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
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