A trip to Huntington Beach in Second Life

Huntington Beach, October 2019 – click any image for full size

Huntington Beach is a seaside city in Orange County in Southern California, located 35 miles south-east of down town Los Angeles.

– From About Land, Huntington Beach

So reads the introduction to Jade Koltai’s new public homestead region of Huntington Beach that opened to the public earlier in October. Jade is, as many will be aware, Serene Footman’s long-time collaborator in s range of region designs, many of which I’ve written about in these pages down through the years. So on hearing about this build (via my ever-vigilant region spotter, Shawn Shakespeare 🙂 ), I was keen for us to go take a look – more so, perhaps, as (a good while ago now) I travelled through the real Huntington Beach while on a trip following the Pacific Coast Highway.

Huntington Beach, October 2019

Today, the town is best known for its almost 16 km (10 mi) long beach, the tides of which have led to Huntington Beach to becoming known as Surf City, and being granted trademarks as “Surf City USA” (both of which were the cause of, and factors within, a long-running dispute with Santa Cruz, California that was finally settled in 2008). However, the city has a long and colourful history, part of which is reflected in Jade’s design.

Huntington Beach perhaps came to prominence in the early part of the 20th century (although settlements in the area obviously go back much further than that). At that time, people were encouraged to settle in the area by an encyclopaedia company offering free parcels of land in the area to those purchasing the entire set of their books for US $126 (roughly US $3,200 in today’s terms). Those who did so found their parcels ballooned in value when oil reserves were found beneath them, leading to something of a oil rush. The first well to extract this oil was established in May 1920 – and within 18 months, the number of well heads had grown to 59, giving the coastline of Huntington Beach its distinctive “forest” of giant oil derricks dominating the skyline – and it is this aspect of the city that is reflected most clearly in Jade’s design.

Huntington Beach, October 2019

For her inspiration, Jade uses a series of photos of the Huntington Beach and the neighbouring coastline as it appeared during the heydays of oil production, headlined by one taken from Huntington Beach Pier (one of the city’s lasting landmarks) in the 1960s. These sit to the south east of the region, the beach running north-west, complete with a nod towards the pier (first established in 1904). The latter is understandably not as grandiose as the original, because that would take a couple of additional regions to achieve, given it is 560 metres in length, but it presents a starting point for exploration, home as it is to the region’s landing point.

The derricks are divided by a central road, reflecting a further photo in the series, albeit one of derricks divided by a road in Long Beach, a little further north around the coast. However, it is largely with the initial 1960’s image to which Jade sticks: at the northern end of the road is a smattering of buildings suggesting the edge of a town, all of which – along with the cars scattered among them  – have a ’60s vibe to them.

Huntington Beach, October 2019

The beach has a similar feel to it as well, the sand looking a tad tired and the advertising in that 50’s-60’s style, although unlike its namesake, this beach benefits from palm trees hiding the marching lines of oil towers from those deciding to partake a walk along the sand or out onto the pier.

Oil production does continue at Huntington Beach today, although the massive derricks have long since been removed to leave the city looking a lot more naturally suburban, the ocean front and beach protected from over-development. However, production is in decline; the US Geological Survey estimates no more than perhaps 866 million barrels of oil remain, although best estimates put the amount that can be reasonably extracted at some 370 million barrels. This means that the remaining oil extraction work is liable to come to an end in the near future, leaving Huntington Beach city fairly exclusively reliant on tourist and vacation trade for revenue generation – hence the city filing for, and being granted, multiple trademarks related to it being “Surf City USA”.

Huntington Beach, October 2019

While fossil fuel extraction and use are both messy and driving a fair amount of pollution, Jade’s Huntington Beach nevertheless offers a reminder of a boom-time past in America’s history, one that burst into life on the west coast in the early decades of the 20th century and echoed through to the end of the millennium. Needless to say, it offers numerous opportunities for photography, although I personally found the default Windlight perhaps a little too oppressive – not that others cannot be used if you feel the same way. Photos that are taken may be submitted to the region’s Flickr group, and tips towards the region’s upkeep are welcomed at the pier.

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