Newport Beach in the Rearview Mirror

2: Newport Beach's Greatest Storyteller

February 02, 2021 William Lobdell
Newport Beach in the Rearview Mirror
2: Newport Beach's Greatest Storyteller
Chapters
Newport Beach in the Rearview Mirror
2: Newport Beach's Greatest Storyteller
Feb 02, 2021
William Lobdell

If Newport Beach had a Mount Rushmore, Judge Robert Gardner would be on it. Among his legacies: Pioneering bodysurfer, groundbreaking judge and master storyteller whose tales of early Balboa provide the best (and most entertaining) account of the city's early days. Guest: Nancy Gardner, the judge's daughter.

Show Notes Transcript

If Newport Beach had a Mount Rushmore, Judge Robert Gardner would be on it. Among his legacies: Pioneering bodysurfer, groundbreaking judge and master storyteller whose tales of early Balboa provide the best (and most entertaining) account of the city's early days. Guest: Nancy Gardner, the judge's daughter.

Newport Beach's Greatest Storyteller

If Newport Beach had a Mount Rushmore, Judge Robert Gardner would be on it. Among his legacies: Pioneering bodysurfer, groundbreaking judge and master storyteller whose tales of early Balboa provide the best (and most entertaining) account of the city's early days. Guest: Nancy Gardner, the judge's daughter.

Thanks for listening to another edition of Newport Beach in the Rearview Mirror. I'm Bill Lobdell. Judge Robert Gardner, he was a Newport Beach legend who spent 84 years in town having come to the then young city in 1921 at the age of nine and dying at his Corona del Mar home in 2005 at the age of 93. Coming up later in this episode, we were fortunate to be able to chat with Judge Gardner's daughter, Nancy Gardner, who is a bit of a local legend herself as a long-time activist and former city council member and mayor.

I learned a lot from the interview and I hope you will too. Before we get to the interview, let me tell you three reasons why Judge Gardner deserves a spot on Newport Beach's Mount Rushmore. First, he was a pioneering waterman on the U.S. Mainland starting the 1920s. At Corona del Mar, he surfed 250-pound mahogany surfboards with Duke Kahanamoku, Olympic gold medalist, and the most famous surfer in the world at the time.

His real legacy in the water came as a bodysurfer at Corona del Mar, the Balboa Pier, The Wedge and contests up and down the Southern California coast. In 1972, after a half century in the sport, Judge Gardner wrote a book called The Art of Body Surfing, which became an instant classic and is now a collector's item. If you're interested, you can buy it on Amazon for only $919. His second legacy came as a judge, and specifically through his writings.

They read like what Mark Twain would have written if he was a judge. Stripped of legalese, the judge's writings were direct, accessible, and filled with wit, sarcasm, insight and wisdom. His opinions are still studied today by law students and professors. Let me give you my favorite example. This is basically a random footnote in an appeal of a robbery case where the thief told his victims, "Don't say another mother effing word." He didn't use the word effing.

Here's what the judge wrote, "It is a sad commentary on contemporary culture to compare, 'Don't say another mother effing word' with 'stand and deliver' the famous salutation of Dick Turpin and other early English highway men. It is true that both salutations lead to robbery. However, there's a certain rich style to stand and deliver. On the other hand, don't say another mother effing word contains only dismal vulgarity."

Or this one from a spousal support case that involved a couple married more than 21 years. "A woman is not a breeding cow to be nurtured during her years of fecundity, then conveniently and economically converted to cheap steaks when past her prime." Here's what the Santa Clara Law Review concluded about his writings, "Judge Gardner's importance transcends his humor and his ability to turn a good phrase. There is a warm-hearted spirit and high-principled purpose directing the words he writes.

The cynical edge that can be detected in his frank and open manner reflects his frustration when bad laws engender hardship. Yet, Gardner braves the constellation of human inequities that besiege the judiciary with courage and conviction. His deep respect for the intelligence of the jury, his sensitive performance of difficult judicial tasks and his strong sense of common decency and simple justice reflect his faith in the intrinsic worth of humankind." Man, what a tribute.

His third legacy is most important to the fans of Newport Beach history. Now, the city has many excellent books written about days gone by, and you can find most of them in the local history collection at the Newport Beach Public Library. Judge Gardner's firsthand accounts are different. Through his Daily Pilot newspaper columns and two books, Bawdy Balboa, a classic and a must read for those wanting insights into Newport's early life and sequel, Naughty Newport, Judge Gardner left behind the best and most entertaining accounts of the town's early days.

He grew up in Balboa, which at the time was a rough and tumble section of Newport known for its drinking, gambling and music. Luckily for us and prosperity, Judge Gardner, even as a young kid, had an uncanny eye for characters and events, a remarkable memory and a gift for storytelling. Allowing readers to experience all that Newport had to offer, warts and all, before it became the affluent and squeaky clean city it is today. Here's an excerpt from Judge Gardner's 1992 book, Bawdy Balboa, "Gambling was one of the sleazier aspects about Balboa's honky-tonk era.

The Balboa gamblers," and by this he meant the gambling operators, "carry the 'never give a sucker an even break concept' to ridiculous extremes. Nevertheless, during the gambling era, which was roughly from the late 20s through the mid-30s, the suckers could and did spend their spare nickels and dimes on Balboa's numerous gambling devices. Balboa was Orange County's sin city, for sure, but more appropriately, perhaps, it should have been called Orange County's sucker city.

The basic game in the gambling joints operated by local gamblers, such as Hutch Hutchinson, Al Gutherie and Dad Workman was a version of roulette. While there were other games, including Bingo, the drawing card was a flasher game. The customer sat at long tables and a wheel was spun triggering lights that flashed above the counter. Now, it was well-known in roulette, the zero and double zero were so-called house numbers that guaranteed eventually the house is going to win if you play long enough.

Balboa gamblers outdid themselves in house numbers. Not only did their wheels have zero and double zero, they had crescent and double crescent and star and double star. There was no way you were going to win, but if per chance you were ahead when you quit, you were paid off in cartons of cigarettes, which you took down the street to Johnny Vogel's bicycle shop and converted to cash at a horrendous discount. Needless to say, most of the suckers' money stayed in Balboa."

Judge Gardner's story-telling would lead me to cross paths with him in the early 1990s. I was the newly minted editor of the Daily Pilot and I read a column he had written about Balboa's early days. It transported me back to the hardscrabble streets of Balboa with the likes of Dad Workman, Dirty George and Stiffy Stafford. A nickname that I don't think could be used today, but another story. I wanted to read more. I didn't know Newport ever had hardscrabble streets, for example.

Bill Lobdell:

Selfishly, I thought the readers of the Daily Pilot would love the stories as much as I did. I set out to see if the retired judge would agree to write a weekly column. We met for lunch at the old Arches at the corner of West Coast Highway and Old Newport Road. It was an appropriate setting since it was Newport's oldest restaurant, having opened in 1926, just five years after Judge Gardner arrived in town as a young boy. We sat in the red leather booths of the dimly lit restaurant and talked for three glorious hours.

I remember a couple of things about that lunch. First, the thing that everybody remembers about the judge, his eyebrows. To say they were bushy doesn't begin to describe them. They were like two squirrels that bit into an electrical wire. It was impossible not to stare at them, and at least for me, I found them very intimidating. Second thing I remember, the judge had a four-martini lunch. He was already a great storyteller, but it seemed that the tales flowed even more freely after a couple of drinks.

I just shut my mouth and took it all in. I didn't want that lunch to end. The third thing I remember, he said yes to writing a column. They became 750-word gems that needed no editing and instantly became a highlight for Daily Pilot readers for years to come. Now, here are seven more things you should know about Judge Gardner's life. One, how he got here. As a young boy, he lived in Green River, Wyoming, where his dad worked for the railroad.

Because of a violent railroad strike in 1921, Judge Gardner's parents put their son on a train alone and sent him to live with his older sister, Jesse, and brother-in-law, Dick Whitson, who lived in Balboa. His solo trip west involved taking a train from Wyoming to Des Moines, transferring to a train bound for Omaha, taking a third train to Salt Lake City, and finally switching to another train whose destination was Los Angeles.

From the downtown depot there, he somehow made his way to the Pacific Electric Station six miles away where the Red Car Trolley ran to Balboa. For those of you who are parents, just imagine your kid as a nine-year-old making that trip. It should give you an appreciation for Judge Gardner's independent nature, intelligence and resourcefulness.

John Wayne:

Funny thing, fella takes one of these into battle and by the grace of God, he comes out in one piece. He carries a strange sense of guilt all the rest of his life.

Bill Lobdell:

Second thing you should know. He easily befriended people, including a USC football player named Marion Morrison, who the judge bodysurfed with at the Balboa Pier. Morrison would go on to have a bit of a movie career under the name John Wayne. Another acquaintance of Judge Gardner was Madame Ruth, who ran the city's short-lived brothel that closed after just two weeks. The judge recalled Madame Ruth telling him the reason she pulled up stakes, "I couldn't compete with the local talent."

It seemed that he was drawn to unique characters and they were drawn to him. Number three, many of his accounts of history were ... What's a nice way of saying it? They were embellished a bit. For example, he told the daring tale of stealing the Balboa Island Ferry with two friends late one night to get away from the mosquitoes, which apparently were quite a problem on the island at the time.

Bill Lobdell:

As they put the ferry into a boat slip on the Balboa side of the harbor, Gardner recounted, hearing police sirens, causing the trio to jump into the mud and hide under a wharf as police with flashlights looked unsuccessfully for the ferry thieves. In a recent interview for another one of our podcasts, 87-year-old Seymour Beek said that his dad, Joe, who owned the ferry told a very different version of the story. Let's have a listen.

Seymour Beek:

Now, there's a great story about when Judge Gardner was a teenager. He was pretty well known around here. My dad knew who he was and I guess he was very friendly. I don't remember what he was doing for a job, but anyway, he did something, but he was also active and he and some of his friends one night decided to take the ferry boat for a ride. By the way, there are two totally separate accounts of this. One's my dad's account, the other one is Gardner's account, but my dad's account is the one I like best. He said he got a call in the middle of the night from the local cops.

Seymour Beek:

There were probably two or three cops in those days. He got a call from one of the cops that said, "Hey, we just caught Gardner with your ferry boat. We got it back to the dock. What do you want us to do?" My dad said, "Scare the hell out of him and then let him go." Well, about 50 years later, when yours truly was in the slammer one night and the cop said, "Well, we hate to keep you all night. Do you know anybody? Do you know of any judges or anybody that we could call that maybe we could get a clearance? We'll let you ..." I said, "Yes."

Seymour Beek:

They woke up Judge Gardner at about 3:00 in the morning. He was pretty grumpy and he said, "Yeah. Let him go." I got to go home. Gardner, of course, never let me forget that. Never let my dad forget it either.

Bill Lobdell:

What were you in jail for, Seymour? Go ahead.

Seymour Beek:

It was assault with a deadly weapon. It was plea bargained to failure to yield the right of way to a pedestrian.

Bill Lobdell:

Was the weapon your car?

Seymour Beek:

Yeah. Yeah. A Volkswagen bug.

Bill Lobdell:

That shouldn't count. Both great stories, right? The fourth thing you should know about Judge Gardner, as a teenager and young man, he held almost every job there was in Balboa, including, but not limited to a dishwasher, a soda jerk, a laborer who helped build Newport Harbor High School, lifeguard, a Corona del Mar bathhouse attendant, a mailman, a police officer, and a window washer for the few homes that stood on Lido Isle.

His commute for that job involved swimming across the Bay from Balboa, with his window washing equipment staying dry in a bucket that he pushed ahead of him. Judge Gardner's most profitable job was undoubtedly the grossest. During prohibition, a popular cocktail in Balboa was straight alcohol mixed with Green River, which was a lime soda. The problem was that many drinkers couldn't keep that awful concoction down and would end up emptying their stomach contents on a table or a bar top or the floor of the Green Dragon Restaurant, where a Gardner worked.

Enter entrepreneur Gardner. He offered to clean each mess up for 50 cents and could make up to $3 on a Saturday night, the equivalent of about $45 today. This is in addition to his normal 50 cents an hour wages. He claimed that cleaning up vomit was how he worked his way through college. Five, he had a storied legal career. We've already talked about his writings, but there's a lot more. In his first trial, he represented a murder suspect and got a hung jury.

His performance so impressed the lawyers from the Orange County district attorney's office that they hired him immediately. In 1947, California governor, Earl Warren, appointed him to the Orange County Superior Court bench, making him at age 36, the youngest superior court judge in California history. In 1969, Governor Ronald Reagan appointed him to the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

FDR:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

Bill Lobdell:

Sixth thing you should know. He was a man ahead of his time. For example, he treated women as equals and took the unpopular stance of being a defender of Japanese Americans during WWII. This included a fellow named Mr. Soto, who ran a Japanese curio shop in Balboa before being interned. Shortly after the war and Mr. Soto getting back to Orange County, who was the person that he summoned on his death bed? Judge Gardner. The seventh thing you should know.

After retiring from the court of appeal at age 70, he was appointed chief justice of American Samoa. A position that he said was, "sort of like being king." I always saw this adventure in the South Pacific as a fitting bookend to Judge Gardner's adventurous solo train trip to Balboa at the age of nine. It has a nice symmetry to it. All right. With all that in mind, let's go to the interview with his daughter, Nancy Gardner. Thanks for joining, Nancy.

Nancy Gardner:

I'm pleased to be here.

Bill Lobdell:

All right. Let's give the listeners a sense of your dad. How would you describe him?

Nancy Gardner:

Well, I think he was someone who was ambitious. He wanted to make something of himself. His origins were not ... they weren't obscure, but they weren't grand in any sense. At the same time, if you look back at his early letters and descriptions of himself, he always had sort of a sense of humor about himself not to take things too seriously. He had a great enjoyment of life. He had a real sense of adventure and not a lot of fear. I mean, physically, although he was not at all a large man, he was, in water particularly, just very adventurous.

Bill Lobdell:

On a personal note, I found him a little bit intimidating when I interacted with him, is that the case of others or am I just a little bit timid?

Nancy Gardner:

No. I think a lot of it is where you met him. I mean, if you happen to meet him on the beach, you would think, "Oh, nice man, maybe a beach bum or something." But he had a sense of himself as a professional when the setting was that way and so he would have a certain demeanor about him. Then he had those eyebrows, which people who haven't seen a picture of him he had real long eyebrow and if he looked at you from under those eyebrows I could see it would be a little bit intimidating.

Bill Lobdell:

It was for me. Okay. Let's talk about your dad as a storyteller. I would say he was the best in Newport Beach history and he could stack up among any storytellers. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Nancy Gardner:

Yeah. I grew up with the whole mythology, being told stories of my grandfather and some of the wild things he did and of my aunt and some of the adventures she got into. Then of course, all of these people that you see in his writings, these characters from early Balboa and everything, well, they were as real to me as my friends practically. I always thought that every family had that. I mean, father told all these wonderful stories about all these wonderful characters, but I found that wasn't at all the case.

Bill Lobdell:

Yeah. Nancy, those characters from your dad's childhood and their nicknames were, I mean, something out of a movie, Madame La Rue, Curly Jordan, Chewy Roper, Humpy Gotter. I mean, those are just a couple of them.

Nancy Gardner:

Well, he always said, he wished he had a nickname. The only thing he was ever called was Bobby, which he absolutely despised and couldn't outgrow until my granddaughter came along and he didn't want to be called grandpa. He said, "I'm Bob." She said, "Oh Bobby." Well, after that, of course, everybody called him Bobby. That was peachy because you adore your granddaughter, but they did have some wonderful nicknames. I mean, I just remember like Tag Atwood. I don't know what that comes from Taggart maybe?

Nancy Gardner:

Or Fannie Richardson, which was definitely Spencer, but all sorts of different names. Every time he met a Tex or a Mugs or something like that, "Oh, I wish I had a cool nickname like that."

Bill Lobdell:

Yeah. Me too. Okay. He landed in Balboa in 1921. He was all of 10 years of age?

Nancy Gardner:

No. He was actually nine.

Bill Lobdell:

Nine. Okay. He's-

Nancy Gardner:

He's come on the train by himself from Green River.

Bill Lobdell:

Right. Because of the railroad strike, right? It was dangerous for him to stay there.

Nancy Gardner:

Right.

Bill Lobdell:

What was it about your dad and Balboa that made him, at least from what I read, to just instantly thrive in that town?

Nancy Gardner:

Well, I think part of it was that ... I mean, he wasn't just coming to stay with some foster parents or something. He was coming to stay with his sister. He was much younger. There were two sisters and then a long gap and then my father came along, and because the sisters were at least 15 years older, they'd always been sort of substitute mothers in a way when his own mother might not be around. He was very comfortable staying with Jesse and Dick, Dick Whitson, who was part of the city structure.

Nancy Gardner:

I think part of it too, was just the ocean that he came from Green River, Wyoming, which is high desert. Obviously there's a river there, but the ocean was something else. He was not coordinated. Any athletic skills I have, I got from my mother, but once in the water he was particularly skillful. He found that all of the things he could do with the bodysurfing and the board surfing and the skin diving and everything else, it just opened up such a world for him. I really think that it was just the ocean that made such a difference.

Bill Lobdell:

Weird question. Did he know how to swim when he showed up in Southern California?

Nancy Gardner:

I don't think he did because he talks about being taught to swim the breaststroke because of the blind moa.

Bill Lobdell:

You need to elaborate.

Nancy Gardner:

Should I explain that?

Bill Lobdell:

Yes. Please.

Nancy Gardner:

In the early days, the toilets were not connected to any sewer system. They discharged right into the Bay. Whatever went into the toilet, went into the Bay and you didn't want to do the Australian crawl because your head turned sideways, you couldn't see what was up ahead of you and what might end up in your mouth. You learned to swim the breaststroke. Now, those little things that you wanted to avoid, they called them blind moas.

Bill Lobdell:

Oh, okay. That may be too much information, but that's a good story.

Nancy Gardner:

Yeah. You can always cut that out.

Bill Lobdell:

Yeah. What was behind your dad's affinity for Balboa?

Nancy Gardner:

Well, he always, I think from a very young age, had an appreciation for characters. All his life, he loved characters. I mean he might not have them as close friends, but he appreciates them. I think part of that is because he was born ... I mean, I think you're born with certain talents. Part of his talent was storytelling, being able to write. If you want to tell stories well you want people with character. I mean Mr. Upright Citizen is a wonderful person. We want lots of them, but they don't make good copy as you know from your own background.

Bill Lobdell:

Right.

Nancy Gardner:

Balboa being this wide open place with very few constraints, you got lots of characters living here. Then I think that just was great for him. What he always stressed to me was that you should be able to go with any group, but you should only identify with the right group. I think that was part of his family. He had that nice solid family, but he could go out and enjoy these characters and then come home to stability.

Bill Lobdell:

When you read his stories, how much of those stories are true?

Nancy Gardner:

My mother would say, "Gardner, I've never heard that story before." I'm sure that he shaped them. I think they all started in reality and then some of them a little editing and a little shifting here and there made it a better story, and so why not? I would say a certain grain of salt.

Bill Lobdell:

Before he was an attorney and then a judge, he was dishwasher, a mailman, a police officer, a soda jerk, et cetera, et cetera. Did he have a favorite job or did he just appreciate them all?

Nancy Gardner:

No, I don't think so. His family didn't have a lot of money so as far as jobs, I mean he was working not just for the fun things that our kids might work for, but for things that he needed and also trying to ... Is there some way he could put aside some money because he wanted to go to college, [inaudible 00:24:04] go to college. They didn't have the kind of money to do it, so jobs were ... I suppose he enjoyed The Rendezvous, being a rope boy at The Rendezvous, because he liked music.

Nancy Gardner:

He loved jazz and he'd be able to look [inaudible 00:24:20] the big bands. That was probably the one he would say was his favorite.

Bill Lobdell:

Now, a rope boy was someone who let people in and out of the club?

Nancy Gardner:

No. Well, when you went in The Rendezvous, you got a ticket and when bands started to play, you gave your ticket and you walked on the dance floor and you dance through the set. Then when the band stopped for their break, two boys, one at each end of the dance floor, they had a rope. They just walked the length of the dance floor and pushed all the dancers off the floor so they'd have to produce another ticket if they wanted to dance again.

Bill Lobdell:

Oh my gosh. Wow. Okay. He started his private law practice and then quickly became a member of the Orange County district attorney's office. Then at age 30, he joined the navy in 1941, I'm guessing in response to Pearl Harbor?

Nancy Gardner:

Well, he was in already, I think, like in the reserve or something.

Bill Lobdell:

Okay.

Nancy Gardner:

He was with the Office of Naval Investigation, is that right? His job as he related, was you go hang around on the bars in San Pedro, which was a perfect job for him and he loved bars and just sit there and drink with people and eavesdrop. Pick up what he could. Maybe some Russians were in town. What were they saying? And everything. Then with Pearl Harbor, then he decided that no, he wanted to see the action and he went back to Virginia for extra training and then got in the service for the Pacific Fleet with Admiral Nimitz.

Nancy Gardner:

Now, I found out ... and I just came across a little article that he was the first person to go in Newport Beach. At least that's what the article said. Now, which seems very strange because there were a lot of people that were going to be in the service, but he was very early on. Then he went and he became the press censor for the Pacific Theater. He loved that.

Bill Lobdell:

He did?

Nancy Gardner:

He loved that. He had so much fun. Oh, I mean you're with writers like Robert Ruark and wrote Something of Value and a fellow named St. Clair McKelway who wrote for The New Yorker. They were all big drinkers and of course, big talkers and everything. If you read his letters, it's almost like, "Oh, is there really a war going on?" He's telling all their misadventures aboard ships.

Bill Lobdell:

Well, journalists are always the most fascinating people so I understand that.

Nancy Gardner:

That's right.

Bill Lobdell:

Can you talk about your dad's defense of Japanese Americans during WWII?

Nancy Gardner:

Yeah. He, for some reason, had just this sense of that we shouldn't be treating the Japanese the way they are. In fact, I just, again, came across an article where he had spoken about he had been ... And I think part of it was after he took the bar exam, he was sure he had failed. My aunt, Mary, and his sister was living in the Philippines because her husband was in the navy. She said, "Why don't you come here? I wanted to travel, but I haven't been able to travel." Because her husband was busy and I don't like to travel by myself. He went to China and they traveled. He stayed over there for almost nine months.

Nancy Gardner:

He spent part of the time in Japan. I think that was eye-opening. He felt that the Japanese people as a whole were agreeable, friendly and everything. He felt they were being misled by their militaristic generals and some of that attitude. I think that carried over and so he had very strong feelings. I have a letter that he wrote to my mother. She had obviously reacted to something. This is when he was overseas. She had written something that was critical of the Japanese, which is understandable.

Nancy Gardner:

I mean, they were the enemy. He wrote back, but he wrote in a letter saying, "No, no, no, no. Don't feel that way. They are just people. Yes, this is unfortunate, we're going through right now." He felt very strongly about that.

Bill Lobdell:

Your dad also, he appointed the first Japanese American as foreman of the Orange County grand jury.

Nancy Gardner:

Yes. After my father died and I was going through all the things, I have had a number of plaques and things, thanking him and honoring him. He was very close to the Japanese American community.

Bill Lobdell:

As a judge, he was known as No Way Gardner. Why was that?

Nancy Gardner:

He didn't have a lot of patience with some attorneys. One of the things that really bugged him was that so many attorneys felt like, well, if they had a jury that the poor nincompoops could hardly tie their shoes and they would have to explain everything to them. They'd go on and on and on and they would start a new path and he'd go, "No way, get back on track. You don't have to overdo this, just keep on track, make it easy, make it simple. Explain it and then get on your way."

Nancy Gardner:

He didn't like that kind of wordplay of just adding word, word, word, word trying to overwhelm the jury with words. He wanted them to make a case as clear as his own writing was.

Bill Lobdell:

Yeah. That's a good segue to his legal writings, which I think are one of the forgotten legacies that he has. I don't see a lot of judges doing the type of writing he did. It was stripped of legalese, written ... When I read it, it sounds like a irritated Mark Twain put it together. Do you know why he ditched convention and went with such a accessible and really good [crosstalk 00:29:58]?

Nancy Gardner:

Again, I think it was because he had this ... not disdain but just this impatience with attorneys and other judges at times, because they seem to obfuscate. They want to make things more complicated than it needed to be. His feeling was, he felt jurors were absolutely perfectly capable of deciding everything, but it had to be presented in English. He wanted someone who hadn't had a couple of years with law school or practice and anything, to be able to read his opinion and say, "Oh, this is what this is about and this is what he was deciding."

Nancy Gardner:

Because if you've read legal opinions, you can know that sometimes you can read them and go, "I'm not sure what's going on and I'm not sure in the end how it came out." He just wanted to be very clear. There's a reason that you have to use legalese. You can use plain English. Plain English is a very, very valuable tool that we all have and there's no reason why you can't be humorous at times. You can throw in a little metaphor or you can make a mild joke just to make it very clear.

Nancy Gardner:

We don't need to make it more complicated. This is something we share. If we're going to all share in our legal system, then we should all understand it. Let's not make it more complicated.

Bill Lobdell:

Your dad worked in juvenile court for six years, and from what I read, he spearheaded a lot of changes in California law that gave more rights to minors. What motivated him?

Nancy Gardner:

That was something I remember him saying very clearly because when he went to juvenile court, he stayed there for a certain number of years and then left. The reason he left he said it was the only time he brought things home. He was very good at turning things off, particularly in the old days when the county was very small. In criminal court a lot of times a guy would come in and he'd go, "Joe, what are you up here for again?" "Well, judge." It was just very much, all right, 30 days or six months or whatever it was and he'd go off.

Nancy Gardner:

You were dealing a lot of times with habitual minor criminals. He could leave it at the end of the day. Even when he had ... and he did, he sentenced people to death, he could leave that because I think because they were adults and they had made their choice. He felt with juveniles that whatever he did could change their life for better or for worse and so he brooded much more over those. That's why he finally just said, "I got to take a break. This is getting to me."

Nancy Gardner:

I think that's why he was so interested in changes and improving the system because that's where things could really make a difference. He felt that strongly. He always had a great feeling for young people. He was always very patient, very willing to share whatever knowledge he had. I think that was just part of his character.

Bill Lobdell:

As Newport grew up and became Newport today, what were his feelings about the town?

Nancy Gardner:

That was what was always interesting to me, because I was just, "Why is that changing? Why are they taking down the China House in China Cove? Why are they taking away the stables and building Irvine Terrace? Why are ... This is all wrong." My father, I remember, he came ... This whole generation of you just keep building and moving and changing. I mean, that you build your dams, the river and bring in electricity, which is wonderful, not seeing down the road that there may be some implications.

Nancy Gardner:

You come here to Newport and it's such a funny little place. You've got all this land, all the Irvine Ranch it just spreads out forever so why not develop part of it? Mostly because a lot of his friends were developers or builders of some sort. I never heard him lament any of it. I was the one who was always lamenting and I had come much later. I think that was just more of the mindset of people who'd grown up in their early teens and twenties of the 20th century. Just that's what you did.

Nancy Gardner:

I mean, we're still that Westward Ho and the expansion and growth is good and not looking at maybe some of the impacts that were going to be coming down the road.

Bill Lobdell:

He's been gone for a while now, what do you see as his legacy in Newport Beach or beyond?

Nancy Gardner:

Well, I'm always surprised that even now I have people come up to me and say, "Oh, I loved your father's column. I love his books." I think that there'll always be a certain element there of he represents and told us about what our city was like in those early days. I think there's still ... I just got a call from a man who was working on something and was writing about my father's judicial opinions on his background. I do think are those who appreciate that.

Nancy Gardner:

Then they stumbled upon them and go, "Wow, this is something else." He will be remembered in a lot of circles because he was a real supporter of surfing, particularly bodysurfing. His book, The Art of Body Surfing, is a bit of a collector's item now, apparently.

Bill Lobdell:

He surfed with Duke ... I never get the last name, but...

Nancy Gardner:

Yeah. Duke Kahanamoku.

Bill Lobdell:

Yeah. He kind of was like the Forrest Gump of Newport Beach. It's surfing with Duke, bodysurfing with John Wayne, every phase of Newport's life, 20th century, he was there for.

Nancy Gardner:

I think that's a very apt description because he did have a way of being places. I mean, when he was in the navy, he ends up with Admiral Nimitz and on his ship. They're going to all the places. He was there at the ceremony, the surrender ceremony.

Bill Lobdell:

Oh, wow.

Nancy Gardner:

He, yeah, [inaudible 00:36:41]. I look back and I always think, "My life has been so quiet compared to his." I mean, almost from the beginning, starting say with his train ride here. Just one adventure after another.

Bill Lobdell:

Last question for you, what kind of dad was he?

Nancy Gardner:

Terrific. We were very close. He instilled in me, somehow, a feeling of that I could do about anything. As far as surfing, for example, I was one of the surfers. There was no gender thing as far as he was concerned. That's the way I took it and so I just never really faced it, I guess, because everybody just said, "Oh, well, that's just the way it is. Here's Nancy, she's surfing."

Nancy Gardner:

He was very much about being your own person, of not being swept away by what might be popular, but what you felt was right, and what you wanted to do. That, for me, maybe it fit well with my personality. I don't know. I think that was a really invaluable thing to be able to get through high school and not worry so much about some of the things that I think a lot of kids at that age worry about. He could be very cold and unfeeling at times to people, he seemed that way.

Nancy Gardner:

I think more of it was for him. It was a way of protecting himself because he was quite sensitive in many ways. With me, he was so attuned that I always felt supported. I always felt I had a safety net, whatever I did.

Bill Lobdell:

Wow. That's a great gift to give your kid. All right. Nancy, I appreciate your time. Thanks for sharing the stories.

Nancy Gardner:

Well, I enjoyed it.

Bill Lobdell:

Yeah, I did too. It was good to hear from you. Thanks again, Nancy. I really appreciate Nancy joining us and giving her time to talk about her dad and his accomplishments and his life. Also, thank you for getting into this podcast time machine with me and traveling back to 1921 to follow the life of Judge Robert Gardner, one of Newport Beach's largest legends.