By Jim Kempton
It suddenly occurred to me the other day that over 35,000 people have moved here since the San Clemente Historical Society had a public museum space. The character and quality of this city has a lot to do with its history—which, although commissioned only ninety-some years ago— is one of the county’s oldest.
There are a lot of good new things in San Clemente today. But what is old here is very, very good.
Ole Hanson, our town’s founding father, was a visionary who felt that in order to profit from a community it was necessary to first invest in its citizens. His belief included providing the town with a hospital, waterworks, a community center, a world class public pool facility, a pier and numerous public parks. He envisioned a “Spanish Village By the Sea,” palm lined winding streets dotted with red tile roofs and whitewashed walls with cascading plants—a place that would be the most pleasant in America. He developed this inspiration from his knowledge of history and a keen eye for the beauty in other countries like Spain.
I wonder as we look at the eclectic architectural styles and random development in town if many new citizens know that San Clemente was Orange County’s first master-planned community and one of the first in the entire United States. Or that the original plan called for the roadway system to follow the contour of the natural topography, leaving the canyons pristine and rejecting the cut and fill procedure common both then and now.
Do they know that in 1933 a massive earthquake dropped a number of beachfront mansions into these canyons which are just five minutes from where thousands of tons of nuclear waste is being buried in thin-skinned canisters less than 100 yards from the cliff line at San Onofre? Or that Richard Nixon wanted his Presidential Library to be built here and that he deeded the fabulous State Park to us as a gift to the citizens of California? I hope that all of our residents, newcomers and old-timers alike will take the time to learn about our storied past.
It is a common to hear residents raving about the quality of life in San Clemente while almost in the same breath complaining about the restrictions and regulations of our city government. I wonder if they know that most of what they love about their community came from the intense restrictions and regulations set down by the town’s founder.
We enjoy exceptional weather, low crime, good schools, superb surf, wonderful citizens and a bright future.
San Clemente is the finest small town anyone could live in. But it would do us well to remember that hiking trails, public schools, playgrounds, clean beaches, community pride and an almost Scandinavian commitment to our quality of life were the hallmarks of this town’s heritage from its first groundbreaking. And that aspiration should continue.
Jim Kempton is an ardent San Clemente and history lover. He helped write the ordinances that now protect San Clemente’s historic buildings. Her served as President of the San Clemente Historical Society and was a City Planning Commissioner.