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In The Pipeline: Two trees grow in Huntington

September 24, 2012|By Chris Epting
(Courtesy Chris…)

There are many palm trees in Huntington Beach, but few as meaningful as the pair of graceful and slender Mexican fan palms that scrape the sky just several blocks from the ocean on Eighth Street. Like the house they sway in front of, they date back to the early 1920s.

What makes them so special? They were planted by a father to honor the day his son was born — an effort to create two lasting monuments to mark his baby boy's entry into this world.

That proud papa obviously knew what he was doing, because today, the trees tower over everything in sight. That little boy, Leroy Jauman, is still thriving, too.

When Leroy's son, Jim, told me recently about his dad and the trees, I wanted to arrange a meeting at the house, which incidentally, is also where Leroy was also born in 1924.

Today, almost 89, he lives in Lakewood with his wife of 61 years, Yvonne, but Leroy's memories of old-time Huntington Beach are as sharp and vivid as the bright green fronds that grow in his honor atop the thin trunks.

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Looking down the block at the structure that was once the Evangeline Hotel, Jauman fondly recalled visits he would make to the behemoth building.

"The roughnecks from the oil fields stayed there," he told me. "And I'd bring bouquets of sweet pea flowers from my backyard to the lady that ran the place so she could decorate the dinner tables for them."

For that, he'd pocket 15 cents; a Depression-era bounty for an 8-year-old.

Kery Beason, who lives in Jauman's house today with her children, kindly let us visit in the backyard, where we compared a vintage image of the same spot. Jauman showed us where the sweet peas once flourished, next to where he grew black grapes in a small orchard.

Then he regaled us with memories of fearlessly climbing oil derrick towers with his friends, wandering the vast vacant lots and catching soft-shell crabs near the pier. (They could fetch 10 cents a dozen for the crabs during the Depression.) Then the youths would spend the day jumping off the pier, which was allowed back then until an inexperienced "flatlander," as Jauman called him, was injured and his family sued the city. The kids also spent many hours riding the heavy wooden "belly boards" they made in shop class at Huntington Beach High School.

Several days later, I had the privilege of joining Jauman and a handful of his high school classmates, HBHS class of '42, who meet regularly at a local Marie Callender's.

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