The picturesque history of Santa Monica lifeguards, as captured by local photographers and photojournalists throughout the last century, has been archived in a new photo book.
Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series examines local histories and subjects of local interest in areas throughout the country. Last year, the group published Early Santa Monica, a photo history of Santa Monica by Louise Gabriel, Santa Monica Historical Society president.
Santa Monica Lifeguards are the subject of the latest book in the series. The book starts out with a look at early 20th century lifeguards including “Cap” Watkins riding atop a horse to make ocean rescues, and leads up to current Los Angeles County lifeguard staff making rescues aided by Baywatch rescue boats.
Under the watch of Santa Monica Lifeguards, President John F. Kennedy swam along the Santa Monica shoreline; actor Charlie Chaplin collected seashells; and surfing icons Duke Kahanamoku and Miki Dora rode the local waves.
The book credits the lifeguards throughout the years as helping to make Santa Monica Beach the tourist destination that it is today.
The book starts with a description of the uphill battle it took for Santa Monica to become a tourist destination after newspapers reported on several drownings at Santa Monica Beach in the early 1900s.
It was not uncommon for Santa Monica lifeguards to double as underwater stunt men, as was the case of lifeguard Micky Moore throughout the 1950s. The book shows Moore in action in Hollywood productions and on the beach.
Early Muscle Beach, which many of the physically fit lifeguards were an integral part of, is examined.
Proceeds from Santa Monica Lifeguards will be donated to the Los Angeles County Lifeguards Trust Fund for public safety and education.
The book is dedicated to local photographer Bill Beebe, who shot for the Santa Monica Outlook for several decades.
The book was authored and photos assembled by third-generation Santa Monican Arthur Verge. He followed in the footsteps of his lifeguard father by joining the Santa Monica Lifeguard Service in 1974. That same year, the service was merged into the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Service. He remains active, working part-time as a county lifeguard while teaching history full time at El Camino College in Torrance.
Vega attended Santa Monica College and went on to earn a doctorate in history from the University of Southern California.
As part of his career as a historian, he has written and researched the history of lifeguard services that have protected the beaches of Santa Monica Bay since the early 1900s. With the assistance of his fellow lifeguards, he has collected in excess of 2,000 photographs that trace the evolution of Southern California’s world-famous beach culture. With the support of the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Service, Verge is working to establish a museum that will preserve the history of the lifeguards and the lifeguard culture.
Los Angeles County Lifeguards make an average of 10,000 ocean rescues per year, according to the County.