Tuesday, June 22, 2021

A bit of Boola Boola at Huntington Harbour

Architect William L. Pereira (L) with his Master Plan for Huntington Harbour, Sept. 6, 1961. Pete Douglas (R) looks on. (USC Libraries Special Collections)
Q: I notice that both Davenport Island and a number of streets near Trader Joe’s in Huntington Harbour -- Branford, Calhoun, Pierson, Silliman, Trumball, Saybrook, Morse and Stiles -- all have names relating to the residential colleges that serve as Yale's undergraduate dormitories. Why?

A: Lewis W. “Pete” Douglas. Jr. (1924-2014), president of Christiana Oil Corp. (which developed Huntington Harbour) was a 1948 Yale grad. 

Pete Douglas’ father was the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James (U.K.), a banker and an Arizona cattle rancher. Pete grew up both on the East Coast (New York) and the West (Arizona). He attended Groton Boarding School in Massachusetts and went to Yale (where he was in the Davenport residential college,) but paused his college career to serve as a Navigator-Bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. After the war, he returned to Yale.

In many ways, Pete Douglas had much in common with a fellow member of Yale’s class of 1948: George H. W. Bush.

Douglas at Huntington Harbor, 1961 (Los Angeles Times)

Unlike Bush, however, Douglas took a lax attitude toward education. “I majored in English and history but mostly in poker,” he later recalled. Even later in life, newspapers described him as “seemingly flippant” and “light-hearted.” After graduating, he had no real plan but ended up working (in another Bush parallel) in the Texas oil industry. But he would go on to show that one doesn't have to be serious to be serious.

In 1952, he formed the Christiana Oil Co. with the help of Eastern investors. The company stumbled for a few years but went public in 1956. The business didn’t start breaking even until he began to diversify – purchasing interests in companies that dealt in title insurance, broadcasting and real estate development.

Among those real estate developments was a project turning 860 acres of swamps and sloughs at the former Lomita Gun Club into a residential marina near Sunset Beach, California. Douglas started planning the project in 1960 and hired reknowned architect and planner William L. Pereira to create the master plan for this new "Huntington Harbour." Some of the initial areas were developed and sold by the mid-1960s. Considering the scope of the project, progress was surprisingly swift. 

Douglas stepped down as president of the Christiana Oil Corporation in 1964, having, as City of Huntington Beach Archivist Kathie Schey puts it, "pooped out in terms of interest." 

Some of the portions of the Harbour developed after that point -- like Trinidad Island -- were subbed out to a number of other capable developers. 

Official logo for Huntington Harbour.

According to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times, “In 1964, Pete formed privately held real estate development firm, Douglas Development, but reentered the energy business founding Stanley Energy in 1985. Unwilling to retire, both intellectually and physically, Pete remained active, involved and engaged until his death. He was a dedicated philanthropist and active member of his community, offering his time as a trustee to multiple schools, director of hospitals, and also serving on the Governing Board of HealthOne. Mr. Douglas served as a Commissioner of the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy in President George H.W. Bush's administration. Pete was especially committed to the First American Corporation where he acted as a director from 1961 to 2013. An avid lover of the arts, Pete received the Mary Belle Grant Award in 2006, an honor he cherished. However, his greatest passions were his family and friends with whom he built lasting connections, based on humility, compassion, and humor.”

Today Huntington Harbour is part of the City of Huntington Beach and is home to about 3,500 residents. Curiously, Davenport Island – the only one of Huntington Harbour’s five man-made Islands with a Yale-inspired name – includes none of the aforementioned Yale-inspired street names. However, Davenport Island does feature Kitten Circle and Sea Witch Lane -- neither of which sound  very Ivy League nor very serious.

Davenport Island, Huntington Harbour (Courtesy City of Huntington Beach)

[Thanks to Tirzah Lowe, Stephen Updegrove and Kathie Schey for their input on this article.]

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