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By Tom Marshall
Every era has its dreamers, its visionaries. San Clemente founder Ole Hanson was a remarkable one, even by the standards of the “Golden Age of Visionaries,” the first part of the 20th Century. Yes, he was a developer. He headed projects throughout Southern California and the state of Washington. Yes, he was a politician. He became mayor of Seattle in 1918. But at heart, Ole was a dreamer—a dreamer of big ideas. He had a vision of a better tomorrow.
Like most visionaries, Ole Hanson was also a gambler, willing to stake his own funds and reputation on an idea. And like most gamblers, Ole won a few and lost a few. He played the game of life like a pro, because he was one. He learned from the best of their time.
Hanson became friends with publisher William Randolph Hearst. He even authored a series of high-profile articles for the Hearst newspapers with luminaries of the day, including Henry Ford, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone. While Hearst Newspapers was known at the time for paying its reporters well, Hanson gained far more than occasional paychecks for his efforts. The knowledge and insight gained during those encounters were invaluable.
The business, some would say capitalist, learnings gleaned from these men undoubtedly formed the basis of Ole Hanson’s business life, but there was also a more humanitarian side that surfaced many times in his life. For instance, as mayor of Seattle, he gained national attention for breaking up labor unions. At the same time, the conservative Hanson also presented a deed of trust to Seattle Native Americans that protected the tribe’s property from being sold out from under them. Further, Hanson signed laws protecting the Washington tribes’ fishing rights.
Following his term as Seattle mayor, Hanson relocated to Southern California and began his successful real estate development business. Between 1925 and 1928, Hanson turned a bucolic “Pasture by the Sea” into the spectacular “Spanish Village by the Sea.” He set up a tent, gave away free chicken dinners and sold lots like gangbusters. This was, remember, the Roaring 20s. But the purchasers got what they paid for and quite a bit more.
When the dream faded during the Depression of the 1930s, Ole lost it all. He packed up his family and quietly went his way, never bitter or blaming others for the bad luck. Like the country itself, Ole Hanson would get back on his feet and successfully build again in Southern California.
How different it is today in our world of business and politics. If only Ole Hanson could speak to our current leaders.
Tom Marshall is a member of the San Clemente Historical Society and a retired journalist.