The life and times of William S. Collins – creator and developer of Balboa Island. Follow the footsteps of an 1890’s entrepreneur who was involved in building, land development, real estate, oil exploration, mining, banking and more.
Born in 1863 to an Indiana farm family, Collins attended teachers college and later became a school principal in Fox and Norman, Indiana. He married Annabell Henbaugh in 1884. They had one child Bonibel. In 1889 due to his wife’s ill health he moved his family to Riverside, CA.
Riverside, CA Years
While in Riverside Collins became involved in the citrus industry and real estate development. At the time the citrus industry in Riverside was an important growth industry as growers were able to ship navel oranges east in iced (refrigerated) railroad cars. The 1890’s found Riverside to be one of the wealthiest cities in the country.
Collins was proprietor of The Rambler Cyclery, a bicycle shop and a member of the Riverside Wheelman, a large bicycle club. During this time period the principal form of transportation was by bicycle or horse.
The automobile was a novelty and paved roads were nonexistent. General Motors (GM) was not formed until 1908 and in the same year Henry Ford began production of the Model “T”.
Collins was active in developing several Riverside housing tracts. In 1900 he built the Collins–Seaton house, which still stands today on Mission Inn Avenue shown above. He sold this home in 1902.
If this was not enough he had gold mining interests in Searchlight, NV, was a director of the Bennett Smokeless Furnace Co in Los Angeles and the Kern Crude Oil Co of Bakersfield. He also applied for the franchise to supply gas to the City of Riverside.
Annabelle, his first wife passed away in 1890. Then in 1892 Collins married Mary Anne Lukens, daughter of a Riverside peach farmer. They had four children; George, Ruth Ann, William and Elizabeth.
1902 – Collins becomes involved in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa (then called Fairview, the current area of Orange Coast College)
Early Newport Beach Years
In May 1902 Collins purchased 880 acres of what is now part of Newport Beach from James and Robert McFadden owners of the Newport Wharf and Lumber Co for $60,000. He immediately started advertising “Choice Beach front lots” for $125 up in the LA Times.
This land was considered “swamp and overflow” land as it was sometimes under water during high tide. Apart from the lumber/wharf business and limited fishing conducted by squatters the lack of an adequate harbor prevented development in the area. This coupled with lack of clear title to the “swamp and overflow” land made his sale of lots difficult.
His problem was solved in August 1902 when he received a U.S. Land Patent to 1,100 acres of “swamp and overflow” land in Newport Beach and the surrounding area. This is shown in the map above outlined in violet above and extended from the Santa Ana River on the west to the entrance of the Newport Harbor on the east. In 1902 Balboa Island was only a Collins dream.
Fairview Hot Springs Hotel
In March 1903 Collins purchased the Fairview Hotel in Fairview, now part of Costa Mesa. He attempted to revive interest in the hot springs at the hotel and promoted it as “California’s Carlsbad”, spending over $40,000 on construction of cottages and a large pool.
However he was not successful and the hotel was sold in 1907. Several other owners tried their luck but none were successful. In 1910 the hotel and 20 acres of land were sold at auction for $7,100.
Finally in 1918 an earthquake stopped the flow of hot mineral water and the Fairview Hot Springs disappeared.
Newport Beach Development
In 1905 the Pacific Electric Red Cars reached McFadden’s wharf, now Newport Pier. Large tracts of land were given to H. E. Huntington as an inducement to extend the Pacific electric line to Newport. Newport Beach lots are now advertised at $250 and up.
Pacific Electric Red Cars & the Pavilion
In May 1906 the Pacific Electric Red Car line was extended to East Newport and in July the same year to Balboa at the newly constructed Balboa Pavilion. At this time Collins turns his attention to the development of Balboa Island.