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A Fifth-Generation Family Traces Their History to the Gold Rush

John Kirkland with his brothers Bill and Bob at "Old Lady's Cove" about 1930. Nearby is Victoria Beach’s landmark Norman-style tower. Photos courtesy of the author.

By Eric Kirkland, Special to the Independent

A Laguna Home Companion feature

The Kirkland family of Laguna Beach traces its lineage to the gold fields of California’s Sutter Creek, where in 1841 they prospered as merchants of mercantile for the local population and eventually the miners that poured into the area for the strike of ’49.

By 1859 the topographical gold began to play out.  At this time my great-great grandfather, W.T. Wildman, started the Wildman Mine and managed to produce gold until the early 1900s. His daughter, May W. Wildman, married John N. Kirkland in the early 1880’s.

The family eventually moved to Los Angeles where they invested mostly in real estate. This brought them further south to Laguna Beach, where my great-grandfather and grandmother built a beach house on Sunset Terrace in 1906, what is now known as Victoria Beach neighborhood. They paid $500 for the four lots and house! It was a typical single-wall constructed home, surrounded by ponds and walls made from the indigenous rock. It had a large adobe fireplace located in the center of the house, which provided the heat in the colder months.

Eric’s grandfather, John Kirkland, as an adult.

I remember the antique Russian teapot made of brass that was situated on the end of the fireplace.

The property was surrounded by a picket fence; its sections still stood into my lifetime. The house was situated on the bottom of Sunset Terrace and cornering Victoria Drive. Then, it overlooked the Victoria Beach cove, as there were no obstructions. They called the home “Overledge.” It must have been a site!

In the 1920s or so, my great grandmother had a postcard made of a photo of the family beach cottage, taken from the vantage point of Goff Island looking north towards Victoria Cove. She put a check mark over the family home.

Not long ago, my father in law, Bill Stone, an avid coin, stamp and postcard collector, came across an antique postcard of Victoria Cove while attending a postcard show in Los Angeles. He paid $1 for the card.

When he shared the postcard with us and my parents during dinner, my father recognized the photo immediately and turned it over to read the salutation. “That’s my grandmother’s writing!” he said. This postcard was one of the originals that was mailed out by my great grandma, though whom it was addressed to I’ve since forgotten.

Victoria Beach, circa 1920.

The Victoria Beach neighborhood was first subdivided in 1906 though the earliest known houses date from 1915, according to historical information on the city’s website. Originally called Laguna Heights, the neighborhood now goes by the name Victoria Beach, after the main road, Victoria Drive.

The neighborhood of bluff top homes was mostly originally built by the wealthy from out of town as summer homes. The Senator Brown House at 2683 Victoria Drive with the Norman tower to the beach is one of Laguna’s most photographed landmark homes. This neighborhood is one of the few, along with Moss Point, Rockledge and Cliff Drive neighborhoods, where historic bluff-line, pre-1940 beach houses remain.

The stories from my father, John Kirkland, and his two brothers, Bill and Bob, always intrigued me. They would climb into their grandmother’s car and make their way out to what is now El Toro Road and Laguna Canyon Road in order to pump well water. This would be for their consumption at the house.  On the way back to the house, the three boys would be instructed to get out of the car and walk down to the house as the car was too heavy, laden with tin cans filled with water. Keep in mind, then automobiles had “mechanical brakes” and were not as durable or reliable as today’s brakes. Their grandmother didn’t want to have the brakes fail while the boys were in the car going down to the house.

Eric Kirkland married Laurie Stone, who have known each other since childhood, on Sept. 11, 1982, and purchased a home on Sunset Terrace, where they raised their two children. Miranda and Wyatt are fifth-generation Kirklands in Victoria Beach.

Eric Kirkland worked in the semiconductor industry for 26 years, designed a skateboard product called Nuclear Pickle, and currently sells real estate in Laguna Beach.

Brown’s Tower at Victoria Beach. Photo courtesy of the Tom Pulley Postcard Collection

Victoria Beach Tower and Norman House

By Mark Whitman, Special to the Independent

In 1926 former California state Senator William Edward Brown and his wife, Mary Eleanor built their summer home far from the heat and bustle of Beverly Hills, on the bluffs overlooking Victoria Beach and the Pacific.

To accommodate the sharp drop to the reef below, Senator Brown had a 60-foot Norman style tower built of reinforced concrete; hidden inside was a spiral staircase that allowed the Brown family to move easily and safely from the top of the bluff, to the rocks below. The appearance of this tower on the Laguna Coast seems odd indeed and has startled many visitors, rounding the corner of the reef there, wondering what it might be.

Senator Brown and his wife, in 1918 had recently been part of a team of devoted Christian Scientists, who had traveled to France to be a part of the war relief effort. Like so many American soldiers during the First World War, they would have been surrounded by endless examples of French Chateaux; from small farmhouses to full scale castles; such classical castles and towers inspired many Americans to try and imitate such structures in their own houses upon returning home from the war. Throughout the 1920s and 30s many such storybook homes were built throughout the United States, many still existing in the Los Angeles area.

The view south from Victoria Beach.

Nearby the Brown’s tower is a large concrete swimming pool, built into the reef itself. Many texts identify this pool as belonging to the Brown family, but is that truly the case?

Trying to understand what originally inspired Senator Brown to choose this location for a residence, and to trace the history of both the pool and tower, the researcher, Whitman, found himself drawn into an intriguing review of Laguna Beach history, often finding as many questions as answers.

The image of the pool and tower were only further enhanced by one more layer of history when Harold Kendrick, a retired naval officer bought the Brown’s seaside summer home. Known locally as “the Question Man” Lt. Kendrick filled his seaside home with items as strange as cans of rattlesnake meat, a full suit of armor, and a real shrunken head from South America. A pirate theme ruled the home and Kendrick hosted games for local children. He constantly offered cash prizes to children who could correctly answer a never-ending series of questions, with the right answer. Parties often ended with a search for cash and coins hidden in the crevices and cracks of the seaside tower.

Whitman delivered this talk about the tower at a Laguna Beach Historical Society in May 2009. Originally a fourth generation Californian from Marin County, has resided in Alaska for the last 30 years. He currently works as the circulation supervisor of the Juneau Public Library. His wife Patricia, a fourth generation Californian as well, was conceived in Laguna Beach in 1953, and resided there from the 1950s to the early 1970s.


 

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