Imagine discovering the wild California coastline. No PCH, no suburbs — just endless land meeting the raw sea. Pitch your tent on any flat patch of earth in the shade of ancient trees, sleep on the sand, and camp out until the wind changed. In the early years of California’s development, the history of Crystal Cove located between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach began as a free-spirited community of beach bums, mixed with the halo of Hollywood.
The 1930s and 1940s was the golden era of Crystal Cove as a summer haven, making it a perfect location for a vintage-inspired Seea photo shoot. With photographer Gabe Sullivan, we sought to capture the natural California seascape and neighborhood, as it was decades ago.
Surrounded by cliffs and agriculture farms, Crystal Cove was part of the huge 125,000-acre Irvine Company Ranch — yes, that’s the same Irvine family that the city of Irvine is named after. Around the 1920s and 1930s, the Irvine Co. was riding the tinsel town swell and hired a Hollywood technical director to manage camping, beach access and filming production. Moviegoers thought they were seeing Hawaii or Tahiti on the big screen, when in fact it the thatched huts and long-fronded palms were in Crystal Cove!
The film crews started setting up tents along the beach, and legend goes that the shacks (which would later become the Crystal Cove Cottages) were built with scraps from shipwrecks that floated ashore. The blossoming beach community thought living at the beach for free was amazing so they stayed.
The Irvine Company wasn’t one to break up the party, so they just started charging rent and formalizing the camping leases. Kicking off on Memorial Day, families would return year after year to their leased spots for the duration of the summer. These glory days lasted up until the mid-1960s, and then in 1979, the land was sold to the state of California.
With the help of the Alliance to save Crystal Cove, the area was preserved from being turned into luxury resorts. Instead, the cottages were restored to the nostalgic glow of 1930s to 1950s era of Crystal Cove, and made available to rent for visitors to experience vintage California. Step back in time with us to these historic decades.
Photography: Gabe Sullivan
Models: Sierra Sullivan, Emily Sanders, Ashley Leines, and Michelle Miller
Makeup: Elizabeth Root
Hair: Cassie Bowerman
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