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Commodore Pacific Electric Red Car in Huntington Beach, circa 1907
photo courtesy of

Huntington Beach, one of the fastest growing cites in the nation during the 1960s, has slowed down quite a bit since it was transformed from a rough and tumble oil town into the third largest city in Orange County.

The community was founded in 1901 as Pacific City on the site of a former Spanish land-grant ranch. In 1904, the townspeople changed the name to honor Pasadena developer Henry Huntington, who made the small city a stop on his Pacific Electric "Red Car" Railway line.

The city's first boom occurred after Standard Oil Co. began drilling for oil in 1920, and a forest of derricks lining the beaches led to the nickname "Oil City."

It gained the unflattering nickname of "Tin Can Beach" early on from the debris found in the sand. Following is a first person account from Ed Sweeny, who used to visit the area at the time:

"During the years that we used to go to 'Tin Can Beach' 1946-1956, it was not uncommon for people to go and stay for a week or two at a time...Ou families 20-30 members would go during the summer, when it was so hot in the inland valley, and pitch army tents and stay for a couple of weeks at a time...The men would go off to work every day and come back to the beach afterwards...The adults would sleep in the tents on cots and the kids would sleep out under the stars...we would have camp fires every night...It was so much fun...When the Grunion were running we did the same thing...The kids would end up with cuts all over their feet from all the tin can lids buried in the sand...and of course it was free back then..."

In 1961, the state cleaned up the tin cans and created Bolsa Chica State Beach.

Oil drilling and farming were the major sources of employment in the Huntington Beach area until the 1960s. The economy since has diversified greatly, with some 900 companies employing more than 40,000 people.

Huntington Beach's famous pier, built in 1914, was shut down in July 1988 after officials found it to be structurally unsafe. Reconstruction started in 1990, taking almost 4 years to complete. Today, it is a blend of old and new in design. It resembles the 1914 pier in architectural style, but its new construction of reinforced steel is expected to make it last through the next millennium.

Historical Sites:

The Newland House Museum - 19820 Beach Blvd
The white, Queen Anne-style farmhouse was built in 1898 by William Newland when Huntington Beach was known as Pacific City. It has two stories and 13 rooms. Newland was a pioneer in clearing the Santa Ana River lowlands for productive farming.
Phone: (714) 962-5777

Huntington Beach High School - 1905 Main Street
The school was built in 1926 for $500,000. The auditorium and tower are the only original structures left on the campus.


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