Explore the Gems of Balboa Island

Just after 1900, when land developer William S. Collins dredged the channel on the north side of Newport Bay, across from the Pavilion, he piled the sand and silt onto a mud flat known as “Snipe Island”.  This pile of sand and silt was to become one of the most expensive real estate markets in North America. Collins named the flat Balboa Island.

My conclusion is that the streets were named after jewels to convince buyers that the land was going to be of great value.  How could one resist owning a summer cottage on a street named Ruby or Diamond or Emerald? Even if the lots were under water at high tide? The tiny clapboard beach cottages that were built right on the sand, without foundations, provided priceless memories for several generations.

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One such cottage, albeit built much later, has special memories for me.  My parents purchased a tiny house with an even tinier apartment over the garage on Coral Street in 1959.  I was thirteen years old and what a thrill it was to tell my friends that we owned a place on the island!  Of course my parents could not afford to stay there…it was an “investment” for their retirement.  But every Saturday during the summer we would drive down and clean the house and the apartment to get ready for new vacationers.  This sounds like not much fun, but oh what a great time we had!

We would sing and scrub and vacuum. Then go to the beach and take out our boat.  It was a dingy that we called “the thingy”.  I still remember catching fish, then feeling sorry for them and throwing them back.  We spent the night in a tiny bunk room in the garage.  All very illegal of course.  Then when I got married and had my own children we visited gramma and grampa at their beach house.

There are twenty-three streets on Balboa Island.  Seventeen narrow streets are named after jewels. One non-jewel avenue is named Apolena, after William S. Collins’ fourth wife and the other five are the main streets of the island.

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If you want to explore the history of Balboa Island, a visit to The Balboa Island Museum is a must. Located at 502 S. Bay Front, they are still collecting memorabilia about the island and appreciate all donations of such.

Jolly Roger Restaurant (now Wilma’s). This landmark was where our family bought ice cream cones before our nightly walks around the island during my childhood vacations.

If you go to the Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society, get a map and take a self-guided walking tour of Balboa Island’s historical houses built between 1912 and 1940 representing many architectural styles. Most of the historic houses are on Amethyst and Apolena Streets.

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