Crystal Cove State Park Timeline

9000-3000BP           Gabrieliño (Tongva) and Juaneño (Acjachemen), occupy the area that includes present day Crystal Cove State Park. They shift from an emphasis upon game hunting to a greater reliance on wild seeds, shellfish, fish, and a variety of large and small vertebrates.

3000-1350BP           The first appearance of the mortar and the pestle, associated with the processing of acorns.

1350BP–Euro-American contact (1542)

                                    The Tongva and Acjachemen manufactured steatite bowls and other decorative items, stone mortars and pestles, manos, drills, knives, and projectile points made from steatite. Bone was utilized to manufacture fishhooks, needles, and awls.  Shell was made into fishhooks, beads, and spoons. They also manufactured exquisite baskets, a variety of nets, and coiled paddle and anvil pottery. Their rock art is visible evidence of ceremonies conducted in prehistory.

1769                           Spanish Colonial missionaries and soldiers arrive in Alta California and began to establish a system of presidios (military institutions), missions (religious institutions) and pueblos (civil institutions) to occupy and colonize the territory.

1776                           Mission San Juan Capistrano is founded 14 miles to the south of the current park. With the arrival of Spanish missionaries, many native people were drawn into the mission system and given the name Juaneño or Gabrieliño, depending on which mission they were baptized—San Juan Capistrano or San Gabriel (est. 1771). Spanish colonization, permanently altered the culture, and the cultural landscape of the native people inhabiting Southern California, removing them from their villages and incorporating them into the laboring class necessary to maintain the mission system.

1822                           Mexico receives its independence from Spain.  Alta California becomes a territory of the new Mexican Republic.  Ideals of Mexican republicanism value private land ownership and free trade, different from the restrictive rule of the Spanish king and Catholic Church.  The Californios, the upper class of the territory, begin to obtain private ranch holdings to raise cattle, whose hides were valued by foreign trading ships from the United States and Europe.

1833                           The Mexican Government secularized the missions and began to grant the remainder of the former mission lands to private individuals to enhance the Californios economic opportunities.

1837                           The first grant of the land on which Crystal Cove State Park is located, was awarded to Jose Andres Sepulveda in 1837.

1850s                        Complication from land title claims in U.S. courts, and a decade of natural disasters, pushed Sepulveda into debt.

1864                           Sepulveda sold Rancho San Joaquin. James Irvine and his partners bought the land on which Crystal Cove State Park is now located.

1867-68                     30,000 head of sheep grazed on the hills where cattle had previously fed, thus Rancho San Joaquin would subsequently become the largest portion of the Irvine Ranch of Orange County.

1876                           Irvine bought out his partners when the company’s ranching efforts failed due to droughts, wool infestations, and competitive markets. 

1894                           James Irvine II eventually inherited the ranch from his father and diversified the agricultural business by leasing to tenant farmers. He incorporated his land holdings, creating “The Irvine Company.” The ranch made up nearly one-third of today’s Orange County. Dry farming on portions of the ranch included barley, oats, wheat, and hay.

1912                           First Plein Air painting of Crystal Cove by Laguna Beach artist William Wendt.

1917                           Alleged year that motion picture companies discovered the isolated cove at the mouth of Los Trancos Creek and the first palm trees were planted, creating a “paradise of the south seas” set for the benefit of film-makers.

1910s-20s                Friends and employees of The Irvine Company also begin to visit the Los Trancos Creek beach area for recreational activities (the debate is still out on whether the employees or the motion picture people were here first).

1920                           An early version of “Treasure Island” is the first commercial movie documented to be filmed at Crystal Cove.   

1924                           The State of California finalizes an agreement with The Irvine Company on the route of Pacific Coast Highway between Newport Beach and Dana Point to fill the gap in Orange County.  

1925                           Irvine Co. hires E. Roy Davidson, a Hollywood technical director to manage camping and beach use access, along with film location coordination, at the cove.

Company employees and friends to the cove begin to tent camp. Some regulars began to build small shelters and cottages along the beach and against the bluffs. Some current cottages beginning as one room tents with canvas walls or from one room kit cabins are purchased via catalogs and are popular with the growing number of urbanites looking for inexpensive weekend or summer recreation homes.  Such recreational “homes” in hard to access locations such as the cove become available for recreational pursuits due to the rise of auto-tourism and camping.

1926                           Pacific Coast Highway officially opens between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach providing the public access to the cove.

1927                           Regular visitor Elizabeth Wood, whose husband Merrill was good friends with manager Roy Davidson, named the beach and creek mouth area “Crystal Cove.” By this time the unique seaside spot was already becoming well known as a recreation area. On August 14, 1927 The Los Angeles Examiner noted “On the Coast Highway between Balboa and Laguna is a bathing resort that has the atmosphere of a South Sea atoll with thatched huts and long-fronded palms.”

 Japanese farmers begin leasing land from The Irvine Company and built homes and barns. Planting hundreds of acres of crops on the hillsides surrounding the cove, farmers sold produce from roadside stands on PCH and to Los Angeles markets.

South of the Crystal Cove cottages, “Tyron’s Camp” (a café, auto camp, and tent campground) opened in 1927 along PCH at the beach and inland creek of Moro Canyon.

 1930s                        Crystal Cove’s popularity leads to families returning each year to their leased “spots.” The simple “kit cabins,” small shelters and seasonal tents continue to be improved.  Other families rent out spots on the south beach each summer for seasonal tent cabins.

1934                           The local Japanese farming community erects its own community center known as the Gakuen or Japanese Language School (a building now preserved within the Historic District)


1936-38                     By 1936 lessees had built 47 cottages, and starting in 1938 The Irvine Company and their site manager began to formalize the camping leases for annual renewals. Under these leases the tenants had little incentive to invest in expensive improvements because the Irvine Company retained ownership of both the land and the cottages.


1939                           Orange County officials restrict construction of any further cabins due to infrastructure limitations (water, power, sewer.)  Therefore under the Irvine leases it was possible to paint, resurface, or change a water heater or fixture, but no changes in dimensions or additions of rooms were technically allowed after 1939.

1941                           Japan bombs Pearl Harbor and the United States enters World War II.

1942                           Executive Order 0096 requires Japanese Americans to be evacuated from the Pacific Coast during the War. The Japanese community leasing land from The Irvine Company were sent to the internment camp in Poston, Arizona. As a result, they forever lost their farms and homes along the San Joaquin hills.


1942-45                     Following the outbreak of World War II, the US military requisitioned nearly 4,000 acres from the Irvine ranch for military needs including land for coastal defense systems. Within the park boundary, a “base end station” or “spotting station” was built above Abalone Point. The military converted the Japanese Schoolhouse for their use. The purpose was for a coastal defense crew to observe and to furnish data for the guns of a battery for firing at a target. Plans for the construction of Fire Control Station were approved in November of 1943. The station was obsolete soon after it had been constructed.

1950s                        After World War II, the forty-six remaining cottages and the summer beach tent-campers experienced the peak years of Crystal Cove as a recreational community of summer beach goers. This was the heyday of the cottage tenants and the summer tent cabin-ers.  The public could also visit for day use of the beach.  Public rest rooms in the commons and a small restaurant/store served the Cove-ites and visitors.


1956                           The old Tyron’s Camp complex evolved into a permanent mobile home facility known as “El Morro Beach Trailer Park”. By 1960 a series of trailers were installed along the Morro Beach front and in 1971 an additional loop created on a graded bluff top next to the El Morro Elementary School.

1962                           The County ended the south beach tent camping and day use activities due to increased public health and safety concerns, (this event signifies the end of Crystal Cove Historic District’s period of significance). Afterwards, more and more cottages were occupied year-round until Crystal Cove became a community of part-time and full-time cottage tenants.


1971                           The Irvine Company outlined development plans “for a Riviera-type coastal resort with two large regional parks and a 3.5 coastal walkway” between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach. The proposal included the idea that half of land would be annexed to each city. The plans were extensive. Plans called for two 500 acre regional parks in the Morro and Los Trancos canyons; 10 resort hotels and several thousand rental units.

1970s                        With Orange County’s rapid urbanization in the 1960s and 70s, local environmental groups look to preserve open space, including some of the undeveloped coast and hills between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.

1979                           The Irvine Company sells land to the State of California as parkland as part of their future development plans for the area.

Concerned with the potential destruction of the long-standing community, the Crystal Cove Historic District is nominated to, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Community interest in preserving the cultural and natural features as a state park mounts.


1982                           The Crystal Cove State Park general plan, the guiding land use document for the park, is approved by the State Parks and Recreation Commission.  The plans major components include the adaptive re-use of the Crystal Cove cottages for affordable public use, and the conversion of the El Morro Trailer Park area for public camping and day use.   State funds for implementing these improvements are not available and the leases for both areas are extended for 20 years.

1997                                        State signs 60-year concession contract with private developers to convert the cottages into a luxury resort.

1999                           The Alliance to Save Crystal Cove is formed to coordinate support to stop the planned luxury resort.  Many other preservation and environmental groups join in the fight.

State Parks begins planning for the conversion of the El Morro Trailer Park into public campground and day use area.

2001                           Crystal Cove Alliance and the coalition of Historic District preservation supporters rally efforts to stop the luxury resort contract.  They, along with other stakeholders, meet with state parks’ director and staff to voice opposition.


California Coastal Conservancy gives State Parks $2 million to buy out the concession contract from the resort developers.


State Parks staff begins meeting with stakeholders and the public to create a public works plan to develop the Crystal Cove Historic District per the general plan.


2003                           The resulting Crystal Cove Historic District Preservation and Public Use Plan (PPUP) is completed, goes through environmental review and is approved by the State Parks Commission.


State Parks uses bond funds and Coastal Commission mitigation funds to start the Phase I Restoration of the first 22 cottages and key infrastructure at the Historic District.


2003-06                     The Phase I Restoration project results in the restoration of 13 cottages within the Historic District for overnight rentals, and nine for operations, interpretation and food concession use.


2005                           Crystal Cove Alliance, through their for-profit entity, Crystal Cove Beach Cottages, wins the concession contract to operate the overnight rental and food services in the Historic District.


2006                           First overnight guests check into restored cottages in the Crystal Cove Historic District. The Beachcomber Restaurant opens.

The tenants of El Morro Beach Trailerpark vacated after a lengthy legal battle and the trailers were removed in order to develop a public campground and day-use facility.

2007                                        Park and Marine Research Facility opens at Cottage 22. Crystal Cove State Park is awarded the prestigious Governor’s Historic Preservation Award for the Phase I Restoration Project.

Crystal Cove Alliance begins raising funds for Phase II Restoration.  Working with State Parks on the design and implementation, CCA will raise over $6 million to complete restoration of the Education Commons, Hollow and South Beach areas.


2009-11                     Phase II Restoration construction is undertaken and completed.  Seven additional cottages, the Hollow Garages, and interpretive facilities (Commons and Cottage 13) are restored and put into use.


2012-13                     State Parks through CCA receives $1 million from donation to enhance interpretive facilities.  The Michael and Tricia Berns Environmental Study Loop is designed and constructed.


2013                           Phase III Restoration Project scoping and site cleanup begins.  Scope includes the restoration of the remaining 17 cottages in the North Beach area of the district.   Conceptual design for the infrastructure work is begun.  CCA receives first installment of mitigation funding from the Coastal Commission that allows design and permitting work to begin.


2014                           State Parks and CCA submit initial Coastal Commission permit application (approval is expected by Fall).  Studies and design work is initiated for cottage restoration scope.

2017                           Crystal Cove Alliance becomes the Crystal Cove Conservancy.