San Clemente is a city in Orange County, California, United States. The population was 63,522 at the 2010 census. Located on the California Coast, midway between Los Angeles and San Diego at the southern tip of the county, it is known for its ocean, hill, and mountain views, a pleasant climate and its Spanish Colonial style architecture. San Clemente’s city slogan is “Spanish Village by the Sea”. The official city flower is the Bougainvillea, the official city tree the Coral.
Prior to colonization by Spaniards, the area was inhabited by the Juaneño native people. Long admired by explorers and passing settlers, it remained virtually uninhabited until 1776, when Mission San Juan Capistrano was established by Father Junipero Serra, which led both Indians and Spanish settlers to establish villages nearby. After the founding of Mission San Juan Capistrano, the local natives were conscripted to work for the mission.
Property rights to the land exchanged hands several times, but few ventured to build on it until 1925, when former Mayor of Seattle, Ole Hanson, an out-of-town, major land developer, with the financial help of a syndicate headed by Hamilton Cotton, purchased and designed a 2,000-acre (8.1 km2) community. Hanson believed the area’s pleasant climate, beautiful beaches, and fertile soil would serve as a haven to Californians tired of “the big city.” He named the city after San Clemente Island, which in turn was named by the explorer Vizcaino in 1602 after Saint Clement, whose feast day occurs on November 23, the day of Vizcaino’s arrival on the island. Hanson envisioned it as a Mediterranean-style coastal resort town, his “San Clemente by the Sea.” He had a clause added to the deeds requiring all building plans to be submitted to an architectural review board in an effort to ensure future development would retain red tile roofs and white exteriors. This proved to be short-lived; in the oldest parts of town you find an eclectic mix of building styles.
Hanson succeeded in promoting the new area and selling property. He built public structures such as the Beach Club, the Community Center, the pier and San Clemente Plaza, now known as Max Berg Plaza Park, which were later donated to the city. The area was officially incorporated as a City on February 27, 1928 with a council-manager government.
Referring to the way he would develop the city, Hanson proclaimed, “I have a clean canvas and I am determined to paint a clean picture. Think of it–a canvas five miles (8 km) long and one and one-half miles wide! … My San Clemente by the Sea.”
Soon after San Clemente was incorporated, the need for a “Fire House” was realized. The headlines in San Clemente’s first newspaper, El Heraldo de San Clemente June 1928 read: “Building to house local fire department will be constructed by popular subscription and turned over to the city when completed!” Individual subscriptions were received in the amounts from $6.00 to $1500.00 from the citizenry.
Nixon's "Western White House"
In 1969, President Richard Nixon bought part of the H. H. Cotton estate, one of the original homes built by one of Hanson’s partners. Nixon called it “La Casa Pacifica,” but it was nicknamed the “Western White House,” a term for a President’s vacation home. It sits above one of the West Coast’s premier surfing spots, Trestles, and just north of historic surfing beach San Onofre. Many world leaders visited the home during Nixon’s tenre, including Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, Mexican President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, Prime Minister of Japan Eisaku Sato, and Henry Kissinger, as well as businessman Bebe Rebozo. After his resignation, Nixon retired to San Clemente to write his memoirs. He sold the home in 1980 and moved to New York City, later to Saddle River, New Jersey, and then to Park Ridge, New Jersey. The property also has historical ties to the Democratic side of the aisle; prior to Nixon’s tenure at the estate, H.H. Cotton was known to host Franklin D. Roosevelt, who would visit to play cards in a small outbuilding overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The Old City Plaza also at one time had a small Nixon museum when the city occupied the premises.
San Clemente has long been known for its Spanish style architecture. Known as the “Spanish Village by the Sea”. Downtown San Clemente restaurants and shops are adorned with red tile roofs, cream stucco walls, and dark wood doors and windows. The historic “North Beach” area is home to San Clemente’s Casino Building and Ole Hanson Beach Club, which were renovated in 2010 and 2016. The homes in the area range in style, but stick to the Spanish theme for the most part. The area’s oldest homes are in Southwest San Clemente, directly south of downtown and “North Beach” area, directly north of downtown. The homes in the Southwest Riviera neighborhood include several cape cod new construction, as well as new modern residences. The more traditional, older homes sit in the Lasuen “boot” district. The neighborhood surrounding Lasuens or “Lost Winds” beach consist of a variety of styles with traditional Spanish Style sprinkled throughout, both in single and double story fashion, creating an eclectic vibe. The renovations to historic buildings in “North Beach” San Clemente have created a revival in the area, bringing in new restaurants, residents and shops.