Book Review by C. MacDonald
Any book with a legendary Bea Riley sensational, elegant watercolor on the
cover, must be fantastic and "Lido Isle--An Illustrated History" is just that.
It's a beautiful, fascinating hardcover epic with an amazing array of
interesting historic (as well as more recent) photos documenting the people,
places and lore that made (and make) Lido Isle (Newport Beach) such a special
place to live.
"Surrounded by water and accessible only by one bridge, it's physically and culturally, a world unto itself," writes Lenard Davis, a retired history teacher, who grew up--and still owns a home--there. With the picture he paints through his well-researched words and illustrations, you'll understand why this magical neighborhood was home to entertainment icons such as Joey Bishop, Johnny Mercer, Natalie Wood, Shirley Temple, Joan Crawford, Jane Wyman, Dick Powell, June Allyson, Rock Hudson, Edgar and Candice Bergen (their pal Charlie McCarthy) and so many more. Even John Wayne leased a house and Humphrey Bogart kept his boat at a friend's abode there. The picturesque, quiet community definitely was a pleasant escape from Hollywood.
Davis did a thorough job explaining this one mile long special spot, named for a posh island in Venice. ("Lido" is Italian for "sandbar," and sandbars played a large role in its history.) I loved the 1956 poem by Richard Unwin that he found, part of which eloquently states: "I know a little island, where the sun shines all year 'round; I know a little island where happiness abounds; I know a little island enclosed by waters blue; Where everyone does his small share to make it shine like new." True enough!
The folks lucky enough to call it home, in the 800+ houses, really have a sense of community. Many volunteer at their own Yacht Club, Woman's Club, Golf Club, Tennis Club, Men's Club....Some residents love it so much, they move around the isle rather than off it. Since 1928, Lido has had a Community Association which has helped it survive and maintain an image. It governs the style of house you can build, the color of paint, the types of landscape and much more.
One of the things, Davis points out, that really helped create the ambiance is the "Lido Islander," which first appeared on Aug. 23, 1954. It has always examined, and sometimes poked fun at, what goes on there. It once listed more than a dozen license plates of cars that allegedly failed to stop at stop signs.
In this book, you'll see photos and learn that homes are Spanish/Italian, French, Chinese, English Tudor, Hawaiian-Polynesian and other styles. Famous Architect Richard Neutra, known for his ultra-modern style and use of glass, designed a home in the 200 block of Via Genoa. The residences have tile or slate roof coverings and are on streets mostly named after Mediterranean cities, such as Via Barcelona and Via Cordova. Davis credits Lido creators for setting aside 13 bay lots on both sides of the land for parks.
The kingdom's history is unbelievable. It was once "an almost worthless sandbar, called 'Electric Island,'" owned by the Pacific Electric Company, who brought the Big Cars to Newport Beach in 1905. The book details how the island survived plans for shipyards, commercial ventures and finally ended up with William Crittenden, who hired John Elsbach to create a residential community and "sell lots to eager buyers." The mudflats were filled with silt and sand from the harbor, creating 114 acres of buildable land and the ground was raised 11 feet above the high tide level.
After the Depression hit, inside lots sold for $100. Davis said you even could get an inside lot for free, when purchasing one on the water. But most of the sites remained unsold. "Few people wanted to buy a sandy patch on a windswept, barren isle in the center of an undredged harbor during the middle of the Great Depression," the book said.
In 1932, there were only 38 houses on Lido, out of over 800 homesites. The original builder went bankrupt. To the rescue, Davis said, came retired contractor George Rogers and Paul "Pappy" Palmer (and others), who helped get the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior and Orange County voters (through a bond issue) to assist in the effort to dredge the harbor. The end result is amazing as boaters and people came to Lido, raising home values.
Davis reports that in 2010, one home sold for $20 million and of the 35 residences listed "For Sale" in August that year, not one was less than $1.5 million ("which was more money than it had taken to create the entire island!").
Lido, for many, is as close as you get to "Paradise." Together, the pictures and words Davis has produced, make "Lido Isle" entertaining, educating and most enjoyable. It's a real keepsake you'll be going back to time and time again! To find out more about the book, contact Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Also, to see more of Painter Bea Riley's superb watercolors of Newport, visit Bill Anderson Art Gallery, next to Captain Jack's Restaurant in Sunset Beach, Ca)
Also be sure to check "Newport" by Lenard Davis