Let’s get “Frank” about Frank!
It all started in 1927 when the City of Newport Beach hired Frank Crocker as its first paid Fire Chief.
Newport had transitioned an all-volunteer fire brigade to an employee organization after the fire that destroyed the original City Council chambers near the Newport Pier in McFadden Square.
Frank originally came to California from Boston and was working as a fire chief in San Diego when Newport came calling.
The City’s Lifeguard Service had been created in 1923 and Frank headed up both the fire and beach lifeguard duties during his tenure.
Under Frank’s authority, Newport’s fire defenses improved substantially with the development of a fire code, fire prevention programs, and a new communication system.
Frank managed some of the most notable fires in Newport history including the Rendezvous Ballroom fire in 1935. The Rendezvous burned down and was restored but caught fire a second time and was not rebuilt. It is now the site of beachfront condominiums.
Frank was the Fire Chief during another event: the infamous unsolved explosion in 1947 of a yacht owned by wealthy Newport Beach residents Walter and Beulah Overell, both of whom died in the blast.
The Overell’s daughter Louise and her boyfriend George Gollum were charged with the murders but, despite a long trial with overwhelming evidence, they were acquitted.
Frank’s job also included weather forecasting for the Harbor. Frank would activate lights installed in a hut on the peninsula– green told seafarers go, red cautioned a storm approaching.
Frank Crocker spent 27 years as the Newport’s fire chief. He treasured his community, participating in local organizations like the Elks Club and American Legion, and regularly enjoyed fishing with family and friends.
In 1972 the Newport Beach Fire Department acknowledged Frank’s passing with a ceremony in his honor.
The Next Generation…Don Crocker
Don Crocker was one of Frank’s eight children. Born in Newport Beach in the 1930s, Don spent his early years on the beach as the family resided on the Balboa Peninsula. The Crockers were a close group, parents and all eight kids along with aunts and uncles all living in a two-bedroom house with a converted garage.
Don followed in his father Frank’s tradition of lifelong civil service, working as a Newport Beach postal worker for over 48 years, retiring in 2004.
Frank took his son Don with him on many of the early fire calls.
“I was excited to ride with him in the old pumper trucks” recalls Don.
A vintage 1920 American La France triple-combination pumper similar to one in operation during Frank’s tenure was donated to the City in 2000 by the Warmington family. The dilapidated vehicle was fully restored and sits as the centerpiece of a museum steadfastly maintained by the Newport Beach Fire Department at the Marine Avenue fire station.
Don reminisces about the early days when he would accompany his father, who was also a member of the United States Weather Bureau, to the Balboa Pier to gauge the temperature of the water with a cup hanging from wooden rod.
In inclement weather, Don said “We’d raise a huge storm warning flag at the jetty to alert boaters.”
Frank’s Granddaughter and Crocker’s on Balboa Island
Frank Crocker’s granddaughter, Victoria De Frenza, and her husband John, relocated from the Bay area with the idea of opening a restaurant. They immortalized the Crocker family name in 2014 when Crocker’s “The Well Dressed Frank” officially opened on Balboa Island.
Right from the start, Crocker’s has been a go-to for residents and visitors who enjoy the nostalgia and memorabilia crowding the walls as well as the delectable sweets and great daily “chow” including a selection of frankfurters, sausages, burgers and sides.
In 2016, the business expanded to include The Abundant Table bakery on Marine Avenue adjacent to Crocker’s. The empire is expanding again with the soon to open Crocker’s Café & Bakery at 193 E. 19th St. in Costa Mesa.
Frank Crocker became a legend early in Newport Beach’s history, but his most recent claim to fame is a hot dog in his name.
“Frank’s Foot-Long” at Crocker’s on Balboa Island is a ¼ pound beef brisket frankfurter dressed in mustard, ketchup, and relish and served in a plain bun.
Order a Frank’s Foot-Long and “relish” in a bit of Newport history. Visit https://www.crockersthewelldressedfrank.com.