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Our family visits to the beach in the '50s

McGrath's at the beach
McGrath's at the beach
Teresa McGrath

Long before the soaring skyline structures were built in the San Fernando Valley, there were orange groves ... and lots of them. Tangerine dots were sprinkled all over the Valley, and freeways were small arteries threading through the Los Angeles Basin. Santa Monica was a planet away, and the only way we could get there was by driving over Sepulveda Boulevard, making a trek to the ocean a monumental event.

Imagine eight people packed into a Ford sedan for an outing to the beach. Welcome to my childhood. Mom and Dad would usher us into the bashed blue beauty, and because we were small, fitting six kids and two adults didn’t seem to pose any problem. I’m sure a few of my brothers volunteered to ride in the trunk, but instead they were squished next to my older sister Lynn. My twin sister Teresa and I probably rode on my brothers' laps.

Windows rolled down, we’d scream and gape at the air like thirsty dogs as we lumbered down Sepulveda Boulevard, snaking through the tunnel to head for Wilshire Boulevard, where we’d worm our way to the beach.
Back then, there was Pacific Ocean Park, with its wild rides that appealed to our imagination.

I remember a deep-sea adventure at the entrance to the park that had life-like creatures suspended from wires. As they “swam,” they looked so real to this small child, like characters in some Stephen King sci-fi flick. At the end of the pier was an aerial ride that went over the ocean. A few of us would cram into the gondola and hope the cables didn’t break as we dangled over the Pacific.

If we decided to spend time down by the water, our family would pile onto the sand, far enough away from the rising tide, but close enough so our feet wouldn’t get too burned.

In our picnic basket would be an arsenal of bologna sandwiches, built with Wonder Bread, and slathered with a bit of mayo and mustard. They’d be flat and warm, squished from the apples, cookies and chips that had been piled on top of them, but in the sandy salt air, they tasted delicious. We’d wash them down with gallons of lemonade before we’d head back into the surf to ride the waves, build sand castles, or simply pee in the ocean.

There were a few private clubs down in Santa Monica. There was the Jonathan Club, which still stands today, and another called, I think, the Deauville Club, made available to us by our Aunt Kaye, who was kind enough to invite us to visit from time to time. There were two diving boards, and I remember the higher one loomed above us like the Empire State Building. Bravely, we’d navigate the ladder, and at the top, we’d rush to the end of the board, take our bounce and fly into the pool below.

Times were lean back then, but an adventure at the beach was a huge event for us in the '50s and '60s, where sand, surf and sun washed away all the troubles of the time.

What beaches did you visit as a child, and what do you remember?

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