In the Pipeline: Time to mark the history of HB

The La Bolsa Tile Co. The Holly Sugar Factory. The Pacific Broom Co. The Pacific Oil Cloth and Linoleum Factory. And it goes on.

These are the ghosts of Huntington Beach.

But then there are the actual physical traces scattered all over the city. The bell at the Lake Fire Station, which is from the original firehouse once located off Main Street. The pieces of statuary saved from the old municipal building that are now on display off Gothard Street in the parking lot of a public works station. The last piece of the Northam Ranch. It stands right by City Hall.

While biking with my son near 17th Street the other day, down along the seawall we found a sign from the '80s stating that you had to get a permit to legally paint murals against those walls. So many clues that connect us to the past of the city.

When you walk around downtown, have you ever noticed the initials J.E.B. imprinted in the sidewalk? Local cement contractor James E. Brunton put those there about 100 years ago.

For years I've thought that Huntington Beach needed a detailed and extensive historic marker program. Yes, on a tourism level I think it would be of value in educating people who visit our city. But far more important to me would be the education of those who live here.

It's hard to explain to a classroom of third-graders that giant sugar, broom-making and tile factories once stood where developed neighborhoods are today.

But put a marker in that exact place where they once stood and then you have a chance to really tell a story.

Recently, my son and I journeyed through downtown with our friend, historian Mary Urashima. We spent the morning exploring some little forgotten haunts like the small shack where surfboard maker Gordie Higgins plied his craft.

And what of all the other surfing landmarks? We visited Brewster's Ice and got a tour of the family quarters behind that venerable building, which once served as a meat locker on the beach during World War II.

We stood where the gorgeous Carnegie library was built just off of Main Street. Yes, there was a Carnegie library in Huntington Beach. We examined ruins and pushed through the tall grass and wildflowers in some vacant lots and tried to imagine the stories contained within these spaces.

In the past several weeks, my son has begun a project using old Sanborn maps and Google Earth to pinpoint precise locations of Huntington landmarks. I'm hoping that this research will become the basis for the placement of markers. Instead of "in the general vicinity of," the exact location of the landmarks could be provided.

I've written a number of books over the years that pinpoint locations of landmarks all over the United States, and I really think it's time to get this project going in earnest here in Huntington Beach.

The historic resources board in town did a nice job with the publication of its walking tour map, but I think it's time to get more serious about organizing and documenting the many fascinating layers of city history, with actual signposts along the way.

I know it will not be easy but I'm positive it will be worthwhile. To that end, I'd like to begin soliciting places that you hold near and dear for possible consideration in this database, which will serve to recreate the Huntington Beach of years gone by. After all, everyone has a unique set of memories.

Who knows, this project may even develop into a book at some point, but the real goal will be the series of markers that incorporate pictures and text, allowing people to get a full sense of where they are standing and an appreciation for why it matters.

I look forward to your suggestions and comments as this gets underway, and I will keep you posted over the course of the next few months regarding what we discover.


CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at

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