Downtown Balboa in the 1940s.

Downtown Balboa in the 1940s.

The Names of Newport

Newport Beach is one of several Orange County cities that has toyed with changing its name over the years. In Tustin, Laguna Beach, Placentia, and even Anaheim various new names were suggested; but Newport Beach saw more proposals and went further with the idea than any other local city. 

As early as 1918 the idea of re-naming the city Port Orange was floated. In 1936-37 the hyphenated name Newport-Balboa was proposed. But the big push came in 1940, when Balboa Island real estate agent Earl Stanley led a drive to re-name the city Balboa. There were more than 27 other Newports around the United States, but it was the Beach that really stuck in Stanley’s craw. The word beach, “cheapens our community and puts us in the same category with a dozen other beaches up and down the coast,” he complained. Newport Beach, he argued, was “a harsh, colorless name,” while Balboa “is a colorful, romantic name of Spanish origin very appropriate to Southern California.” 

Stanley was not the only person along the Orange County coast who objected to the term beach. It was seen as cold and uninviting by some. E.J. Louis, the developer who named Balboa was particularly adamant against the term beach (as in Balboa Beach). 

Stanley went to work circulating petitions and the public debate began. It took several months, but eventually he secured the 1,100 signatures needed to call a special election on October 22, 1940. “The main purpose in changing the name from Newport Beach to Balboa,” he wrote in the Newport-Balboa Press (10-17-40), “is to unite the sections of this community into one harmonious city with each individual section being a living individual entity of the whole.” 

An unnamed “citizen” replied in an adjoining letter: “Just how Mr. S. or anyone can seriously argue that a change of name would make our city any more ‘united’ or any more ‘prosperous’ is beyond my understanding. The several separate communities of our city are growing together rapidly, thus abolishing sectional lines, and we are already building up faster than any other community in Southern California.” 

“If it be true, as Mr. S. says, that there is no real estate scheme back of the proposed change, and there is ‘no axe to grind,’ that leaves the whole movement standing as the mere hobby of one citizen who induced a lot of people to sign petitions just to please him.”  

A well-known civic leader who took on Stanley was Lew Wallace, one-time city official and local bank president. Much of the opposition was sectional in the various communities within the City of Newport Beach, and certainly it was a little unusual to have one city with four different post offices in it (Newport Beach, Corona del Mar, Balboa, and Balboa Island). 

The special election actually drew about a 40% turnout (higher than anyone seems to have expected) but the measure failed, 1,014 to 581. Not surprisingly, it was shot down in downtown Newport Beach, 411 to 26, and only carried in Balboa (274 to 62), and Balboa Island (202 to 118). Corona del Mar, East Newport, and the Coast Highway section each turned it down. The Press claimed that, “although partisan feeling ran high at various times during the campaign, the election left neither ill-feeling nor bitterness in the community.” 

Nor did they tire of thinking about new names. In 1944-45 the Newport Harbor Chamber of Commerce suggested re-naming the city Newport Harbor, and appointed a committee to sound out public opinion. Curiously, both Earl Stanley and Lew Wallace were on the committee. The idea was talked about for some time, but never came to a vote, and it’s been Newport Beach ever since.