In the 1920s, dozens of tents could be seen pitched across the sand on Aliso Beach where George Wesley Wilson ran a campground. George also operated the Aliso View Grocery store along the then-dirt Coast Highway, where Montage Laguna Beach is now located.
Originally from Missouri, George moved to Los Angeles and then Brea before settling in Laguna. A skilled carpenter, he built some of the town’s early homes and also constructed retaining walls along Coast Highway as it was being developed, according to an interview conducted by his granddaughter in 1975, part of a community history collection maintained by the Center for Oral and Public History at California State University, Fullerton.
While George worked on the road project during the winter, he could be found running the beach camp in summertime starting in 1922. In his interview, George recalled an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease around 1924 that drove more vacationers to the beach because it was one of the only available campgrounds.
“Oh, there [were] lots of them there all summer long,” he said. “That year they had the [foot-] and-mouth disease we had to close up the entrance to the place. We couldn’t get any more people in there. We had about 800 camps in, and fighting to get more in. They wouldn’t let [anyone] go into the mountains or anyplace. Everybody came to the beach. We ran out of everything to eat and drink and Laguna had no more food. It was sure a mess down there.”
In addition to incidents like this, George—who also served on the City Council in the community’s early years—recalled some beach rules that might seem odd today. For example, a swimsuit ordinance required coverups when walking beyond a certain point.
“… They couldn’t come in past the boardwalk if they didn’t have a robe on over their bathing suits,” he said in the interview. “Men had to wear tops. It was tough to enforce, too. What a time we had!”
George also spent plenty of time fishing and shared tales of catching big sharks and stingrays “that weighed about 80 pounds.” He claimed to have put the sharks he caught into Aliso Creek and fed them with bait that people left behind.
In contrast, today fishing or the taking of any marine life is not allowed at Aliso Beach Park, which is home to The Vic skimboarding world championship each summer and also boasts bonfire pits and a concession building for recreational activities year-round.
—Written by Laguna Beach Magazine staff