Bridges to the Past – The Smith Brothers
Once again the Museum courtyard was filled to capacity as members gathered for the Speaker Series event featuring brothers Hal Jr. and Mike Smith. The Smith family has a long and fascinating history on Balboa Island going back three generations, and all in attendance were captivated from the moment the discussion began. Moderator Conrad Baumgartner introduced the brothers and kept the conversation flowing as the story of the Smith family through the ages unfolded.
Will and Helen Smith took their young son, Hal, and left the cold Vermont winters for California, settling in Whittier. In the 1920s they summered on the beach at Corona del Mar, and moved to Balboa Island in 1924 when they retired.
“Dad owned two lots on Marine Avenue, 203 and 205, where Wilma’s Patio is now. The city was tearing out the old timber bridge that came onto the Island and Dad made a deal with them to get the lumber. So in 1932 he built his office out of the old timbers.”
Hal Jr. and Mike shared memories about the Balboa Island of their youth. Hal Jr. recalled, “Balboa Island hardly had any paved streets, only Marine and Park were paved. There was no sea wall, and at high tide water would flood across. Houses had to be built above high tide. There was a marginal sewer system, and it was before gas was delivered so they cooked over a fireplace. It was very much like camping.”
Their father was instrumental in the development of Marine Avenue. He planted many of the trees and had a vision of what the Island could become. He saw it as a quaint village and even tried to introduce gas lights for streetlights on Marine. “That project was perhaps ahead of its time, although he built two gas lights for the Jolly Roger property and his office – now long gone. He and the early businessmen did manage to get Marine widened – thus the strips of new pavement you see on both sides of Marine – by getting all of the property owners in the 200 and 300 blocks to donate that space to the city.”
Dad built the Jolly Roger in 1948 and leased it to Art Salisbury and Bob Geier, for whom he had built a frosty stand in 1947 next to his real estate office at 205 Marine. Mom named it Jolly Roger and our grandmother, Helen Smith, a well-known local artist, did the artwork on the menus. The consensus of passers-by during construction was that it would fail. That was perhaps understandable after five years of war and rationing. People wanted new and shiny – a Ruby’s.”
The brothers told many stories about growing up on the Island, from the curbside gas pumps on Marine Avenue, to the Long Beach earthquake with its epicenter right off of Newport Beach, to the shopping excursions in Los Angeles via the Red Car. They shared memories about World War II and what it was like during those difficult years. And one thing remained constant no matter what they spoke about – their love for their childhood home, Balboa Island.