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Looking Back

May 27, 2001

Young Chang

At the end of the charming, closely-knit spit of land known as Balboa

Island, there is another tidbit of history -- Collin's Island. It

belonged to a man named William S. Collins, a Newport resident who owned

a hefty portion of the city in the early 1900s but is little remembered

today except in association with some fun Hollywood stories.

Collins, a land promoter and owner of Collins Commercial Company -- a

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boatyard -- eventually sold most of his property but kept Balboa Island.

Collins Island lies at the tip of Balboa, and he built his home here.

The rest of Balboa was lower and vulnerable to high tides. Between

1906 and 1907, Collins built a sea wall around the island and sold lots

for $350-$750 apiece, said longtime Newport Beach resident Jim Jennings.

People bought these lots and built homes, but extremely high tides or

stormy days still let the water in over the sea wall. So developers began

building houses on stilts four feet off the ground.

"When he was selling the lots, his sea wall didn't prove to be

workable, so people quit buying and they were mad at him and he kind of

skipped out," Jennings said. "Vanished from the area."

The city later built a higher sea wall that protected the homes, but

if you were to dig a hole about five feet deep into the island's sand,

you'd still probably find the original sandbar.

"That could have been what Collins did, and it's probably a darker

color, and you have the old shells laying down there," Jennings said.

What's remembered about Collins today is, unfortunately, not the most

forgiving. According to the history book "Newport Beach, The First

Century," Collins was also one to make promises and not keep them.

Some of these promises included a huge, concrete bridge connecting

Balboa to the mainland, ferries to carry across eight cars and a hotel on

the island, the book says.

A bridge was built, but it was 12-feet wide and uneven, according to

the history. It was built by Joseph A. Beek, who later became a

well-known local figure and is a separate history all on his own.

But one of the most common stories associated with Collins is how

James Cagney bought his house and attracted the likes of Humphrey Bogart

and other stars who also hung out at local joints like the Village Inn.

While waterskiing in the Back Bay, longtime local Gay Wassall-Kelly

remembers trying to catch a glimpse of the Hollywood celebs.

"For a while it was called Cagney Island," she said. "We'd slowly go

along in case we saw a movie star. It was kind of fun."

* Do you know of a person, place or event that deserves a historical

Look Back? Let us know. Contact Young Chang by fax at (949) 646-4170;

e-mail at young.chang@latimes.com; or mail her at c/o Daily Pilot, 330 W.

Bay St., Costa Mesa, CA 92627.

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