In the Pipeline: Magic in the microfilm

A snapshot of Huntington Beach 50 years ago today, Dec. 22, 1961, courtesy of the Huntington Beach News:

There was a groundbreaking for the Nordlund Village Center on Beach Boulevard between Heil Avenue and Terry Drive. It was announced that soon there would be another big groundbreaking, for the Driftwood Inn on Pacific Coast Highway near Beach.

At the M&M Market at 218 Main St., ground chuck was 39 cents a pound. Over at the Standard Market, at the corner of Main and Walnut Avenue, ground chuck was 38 cents a pound, yams were 10 cents a pound and "pork chops for the holidays" were 49 cents a pound.

Mandic Motors at 424 Main St. was also in the holiday mood, offering "last minute holiday gift ideas" like a 1960 Ford station wagon for $2,195, and a 1953 four-door Oldsmobile Sedan for just $395.

Jean Turner, who wrote the whimsical "Murmurs of a Beach Town Philosopher" column, started her weekly piece with: "Returning from Baja, California (Old Mexico) — after seeing the want of food, clothing and supplies makes for tears in your heart."

The surf film "Slippery When Wet" was showing at the Huntington Beach High School auditorium, and "White Christmas" (along with "Make Mine Mink") was playing at the Surf Theater. At the Warner Drive In, located at 7361 Warner Ave., "The Young Doctors" was on the bill.

Huntington Beach High lost its first basketball game of the season during a home tournament, 67-58, to Chaffey High (from Ontario, California).

Plans to build 2,800 homes "on ocean frontage" were announced this day, thus giving birth to Huntington Harbour. And Santa Claus was to appear at the Huntington Beach Lanes, a bowling alley located at Beach and Yorktown Avenue. It was advertised that on Christmas Day, you could also visit the lanes for dinner, $2.50 per person, or save a bit and enjoy the Swedish smorgasbord at Villa Sweden, located at 522 Main St.

Chanel #5 was a big holiday seller at Terry's HB Drugs at Main and Walnut, and at 107, a café and cocktail lounge located at 107 Main, food was being served during the holidays by cook Elaine Tinsley, "former cook at the Green Shack Café."

Why did I choose to take this peek back at what it was like here 50 years ago to the day?

A moment of whimsy, I suppose.

Even though I didn't grow up here, I was curious what my adopted city was like on the day I was born (along with my twin sister, Margaret), 50 years ago today in New York City.

To wander around a bit and compare the changes on a milestone birthday has been an interesting exercise. Much of what I mentioned is no longer there, but a lot of it is, too. Villa Sweden lives on as another restaurant, the high school is still there, and interestingly (for me, anyway), we live in Huntington Harbour, a place that was sort of born on my birthday.

Mark Twain said, "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." And 50 doesn't really matter to me — in any negative way, that is. I can't imagine celebrating my first 50 any differently than I have, in a city I adore and with a family so wonderful. It's hard to believe I deserve them.

(And I want to thank my amazing wife Jean for the complete surprise 50th party she threw me last week — replete with a cake emblazoned with this paper's masthead.)

But the reason I write this today is to suggest that, as a gift to oneself on a notable (or any) birthday, I highly recommend a trip back to the day you were born. Not via some Internet search, but rather, a trip to the library, where a special kind of time machine awaits you — microfilm readers.

They are bulky and woefully unsleek. But therein lies the charm. They are of another age. Forget the Internet. Think of them as the "anti-net." But when you spool the film through under the thick glass plate, connect it to the receiver spool and begin to slowly advance, then time unfurls before your eyes, rolling by like so many faded scrapbook pages.

The pictures, the stories, the advertisements, the announcements, all of the magic of what a newspaper was, is and hopefully will always be, is revealed in sharp, clear focus. The voices and opinions and words of those who recorded the civic pulse, in glorious black and white, are preserved just as they were published.

And when you find your day, the moment when you arrived, you can start to get a sense of mood, place and temperature of the world that welcomed you. Tucked away snug and peaceful in a quiet, cozy library — in a city where you may never have imagined raising your kids or having your mom live just down the street.

There's magic in that microfilm, I think. Especially on your birthday.

On behalf of the Epting family, we wish you all a most Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah. On a personal note, thank you for reading this column. On my birthday, or any day, I consider it quite a gift that you take the time, and I remain deeply grateful.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at

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