Resident Helped Build Redondo Beach
On Aug. 10, 1884, Captain R. R. Thompson stood by and watched his stately mansion burn. The home, located in today’s Lincoln Park caught fire and firefighters were unable to douse the blaze. ("Steamboat Captain Settles in Alameda’s Lincoln Park," July 3)
After the fire, Thompson joined his former partner in the Oregon Steam Navigation Co., Captain J.C. Ainsworth. The pair invested some $3 million in the Redondo Beach Development Co., which they purchased from Daniel Freeman and N.R. Vail in 1889.
Redondo Beach’s deep offshore canyon piqued the pair’s interest. They thought the deep water there would make the location a natural seaport.
This deep marine canyon extended almost to the shore.and made it possible to load and unload directly from ship to wharf.
Thompson and Ainsworth built the city’s first wharf in preparation for transforming the area into a seaport. Shortly after their purchase, Ainsworth and Thompson’s company laid the narrow gauge Redondo Railway.
This operation contrasted sharply with San Pedro, which served Los Angeles as its port. Unlike Redondo Beach, San Pedro was a mud flat that required the use of small boats, called lighters, to load and unload cargo.
The deeper water at Redondo Beach not only eliminated the lighters, but its location made it possible for Redondo Beach to compete with San Pedro and overtake it in the lumber trade with the northwest.
Thompson and Ainsworth’s company opened the Hotel Redondo in 1890. Successful real estate sales led to a burgeoning population and Redondo Beach officially incorporated as a city on April 18, 1892. All did not go as planned, however.
The seaport the pair had envisioned never came to pass, as the deep canyon made building a breakwater to blunt the impact of frequent storms impractical. The hotel and railway turned out to be shrewd moves, however, and paved the way to the city’s huge success as a tourist mecca for the next few decades.
Henry E. Huntington purchased Thompson and Ainsworth’s interests in Redondo Beach in 1905. Thompson returned to his Van Ness Avenue home in San Francisco.
He died in 1908 and his family negotiated a deal with the city to purchase a portion of the family estate on High Street. The following year the city owned the land and christened it "Lincoln Park."
A nearby street recalls the man whose career included stints as a gold miner, a steamship magnate and Alameda’s water king. Thompson Avenue marks the spot where Thompson struck water in 1878. The wells there fed the Thompson Water Works. Most know Thompson Avenue today for the street’s sparking decorations during the holiday season and its reputation beyond the Island City as "Christmas Tree Lane."