The Ainsworth name is well known in Redondo Beach. Captain J.C. Ainsworth and his business partner, R.R. Thompson, helped to develop Redondo in the late 1800’s. Ainsworth and Thompson jumpstarted our City’s early growth by establishing the Redondo Railway Company and the Redondo Hotel Company in 1889. These business enterprises brought the railroad, a luxury resort, thousands of visitors, and hundreds of new residents to town. Some of their influences remain today.
Ainsworth Family History
Taken from the Ainsworth Family archives, John Commigers Ainsworth was born to George and Anchor Ainsworth on June 6, 1822 in Springsborough, Ohio. J.C.’s parents both died young, leaving him to be raised by his grandfather. Ainsworth went west with his uncle when he was 13 and worked on the Mississippi River. In about 1844, he married Augusta “Josephine” Kendall of Boston (daughter of Captain John Kendall). The couple did not have any children, and Josephine died 15 months after their marriage. J.C. followed the gold rush and went to Sacramento in 1850. He was hired by Lot Whitcomb to work on the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington, where he met his future business partner, R. R. Thompson. In 1851, J.C. married Nancy “Jane” White (daughter of S.S. White). George Jennings Ainsworth was born to the couple on April 13, 1852 in Oregon City, Oregon. Jane died December 5, 1859.
Ainsworth continued to work and prosper on the Columbia. He married Sarah Frances “Fannie” Babbitt in 1864. Their first child, Laura was born in 1865, followed by Fannie “Daisy” on November 30, 1867, John C. Ainsworth on January 4, 1870, Henry “Harry” B. in 1871, Maud on December 1, 1874, and Belle in 1976.
Around this same time, Ainsworth’s first born, George, was attending University of California at Berkley where he graduated in 1873 with the degree of Ph.B. He continued on doing post graduate work for a year in civil engineering. George married Margaret “Maggie” Sutton of Portland, Oregon on June 16, 1875. Following the example of his father, George became active up and down the Pacific Coast. He worked for the Oregon Steam Navigation Co. from 1875 to 1882 beginning as a freight clerk and working his way up to general superintendent putting him in charge of all steamboats on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. He resigned in 1882 to take charge of his father’s businesses. He moved first to Oakland, then to Redondo Beach where he worked with his father and Mr. Thompson as an executive manager on the improvements to develop Redondo into a commercial port and vacation resort. George and Maggie had two children, Lawrence and Mabel.
Interest had begun in Redondo in 1887, when Daniel Freeman and N.R. Vail began buying land along the coast from the Dominguez sisters. Freeman and Vail purchased 433 acres known as the Ocean Tract for $12,000. They formed the Redondo Beach Development Company and began to lay out the town of Redondo Beach. They began selling lots, but their business struggled and they sold the Redondo Beach Development Company to J.C. Ainsworth and R.R. Thompson in 1889.
Captain J. C. Ainsworth and R. R. Thompson’s interest in Redondo was due primarily to the deep water canyon located close to shore, and they set out to develop Redondo as a port. As part of the development plan, the Hotel Redondo was constructed in 1889. It was an elegant Victorian structure and ranked among the leading resort hotels along the Pacific coast. The hotel featured such lavish amenities as an 18-hole golf course, lush landscaping, beachside tennis courts, a grand staircase down to the beach, a bathroom on every floor, steam heat, an elegant ballroom, and 225 luxurious rooms. The hotel seduced more visitors than ever to venture to the coast. For those who couldn’t afford to stay in the hotel, tents were available in Tent City on property adjacent to the hotel. Tent City rates were $3.00 per week, or $10.00 per month, for a tent that included wooden floors and electric lights.
The first wharf was built in 1890. Railroads and steamships brought people by the thousands, not to mention freight loads of oil and lumber. Ainsworth and Thompson promoted, developed, and sold land that eventually became the nucleus of the city of Redondo Beach, which was incorporated on April 18, 1892, by a vote of 177-10.
The harbor continued to grow. A second wharf was built in 1894 and a third in 1903. However, in 1897, a five-man board of engineers recommended that San Pedro become the main port for the region due to its natural breakwater. After this decision, industrial waterfront activity began to decline in Redondo, and tourism and recreation became the town’s main activities. In 1903, the Pacific Railway Company helped stimulate Redondo development by completing a trolley line from Los Angeles to Santa Monica and down the coast to Redondo Beach. This made casual day-tripping to the beach much easier. Prior to this time, people had traveled to Redondo from Los Angeles by horse and buggy.
Ainsworth’s sons, George and Harry, were involved in the early development of Redondo Beach working with their father and Mr. Thompson on local infrastructure. Harry eventually served as the City’s mayor, and built a large home on Esplanade in 1905. That home, which later became the Irons Cottage inn and restaurant, continued to stand until 1958. The small street running along the north side of the cottage was named Ainsworth Court; however, although historic maps show the name of this street to be Ainsworth Court, at some point in time, it appears that the street began to be treated as an extension of Harbor Way, which is the name indicated on some commercial maps. In 2007, Redondo Beach renamed Harbor Way to George Freeth Way; however, it is still a bit of a puzzle whether the renaming included Ainsworth Court.
With the decline of the port and following heavy storms in 1915 and 1916, wharves 1 and 2 were removed. Lumber schooners still used Pier No. 3 at Topaz Street until the railroad pulled out in 1926. Because of prohibition and declining tourism, the Hotel Redondo closed its doors and in 1925 was sold for scrap lumber–the price was $300.
The Ainsworth Court Stairs
The grand staircase which is known as the Ainsworth Court Stairs by locals is the last remnant of the Hotel Redondo. It is known locally as the Ainsworth Court Stairs since the Ainsworth family had a home on the Esplanade near the staircase. “Improvements” over the years have resulted in two-thirds of the width being covered in ice-plant and the remaining visible stairs being top-coated with new concrete, covering their delicate rounded shape.
Beginning around 2002, the RBHS and members of the public have begun to evaluate the structural integrity of the historic staircase in an effort to see if it could be restored. The staircase sits on both City and County land, so any restoration would need to be coordinated among both jurisdictions. From conversations with City and County representatives, there appears to be a desire to restore the stairs, but limited financial resources hinder any efforts. Members of the City’s Preservation Commission have also taken an interest in the historic staircase over the years, with ideas to preserve, restore, and landmark. No action is being considered at this time, but community members interested in this potential effort should contact the Redondo Beach Planning Department to ask for ways you can help.