The Dinghy from October 26, 1984. (front cover photo by Greg Wenger)

Help support the Marina del Rey Historical Society this holiday season

By Sebastian Lipstein

Marina del Rey is the largest manmade pleasure craft harbor in North America. In 1954, the federal government funded the construction for a boat and recreational harbor in the Ballona Wetlands. Prior to the Marina del Rey that we see today, the area was once wetlands, marshes, and farmland. The land was undeveloped without a clear purpose and infested by mosquitos.

This is totally unlike Marina del Rey now, with cyclists, yacht clubs, paddlers, housing complexes, kayakers, rowers, fishermen and pleasure boats. It is an entire community built from scratch.

The Marina del Rey Historical Society (MDRHS) was established in 2007 to preserve the little-known history of Marina del Rey. Since 2013, it has been housed in Fisherman’s Village, a recreation of a New England waterfront village. Inside, the building is teeming with artifacts. There are hundreds of photos that show the construction and planning that transformed the wetlands into the meticulously designed Marina del Rey we see today, an impressive feat of human engineering.

There is a Sports Illustrated issue from more than 40 years ago that talks about the beauty of Marina del Rey, and archives of The Argonaut and El Segundo Herald dating back 50 years. There are artifacts that will be of interest to historians, boat lovers, fishermen, photographers, writers, engineers and everyone else.

“One of the reasons we liked having this facility is because a lot of times people think, ‘There must have been a river here and they just dug it out,’” said Willie Hjorth, one of the cofounders of MDRHS and a resident of Marina del Rey since 1964.

“No. This was all solid land and Marina del Rey was dug out and man-made. It’s a manmade masterpiece.”
Prior to COVID-19, MDRHS used to receive Starlight Tour Buses, group events, and hosted fundraisers with live music and food. However, all of their live events have halted since the pandemic.

“Before COVID-19, we used to have tour buses stop by, and bands performed here on Saturday and Sunday,” said Howard Wenger, president of MDRHS whose father, Greg, was director of photography for the Argonaut for 30 years and the other co-founder of MDRHS. “During the week we used to get up to 10 people and weekends were 50 to 80 people. Now, without the tour buses and live events, we are getting between zero to six people a week and 25 people a weekend.”

MDRHS’ current project is the digitization of the Marina’s first boating news magazine, The Dinghy, which records early yacht races information and expanding landside development.

Funding is especially needed to complete this important digital preservation process.

They have also published their own book, “Marina del Rey (Images of America),” which tells the story of the construction and history of Marina del Rey from the 19th through 20th century.
Due to the lack of events and visitors as a result of the pandemic, MDRHS has had a hard time reaching their operational costs.

They are supported by memberships and donations which are urgently needed. Each membership and donation helps continue the efforts to preserve digital historical archives, improve the website, continue developing and keeping the gallery open, and to educate the public and discover the history of Marina del Rey.

For more information and to join online, visit the website. A MDRHS membership also makes a great holiday gift for those looking for last-minute ideas. Visitors are encouraged to stop at the gallery in Fisherman’s Village to learn more about MDRHS and its history.


Marina del Rey Historical Society
13737 Fiji Way, C-3,
Marina del Rey
Noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday
marinadelreyhistoricalsociety.org

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