Lifeguards Chuck Quinn and Tom Carlin waiting to surf with Dempsey Holder. Winter, 1952, Imperial Beach
By 1910, Imperial Beach had its first sidewalks, a general store, post office, library, a dance pavilion, and houses. A pier was constructed to provide electricity utilizing the Edwards Wave Motor. The machine never worked well, was disassembled, and removed. The dance pavilion burned down on Christmas Day, 1943; in 1948 the pier washed away in a storm, and the boardwalk withered to dust by the early 1950s.
A channel was dredged in 1910 by Hotel Del Coronado builder E.S. Babcock, between Market Street landing in San Diego and the southwest corner of San Diego Bay where the north end of Imperial Beach’s 10th Street is. The Grant, a boat purchased from the US Grant Hotel, ran the route from downtown to South Bay three times a day. This cruise lasted from 1910 until a flood filled the channel with silt in January 1916.
In the 1960s, I.B. was the place for my family to drive out on the sand and spend the day digging clams. In the evenings, we would end our day with a clam bake.
My first trip on a sportfishing boat in decades was aboard the Bright Morningstar, a cattleboat that made the run to the Coronado Islands by launching from the pier in Imperial Beach. A davit mounted to the pier lowered gear and supplies into the boat. Timber stairs led anglers down to board.
The I.B. surf holds sand crabs that draw corbina and surf perch into ankle-deep water. Anglers can find halibut outside the first break. From the pier, I have seen thresher shark, bonito, and yellowtail hauled up, and on most days it is productive for croaker, mackerel, and surf perch.
Imperial Beach has a surfing history beginning with Dempsey Holder and his crew that surfed the Tijuana Sloughs from the ’40s through the 1950s. Following Holder, most of the finest surfers were lifeguards at some stage.
Redevelopment brought high-priced condos, more businesses, and a plaza to its beachfront before the crash of 2009. Once you start roaming inland a block or two from the sand, though, it resembles the sleepy beach community of my youth.
This Saturday, August 20, the Imperial Beach Historical Society and the San Diego Small Business Forum are hosting the Imperial Beach Historical Society Day.