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Tom Marshall

By Tom Marshall

Saturday begins the annual celebration of National Preservation Month, also called National Historic Preservation Month.

Starting out in 1973 as National Preservation Week, the event was expanded to a month-long celebration in 2005 by a joint Congressional Resolution. A former San Clemente resident, Richard M. Nixon, signed it into law with a Presidential proclamation on May 5, 1973.

The proclamation reads in part: 

“As the pace of change accelerates in the world around us, Americans more than ever need a lively awareness of our roots and origins in the past on which to base our sense of identity in the present and our directions for the future.”

President Nixon knew of what he spoke. His San Clemente residence is arguably the most historic structure in San Clemente. In fact, the Cotton Estate was here before San Clemente was. 

Built in 1926, the estate was originally owned by Hamilton Cotton, who was, ironically, the state’s Democratic Party treasurer. Republican Nixon changed the name of the property to La Casa Pacifica, when it served as the Western White House. The home is reportedly back on the market with a cool $65 million asking price.

The whole purpose of National Preservation Month is to call the public’s attention to the historic resources of their local communities. The COVID-19 pandemic sidelined the San Clemente Historical Society’s usual celebration of May as National Preservation Month in 2020. But, this year, we will begin inching our way back to normal.

The former Hotel San Clemente (now Café Calypso), pictured here circa early 1940s, is one of the stops on San Clemente Historical Society’s walking tour of historic downtown. Photo: Courtesy of San Clemente Historical Society

We recently launched a program of walking tours of the historic buildings of downtown San Clemente. 

The free guided tours by Historical Society board member and longtime resident Jim Hamilton will highlight everything from the significance of the tiles leading into South of Nick’s Restaurant—the building that housed Ole Hanson’s original sales office—to the splendor of the former Hotel San Clemente. 

He will also note the decorative tiles in the rest areas donated by Historical Society supporters. 

There are several buildings along the walk from El Camino Real down Avenida del Mar that have an interesting past. Jim is also happy to answer any questions you may have along the tour route. 

The tour is held outside because of COVID-19, but masks are required. You can join Jim at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 15, by reserving a spot at jimehamiltonschs@gmail.com. You can also book a private tour with Jim almost any weekend this year. 

The tours are free, but as a nonprofit, donations to the Historical Society are greatly appreciated.  

Tom Marshall is a member of the San Clemente Historical Society and a retired journalist.

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