Pebble Beach, a contrast of stark, moonscape-like rock formations, peaceful tidepools and nature’s amazing cache of colorful, smooth stones, lies between the village of Pescadero and the Pigeon Point lighthouse.
More than one hundred years ago Pescadero was a remote seaside resort. It was nearby Pebble Beach’s originality that lured the stagecoach riding tourists to its unique shores. San Francisco visitors came for the pleasure of carrying away the multi-colored pebbles that were often fashioned into pendants and earrings.
A hated millionaire landowner’s efforts to bar the public from the beach by erecting a fence and a locked gate ignited a “war” that began at high noon on a Saturday in September 1891.
Organized by respected Pescadero businessman Joe Levy, a dozen horse-drawn buggies and wagons caravaned over the crooked cow trail leading from Pescadero to Pebble Beach. In the lead wagon sat San Mateo County Supervisor Henry Adair and County Roadmaster Charles Pinkham. Riding in a buggy behind the officials was a man holding a homemade, straw-filled effigy of then 65-year-old Loren Coburn.
A tall, spare man, it was Coburn who was the hated millionaire; it was Coburn who owned 10,000-acres surrounding Pescadero, including the local’s beloved Pebble Beach.
Adair and Pinkham, flanked by two assistants, walked toward Coburn’s heavily barricaded gate, disappointed that their adversary was absent. They still held Loren Coburn responsible for a popular Pigeon Point wharf employee’s murder in a violent shootout 20 years earlier, and angrily swung Coburn’s effigy in the air.
The mood was one of vengeance as Pinkham sized up the pine bridge planks, fastened with long wire spikers, that sealed the entrance. Methodically, the roadmaster slashed away at the offensive chains and padlocks and the gate opened.
Whooping and shouting triumphantly, the men rushed through the gateway to the beach of pebbles, claiming victory for their cause in the first skirmish of what the local press dubbed the “Pebble Beach War.” In the warm glow of success, Pinkham vowed he would return again and again, if necessary, to keep the gate open.
Local residents suspected Coburn’s motives behind erecting the fence and gate at Pebble Beach. They had seen him courting West Shore Railway officials. In return for construction of a train station at Pebble Beach, it was rumored, Coburn promised the railroad a right-of-way over his land. Coburn had ambitions to build a hotel overlooking Pebble Beach and an adjacent townsite to be called “Coburnville.” Residents feared Coburn planned to move the center of the region’s economy from Pescadero to his own property.
Accustomed to living and working among his enemies in Pescadero, Coburn quickly heard that the Pebble Beach gate had been torn down, and his effigy burned. He was certain that the Board of Supervisors had a hand in the gate smashing. He blamed Supervisor Adair for starting the trouble. But Adair denied county interference at the gate. His presence, he insisted, was that of a concerned, private citizen.
And, he added, Loren Coburn’s effigy had not been burned but remained in pristine condition.
The next day, Coburn ordered his men to re-barricade the gate and repair holes in the fence. The roadmaster Charles Pinkham immediately appeared, this time in his official capacity, to remove all obstacles.
On Monday morning Coburn rode his buggy to Redwood City’s government center where he had an arrest warrant issued for Joe Levy, charging the popular businessman with a misdemeanor.