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Do you remember the legacy of Harry Welch?

September 01, 2002

Young Chang

He's the perfect example of an influential early figure who had an

important presence in the city -- enough to be mentioned in history

books multiple times, enough to have a park named after him -- but

whose heroic reputation faded over the decades, simply because time

passed.

I had never heard of Harry Welch and neither had a few local

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long-timers I consulted. And believe me, I asked my most

knowledgeable Newport Beach experts, people who know at least a

little something when everyone else knows nothing. Still, the name

drew blanks.

But a quick glance into historical texts immediately proved that

Welch served Newport Beach from the minute he got to the city until

his final years.

He arrived in Newport Beach in 1923 and immediately joined the

city's Chamber of Commerce. He served as executive secretary of the

group and for 13 years, led the challenge of improving the harbor

with federally appropriated funds. For that, city leaders decided to

name a park in Newport Dunes the Harry Welch Park, according to Ellen

K. Lee's "Newport Bay -- A Pioneer History."

But harbor improvement was just one of his causes.

It is because of efforts led largely by Welch that homes along the

water today go all out come Christmas time with lights. During

earlier decades, Welch is said to have "championed" the holiday

tradition with a motto that advocated "Forty Miles of Christmas

Smiles," according to James Felton's "Newport Beach, the First

Century, 1888 to 1988."

He founded the Orange County Coast Assn., put together a

development campaign for Orange Coast College and had a significant

hand in getting boat-building contracts for city shipyards.

Welch was also very dedicated and involved in the building of Hoag

Hospital.

His local recognition continued to grow -- Newport Beach named him

Man of the Year in 1952 -- and he became president of the California

Assn. of Chamber of Commerce Secretaries.

In the more personal arena, Welch served as the vestryman at St.

James Episcopal Church in Newport Beach and was one of the earliest

members of the Newport Harbor Elks Lodge, according to Felton's book.

He died in 1954 at the age of 78. He was two years short of

celebrating Newport Beach's 50th anniversary, which he dedicatedly

helped plan.

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

historical LOOK BACK? Contact Young Chang by fax at (949) 646-4170 or

e-mail at young.chang@latimes.com.

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