Pioneers Russ and Harriett Carley look to· future

[This article was originally published in April 7, 1985 issue of The Journal.]

By WIiiiam G. Quinn

During the week of May 5-11, Seal Beach will be celebrating its 70th birthday as an incorporated city. One of the big events slated by Chairman Phyllis Jay Is Old Timers Day on Saturday, May 11. This article is 11 first In a series of those old days as told to The Jour­nal by Seal Beach pioneers.

When Russ and Harriett Carley were married back in 1936, they spent two weeks saving their money to rent their first apartment. “After all,” explains Harriett, “there were only two garage apartments in town and the one we wanted, including all utilities, was $15 a month and it wasn’t easy to save.”

That story in itself explains the way Seal Beach used to be in days gone by when rents were low, jobs were scarce and pride took precedent over hunger and need.

Harriett was 15 when she moved to Seal Beach where her father worked for the Department of Water and Power as an electrician when it was located on the ocean front near 1st Street.

“All of that part of Seal Beach was really country then. Why, when you went to where the Oakwood Apartments are now, it was like you were going out of town. It just seemed that far away,” Russ and Harriett told The Journal.

The Carleys have been married now for 48 years, and even though some people around town said it wouldn’t last six months, their life together has been an inspiration of hard work, dedication to family and community.

” I guess I spent a lot of time before I got married just having a good time and nobody took me serious enough,” mused Russ.

Not that the Carleys had any bed of roses during their years together. “It was hard times. Everybody was looking for work. I used to clear empty lots for the city–at 50 cents a lot. And there were a lot of empty lots in those days, but then the City Council decided to burn the weeds instead of digging them up and I had to go job hunting again,” Russ says.

Some of Russ’s jobs in Seal Beach included service stations and even working as an ice delivery man for the Home Ice Company before he and Harriett were married.

Russ remembers the 1933 earth­quake vividly. “My mother couldn’t get out of the house because the quake jammed the door. The chimney started falling apart and when she got out of the house, there were bricks falling from the air. She nearly got hit by a few of them. It was a really terrible experience.”

The Carleys not only remember earthquakes, but they remember the violent storms of 1938 which flooded out many homes in the area, but the city topography was not the same in those days.

“For instance, right here where we live on Central there was a channel of water. I used to swim just where this house is sitting. Recently, when the city was fixing our alley, they dug up part of an old boat dock. Seal Beach was a lot different then than it is now,” recalls Russ.

Much of the early part of their marriage was spent just keeping food on the table. “The Hellman Ranch people raised lima beans and when they harvested, folks in town were allowed to go pick up the lima beans that the big harvesting equipment missed. I used to go over there and take all the lima beans I could carry. I swore that once we had some money, I would never eat lima beans again–and I haven’t,” says Harriett.

Russ then remembered the community garden. “There was a big plot of land near PCH and Bolsa. The entire town went over there and planted a vegetable garden and that helped some. We all took care of it and we would go over and take what we needed. Nobody took more than they could use and it was real nice. I don’t think you cou Id do that today–then everybody seemed to care about one another.”

But times were tough before World War II in Seal Beach. “A man was building a refinery right where the Bridgeport houses are now. Men used to line up for blocks waiting for a job. One man I know was at the end of the line, but he was carrying a shovel. They just went right to him and hired him because he already had a shovel and they didn’t have to give him one of theirs. That refinery was put together in the darndest way. Ugliest thing you ever saw. But it never did open. They built it but never used it. I don’t know why,” Russ reported.

Russ worked in the post office, the Seal Beach Department of Public works and finally settled down at GeneraI Motors in South Gate for ten years. And Harriett worked, too. She was a waitress, at the Spanish Kitchen (now the Green Pepper on Main Street), and worked for ten years at Vogler’s on PCH and 14th Street.

“It was a Mom and Pop grocery store. I kind of managed it and ordered, clerked, took care of things. I was their only employee and it was hard work, but I enjoyed it,” she says.

Harriett also worked for Bernstein Salad Oil Company which was located where the Church of Religious Science is now on Marina Drive.

Harriett and Russ had two daughters, Jean Faith of Huntington Beach and Judy Zylstra of Seal Beach.

“Both of our daughters graduated from Huntington Beach and so did all of our grandchildren. I went to Huntington Beach High School, too,” says Harriett.

The Carleys are a regular treasure chest of Seal Beach memories. “All the young people used to go “to Anaheim Landing–there was a bowling alley (not much of one), and the boardwalk. It was the place to go and be seen,” they say.

”The Red Car was great, but when my folks moved back into Los Angeles, it would take me two hours to get to their house, because I had to transfer to a lot of places,” Harriett said.

But there is more–much more about the Old Seal Beach they remember-­too much to include here. However, as the city readies itself for a 70th birth­day party, it is more and more ap­parent, that solid citizens like Russell and Harriett Carley are the reason it has survived–able to overcome depres­sions, earthquakes, floods and violent storms.

“It’s a wonderful town–with great people. We have traveled all over the United States, New Zealand and Australia–but this is truly home for us and always will be. Seal Beach is a perfect place to Iive” they say with conviction. If this is so, then it is pioneers Iike Russ and Harriett Carley who have done more than their share

TAGS:  1933 Earthquake, Hellman Ranch, Community Garden, Huntington Beach High School, DWP Building, Anaheim Landing, Red Cars, 1938 storm, Green Pepper, Spanish Kitchen, Vogler’s Grocery Store, lima beans

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