Reprinted from the Culver City Evening Star News – Venice Evening Vanguard, August 6, 1962

Monday, August 6, 1962

It was three-quarters of a century ago (76 years to be exact) that talk and promotion for a harbor at the mouth of La Ballona Creek started. [Argonaut editor’s note: Remember, this article was written in 1962.]

However, the talk was for a commercial facility — a “world port” such as San Pedro Harbor.

The first futile harbor attempt began in 1886 with a land boom and railway promotion into nearby Del Rey. Thirty years later, the first hearing was held for a small boat or recreational harbor such as the one now being completed.


Few people today, marveling at the building of the world’s largest and finest recreational harbor, are aware of the attempt of early-day civic leaders, officials and promoters to create a world port in the marshlands and sloughs of Ballona Creek, which some decades prior was the mouth of the Los Angeles River.

Early-day history of Harbor Drive was researched by Ralph Hopkins, former Venice Vanguard city editor and presented in past special editions.


Back in 1885, according to Hopkins, the sleepy La Ballona Valley was stirred by the first of a never-ending series of real estate booms for which California was famous.

First came the Santa Fe Railroad. On the heels of the railroad came the Yankee traders and capitalists. One of these was M. L. Wicks who dreamed of creating a harbor at Del Rey outlet of the La Ballona slough, that would “float the fleets of the world.”

Heralded as the nearest point to the Gulf of Mexico and 800 miles nearer to Hawaii than San Francisco, the port was granted a franchise under the auspices of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica Railway, a subsidiary of the Santa Fe, and work was begun.

The railway to the harbor site was completed in the late summer of 1887 and amid much fanfare 300 prominent citizens boarded the first train to the beach and while bands played and crowds cheered, speeches of dedication were made, citing the great future of Port Ballona, as the harbor was to be known.

Although more than $300,000 was spent over a three-year period, work became more and more spasmodic as the stubborn tides continued to hurl back the sands as fast as they were dredged away.


Finally, during the bitter February of 1889, the great wharf and many construction buildings were whirled away by the winter wind.

Later attempts died on the vine as pressure groups successfully sought to build a Los Angeles commercial harbor at San Pedro.


Summary of the chronological history of the development of Marina del Rey, after these early attempts, began officially on December 30, 1916 when “The Secretary of War transmitted to Congress the first official report prepared by the U. S. Engineers Corps in November 1916 entitled: “Preliminary Examination of the Playa del Rey Inlet and Basin, at Venice, Calif.”


In June, 1936, Congress authorized a review of the 1916 report.

As a result of this order on July 29, 1936 a public hearing was held at Venice High School. The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors on April 30, 1937 followed with an order to the Regional Planning Commission to make a study of financial and economical feasibility for a small boat harbor. On August 26, 1937, the 75th Congress authorized a preliminary examination and survey of the harbor at Playa del Rey.


On August 12, 1938, a second public hearing was held at Venice High School, at which time the Commission requested that the harbor be built by the United States at an estimated cost of $10 million.

March 20, 1940, public notice was given by the Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors that they were “not convinced” of the advisability of the United States undertaking the survey recommended by the Division Engineer.

This action and the start of World War II on December 7, 1941, brought a blackout for the harbor promotion until 1944.


On April 6, 1944 the Office of the Chief of U. S. Army Engineers authorized a new survey on Marina del Rey.

September 4, 1945 the Board of Supervisors adopted a revised master plan for the shoreline of Santa Monica Bay, including Venice and Del Rey, which included Marina del Rey as a first priority item.

During the next few years many actions were taken by the Commission, County and City implementing the promotion of the harbor.


By 1948, what was known as “The County Plan” for the building of Marina del Rey came into focus. In September the history states: “Members of the city and county government, with District U. S. Army Engineers, review a modified harbor plan,” removing the westerly portion of the area (in city territory — Marina Peninsula), which had excessive acquisition cost, and reducing the size of the harbor to a capacity of 8,000 boats at a total cost of construction of $23,198,000.

On March 15, 1949, Supervisor Raymond Darby sent his deputy Kenneth Sampson to Sacramento to attend legislative ses- sions and confer on the possibility of part of the purchase of harbor site land be made from state funds.

July 17, 1949 the Supervisors voted to place $200,000 in the budget for harbor development.


April 25, 1950 the Board adopted a resolution inviting the Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors to hold a meeting in Los Angeles on Marina del Rey. On September 27, 1950 this meeting was held in the Hall of Records, with numerous civic leaders and officials testifying on behalf of the harbor.

The Korean conflict started in 1950 and by October 30, 1951, the Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors issued a “not convinced” notice on Marina del Rey.

However, the efforts of county, state and federal officials, with assistance from civic leaders, resulted in eventual approval of the project by the Chief of Army Engineers, the full board, and bureau of the budget.

On January 25, 1954, Congressman Gordon McDonough introduced HR7481, a bill to “authorize the improvement of the Playa del Rey Inlet and Basin at Venice, Calif.”

On September 3, 1954, the President of the United States [Dwight D. Eisenhower] signed the Omnibus Bill, known as Public Law 780, making Marina del Rey an authorized federal project.

Then followed numerous actions by the county, state and federal government leading to the funding, planning, awarding of contracts, purchase of site lands and building of the harbor.

Among these were action of the Supervisors on November 6, 1956, in putting on the ballot for the general election, the revenue bond proposal for financing a portion of the marina cost. This passed better than two to one, and made the start of construction a year later possible.

First actual work on the harbor project was the building of the Venice sanitary sewer line by-pass by the City of Los Angeles at a cost of nearly $3,000,000. Work on this phase started March 4, 1957.


Actual harbor construction followed in 1958 when Connolly Pacific Co. started placing Catalina rock for the two 2,200-foot entrance channel jetties.

Pacific Dredging Co. started the huge job of dredging and distribution of over 13 million cubic yards of sand and other material in forming the land and water areas of the 840-acre site on February 25, 1959.

Macco Corp. began its contract for building the seven miles of bulkheads and installation of sanitary sewers in the summer of 1959. Both of these contractors met and solved numerous problems, which caused delays, but their huge tasks for the most part were completed by late 1961.

Since that time contracts for the installation of major utilities and roads were awarded and implemented. Concessions for the various anchorages and other harbor facilities were let out to bid starting in mid-1961 and work is now under way on most of those awarded.

This private enterprise phase of harbor construction is expected to continue on for several years as the huge project is completed.

Article provided by the Marina del Rey Historical Society and reprinted with permission of The Culver City News.