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Exploring the History of Balboa Island

Consisting of three modified islands and accessible via bridge, ferry and several public docks, Balboa Island is a lovely community located in Newport Beach. Surrounded by a paved concrete boardwalk that is designated as a public walking trail by the city, Balboa Island is home to many local small businesses including bakeries, restaurants and local crafts.

From Mudflat Beginnings

Originally, Balboa Island was nothing more than a mudflat surrounded by swampland. The harbor that is known today was created after dredging millions of tons of silt. In the late 1860s, brothers James and Robert McFadden purchased a large portion of the land that would later become Newport. This included the oceanfront of Newport Beach, most of Balboa Peninsula and the sandbars that would later become Balbo Island.

After purchasing the land, the brothers began subdividing it and selling the property. They also established a successful fishing wharf on the Balboa Peninsula as well as at the townsite of Newport Beach. The bay was later dubbed Newport Landing by Captain Samuel S. Dunnells in 1870 after he entered the bay to offload cargo and constructed a small wharf and warehouse near the west end of the Newport Bay Bridge. The McFadden brothers went on to acquire the landing in 1875, after which they operated a thriving commercial trade and shipping business for 19 years.

The Emergence of Balboa Peninsula

Due to its treacherous bay entrance and other issues, Newport Landing eventually needed to be changed. The McFadden brothers then decided to move the shipping business to the oceanfront. To do so, they constructed a large pier on the sand spit that would ultimately become Balboa Peninsula. The location was ideal because a submarine canyon carved along with Newport Bay by the Santa Ana River created calm waters near to the shore.

A Change of Hands

In 1902, James McFadden sold his property to William S. Collins and C.A. Hanson. Recognizing Newport Bay for its resort and recreation potential, the two men partnered with Henry E. Huntington to extend the Pacific Electric “Red Cars” to Newport. By 1906, the line was servicing Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Pavilion, bringing visitors to the area from Los Angeles.

About the same time, Collins began dredging a channel on the north side of the bay and depositing the silt and sand on the tidelands that would become Balboa Isle. Many of the waterfront communities were then subdivided, establishing the grid system of small lots and narrow streets that still exists today. Balboa Island wasn’t formed until 1909, however, when Collins got permission from the Orange County Board of Supervisors to cut a channel along the north side of the bay across from the Pavilion. The sand and silt was piled up on the mud flat to form Balboa Island.

While the island grew slowly at first, it became a part of the City of Newport Beach in 1916. Two years later, the Balboa Island Improvement Association was formed. Shortly after, the island received paved streets and sidewalks, ferry service, street lighting, a sewer system and water, gas and electricity. Today, Balboa Island is among the most expensive real estate in the country.

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