The Swiss have a beautiful Lake Lucerne…and, uh…So do the Pescaderans…

Story by John Vonderlin
Email John ([email protected])
Hi June,
While attempting to learn more online about Loren Coburn’s only lasting legacy, Lake Lucerne, I encountered some interesting things. One of them is not who came up with the name for this picturesque coastside reservoir. I suspect Loren Coburn, obsessed with competing with the fancy Del Monte Hotel in Monterey, may have used the name of one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe, if not the world, as part of his plan. However, I can find no source for that belief.
I was also unable to find any source for the name Frijoles either. My memory was that the creek that feeds the lake is called Frijoles, Los Frijoles or Bean Hollow Creek. I had thought that the name was first applied by somebody in the Portola Expedition of 1769-1770. Furthermore, I  thought the name had to do with some local plant (perhaps the Pacific Coast Lupine) that has bean-shaped seeds on them. They certainly would have been noticed, and perhaps consumed, as the expedition passed through the area in mid-Fall. Some varieties of Lupine seed have been used as food or forage for thousands of years. Others are toxic, teratogenic and cause birth defects like “Crooked calf disease.”

As of yet I have been unable to confirm that Portola’s expedition is responsible for the name, as I can only find the diary of Miguel Costanso, the expedition’s engineer, online, and he doesn’t mention it. There are a number of other diaries from expedition members, so perhaps one of them was my source.

I did find that the beach the creek flows onto is called Los Frijoles Beach, not Bean Hollow Beach, which is to the north of the parking lot in the Bean Hollow State Park. I also found that further up the watershed there are apparently two lakes, called the Bean Hollow Lakes or the Arroyo de Frijoles Reservoirs interchangeably. Apparently P.O.S.T. owns these too and doesn’t allow access.
While I couldn’t find the origin of the use of  the name Frijoles, I did run across some information on the driving force behind the origin of some of the other names along our coast. That occurred when I was websearching variations of search terms along with “Frijoles.” One of the websites that popped up was”Postcards From Pescadero.” This was an online article by Pete Holloran, a naturalist and botanist, well-versed in our coast’s natural history. It uses an engaging concept to present a number of interesting facts about the San Mateo coast’s natural and human history over the last 12,000 years. While his use of the word “Frijoles,” which is what brought it up on my screen, referred to the Frijole Fault, part of the San Gregorio Fault Zone, which is part of the San Andreas fracture zone, it was his tidbit about beachcombing history that gave it relevance in my search for the origin of local names. This is the URL of the online article from Bay Nature Magazine:
Beachcombing along our coast became very popular, and economically important, because of the longlasting avocation of creating “Cabinets of Curiosities.” If you check Wikipedia for the term “Cabinet of Curiosities” you’ll find an extensive article on the origin of the idea, its significance in the natural sciences, its flowering in Europe and Great Britain and its eventual import to Victorian Age America. Collecting natural oddities became a raging fad in the late 1800s along our coast. Seaside resorts would name nearby features to highlight the curiosities that might be found there, hoping to increase their desirability as a destination.  Pescadero and other San Mateo seaside resorts covered all the bases with a Pebble Beach, a Shell Beach, and a Moss Beach. The moss in this case was sea moss or algae. It was very popular with collectors who would dutifully gather, dry and press specimens much as leaf, plant or flower collectors do nowadays. Please note that at this time the lagoon between Pescadero and the ocean was much larger and it was a common past-time to row to the beach from the “downtown” Pescadero’s Swanton Hotel or other lodging, making Pescadero a seaside resort even though it was a mile inland.
Meg jokingly said that my whole property is a “House of Curiosities,” which might be true. Unfortunately, I’m not open to the public. However, San Mateo has a private museum with many “Cabinets of Curiosities,” called “The Zymoglyphic Museum.”. Unfortunately, it is open only once a year during the Silicon Valley Open Studio artist program. However, you can check it out online at anytime.  The curator and creator is a very interesting individual whose vision is both whimsical, educational and wildly creative. Enjoy. John
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