In 1925, Ole Hanson, the mayor of Seattle and major land developer crave a sun-filled seaside escape that would serve as a vacation haven for Southern Californians tire of “the big city.”
With its idyllic weather, pristine beaches, and fertile soil, San Clemente embodied Hanson’s vision of a Mediterranean-style resort town.
The town’s founder declared: “I have a clean canvas, and I am determined to paint a clean picture. Think of it—a canvas 5 miles long and one-and-a-half miles wide… my San Clemente by the sea!”
Hanson’s ideas for developing the area were initially rejected, many people fearing that investing in a city far removed from Southern California’s two main urban areas would spell financial ruin.
Yet Hanson clung to his dream.
Then one rainy day in December of 1925, Hanson invited over 600 LA inhabitants to venture out to the undeveloped plot and hear his real estate presentation, providing luxury transportation and meals for all interested buyers.
His efforts proved to be worthwhile: Within six months, Hanson sold over 1,200 lots at an average price of $300/lot.
Private home and public structures alike were developed, including San Clemente’s iconic pier, community center, the Beach Club, and San Clemente Plaza.
In an effort to lend the town a uniform Spanish colonial charm, a mandate was issues with each land deed that required buildings sport white stucco exteriors and red tile roofs, an architectural style that’s since distinguished the area.
Hanson himself wanted a slice of his seaside resort dream. He built a villa-style home for his family that he named “Casa Romantica,” a sprawling estate perched on a bluff overlooking the town’s iconic pier.
He lost the property in the Great Depression shortly after inhabiting it, and the home was confiscated by the bank. After passing through the hands of several different owners, Casa Romantica eventually fell into a state of neglect and seemed doomed for demolition.
Fortunately, a group of San Clemente activists, coupled with generous donations from local residents, were able to preserve the historic house, restoring it to its original glory and converting it into San Clemente’s cultural and historical center.
San Clemente became a sought-after getaway not only for weary LA residents but for weary DC politicians as well.
In 1969, Richard Nixon purchased a portion of the HH Cotton Estate, one of the original Hanson homes. The property was nicknamed the “Western Whitehouse”—a term used for a president’s vacation home. World leaders would come visit Nixon at his San Clemente home, and after his resignation, he made the Western Whitehouse his permanent residence until he sold it in 1980/ Prior to Nixon, the state also hosted Franklin D. Roosevelt who liked playing cards while overlooking the ocean.
San Clemente is now 92 years old. It is now home to approximately 65,000 residents who are committed to preserving its original charm.
On top of restoring and maintain historical buildings, vendors are also designing new storefronts to match Hanson’s original vision of white stucco walls contrasted with red-tiled roofs.
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