The sadness behind the jetty

Bob Rogers gives back story behind Newport Harbor's west jetty, whose construction was partially spurred by a 15-year-old's tragic death in 1926.

October 08, 2011|By Mike Reicher
  • Howard Rogers, Jack Rogers and George Rogers Jr., aboard George's Dodge Water Car.
Howard Rogers, Jack Rogers and George Rogers Jr., aboard… (Daily Pilot )

NEWPORT BEACH — For most people, it's just a row of rocks.

But for one family, the west jetty at the Newport Harbor entrance signifies foolishness, death and perseverance.

Bob Rogers told its back story at a Newport Beach Historical Society event Thursday evening. On this, the 75th anniversary of the jetty's completion, he reminded people about his relative George Rogers, a man who lost his son in a boating accident and spent the rest of his life building a safe harbor opening.

"This is the death boat," Bob said as he turned to a slide of George's son, 15-year-old George Jr., at the helm of a wooden speedboat.

A Dodge Water Car, that boat was considered the "sports car of the sea" in 1926, when the photo was taken, Bob said.

Its skipper, George Jr., was a daring boy and strong from head to waist. He was heir apparent to his father's paving and asphalt empire, but he wore polio braces on his legs and could only walk with crutches.


It would prove to be a fatal handicap. In June 1926, he and a group of teenage friends and relatives set out to Catalina on a stormy afternoon. The harbor entrance was shallow at the time — on low tide, as little as two feet of water covered the sand. Anyone sailing out would have to watch closely for shoals and breaking waves.

"Teenagers sometimes do dumb stuff," Bob told the crowd inside the historic Balboa Pavilion ballroom.

Unfortunately, the Water Car was designed so its bow rose while accelerating, which often blocked the view of the skipper. George Jr. was unable to stand, so he straddled the boat's rail in order to see ahead. Witnesses said a wave knocked the boat over and dumped the boys into the water.

George Jr., with his iron leg braces, was pulled to the bottom. The other boys survived.

To search for his son's body, George chartered the Catalina Island glass-bottom boat, but they never recovered his remains. George renamed his family's 120-foot yacht the Memory.

"Nothing brought him peace," Bob said.

After selling his business, George set out to construct a safe harbor entrance. It was "a treacherous nightmare for navigation," Bob said.

Other legendary wrecks established its reputation. In 1925, a fishing boat capsized amid massive swells, and legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku — who was hanging out on today's Corona del Mar State Beach — rescued eight men. Another 17 aboard died.

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