When Captain Samuel S. Dunnells successfully steered his 105-ton river steamer Vaquero through upper Newport Bay in 1870, James and Robert McFadden rushed from Northern California by stagecoach to mark the inaugural voyage.
Dunnells’ trip cast new light on the bay, which many had said was too treacherous for travel. But the principal landowners in the area – the McFadden brothers and James Irvine – thought they had something after Dunnells’ trip. A “new port,” they mused, and the name stuck, according to the Newport Beach Historical Society.
More than 100 years later, Newport Beach’s harbor is crowded with pleasure, fishing and tour boats, and its streets are busy with shoppers browsing at Fashion Island mall, tourists enjoying Balboa bars on Balboa Island and surfers tackling The Wedge or other hot spots along the city’s 6.2 miles of beaches.
Newport wasn’t always such a desirable place. In the mid-1800s, the state of California sold parts of Harbor, Balboa and Lido islands for $1 an acre as “swamp and overflow land,” according to the Newport Beach Historical Society.
The McFaddens saw something else. In 1888, they decided their shipping business would be more successful if they moved it from the inner shores of the bay to the oceanfront, where they could build a wharf. McFadden Wharf soon became the largest business in newly created Orange County, according the the historical society.
In August 1906, residents in the booming bay town voted to incorporate. The vote was 42-12 to become the city of Newport Beach. Back then, bay front houses sold for as little as $500. Today, the median price of homes in Newport Beach is approximately $545,000.
Residents identify closely with their “villages” – including Corona del Mar, west Newport and the Harbor, Lido and Balboa islands – rather than Newport Beach itself. Homes are separated from busy commercial areas such as Lido Village, Mariner’s Mile and Newport Center.
One hundred years after the McFaddens built what is now Newport Pier, the city still revels in its ocean roots. Back them, only a few dozen summer cottages could be rented, and a few dozen people called Newport home.
Balboa Pavilion – 400 Main St.
Newport Beach’s first landmark was built in 1905. The Scandinavian-style pavilion was the end of the line for the Pacific Electric Red Car. The “balboa Hop” dance began there during World War II. The pavilion now contains a variety of shops, a restaurant and a chartering company.
McFadden’s Wharf – Newport Pier
Completed in 1889, the wharf was the beginning of Newport’s decade as a shipping port. The wharf was built by James and Robert McFadden, who shipped lumber from Northern California to settlers here.
Old Landing – Highway 101 & Dover Dr.
In 1870 the first steamer entered Newport Bay and unloaded cargo near what is known as Old Landing. The landing was designated a new port, or “Newport”, by the McFaddens, who established a regular shipping service in the area. There is a bridge and a highway on part of the site now. The rest of the area is vacant.
Rendezvous Ballroom – Ocean Front (Between Washington & Palm Streets)
The ballroom originally was a small dance hall that competed with the Balboa Pavilion. In 1928 a new Rendezvous Ballroom was built and began to feature such big bands as Benny Goiodman’s group. The ballroom burned down in 1935, was rebuilt, and burned down again in 1966. The site now contains condominiums.
SITE OF FIRST WATER-TO-WATER FLIGHT – Location: S end of Main St at Ocean Front (Balboa), Newport Beach.
On May 10, 1912, Glenn L. Martin flew his own plane, built in Santa Ana, from the waters of the Pacific Ocean at Balboa to Catalina Island. This was the first water-to-water flight, and the longest and fastest overwater flight, to that date. On his return to the mainland, Martin carried the day’s mail from Catalina-another first.