Inhabited by members of the Tongya and Juaneno/Luiseno nations for thousands of years, the area that is now Newport Beach was not explored by Europeans until 1543. At this time, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed the coast of California for New Spain. It wasn’t until 1602, when Sebastian Vizcaino sailed for the Spanish Empire, that the California Coast was mapped. Years after completing an expedition to the area in 1769, Don Jose Antonio Yorba was awarded a enormous land grant from the Spanish Empire in 1810. The land covered more than 62,500 acres and included what is now known as Orange County.
Ranchos Leave Their Mark
During this new Spanish period, Ranchos began trading hides with US merchants in Boston for goods from New England. They also traded with English and European markets, with the trade continuing through the Mexican period, which took place from 1823 through 1848 after Mexico gained independence from Spain and took ownership of California in 1821. Mexican ranchos started to diminish after the United States took possession of California, six years after which a law was passed requiring each ranchero to prove ownership of their land. Soon, all of the ranchos were sold.
After the ranchos were sold, some entrepreneurs were drawn to the Newport area. Among these were James Irvine and James McFadden. While Irvine wished to amass a significant amount of ranch land, McFadden wished to create a town by dividing his land and selling to as many people as possible. McFadden went on to become the first passionate promoter of Newport as he worked to build it into an important commercial center.
In its early years, Newport had many different names. Among these were Bolsa de Gengara and Bolsa de San Joaquin. The name Newport was finally settled upon when Captain Samuel Summer Dunnels arrived with supplies for the settlement and proclaimed that he now had a “new port” in 1870. Five years later, McFadden and his younger brother Robert acquired the landing that Dunnels had previously established. The brothers went on to operate a thriving commercial trade and shipping business from the landing for the next nineteen years.
After receiving Federal funds for improvements in 1889, a harbor at San Pedro became Southern California’s major seaport. McFadden subsequently sold his Newport townsite and about half of the Peninsula to William S. Collins in 1902. Collins saw a new vision for Newport as he saw its resort and recreation potential. He went on to form partnerships and to acquire the Pacific Electric railway system, which he then used to promote new communities outside of Los Angeles. Four short years later, Newport Beach became a sourest destination. In August 1906 it was incorporated as a city.
In 1910, the McFaddens sold Newport, Balboa Island and Lido for $35,000. Six years later, Balboa Island was annexed to the city of Newport Beach. Corona del Mar was annexed in 1923, with the Pacific Coast Highway built through Newport Beach three years later.