Seal Beach is a town of “firsts”

With the Santa Ana and Irvine-centric bias (not to mention the Disneyland fanboy-ism) of the mainstream Orange County Historical Establishment, accomplishments in our little corner of the word often gets overlooked, especially when it comes to being included in lists of Orange County “firsts.”  So we felt compelled to attempt to set the record straight.  We probably won’t, but hey! at least we tried.

  1. The first seaport in Orange County – The inlets around present Seal Beach — Alamitos Bay and Anaheim Bay — had been documented for their used as ports as early as 1848 — during the Mexican-American War, and as the home for local fishermen, many f them of Norwegian descent.  After the founding of Anaheim, and the need of those good burghers for a port from which to ship their wine,  “Anaheim Landing” was officially incorporated and chartered by the state as a port in 1864.  The Landing was originally located on eastern Alamitos Bay (near Island Village but apparently in the part that is now Orange County) but after some storms and a lot of silt filled in much of Alamitos Bay in 1867, the port was moved a  mile and a half east to Anaheim Bay.  It was a very busy port — almost as busy as Wilmington/San Pedro for many crops — but the arrival of the Southern Pacific railroad in Anaheim in 1875 drastically reduced its business — although cargo ships still sometimes anchored off shore into the 1890s.
  2. 1895c - Anaheim Landing - LBPL question markThe first “resort area” in Orange County was Anaheim Landing.  Even during the The cool breezes and sandy shores wee attractive to inlanders seeking to escape the summer heat.  In 1883, the LA Times said it had a permanent population of over 400 during summer months.  Up from 200 during the rest of the year.
  3. Surfing ad - April 1914
    Surfing ad – April 1914

    The first documented case of a non-Hawaiian surfing in Orange County occurred in February 1914 when Seal Beach advertised its surfing in area newspapers (although a form of wakeboarding occurred a few months before that).

  4. The first documented surfing competition occurred in July 1914 when the Minnesota Association held a surfing race at their annual picnic.
  5. The first city to have electric railroad service in Orange County was Seal Beach — when the Long Beach to Newport line reach Bay City in February 1904.
  6. First documented instance of a motion picture being shot at night.  Oct. 19, 1915.  Balboa  director Bertram Bracken took advantage of the new town’s celebration after successfully voting  to incorporate (“fireworks over the pier, rockets and roman candles bursting in a shower of stars over the moonlit waters”) to film an “election scene in front of the pavilion, following the fireworks… big bundles? were built and the scene was further illuminated by many torches.”  The Long Beach Telegram referred to the filming as “the first scene of its kind ever filmed at night.”
  7. The first amusement park in Orange County — the Joy Zone in 1916.  (Although purists may say Dr. Sketchley’s ostrich farm in Anaheim — we would consider it Buena Park now — counts as an amusement park, because they started charging admission to view the ostriches which curious locals apparently found amusing to watch.
  8. The first airport in Orange County airport — at the Joy Zone — three tent hangars on the on the beach sands from around Third St. to Seventh St. — which was first used in May 1916 — pre-dating the Eddie Martin airport by over seven years.  The dirt field at the Coast Highway which seems to have been used as early as 1917 and then later became Crawford Field in 1927 and later called the Seal Beach Airport around 1934, also pre-dated the Eddie Martin Field.1917SealBeachRoughRidingPageant
  9. First bathing beauty contest in Orange County.  In 1915 Venice capitalized on Mack Sennett’s very popular Keystone Bathing Beauties  by hosting the first Bathing Girls Swimsuit Parade.  Attendance would have been through the roof if the event was held outdoors.  Not one to miss an opportunity to draw crowds, Frank Burt and Seal Beach hosted their own Bathing Girls Swimsuit competition in July 1917, a parade of around 40 girls that started at Anaheim Landing and then walked down Seal Way to the Grotto area beneath the Jewel City Cafe.  This was the first bathing girls competition in Orange County, preceding Balboa by at least three years.  The event is a good barometer for the popularity of the Seal Beach amusement zone.  It was smaller in 1918, and in 1919 the number of participants had shrunk to the point where the event was held in the Jewel City Cafe.  The 1920 event was cancelled due to lack of appli1970c-Facebook - SB Bikini Contest - made Playboy - 44389_10200999061490574_828155456_ncants.  Neither Huntington Beach or Long Beach would have deigned to lower their standards or morals for such an event, but by the 1920s they were hosting their own bathing girls competitions.  (It’s also possible the 1976 Seal Beach Bikini Contest — an impromptu, unofficial, but huge gathering in the Buell’s backyard of their house near Dolphin — may have been OC’s first bikini contest.)
  1. The first Orange County dog license was issue to H.L. Bishop of Seal Beach on March 7, 1934.   NOTE:  Some cities had been issuing dog license long before this, but not the county.
    1942 - 04 17 - April 17 - Jessie Reed - Santa_Ana_Register_Fri__Apr_17__1942_ - 2000px
  2. 1923 - Ilah Whitely - Whistler -- SA Register_Sat__Jul_28__1923_The first woman mayor in Orange County – Jessie Reed, elected to the council and as town mayor in April 1942.  Reed had moved to SB around 1918 from Arizona and had been the manager of the Tent City for a number of years.  “Tent City” was a half-campground, half tent cabins area located just beyond the coaster, south of Ocean and between 12th and 13th.  Most resprts had them — their target market was those who couldn’t afford hotels.  BTW, SB also had the county’s second female mayor — Norma Brendel Gibbs (elected in 1960).
  3. Seal Beach was also the home of the first whistler to ever appear on radio station KFI – and that would be 9-year old Ilah Whitely. (see article on right)



Los Alamitos als0 has a few firsts — some of which we list below.


  1. First sugar beet factory (1896) J. Ross Clark and his fabulously wealthy brother William A. Clark built the first sugar beet factory in Orange County.  The state-of-0f-the-art facility made good money in 1897, but not so good money during the drought years of 1898 and 1899, so while the Clarks continued their sugar operations, their primary focus went to other businesses.  But their success still inspired the construction of four other sugar factories in the county and in 1915, the acreage and revenue of sugar beets was far greater than that of oranges.
  2. First peace officer killed in the line of duty.  In 1907, deputy constable Juan Orosco was shot and killed while trying to break up a fight at a dance in the Mexican community in Los Alamitos.  Establishment OC historians will tell you it was Robert Squires in 1911, but Orosco was killed four years before that.  The constable was a county position, with checks coming from the county.  After his death, his widow obtained a county-paid pension, and the constable’s office was eventually rolled into the OC Sheriff’s office.
  3. Orange County’s first military base (Los Alamitos Naval Airfield — originally an auxiliary field for the Long Beach Naval Reserve Base whose primary location was at the LB Airport.  The first documented use in the Los Alamitos area was in August 1940.  When proposed Army Air Corps expansion at the LB Airport — proved too confining for the Navy’s own expanded intentions, a deal was made to move the entire Naval reserve operation to Los Alamitos.   The announcement of the new air base was made in Feb. 1941, construction was started in May, operations were being held there as early as November.  Although the formal transfer of the field was not until May 1942, thus prompting the Santa Ana and Costa mesa historians to claim the Santa Ana Army Air Base as the first post in the OC, it was Los Al — no question, nada, zilch… boom.  .

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