Dana Point’s Legendary Lanterns

By Barbara Force Johannes

The February 11, 2021 removal of the last Dana Point Lantern Post still standing in its original location on Violet Lantern has prompted this review.  For details about the removal see www.danapointhistorical.org.

   Dana Point developer Sidney H. Woodruff wrote that it was the Dana Point Syndicate’s “… intention to install the finest kind of improvements, such as pavements, sidewalks, curbs, ornamental lights, vitrified sewers, castiron water pipes, high-pressure fire hydrants, etc., and everything that will make the City Beautiful and perfectly appointed …” Of these improvements, Woodruff’s “ornamental” lantern streetlights continue to attract attention.  In addition to Woodruff, several other early investors in Dana Point have been credited with naming the Streets of the Green, Blue, Ruby, Amber, Violet, Golden, Silver, Copper and Crystal Lantern.  Who were these other people?

Documents in our archives inform us that the San Juan Point Corporation was the first developer to break ground in Dana Point in 1923-24 with the Scenic Inn and the bluff-top scenic trail.  The officers were Dr. J.L. Beebe, P.H. Krick, Joe Skidmore and Anna G. Walters.  The corporation disbanded in late 1924.  In 1925, Anna Walters advertised as a Tract Manager of Dana Point through the real estate firm of Merrick & Ruddick Inc.  She represented her own properties and those of others who remained invested here. Walters would also continue the development’s theme, as mentioned in a Los Angeles Times article on September 6 of that year, with the observation that the area was “Visited by Historic Author on Voyage in Year 1835” and that “Historic Dana Point has fallen before the march of progress, it has been subdivided for the homeseeker, and is to be formally opened to the public on Labor Day.”

A comparison of tract map 768 between June 1925 and September 1925 shows the street name changes that were first made that summer. What was Hillcrest Drive was renamed Street of the Blue Lantern, Juanita Drive became Ruby Lantern and Park Drive became Amber Lantern.  Walters newly built home is shown in the same 1925, Los Angeles Times, located on a street in Tract 573 that became the Street of the Green Lantern.  The arrival of Woodruff and his investors in Dana Point in 1925 also adds to the confusion of the street names.  Dr. Beebe and his wife, H. Eva Beebe, of the failed San Juan Point Corporation mentioned above, continued to own properties in Dana Point.  They would also invest in Woodruff’s 1930 Dana Point Inn.  In 1980, Orange County Legacy magazine credits Mrs. Beebe for naming the lantern streets, although she was only one of many people who contributed to the concept.  In addition, a developer from the 1920s, Alice Snell Moyer, is also credited with helping to name the lantern streets.  This fact was discovered as a written notation inside a Woodruff real estate sales album that was donated to the Dana Point Historical Society.

On April 3, 1927, a Los Angeles Times article announced the opening of one of the first buildings to be built in Dana Point — a new service station designed by Fay R. Spangler for Anna G. Walters, on the corner of the Street of the Blue Lantern and the new Roosevelt Highway.  The lessee was Carroll Lynch, who operated the station.  Within four years, Mrs. Walters owned both a home and a commercial building, each on a lantern street, and she would continue to reside here until her untimely death in 1932 at age 59, when her daughter and son-in-law would inherit her estate.  It is no wonder she is associated with the lantern streets.  Yet, in a recent telephone call I had with Carolyn King, Woodruff’s step-granddaughter, Carolyn noted how amazing it was that Woodruff’s lantern streetlights were installed throughout Dana Point with underground wiring, an innovation for the time. She also emphasized Woodruff’s eye for detail, which included specific street landscaping that was coordinated with the color-named lantern streets.

Why were so many people credited with the naming of the lantern streets when the streetlights were installed from circa 1927-1929 by Woodruff’s Dana Point Syndicate as part of his nautically themed development?  Was it due to early investors’ admiration of the unique ship lanterns because they evoked Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s description of this harbor as the “. . . most romantic spot on the California coast”?

There are several colorful legends associated with the lantern streets and occasionally the Historical Society is asked to settle a bet or answer a question about them. These theories are found and debunked on social media.  One internet report on Dana Point lanterns reads:  “The streets are named after different colored lanterns—Street of the Violet Lantern, Blue Lantern, etc.—because colored lanterns were used by ships 200 years ago to advertise their fares when in the Dana Point natural harbor.” There is no factual basis for this belief.  During Richard Henry Dana’s era, as chronicled in his best seller, the ships carried all sorts of manufactured and finished goods from Boston to trade for western cowhides, but the products were not color-coded to ships lanterns.  Another theory is that the colors were inspired from ships’ navigational lights used in the United States as early as 1838.   It is possible, but doubtful, since navigational lights are only red, green and white.  One online contributor, writing on Tripadvisor, was not as kind when writing, “The ‘Street of the Whatever Lantern’ was a marketing gimmick, meant to seem nautical, by Sidney Woodruff, the master planner behind what is now Dana Point. (Interestingly, Woodruff is also the guy who made the Hollywood(land) sign.)”

A January 16, 1927, Los Angeles Times article described the lanterns and lantern streets: “One of the interesting innovations at Dana Point is the unique system of lighting and naming the streets. The Roosevelt Highway, as the major-traffic artery of Dana Point, is crossed by a series of streets with streetlights of special design, each having a beautiful ship’s lantern in various colors. The first is the Street of the Golden Lantern, and is entirely lighted by golden lanterns. The second is Street of the Green Lantern, and is lighted by green lanterns. Next is the street of the Amber Lantern, etc., and as the streets wind up to the hillcrests, giving brilliant colorful effect.”  It is a dramatic description, but the streets are not in order and one has to wonder if the reporter was even here or, if here, stayed to see the colored lanterns at night. Current research and historic photos show it was only a colored dome light at the top of the post, located at the lantern street corners where they intersected Roosevelt Highway.  The lantern itself was an uncolored frosted glass, as replicated today on the corners of Pacific Coast Highway and Del Prado at the Streets of Blue, Ruby, Amber, Violet and Golden Lantern in the Lantern District.

There are at least eight original lanterns scattered throughout the gardens of private residences in the Lantern Village. Some of these original lanterns were initially sold by the county for scrap circa 1950, but then refurbished or stored by residents for later use.  Judging from the remaining lantern post foundations along the curbs in the Lantern Village, the posts were simply sawed off at the base for easy removal, which could be why some original posts appear shorter than others.

In 1989, Gary Keller’s South Coast Lighting and Design restored and rewired 15 original lanterns for the area on La Plaza.  The lanterns had to meet current codes and the old glass was pulled out and new tempered safety glass was installed.  Keller’s company also reproduced 10 new lantern streetlights for the Lantern District in 2014-15.  Over the years, several lanterns have been donated to the Historical Society, one of which was used as a template to replicate those 10 new lantern streetlights now on Del Prado and PCH.  That lantern is on display in our museum along with a floor-to-ceiling wall photo of the “Lady and the Lantern” with the dome light visible at the top of the lamppost above the lantern.

Perhaps the best lantern reference appeared in the Santa Ana Daily Register on July 19, 1929, reporting on Governor Young appearing at the opening of the Roosevelt Highway in Dana Point the day before.  “Following his address, Governor Young threw the switch of 400 ornamental lights illuminating the streets of Dana Point.  The lights are unique in that they are made to resemble ships’ lanterns.”  It must have been an impressive sight.  Unfortunately, just three months later, on October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed. The Great Depression and World War II would cause Dana Point’s streetlights to dim and deteriorate, but some would be saved for restoration and reproduction as Dana Point’s historic lantern streetlights.  Yes, Woodruff was marketing our historic past to attract future residents to his seaside resort with unique streetlights designed as ships’ lanterns, and we are still talking and writing about them today.

Consider visiting La Plaza one evening to admire the 15 original restored lantern streetlights and, for a moment, imagine 400 of those lanterns illuminating Dana Point in 1929.