What did a pro baseball player and a Duck Hunting Club have to do with Laguna getting its water?

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Laguna Beach Water and Baseball

What did a pro baseball player and a Duck Hunting Club have to do with Laguna getting its water?

Laguna Beach gets all its water from somewhere else.  Scary when you think about it.

But how we got the water from other places during Laguna’s start up years is quite a colorful story with colorful people.

One such character is Gavy Cravath, who was such a good baseball player that it took Babe Ruth to break his home run records.

But first a little background:

Until the early 1920s, the residents of Laguna Beach received their water from a well located north on Laguna Canyon Road when cisterns in town ran out of rainwater. Summer visitors frequently stopped and filled jugs on their way into town.

One amazing feat was in 1905 when Howard Heisler (of Heisler Park) pumped running water from Laguna Canyon to each lot in his development of houses in Laguna Cliffs, which is today’s coveted North Laguna’s Tree Streets.  He subdivided and laid out the only streets in Laguna that run in straight right angles to one another.

In 1924, the growth of the village had been so rapid that the water system could not produce an adequate supply. The heavy pumping exhausted the surface supply and soon saltwater intrusion and well failure forced the closure of the water service.

But local citizens pretending to be a Duck Hunting Club came to the rescue.

So when the water became scares in 1925 the locals turned to one of the closest places to get fresh water, Huntington Beach home of the Santa Ana River Basin.

Knowing that Huntington Beach, 20 miles to the north, would want to keep its precious fresh water, a group of Laguna guys pretended to be a Duck Hunting Club and bought 120 acres (which is still owned).

The five men divvied up a $1,000 deposit out of their own pockets, with the balance to be paid at $400 an acre.

What they had bought was the City’s future water supply.

The Board of Supervisors called for an election on May 4, 1925, and residents went to the polls and approved the formation of the Laguna Beach County Water District by a vote of 359 to 0.

Here comes Gavey, the retired baseball pro turned real estate investor (and later the town’s Justice of the Peace) to make sure the huge $600,000 bond was passed.

About two days before election he sneaked down and turned on the Laguna Canyon pumps, filing the pipes with the brackish water. The people were trying to use it and were disgusted.

Then came voting day and they voted YES, 437 votes, for the $600,000 water bonds for Huntington Beach water.

The new water district built a new water system, constructed a 13-mile transmission pipeline, and provided service to Laguna Beach. The system was completed and water began to flow into the reservoirs in Spring 1927.

This was the only election in history with a unanimous ‘yes’ vote for that number of votes.

Thanks Gavey.

Securing our Water Supply

Introduction of water from wells in the Santa Ana River Basin solved Laguna’s water problems for several years, but it wasn’t smooth sailing. Other water producers in the Basin sued the District to prevent our groundwater production and export to Laguna Beach. In 1933, the Orange County Superior Court determined the right of the District to pump and export 2,025 acre-feet of groundwater from the Santa Ana River Basin each year.

Unfortunately, over time pumping from the basin increased, groundwater elevations fell, and sea water intruded into the basin. By 1941, Laguna’s water supply had again become salty and unreliable.

This deterioration in the quality of the groundwater caused the District to assist in the formation of Coastal Municipal Water District and to purchase Colorado River water through Coastal MWD from Metropolitan Water District in 1943. The District’s well field in the Santa Ana River Basin remained in operation until 1948.

More on Gavy Cravath – a true Laguna character

Clifford Carlton Cravath (March 23, 1881 – May 23, 1963), also nicknamed “Cactus Gravy”, was an outfielder and right-handed batter who played for the Boston Red Sox (1908), Chicago White Sox (1909), Washington Senators (1909) and Philadelphia Phillies (1912-1920).

Cravath was the first baseball player from the San Diego area to play Major League Baseball. He was born in Escondido, California. He is regarded as one of the first great sluggers in the game.

In 1915, Cravath hit 24 home runs, setting a single season record that stood until Babe Ruth broke it by hitting 29 homers in 1919.

Laguna Beach BaseballHe changed baseball when he was caught in a run down between two players and as they were tossing the ball back and forth trying to catch Gavy he jumped up a caught the ball and through it into the stands. He sauntered on to home plate and the rule was changed to never let that happen again.
Gavy Cravath managed the Salt Lake City Bees of the Pacific Coast League in 1921, then spent one year as a scout for the Minneapolis Millers, his last job in professional baseball.

Returning to Laguna Beach, California, where for years he’d leisurely enjoyed his off-season’s fishing the Pacific and accumulating property, he became active in the real-estate business.

In September 1927 Cravath was elected judge, and for the rest of his life enjoyed saying that he claimed the gavel quite by accident. He and two friends didn’t like the sitting judge in Laguna Beach so they drew straws to determine which of the three would run against him.

Gavy drew the short straw and won the election by an almost 3:1 ratio. Lacking any formal legal training, he claimed that he based his decisions on principles of sportsmanship he’d learned on the diamond.

Judge Cravath became known as a crusty jurist and stories abound from his years on the bench. Once, when two young robbers appeared before him and asked permission to join the armed forces as part of a probation sentence, Cravath said, “When I see a man in uniform walking down the street, I look at him with pride. You haven’t earned the right to wear such a uniform bearing the honor of our country. Six months in county jail.”

On another occasion, Cravath asked a Santa Ana motorcycle cop if he was heading back to the station after a hearing. The officer replied in the affirmative. Next the town drunk staggered into the courtroom and Cravath said, “Pete, you hop on the back of George’s bike and he’ll take you up to the county jail for a few days to dry out.” No stranger to due process, Pete objected, “You can’t do that, Gavy. Hell, I ain’t even been arraigned yet.” Cravath glared at the drunk. “Now look here, Pete,” he growled. “You know you were drunk and I know you were drunk. Now we’re not going to waste any of the taxpayers’ money on a goddam trial. Get on that goddam motorcycle and go to jail for a few days to dry out.” Pete grinned sheepishly and obeyed the order.

Well-known and widely respected, Judge Cravath was reversed only twice during his 36-year tenure on the bench. When he finally died at age 82 on May 23, 1963, few Laguna Beach residents even realized that in a prior life, the Honorable Clifford C. Cravath had set major-league home-run records that it took the mighty Babe Ruth to break.

Baseball Laguna BeachCravath had a career .287 batting average with 119 home runs, then the fourth most in history, and 719 RBI in 1220 games. Mel Ott eventually tied his NL record of six home run titles; Ralph Kiner broke the record in 1952 with seven; and Mike Schmidt now holds the record of eight titles, set with the Phillies in 1986. Cravath’s 20th-century record of 119 homers was broken by Babe Ruth in 1921..


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Sean McCracken

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