Blind Mullet?...Yuck

Ken Jones

Staff member
The blind mullet off the Newport Pier — February 25, 2003

People who complain about water quality today don't know how good they have it compared to the early days of Newport. A comparison of our two piers is illustrative.

The Balboa Pier was a tourist pier. Thus, the Balboa Pier had railings so that tourists could lean against them while admiring the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean. The Newport Pier had no railings. When ships tied up to load and unload, railings would have been a nuisance. Even when ships no longer tied up to it and trains no longer came out on the tracks, the Newport Pier had no railings. If a tourist fell off the pier while admiring the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean, that was just too bad.

But the real difference between the two piers was their toilet facilities. If, while strolling on the Balboa Pier, one felt the need to go to the toilet, quite a challenge was presented. Time meant everything. Hopefully, one had a lot of it. First, one had to walk back to the foot of the pier at Main Street. Then one walked or ran, depending on the time element, two blocks down Main Street toward the Pavilion. When one came to Soto's Curio Shop at the corner of Main Street and Bay Avenue, one turned to the left and walked (or ran) to the corner of Bay Avenue and Washington Street. There, one found a small cement structure bearing a sign that read "Public Comfort Station." That was the public toilet.

I have always thought the sign "Comfort Station" was more accurate than the more common "Public Restroom." One usually gets a certain degree of comfort while utilizing such a place. One does not necessarily get much rest — unless one had been at the end of the Balboa Pier when nature called. In that case, one got some much needed rest as well as comfort.

On the other hand, the Newport Pier was a commercial pier. The idea of having workmen who were being paid by the hour taking time off at the employer's expense to leave the pier in search of a toilet/comfort station/restroom on the shore was simply unacceptable to the employers. Thus, the Newport Pier had its own toilet/comfort station/restroom right there on the pier.

However, since there was no sewer line running out to the Newport Pier, it had for its toilet/comfort station/restroom an old-fashioned privy, an outhouse, a structure enclosing and supporting a board large enough to sit on and do whatever one does in a privy/outhouse/comfort station/restroom.

In a society that has a hard enough time saying the word toilet, trying to describe in words acceptable to the general public just what is deposited in such a toilet presents a challenge. However, the traditional privy or outhouse is ordinarily built over a hole in the ground. The Newport Pier had no such hole in the ground. It had a hole over the ocean. Whatever went through that hole in the privy/outhouse/comfort station/restroom went plop right into the beautiful blue Pacific. It then floated ashore where the happy bathers were frolicking in the surf. The local Newport kids called those objects "blind mullet."

It wasn't just the pier that had this problem. Being at sea level, you couldn't have outhouses in early Balboa and Balboa Island, so there were sewers, but these sewers emptied right into the bay at the end of each street. And so it was that those of us who learned to swim in those days always learned to dog paddle or do the breast stroke so we could watch ahead for anything suspicious that happened to be floating in the water ahead of us. We also learned to keep our mouths tightly closed while swimming. Our water today may have problems, but not like that. —Robert Gardner, Daily Pilot, February 25, 2003

* ROBERT GARDNER is a Corona del Mar resident and a former judge.