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1958 Big South Side Tower and Small Closet
In 1958 San Clemente is a small resort/retirement community with its first full time lifeguard, Dick Hazard (arrow), shown above on the microphone. This is Water Safety Demo Day in early June of 58. A permanent Tower 1 on pilings has power, lights, PA and a wash basin with hot/cold water. On Hazard’s right in the red circle is a young Steve Bro who 10 years later would become a lifeguard and is the source of these remarkable pictures. In the background is Byron Keough standing on the rescue truck (arrow). Behind Tower 1, between the restrooms (arrow) is the the storage locker that will hold lifeguard equipment. Together these two locations make up San Clemente’s first “Lifeguard Headquarters”.
Beach Focus is on the South Side.
After the demo the school children are lining up for free ice cream from Stan’s Snack Shack (arrow). Stan’s faces south and is located on a wooden ramp that leads from the pier to steps of the rail road underpass (arrow). Note the man locking the rail road crossing gate (arrow) on the south side. It appears that the South Side of the pier was the focus of beach activity so this is where the initial lifeguard facilities would be located. Note the steel drainage pipe under the pier. Erosion from years of rain outfall plus a powerful ocean current flowing north into the pier pilings would make the South Side a very dangerous place to swim and the source of 1,000+ rescues through the years.
Note the Resort Motel on the inland side of the tracks just north of the pier. This landmark will come up later.
Janitorial Closet and Beach Storage Lot
This picture taken from Stan’s clearly shows Byron Keough walking into the lifeguard “HQ” and below is a close up of a torpedo buoy and wooden lifeguard box located next to that door. The south side dirt railroad crossing provided vehicular access and there is a fenced storage lot on the south side of the bathrooms that could have stored our surplus WWII Willy’s Jeep.
From 1958 – 1959 the combination of large permanent South Side Tower and storage locker behind it would be San Clemente’s Lifeguards first Headquarters. All this is about to change.
“What was significant about #1 was where it was – in early years the population density of the beach goers was on the So. Side of the pier as you said before. That meant more 1st aids, more lost children, close to the “heads’, closer scrutiny by the boss, and on big surf days especially with a So. Swell – ACTION.
Maybe the ‘bottom’ in the southerly 100 to 200 yds from the Pier may have changed, but in the early days from the predicable ‘rip’ between ‘T’ Street and the Pier, the current was a fast moving River into and through the Pier. So, working out of #1 in those conditions, there was no waiting and watching. It was GO! Even with a great sense of anticipation, getting pushed through the pier with breaking waves was more often the rule than exception.” Jerry Hawk (1960-66)
1959 HQ Relocated to the Pier Ramp
Stan’s has been relocated to beach and two Lifeguard “Garages” are built on the ramp next to the “Boat Club” lockers. This would provide storage for our outboard rescue boat (5408), vehicles and equipment. The “Pier HQ” would be short lived because in 1960 it would be relocated to the beach.
1963 North Side HQ “Station 56”
The “HQ” garages on the pier ramp have been relocated to the beach on the north side of the pier up against the railroad tracks. Note the Resort Motel in the background. The facility would be expanded and signage added as shown above . Note the tall “whip antenna” on top of the building. San Clemente Lifeguard Department would be assigned radio call sign “Station 56” and that handle became synonymous with HQ .
Growing Department, Growing Demand
With the addition of the county contract towers north to Laguna Beach the growing Lifeguard Department would use its new HQ for maintenance, storage, first aid and lifeguard training. In the above picture the guards are still wet from water training but now they have a newly framed classroom for lecture. Dick Hazard is in the back left.
“This (above) photo was certifiably 1960 and the start of the season. This area was the garage under construction at the north end of the new HQ building on the north side of the pier. Jerry Hawk”
Inside there was a shower room (left) and lockers (right). The tall lockers were for the Chief and Captain the smaller lockers (facing) held dive gear. Note the tanks on top.
1968 Main Headquarters is Built
San Clemente Lifeguard Headquarters would be built in 1968 ($75,000) and was designed by Eric Boucher to house offices, dispatch, first aid room, locker room, training room, unit garages and the entire Beach Maintenance Department. Although the foundation was originally laid on flat sand it has remarkably withstood countless storms and deep sand erosion. Boucher ‘s original design to build the front half on pilings has proven to be the key for this building to continue as the hub of lifeguard and Jr. lifeguard activities in San Clemente.
New HQ Railroad Crossing
To access the new HQ a new railroad crossing would be built with automatic gates that were opened by a button in HQ. Later a new technology called a remote “clicker” would allow selected senior staff to open the gate automatically. There is fun story of Zero Tower warning HQ that Chief “5600” was driving down the pier bowl so be ready to “open the gates” for the Chief.
New Building – Proud Guards
Note the lack of signage (no lettering) and pristine sand. The planter on the left is empty and the building is brand new in this staff picture taken in June of 68. Guards have new uniforms with caps, badges and “spit shine” black leather shoes. But the picture was too dark so…
1968 HQ Opening
Alan Seymore would shoot the picture again after new signage is added and now the building is fully operational. This would be last group picture for the next few years.
The Switchboard… HQ Control Center
Each tower had a phone and taking it off hook flashed a light on the switchboard. With 25+ towers, 4 jeeps and a boat the switchboard was a very busy place. During a big south swell the operator would see the board light up from the upper left to the lower right while dispatching resources on phone and radios. Note the small white button on the top counter above the phone. It opened the gates across the rail road tracks for guards reporting to HQ for work. Getting the dispatcher’s attention to open the gate is the source of many stories. This switchboard was first used in the “old” HQ in the early 60’s then moved into the new HQ in 1968 where served into the early 1980s. “as you walked into HQ, whether on the Pier or on the Beach, the entry counter was on the left, and beneath and behind it was the ole’ Switch Broad.” Jerry Hawk
Saved by the Pilings
In this mid 70’s photo you can clearly see the round planter with its three palms and front deck still intact but sand is beginning to erode from the front of the building. The pilings that were being poured in a previous picture are starting to show under the front offices. By the mid 80’s HQ would be hit by a couple large storms.
Still Standing – 1993
By the 90’s the erosion was so deep that a jeep could be driven under the front of the building so a steel “sheet wall” was driven around the front of the building. There is great story of the first steel wall working loose and acting as a ramp for waves into the chief’s office. That was fixed and the building would survive numerous storms and “king tides”.
2019 HQ Renovation
In October 2019 work began to protect HQ with a new sheet wall shown here in the early stages of insertion around the building. The Fall of 2019 also saw the accumulation of large low tide sand bars that allowed tractors to push up the sand berms shown above. On top of the clock tower is the new Hi Res beach camera install by City IT department staffed in part by ex San Clemente Lifeguards. Check it out below