Fred Swegles
Fred Swegles

By Fred Swelges

Sixty-five years ago, if you were living then, you could have been one of maybe 4,000 to 5,000 residents of San Clemente.

I wonder how many of us are left.

A fun way to relive truly small-town San Clemente is through the pages of the old San Clemente Sun.

Scrolling through 1954 is a time warp. I did it last week at the San Clemente Library, where you can find microfilm versions of the Sun from 1937 to 1958.

Nineteen fifty-four was the first year of San Clemente’s “Fiesta La Cristianita,” commemorating the first Christian baptism in California, performed locally in 1769.

The 1954 fiesta parade, carnival and pageant were so much fun, the Sun editorialized, “Let’s do it again.” It lives on today as the San Clemente Fiesta Street Festival.

Back to 1954: Robertson’s Chevrolet, on El Camino Real, was advertising new ’54 Chevys starting at $2,060.

Sam’s Shoes and El Camino Travel celebrated first anniversaries.

Voters established a city manager-type of government. The salary of the first manager was $6,600.

An ad offered to build you a custom home on your lot for $6,850.

Voters approved adding nine holes to the Municipal Golf Course.

There was hot debate over the possible city purchase of private beaches that occupied most of San Clemente’s coastline. Also hotly contested was a proposal to force businesses to provide off-street parking.

San Clemente Little League began.

San Clemente Grammar School (now Las Palmas Elementary) was our only public school. Decades later, a school would be named for Truman Benedict, who I remember as my principal when I was a first-grader in 1954.

Polio was a national scourge. Afflicted kids could be crippled, or they could luck out with milder, recoverable symptoms. The Sun displayed a recovery photo of lucky ones David and Johnny Waterman, ages 10 and 8, smiling, able to play basketball again. To me, they were tall kids who lived up the street.

An ad in the Sun appealed for donations to The Mothers’ March on Polio.

A series of cheerful ads teased readers about the upcoming opening of the big Cornet 5-10-25 Cent Store at Del Mar and Ola Vista.

There was talk of a freeway to be built through town, as well as a Dana Point-San Clemente Harbor. San Clemente Planning Commissioners proposed a road be built from Highway 101 (El Camino Real) to Ortega Highway, saving motorists 10 miles. Planning Commissioner Roy Divel declared that San Clemente founder Ole Hanson once had asked county supervisors to authorize such a road, at his own expense.

A small front-page article centered on a rumor that Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower, wife of the President, might visit Mrs. Fred Waring at her San Clemente home.

I could relate to that.

Mrs. Fred Waring, wife of a celebrity, was my Aunt Evalyn. Her husband was Uncle Fred, a traveling orchestra leader I was named for but didn’t see much. Their San Clemente home was called Casa Romantica. I spent time there as a child in 1954.

I have no idea if Mamie Eisenhower ever paid a visit. That would have been adult business.

A front-page story told how Dr. Robert Beasley, local veterinarian, was rehabilitating a boxer that had survived a fall down a 100-foot cliff, after a rather too-enthusiastic pursuit of a cat.

And so you think tiny San Clemente never produced a big, gnarly, screaming headline? Try this: “Police Riddle Pursued Car with Thirty Bullets.”

Police said a drunk driver led them on a 2:30 a.m. chase. They tried to flatten the tires, but the driver, a musician at a local bar, kept going.

After ditching the car, he hid in bushes and yelled, “Go ahead, shoot me! It’s the only way you’ll take me!”

Cops said the man ran, but he was tackled, blocks away, and taken to the San Clemente Jail.

Fred Swegles is a longtime San Clemente resident with more than 48 years of reporting in the city.

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