Lobdell: Remember these historic figures

This year's Daily Pilot 103 got me to thinking. Who would make the all-time DP 103 list of influential people in Newport-Mesa history?

Here's my stab at the beginnings of the list. I limited myself to folks who could be considered early pioneers or founding fathers of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.

I'm hoping some of you will shoot me an e-mail citing the pioneers I've missed, along with influential people of Newport-Mesa throughout the 20th century. Maybe together next year we could unveil Newport-Mesa's Top 103 Most Influential People of All Time.

Quick disclaimer/thanks: Most of the information below was shamelessly taken from Costa Mesa and Newport Beach city websites, the Costa Mesa Historical Society and Newport Beach Nautical Museum writings, books on local history and Wikipedia.

In rough chronological order, here are my initial picks:

Members of the Tongva and Juaneño/Luiseño nations: These Native Americans made Newport-Mesa their home for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries. The hunters and gatherers staked out some of the area's prime real estate, including the riverbanks of the Santa Ana River and land above Crystal Cove.

Diego Sepulveda: As the Spanish land grants were partitioned in the mid-19th century, Sepulveda, the former municipal magistrate for the Pueblo de Los Angeles, around 1868 acquired property in what's now Costa Mesa. He expanded a small abode home — used to house herdsmen and missionaries from the San Juan Capistrano Mission, and located near the banks of the Santa Ana River — and made it his home. It was the first non-Native American home in the area and remains the second oldest existing building in Orange County (the chapel at the San Juan Mission is older).

Gabe Allen: Seafarer, trader and pioneer. Owner of a wild, bushy beard long enough to cover up his collar. In 1870, he bought 2,760 acres in the Costa Mesa area owned by Sepulveda for $10,500. He lived on the property for 16 years and subdivided the land to farmers, leading to the early short-lived communities of Fairview and Paularino.

Capt. Samuel S. Dunnells: In 1870, Dunnells guided a 105-ton steamer, Vaquero, into a natural harbor formed at the mouth of the Santa Ana River and some credit him with coming up with the unimaginative name, "New Port." (The city of Dunnells doesn't have the same ring, right?) He offloaded his ship's cargo of lumber and shingles at a place he would call Newport Landing (near the west end of Coast Highway and Newport Bay Bridge).

James McFadden: With the help of his younger brother Robert, James McFadden was the most influential man in the history of Newport Beach. He bought Newport Landing from Dunnells in 1875 and continued to develop Newport as a commercial port. When the harbor entrance proved too treacherous for the booming trade, he built McFadden's Wharf (now Newport Pier) on a sand spit that would become Balboa Peninsula (an underwater trench formed by the mouth of the Santa Ana River provides the area with deep, calm waters). He connected his operation in 1891 to Santa Ana and beyond via a railroad. In 1902, the McFadden brothers sold the town site of Newport Beach and half the peninsula to William S. Collins and A.C. Hanson.

James Irvine: An Irishman, he left his homeland during the 19th century potato famine and eventually landed in California during the Gold Rush as a miner and merchant. Through shrewd investments, he became a wealthy man and by 1878 had bought 110,000 acres for ranching in what's now Orange County, including much of present-day Newport Beach. His single ownership of the huge swath of land allowed Newport much of its uniformed development.

Gregory Harper, Jr.: A rancher and natural leader, the village of Harper (later Costa Mesa) was named for him in 1891. Beginning in the early 1900s, Harper experienced steady growth due to the building of the Newport and Santa Ana railroads and the discovery of nearby oil. The rough sketch of present-day Costa Mesa, especially in the downtown area near the intersection of Newport Boulevard and 19th Street, took place during this time.

Henry D. Meyer: One of the area's first significant farmers, in 1898 Meyer leased 3,000 acres in what's now Westside Costa Mesa and farmed barley, wheat, oats, beans, corn, sugar beets and other vegetables, and raised cattle and hogs.

Stephen Townsend: One of Newport-Mesa's first developers, Townsend founded in the early 1900s the Newport Development Co. and bought 1,700 acres from James Irvine and began to divided it into 5-acre plot of farm land (which included the Eastside of Costa Mesa). In his second subdivision, he sold 200 5-acre parcels for $300 per acre in a single year.

William S. Collins: Seeing Newport's potential as a resort destination, Collins partnered with Henry E. Huntington, who owned the Pacific Electric railway system, and in 1905 had the Pacific Electric Red Cars extended to Newport, bringing thousands of tourists to the town. Collins also began dredging a channel on the north side of the bay and deposited the sand and silt on tidelands that would become Balboa Island. Collins originally sold Balboa Island lots for as little as $25.

Joseph Allan Beek: While in college in Pasadena, Beek became a salesman for Collins and fell hopelessly in love with Balboa Island. He promoted the island, helped set up its infrastructure and established the ferry operation in 1919, a franchise still run by the Beek family. Making interesting life even more intriguing, he was also the longest secretary of the state Senate in California history, holding the position from 1919 until his death in 1968.

Cornelius McClintock: Another one of Costa Mesa's pioneer farmers, he dug an artesian well in 1906 that was 444 feet deep and delivered 10.5 gallons of water per second, opening up extensive farming operations in the area. He also operated a 90-acre diary at Fairview Road and Baker Street. McClintock, who was deaf, was killed in 1915 when his car was hit by a Pacific Electric train he didn't hear coming.

Alice Plumer: In 1920, in order to avoid confusion with a similarly named railroad stop, the Newport Heights Co-operative Assn., Fairview Farms Assn. and Newport Mesa Assn. offer a $25 prize for a new name for Harper. Former schoolteacher Alice Plumer won with her entry, Costa Mesa, Spanish for coastal plateau.

As you can see, the people listed on today's DP 103 list stand on the shoulders of Newport-Mesa's historical giants, visionaries who took barren fields and mud and sand spits and set them on course to becoming two of the most vibrant towns in America.

WILLIAM LOBDELL is former editor of the Daily Pilot, former Los Angeles Times reporter and editor, and a Costa Mesa resident. The column runs Tuesday and Friday. His e-mail is williamlobdell@gmail.com.

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