From the Dana Point Times: It’s History: Lantern Bay

From the Dana Point Times: It’s History: Lantern Bay

By Carlos N. Olvera.  Republished with permission from the Dana Point Times, Copyright Picket Fence Media, 2013.  All rights reserved.

As you come down the Street of the Golden Lantern and enter the Dana Point Harbor, you are driving on what was once a creek, carved into the 200-foot bluff of the coastline.

Directly to the west, is Old Golden Lantern, the original path laid out in 1924. The development on the east and west sides, including the Ralph’s shopping center, is the development called Lantern Bay. Conceptual designing for Lantern Bay began in 1968 and plans were announced in 1972, to turn this undeveloped land into the entrance of the newly opened harbor. With a $25 million price tag, Dana Point Co. planned to build some 390 homes on the 76-acre development.

The company, consisted of Smyth Bros. Inc.—an established homebuilder in Orange County owned by identical twins, born on August 16, 1923—and Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company, both of Newport Beach. Zoning for the project was approved in August 1972 and the South Coast Regional Coastline Commission approved plans in July 1973—with an 8-3 vote.

An aerial view of Dana Point. Photo courtesy of the Dana Point Historical Society

California’s Proposition 20 soon followed, with voter approval in November 1972, creating what is now called the California Coastal Commission (CCC). On an appeal to the newly established commission, the granted permit was revoked in an 11–0 vote, leading the developers to file $23 million lawsuit against the state. With interest costs nearing $1,500 per day, the delays were costly.

Originally owned by George Capron, the land was considered as a location for the 1968 Orange County World’s Fair, but was deemed too rugged of a terrain and too far out of the way for major tourist attractions.

The land was stripped and graded by the Army Corps of Engineers during the construction of Dana Point Harbor in the early ‘60s. Grading left tiers with over one million cubic yards of land for plans of building high-density, high-rise housing.

In a new proposal, Smyth planned for low-density, high-cost housing with the endorsement of the Dana Point Citizens for Action, but a permit reapplication to the CCC was denied in November 1974. In April 1975, an agreement was finally reached—approved on a 9 to 2 vote—but included a reduction in housing and the addition of a hotel.

Dana Point Harbor Overhead Shot
An aerial view of the Dana Point Harbor. from 1982.

In an apparent show of support for the project, the regional coastal commission voted to let the developer proceed without obtaining permits for the project, but the state coastal commission rejected the proposal for a third time. But the Smyth Bros. did not give up, even after the lawsuit climbed to California Supreme Court. To only complicate matters, in 1977 the state eyed the property, among others, to purchase for parks and recreation.

In competition with Lantern Bay for the money was the Dana Point Headland’s. The state wanted to put some 110 campsites where Lantern Bay Park is today, but then turned to the Headlands property, as discussions for a hotel filled the needs for visitors.

By April 1981, the regional coastal commission approved the project once again. Now with a price tag of $165 million, the project included plans for two hotels, 25 acres of parks, two restaurants, 112 condominiums and 112 single-family homes.

At the time, Chuck Smyth was quoted having said, “I’ve put 21 years of my life in to this.”

On the leading edge of Lantern Bay Park is the Smyth Brothers Amphitheatre, which was donated by the brothers’ company along with a $500,000 fund for maintenance to the county.

A plaque installed there reads:

“Named in recognition of Charles W. Smyth and Edward A. Smyth for their contribution to Dana Point through the Development of Lantern Bay. The Smyth brothers’ community spirit and generous cooperation with the County is reflected in the creation of the park that surrounds this amphitheater—Orange County Board of Supervisors, 1983.”

The city of Dana Point acquired the park in 2006.

Edward Smyth moved his family to Dana Point in 1968, where some family members were in the first graduating classes at Dana Hills High School. He was a board member of the then-newly formed Marine Institute—now called the Ocean Institute—and donated the original Lantern Bay Realty sales office to be their first building, at the institute’s current site.

Smyth was a resident of Dana Point until his death in 1998. But the Smyth family’s involvement in the city continues to this day.

Steven Kazarian, a grandson of Edward Smyth, drew this year’s Festival of Whales logo design—which has been a contest for Dana Hills students for the last two years.

Carlos N. Olvera is past president of the Dana Point Historical Society, current Vice Chair of the OC Historical Commission and a Dana Point City Councilman.

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