By Fred Swegles
Fifty years ago, San Clemente’s population was 17,000—barely one-fourth of today’s. But growth was stirring, jump-started by President Richard M. Nixon moving to town in 1969, putting the sleepy beach town on the international map.
Here are some snippets from the bygone era of 1970, courtesy of Daily Sun-Post newspaper archives on file at the San Clemente Library:
War on pollution: On Jan. 1, President Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act, announcing from his Western White House a war on pollution. He predicted that in 10 years’ time, “an area like this will not be fit to live in. It is literally now or never. Once the damage is done, it is much harder to turn it around.”
Beach use tax: San Clemente voters rejected a proposal to make everyone using city beaches purchase a license, $1 per year. The idea was to help pay for lifeguards, beach maintenance and a payoff of bonds used to purchase stretches of private beach.
Nuclear expansion: Edison announced plans to add two large reactors to the two-year-old nuclear power station at San Onofre. Construction was to begin in 1971, with the new reactors in operation by 1976 and 1977. It took seven years longer than expected.
Satirical song: Local resident Myron Ace announced he had recorded a whimsical song titled “San Clemente’s Not the Same, Mr. Nixon, You’re to Blame.” The 45 rpm record never rocked the pop charts. It’s now a collector’s item.
Landmark burns: Fire engulfed San Clemente’s 42-year-old Community Clubhouse, sparing only the south wing. The volunteer fire department was able to save paintings, books, papers and a grand piano. A redesigned clubhouse eventually was erected.
Pier entrance: A new pier entrance was proposed, widening a pedestrian tunnel beneath the railroad tracks and creating a rail station plaza, with seating beneath large concrete canopies. The city council decided the design was too ambitious and dumped it.
Railroad relocation? The Chamber of Commerce announced plans to “get the railroad out of San Clemente,” requesting state and federal mandates to route trains inland. Trains shouldn’t run along a beach, impeding coastal access and tourism, the Chamber said.
Magic major: Phillip Bonewits, a 1966 graduate of San Clemente High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in magic at UC Berkeley, the first student in the UC system to do so.
Trestles: Surfers were stunned to learn that Nixon’s residence in San Clemente inadvertently had torpedoed Camp Pendleton’s agreement to turn over 160 oceanfront acres to the state for “Trestles State Park.” Security forces vetoed the park. Nixon, supporting a park, then pushed for a site south of the nuclear plant. The result, in 1971, was a 50-year lease for San Onofre State Beach, later expanded to include Trestles.
Courthouse opens: Criminal trials in a makeshift San Clemente courthouse ended. The county opened a South County Courthouse in Laguna Niguel. “Municipal Court Judges Richard Hamilton and Frank Domenichini, both of San Clemente, dispense justice in the two upstairs courtrooms,” a news story said.
North Beach: Plans for a concession at North Beach fizzled when the city solicited bids from 12 potential operators and none responded. “The plan was filed for potential consideration in 1971,” a story reported.
Motorcycle park: The city council approved a three-month permit for a controversial motorcycle park on 700 hilly acres of Reeves Ranch, which today is the Marblehead community inland of Interstate 5. Operators predicted noise would be negligible, due to topography and distance from homes.
Opponents feared the park would attract noise, “roughnecks and other undesirables.” After the summer, the city extended the permit. But the operator ceased operations, saying the park was well-patronized but not sustainable without a long-term lease.
Street name: The Planning Commission recommended against renaming Via de Frente, a freeway frontage road, to honor President Nixon. Nominations included Avenida Nixon, El Presidente or Casa Blanca.
Commissioners said Nixon’s home wasn’t even on that street, and he’d only be in office two or six more years. The city council, after surveying residents, named the street Avenida del Presidente.
Pier parking: As summer began, the city added 45 spaces to a 100-space parking lot at the pier “to help ease the crush.” The new spaces were below the 100-space lot. You couldn’t see the ocean from there. The two-story Resort Motel blocked the view.
High school: Just five years after it opened, San Clemente High School was forced to install portable classrooms. The campus, designed for 1,800 students, already had more than 2,250.
No train service: Santa Fe announced it was ending passenger train service to San Clemente, blaming teenagers on day trips to and from the beach for vandalizing the coaches. The newspaper surmised that the kids would probably just “take the same train to Oceanside . . . it’ll give the kids more time to practice their alleged vandalism.”
Ocean surprise: A lifeguard rescuing two teenage girls caught in a rip current south of T-Street discovered they were naked. Leaving his rescue buoy with them, he swam to shore to retrieve towels they could wear as he towed them in.
The girls said they had arrived in street clothes and wanted to swim. Police charged the girls with being on drugs. Off to Juvenile Hall.
Dress code: The school board approved a controversial new liberalized haircut code—allow mustaches, but not below the corners of the lip, no beards, no hair hanging into the eyes or over the ears, no hair hanging past the top collar of a standard T-shirt, and no sideburns more than one inch below the ear or flaring out to the middle of the cheek.
Park expansion?: A plan to nearly double San Clemente State Beach’s 157 campsites was proposed but didn’t happen.
Fred Swegles is a longtime San Clemente resident with nearly five decades of reporting experience in the city. Fred can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.