 1979, according to Johnston, so few people have vivid memories of any of them. A few other downtown businesses still around today have been around on the boulevard for decades like the Goat Hill Tavern, The Grant Boys gun shop and Grand Prix Performance tire shop.
Other businesses have moved, like Newport Rib Co., which Fran Ursini opened up in 1984. It now has a spot on Harbor Boulevard. Ursini remembers a couple of rowdy bars near downtown: Snoopy’s biker bar and Hogue Barmichael’s. The former shut down and the latter moved next to John Wayne Airport.
“That was a hoppin’ bar that the neighbors just got rid of,” Ursini said of Hogue Barmichaels. “They complained so much about them that they moved near the airport.”
Peggy Penjoyan opened her produce shop, Growers Ranch, along with her husband on the boulevard in 1969. Since that time, she said, the street hasn’t changed much.
“If you look around the downtown area around Newport Boulevard, it’s still small independent stores, so the feel of the street is still the same,” Penjoyan said.
The surrounding area has certainly changed, though. Penjoyan remembers buying most of her produce within a few-mile radius. Farmers along Brookhurst Street in Huntington Beach sold asparagus, mushrooms, lettuce, cauliflower and a variety of other crops, not to mention the Segerstroms’ bean farm, which occupied a large portion of Costa Mesa.
Putting the plaques outside of the businesses on present- day Newport Boulevard may help people understand some lesser-known historical facts about the area, Johnston hopes, while also making the area more pedestrian-friendly.
“I’m hoping that our little sidewalk plaques will encourage people to walk along and find out a little bit more about everything,” she said.