Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Mike Fitzsimmons’ name throughout the article.
A bit of rainy weather couldn’t keep the legacy of town founder Ole Hanson away from the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens—his former dream home—on Sunday evening, March 19, as the San Clemente Historical Society gathered with several dozen community members to celebrate the local group’s 50th anniversary.
Guests had the opportunity to tour the Casa property and peruse displays of historical archives, photographs, news stories and other artifacts related to the city’s early development—when Hanson worked to inspire prospective homebuyers and landowners to invest in his vision for the Spanish Village by the Sea.
“We are gathered here today to celebrate the remarkable achievements of our Historical Society and its members over the last 50 years,” Historical Society President Larry Culbertson said to the partygoers. “Our society has played a vital role in documenting our history and in doing so has helped us to better understand our past, present and future.”
“Throughout the years, we’ve been fortunate to have dedicated and passionate individuals who worked tirelessly to make sure our Society remains relevant and engaged with our community,” Culbertson continued before acknowledging the group’s extensive list of former members.
Another storm brought light rains to the area on Sunday afternoon, causing much of the party to take place indoors, with more than 100 guests packing the Casa’s Main Salon for a chicken dinner—the same meal Hanson served during his first pitch to the potential buyers.
Bringing “Ole Hanson” to life for the party, Mike Fitzsimmons mingled with guests and gave a short presentation about the town’s history by impersonating the former Seattle mayor and real estate developer. Fitzsimmons captured the essence of Hanson throughout the evening by staying in character and donning a white and tan suit.
The Historical Society was officially started in early 1973 after several residents, led by then-teenager Fred Divel and his mother Lois Divel, began to raise concerns over the demolition of many historical and Hanson-era buildings such as the Bartow, Rasmussen and Ole Hanson Jr. mansions.
Acknowledging a pledge he made not to make the event political, Culbertson noted that the Historical Society started out because of political reasons.
“It’s important to mention that the founding of the San Clemente Historical Society was political,” he explained. “Many of us know the story. It was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, San Clemente was losing Ole Hanson-era buildings at an alarming rate. Lois Divel, Blythe Welton, Marion Moon and many others began lobbying for preservation.”
“The final straw came in 1972 when the Bartow Mansion in the Pier Bowl was razed without approval to make way for condominiums,” Culbertson continued, adding that since the group’s founding in March 1973 “we’ve been involved in numerous, successful preservation efforts. No historic resource has been lost in the last 50 years.”
Over the years, the nonprofit volunteer organization has led several efforts to preserve the town’s history through campaigns to get significant sites and areas historically registered, spearheaded exhibitions and education programs, chronicled local events and cataloged numerous artifacts and memorabilia.
Culbertson outlined several of the Historical Society’s previous and recent accomplishments including the launch of the group’s website that “contains a wealth of historic resources”; the production of the historical interview series; the establishment of the tile mural project that recognizes landmarks along Avenida Del Mar; and the authoring of the Fishcarts to Fiestas history book, to name a few.
“These achievements and many others have been made possible by our members, volunteers and donors. And we’re grateful for their contributions, time and energy” Culbertson said. “As we celebrate this significant milestone, we must also look to the future, we must continue to build on our success and strive to ensure our society remains relevant and accessible to all members of our community.”
Capping off the evening’s celebration, the Historical Society recognized the recipients of this year’s Ole Hanson Preservation Award: Lee and Dena Van Slyke, and Catherine Hall and Don Wenzel, previous and current owners of the Goldschmidt House, respectively.
The Van Slyke’s owned the historic home from 1997 to 2019 before selling it to Hall and Wenzel.
The Goldschmidt House, located on Avenida La Cuesta, is one of five buildings in San Clemente to be included in the National Register of Historic Places, joining others like Casa Romantica and the Ole Hanson Beach Club.
It was built in 1928 and was designed by Los Angeles architect Paul R. Williams—one of the premiere architects from the 1920s through the 1950s, Culbertson explained.
“There was a period in the 1970s and 1980s when the Goldschmidt House was completely neglected,” Culbertson said, noting that “during the 22 years that the Van Slyke’s owned the house, they took loving care, they got it listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and they opened their doors to numerous Historical Society tours. Their stewardship of this (building) is very much appreciated by all of us.”
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