1931 Council Approves First Beach Lifeguard
At the July 16th, 1931 the Council Meeting would approve San Clemente’s first lifeguard service. There is also official documentation that Russell E. Schneegerger was the City Beach Lifeguard in 1933. Click Here for the Storyboard about the City Council’s action(s) in 1931.
Clifford Frank Russell 1937
“San Clemente Lifeguards began covering the City’s beaches in the 1930’s, Cliff Russell, one of the first to ever make rescues on our beach, describes a service under the management of the Police Department, and overseen by a City Councilwoman. Lifeguards worked for $100 per month, a good depression era wage, with duties that also included raking the beach in the morning. Organized lifeguard training was held in Long Beach and only five to six lifeguards worked during peak summer months. Guards did not use fins, they had no telephones, and ran to all rescues because they did not have vehicles. The majority of swimmers congregated on the south side of the pier.” Lynn Hughes, Chief 1980
The following link is an interview with Clifford in 2006 created 6 months before he passed away. (video (12min))
First Lifeguard Tower: 1937
Note the arrow to the left below.
Just south of the pier was the first San Clemente Lifeguard observation tower built in 1937-38. Clifford would climb the 20 foot plus ladder so he could see over the pier to the north then slide down the fireman’s pole to respond to a rescue. This would become the legendary Tower 1 which would be replaced many times but always the busiest tower on the beach.
1952, Local Beach Lifeguards Living the Dream.
1952. San Clemente Beach Lifeguards: Bob Driscoll, Vince Nelson, John Severson, John Payne, Big Red, Jim Severson, Frank Dowden, Buster and Tony Stellar. From the Severson Collection.
“In the mid 50’s, Richard Hazard, a Police Sergeant, became the seasonal lifeguard Chief. The demand for lifeguards was being answered by surfers and all-around “watermen”. Many of those lifeguards have become surfing legends, These include Hal Sachs, who was one of the first to ever surf “T-Street”; John (Surfer Magazine) Severson and his brother Jim; Mickey Munoz surfer and catamaran designer; and, Peter Van Dyke, well known for his big wave prowess on Oahu’s North Shore. There were also members of long-time San. Clemente families such as Don Dival and Bobby Driscoll. There were a number of quite “colorful” members like Joe Sokolitch — aka Jungle Joe, because he lived in a small house hanging from the Dana Point headland — who paddled to work for lack of a car, There was also a young surfer who had a dog “Rex” that would join him on his tower. “Rex” had a habit of urinating on the folded clothing of Marines, Rex’s owner went on to become the most famous maker of surfing movies of all time — Bruce Brown.” Lynn Hughes, Chief 1980
Mid 1958, Station 56, San Clemente Lifeguard Department
1958: “Jungle Joe” Sokolich, Lt. Byron Keough, Ed Mooks”, Bruce Brown, (truck), Chief Dick Hazard, Wayne Schafer, Perter Van Dyke, Jim Coberly, Capt. Dave Johnson.
Boat was #5408, 18′ Doris-Built plywood hull, self bailing, 75hp Evinvrude, OC Harbor Department boat assigned to lifeguard department. Boat was 2,000 lbs and launched with winch at the end of the pier.
Although San Clemente lifeguarding can be traced back to the 30’s it would fall to a young police officer to create a “Department”. Officer Richard “Dick” Hazard (late 50’s – 1980) would pull together a group of season watermen to form the “San Clemente Lifeguard Department”. Orange County assigns each beach a two-digit call sign giving San Clemente #56 thus Station 56 was born with Chief Hazard assigned 5600 (Hundred). Although the faces and equipment have changed Station 56, Chief 5600 and tradition of beach safety are still with us.
1958. Tower Guards.
The white box towers had ramps instead of steps and the assigned guard was expected to do everything from trash pickup to rescues. Dick Hazard would run his department like the police department with regular uniform and equipment inspections, physical training and plenty of “piling rescues”. Towers on the South Side were odd numbered and North Side were even. By the late 60’s San Clemente had even towers north all the way to South Laguna with #38 located at North Aliso Beach.
60’s Surf Fever and Surf Destination
Circa mid 1960’s. Surf fever sweeps California and San Clemente becomes a beach/surf destination. Note the fishing boat off the end of the pier. Before Dana Harbor the Clemente and the Sum Fun picked up passengers from the end of the pier which was home to the Galley restaurant with its iconic “Fish” sign. Note on the pier on the far left is the “white box” lifeguard tower which is the first 56-Zero tower on the pier. 56-Zero is still the first tower opened in the morning and the last to close at night. Station 56 is growing rapidly…
1964 Legendary Guards and First HQ
1964 – Lifeguard Headquarters at the base of the pier north side.
Back Row, L to R: Lt Hank Barnes, Boatman Jerry Hawk, Lt. Steve Chorak, Captain Phil Stubs, Chief Dick Hazard
Middle Row: Tom Long, Richard Lockwook, Steve Helfer, Ron Leicester, Kim Clemons, Ed Marsh, Roger Evans, Allan Seymour, Ed Stewart
Front Row: Fred Stier, Lou Mathe, Jerry Bennette, Marty Statley, David Chorak, Curtis Van Arsdalen
By mid 60’s the Lifeguard Department had built a new zero tower which still stands today. With a strong current flowing north “pier rescues” were plentiful. In the early days’ guards were stationed under the tower with their own chair and phone. When zero saw a group of swimmers drifting into the pier he would call down and the guards would either jump or climb down the lower ladder and run along the stringers. Thus the “Angel of Mercy” story was born
Early 60’s: Lifeguard HQ just north of the pier.
The first garage with the HQ sign was moved from the based of the pier adjacent to the Boat Club boat lockers. It was used to store the boat and various lifeguard equipment. The early Jeep CJ-5 (CJ’s for civilian Jeep) is still the same basic design used today and the “unit” is a legend of many lifeguard stories. In the background is the Resort Motel that the volunteer fire department (including a number of lifeguards) burned down in the mid 70’s. It is now a public park and parking lot. Above is Casa Romanica the home of San Clemente’s founder Ole Hanson. It is also where lifeguards would practice cliff rescue repelling down the bluff to the beach. Note the Pier Bowl asphalt entrance ends with picnic tables… they will be gone soon.
Late 60’s: New HQ
San Clemente Lifeguard Headquarters would be built in the 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 key for this building to continue as the hub of lifeguard and Jr. lifeguard activities in San Clemente. As of Fall 2019 the City has voted to spend $2M to refurbish the building and reinforce seawall that protects it.
By the summer of 1968 the new HQ was filled to capacity with 60 lockers and 4 jeeps called “units”. Each unit had a call sign and was assigned to an “area”. Area 1 was patrolled by 5610 located on the south side of the pier, Area 2 was unit 5620 on north side to the City limits, Area 3 was unit 5630 included Poche, Dana Harbor, Strands, Salt Creek and Monarch. Area 4 was 5640 in South Laguna with Three Arch, West Street, Camels Point and Aliso Beach. 5690 was our lifeguard rescue boat and 5600 was and is still our Chief.
In the early days unit guards were paired for the summer and assigned a specific “area”. Names like Barrett & Mc Cartin, Ewell & Bro, Lewis & Chew became synonymous with their specific areas and style of lifeguarding.
Note the sand and palm trees in the round planter in front of the building
New HQ and New Uniforms
With a new HQ came new professional uniforms based on based on Chief Hazard’s background as a Naval Chief Petty Officer, Policeman and similar uniforms adopted by Huntington Beach Guards. Each guard has a CPO Cap, lifeguard badge and black dress shoes. 1968 Team Picture
70’s Time of Change
1971 Lifeguard Tryouts. It’s a time of change. With a staff of nearly 60, Lt. Steve Bro (UCLA) would recommend actively recruiting from high school and college swim teams. The days of the beach-bred waterman are slowly being replaced by talented young swimmers who view the job as both summer employment and a possible career. In the front of this pack is Steve Barrett. Fourth back in red/yellow is Larry Moore . Next back inside (red/white) is Brian Covert., Bob Elwell, Dirk McCue. Mark McCartin is the blond near the end. This was the year that legendary local surfer Midget (Jeff) Smith would try out but the competition from inland swimmers was too much. Midget would start his own surf company and become a highly respected judge on the pro circuit. The days of the local beach boy turned lifeguard would give way to a new breed of professional lifeguard and the Lifeguard Department would morph into the Marine Safety Division.