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In The Pipeline: This way to the Bolsa Chica Gun Club

May 21, 2012|By Chris Epting
(Courtesy Chris…)

What do Teddy Roosevelt, King Gustaf of Sweden, the Prince of Wales and Pope Pius XII all have in common, as it relates to Huntington Beach?

They all visited the Bolsa Chica Gun Club.

Opened around 1900 on property that is now the Bolsa Chica wetlands, the club boasted a beautiful redwood and cedar hunting lodge and many amenities catering to the well-heeled duck hunters of the day. Initially, membership in the club was limited to 40 with an initial membership fee of $1,000 and annual dues of $60, making it one of the most exclusive clubs in the area.

I've learned much about what I know about the club from my friend David Carlberg, renowned microbiologist, environmental activist and author of several books, including the exceptional "Bolsa Chica — Its History From Prehistoric Time to the Present."

David, along with his wife, Margaret, has long been active in the Amigos de Bolsa Chica. But he also has a keen interest in the history of the gun club, which is why I arranged for us to actually walk the site of the club's ruins. Neither of us had ever had access across the fence, and so recently he, my son and I were led on a walking tour by Taylor Van Berkum from Fish and Game. (Thank you to Reserve Manager Carla Navarro for arranging our visit.)

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And what a fascinating experience it was. I often walk the trail near the original site of the club, looking through the fence and wondering what it might be like to actually explore the area. On the warm, sunny day we were there, dry winds blew the high grasses, creating a heavy "whisper" that all but drowned the nearby ocean waves.

I could not believe Dave had never been back here before, given his extensive research and analysis of the club's history. But here we were, examining the old foundation and road that led to the club and lining up old photos to notice that many of the original palm trees were still in place, swaying over knotty groves and thick wild mustard plants rather than a member's clubhouse.

My mind flashed back to the 1930 film "Sarah and Son," starring Fredric March, which featured several key scenes shot right here at the site — some of the only known film footage of the structures that were once here. But all was not Hollywood and male bonding over brandy at the end of a long day. Tensions arose out here when, in order to create bigger duck ponds, the club members blocked the natural tidal flow, infuriating the many peat land ranchers and farmers.

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