The transformation of Redondo Beach from a sleepy seaside town into a thriving tourist center began with the formation of the Los Angeles and Redondo Railway, and Redondo Hotel by sea captains J.C. Ainsworth and R.R. Thompson.
The railway brought tourists to the developing coastal settlement, and the Hotel Redondo, which opened in 1890, gave them a place to stay.
By the early 1900s, the city, which incorporated in 1892, had grown into a favorite destination for vacationers. The hotel often was filled in the summer months, and still, the tourists flooded in.
In June 1903, the idea to form a tent city settlement — offering lower-cost accommodations so more people could enjoy what Redondo had to offer — became a reality, just in time for the start of the summer season.
The tent city idea was probably inspired by similar operations at other beach towns, the largest of which opened at Coronado Beach, in San Diego County, in 1900.
The Coronado iteration itself was preceded by another tent city, on Catalina Island, which began in the the late 1880s in Avalon, and had grown immensely popular during the 1890s. Tent cities also operated during the early part of the century in other coastal cities, including Huntington Beach and Santa Cruz.
The Redondo Beach tent city was built just north of the Hotel Redondo, on the grounds of the former Chautauqua Assembly, which the Chautauquans had vacated in 1892. After cleanup and renovations were completed, the empty Chautauqua building was used as a communal gathering place for Tent City residents.
Their much-cheaper accommodations may sound rustic, but actually, they were very comfortable. The canvas tents had raised hardwood floors and nearby bathroom facilities. They rented originally for $3 a week or $10 a month. An extra dollar would pay for electricity inside the tent; the extra charge for power later was factored in to the rental fee.
The location was close to the tourist attractions along El Paseo, including the pavilion, salt water plunge, casino and amusement park rides and attractions, and the beach itself. The tents were available during the summer season, from mid-June until Labor Day.
Originally, 100 tents were built, and by July 1903, most of them had been rented.
An advertising brochure says it all:
“Come where grove and ocean meet; where you can sit in your own tent or lie in a hammock under the pines and look out on the dancing waves almost underneath your feet; where you can drink in the life-giving, invigorating ozone of the salt-laden breezes.”
The tents grew more popular with each passing year. In 1908, Henry Huntington oversaw the expansion of the tent city. Between 150 and 200 tents were added in time for the June 15 opening of the summer season, with improvements made to the grounds as well.
By late June 1908, all the tents were sold out for the entire season, a phenomenon that repeated itself for the next several years. In 1909, the tents were sold out before the opening date; in 1910, the opening date was moved back to May 15 to accommodate demand.
The tent city remained popular despite changes in ownership and fortunes at the Hotel Redondo. But its popularity began a slow decline in the late 1910s.
Still, it remained open into the early 1920s. The date of its final season is a matter of conjecture, though 1923 seems to be a good bet. That’s the last year in which reference is made to the tent city being open.
A 1923 letter from City Manager W.M. McKnight asked the city to “abandon the old campgrounds” and direct the public to a new area along what was then Pacific Avenue. It’s unclear if the old site or new site was used that year.
After that, nothing. The Hotel Redondo closed in 1920, and was torn down and sold for scrap in 1925.
A Los Angeles Times article from Dec. 14, 1925, reported that the tent city land had been sold to developer Ellis T. Yarnell for an estimated $200,000, noting that “the tract involved had been occupied as a tent city until recent years.”
The Redondo Beach City Council closed the door for good on the idea in 1946, banning the tent encampments in the city after complaints arose about the many tents and trailers dotting North Redondo Beach used by homeless soldiers returning from World War II.
Today, Veterans Park placidly stands where the tent city and the Hotel Redondo once accommodated thousands of tourists flocking to the city’s popular seaside attractions.
Sources: Daily Breeze files; “The History of Tent City, Part 1,” YouTube video, Coronado Historical Association and Museum of History & Art, 2006; Los Angeles Herald files; Los Angeles Times files; Chautauaqua blog post; Hotel Redondo