Saturday, March 1, 2014

White Point and Royal Palms

There are three versions of how White Point got its name:

  • First, a sailor named White jumped ship and swam to shore here.

  • Second, the cliffs are pretty pale, and from the sea they looked white to sailors aboard ships.

  • Third, the name honors State Senator Stephen White, (1853-1901, who fought to get the deep water harbor in San Pedro.

Who knows the truth? No one I've met. Here's what we do know:

The entire area was once part of the Rancho Los Palos Verdes, owned by the Sepulvedas. Basically, it was a cattle ranch.

But everyone--the Native Americans, the Spanish, the Sepulvedas, and local farmers and fishermen, knew the entire coast, including White Point, as a great place to dive for abalone. That's one on the right. I did not know that the wholes in the iridescent shell (well, the underside is iridescent) were for the tentacles to poke through.

By 1895, a dozen Japanese fishermen had established a home base for their abalone harvesting and canning business at White Point. They harvested abalone all the way north to Santa Cruz and out to Catalina island, but their processing plant (actually, a shed) was at White Point, on what is today the White Point Nature Preserve. The men rented it and their homes from RĂ¡mon Sepulveda, son of the original Rancho owner. Some sites and books refer to him as Roman Sepulveda.

Right about the time the abalone business venture petered out--partly due to over-harvesting--a natural sulfur spring was discovered at White Point. Sepulveda collaborated with two of the Japanese entrepreneurs, Tamiji and Tojuro Tagami, and built a two-story hotel and recreation center at White Point, down on the beach.

So about 100 years ago, the hot springs was developed and roads were dug out and graded. Another man, Mitsuo Endo, anchored a fishing barge over the kelp beds offshore. He built a pier and ferried fishermen out to sea on power boats. And Sepulveda put in the fireplaces and benches made of local stone, and had a grove of palm trees planted to border his terrazzo dance floor. Have no doubt; this was a fancy place.

This photo of the palms in udated and comes from the Water and Power Associates site--you can spend hours there looking at old photos of the harbor area. I did.

All of the facilities, including the concrete fountain that still stands today, were down at the beach. And the fountain was surrounded by a beautiful, lush garden.

Today, the upper level of Royal Palms Park offers terrific views, with a picnic area, playground, benches, and a path along the cliff. On a clear day you can see Catalina; I've seen whales heading south as well. Gulls and pelicans soar by. Below you are the cliffs, rocks, and tide pools of the lower level. The fountain from the beach sits above now, hauled up a few decades ago.

At the lower level, you can walk along the beach. Time your visit for when the tide is out and you'll be able to examine tide pools without getting wet. On the other hand, maybe you want to get wet. Divers come here, but because of the rocks the most popular time for diving is high tide.

In winter, this place is great. Summer can be a bit crowded.

At the lower level, you can walk along the beach. Time your visit for when the tide is out and you'll be able to examine tide pools without getting wet. On the other hand, maybe you want to get wet. Divers come here, but because of the rocks the most popular time for diving is high tide.

In winter, this place is great. Summer can be a bit crowded.

The area in front of you and on your left as you come down the driveway is considered White Point Beach. That's pretty much the first picture in this post. To the right is the Royal Palms area (the picture to the left) where the remains of the 20th century resort exist: stone benches, fireplaces, and some foundations.

By 1925, judging by pictures, the Royal Palms complex included a restaurant (but Prohibition was in force so no bar!), bath house, private salt water swimming pools cased in concrete, and an enclosed boating area along with the hotel. The Taguros managed the place, but by law--since they were Asian--they could not become citizens or own land.

You can learn much more about the Japanese entrepreneurs at White Point at Five Views: An Ethnic Heritage, which is where I found the picture below right, showing the original fountain in relation to the hotel.

You can see more old pictures at this Daily Breeze blog post.

Nature interfered with the resort. In 1928, a huge storm damaged the concrete under the swimming pools, and the 1933 Long Beach earthquake shifted the ground and blocked off the hot spring. The resort foundered during the Depression, then closed down in the late 1930s.

And in February 1942, just a couple of months after the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the US into the war, all of the ethnic Japanese who farmed and worked in the area were rounded up and taken to internment camps, losing everything.  White Point itself was absorbed into Fort MacArthur and fortified.

After the war, my history is a bit sketchy. I've read that the Hedley family leased the property and used it for beachcombing. I welcome corrections and/or affirmations.

The State of California took the area over in 1960 and made it a State Beach with management provided by the Los Angeles City and County. In 1982, the fountain from the Royal Palms Recreation Center was moved to the upper level were it stands today.

In 1995, the state gave the Royal Palms land to the county. Some sites still refer to it as a State Beach, but Los Angeles County is the actual owner. 

Parking can be a bear on the lower level. The powers that be charge whatever they feel like charging. Boo! 

You can park at the Nature Preserve or on Paseo Del Mar for free if you're willing to walk down, and then back up, the access road.

A point of interest: since 2011 Paseo Del Mar ends just a few feet beyond White Point because of the land slide that took a chunk of road away. Here is the most recent news I could find about that--from December of last year. Ironically, it's from a Northern California newspaper.

Let's hope this latest soaking doesn't weaken hillsides or roads further.


michael said...

Hi. My name is Michael Flanagan, I am now 73 years old now. When I and my brother were only in our teens we found a cave just about half way up the cliff aboves the old pool at the hot springs. We explored the cave witch was about a quarter mile lond, and had places in it that were over twenty feet tall. There were writings on the walls dateing backto the fifteen hundreda. I know the cave is still there, just covered up.i do not know any other perple that knew about it. We went there two years ago, and think it would be easy to 7ncover it. Would be interested in hearing of anyone that would be interested in re discovering it. If so I can be reached a . it had a lot of history, and beautiful things in it. At the very end of the cave our matches would not light, but as boys, no problem. Thanks. MICHAEL FLANAGAN, Apalatchiecola, fl.

Vickey Kall said...

Wow--I have never come across mention of a cave. And with all the people in the area, I'm sure it would be known except for being covered up, as you say. How interesting! I hope you get some response--

michael said...

Hello Vickie. We also hope some interest will be generated in the cave.
my brother, and I were three years ago, and met a proffer, and His class. We told Him the story, and when He looked up where we pointed,. He said He could see a place in the strattis where a cave would have been.
I would to see that caved re opened.
Feel free to email me at and chech my videos simply typing in at yahoo kh6vt
hope to hear from people. Thanks Michael. Kh6vt said...

Hello Michael my names is Jannett I currently love nearby white point in San pedro would you be able to tell me exactly where the cave is maybe my nd and I can uncover it and check it out sounds very interesting to expierence since we're there hiking those rocks with ours dogs. I'll email you that way we can stay in contact I literally go dowwm to white point daily. I was very curious on the cement walls at white point still standing today that I had to do research on what was there before white point beach. This is so amazing to expiernce since I'm always at white point hiking and trying to figure out what was there before it could have just washed away. Or what may have happened to the white point spring hotel.very interesting stuff to discover. Since white point is a very i mportant beach to me . My dad's ashes remains in white point beach. So I'll always be visiting white point til the last breath I take. But I'll email you so you can contact me about the cave you and your brother discovered

Anonymous said...

Me and my friends explored that cave back in the late 1970s. It's more of a tunnel, really. Most of it is for crawling. We figured it had something to do with WWII and Fort MacArthur, which is where it heads, under Paseo.

Unknown said...

I think you are correct, there are many military tunnels built throughout the south bay. The Nike missile field, under the Torrance airport, has tunnels running to the redondo beach wilderness park and I'm sure many other locations.