THE MARINA DEL REY HISTORICAL SOCIETY’s collection includes a stockpile of historic photographs of the man-made harbor. Photo from the Marina del Rey Historical Society

As Marina del Rey sits poised for a full refit, residents all unwittingly occupy a unique place in local history. For better or worse, this area will not remain the same in the future, and those who are here now will be those who remember, “the way it was.”
It’s been 50 years since the first anchorage was built, and now much of what stands is slated to be replaced or at least very revamped. This truth makes it especially fitting that the Marina del Rey Historical Society has recently made strides that have made the organization more informative, user-friendly and further solidified as a substantial historical resource.
With a new website, cataloging system and larger energized volunteer base, the historical society is becoming more sophisticated, refined and is beginning to grow roots. While they have always had an impressive stockpile of historical photographs and data since their formation in 2007, the infrastructure that would allow the general public an ability to comfortably access these treasures was lacking.
“Only a handful of people know how many photos, publications, and other documents resided in the Marina del Rey Historical Society’s archives,” said Tim Tunks, a devout volunteer and managing editor of the site. “They are so plentiful that it would be a herculean task to estimate their dollar value, so imagine how much that value will be increased when they are all indexed and accessible – all-
owing the public to efficiently search or just browse this unique collection.”
Tunks is excited that the organization is finally getting to a place where members of the public will be able to see with their own eyes what this area was and how it came to be the largest man-made harbor in the United States.
“Building our website and uploading our images with identifying captions immediately enables search engines to deliver any and all of our related materials in seconds or less,” he said.
The deep vault of images, documents and publications that the society is working with gives a vivid view of Marina del Rey pre and post boats. Founding members Willie Hjorth, owner/operator of Mare Sails, and longtime Argonaut photographer Greg Wenger have devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to collecting and organizing these materials.
A good amount of the collection is actually from Wenger’s personal library. He came to the area in 1969 and has been actively documenting the Marina ever since. In addition to the thousands of photographs he’s personally taken, another historical prize Wenger is responsible for is a trove of documents he rescued from a trash heap.
“It started with the fact that I have had the official contract with the county to do photography work,” said Wenger of how he got involved. “I would be in the county offices often and one rainy day in February I saw two banker boxes sitting in the hallway. I asked what was in them and was told photos.”
Wenger continued, “I brought them home, looked at them and said – these are really interesting. They were photos of early dredging and opening day ceremonies.”
With many photos and documents like these, the historical society tracks the history from when M.L. Wicks attempted to turn the Ballona Creek Estuary into a commercial harbor back in 1886. While Wicks went bankrupt in his pursuit of turning an oil field into a harbor, his idea remained.
The society keeps the story of Marina del Rey with documents like the “River and Harbor Act,” from 1954, which made the building of Marina del Rey official, under President Eisenhower’s signing. They maintain information about undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau’s relationship to the area, photographs of sea planes that would land and take off in the main channel to take passengers to Catalina Island and the entire run of The Dinghy newsmagazine that helps detail the history of the Marina del Rey community through the decades.
For members of the society, it’s their new website that has them truly energized. They say they are finally seeing a future where others can share and participate in the young but rich history of this unique part of Los Angeles.
“Our goal is to make our site interesting and entertaining for the casual surfer while it will also be a searchable library of unique documents with reproductions of related documents from other sources for those with a deeper interest,” said Tunks.
With the site coming into focus and the cataloging mountain slowly shrinking, Tunks, Hjorth, Wenger and public information officer Debbie Talbot are now motivated to find more volunteers who have an interest in helping to create a modern, high quality organization that details the history and development of one of the nation’s most prominent harbors.
To that end, the group will be holding a get acquainted happy hour at Mare Co Sails, 4030 Del Rey Ave. in Marina del Rey from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15. There will be an introduction to the many collections in the society’s archives as well as demonstrations of methods for recording oral histories and how volunteer associate editors can caption and upload material to this new fully searchable website.
“The society is getting more and more organized and is now at the point where there is lots of real work to be done,” said Tunks. “This historical society provides the last chance to preserve, digitize and catalogue a vast trove of primary source materials showing the history of Marina del Rey and how it developed into the aquatic/residential/commercial entity it has become.”