The Donnegans: from an article in the Pacifica Tribune, December 31, 1975:
The Snug Harbor Cabins were built during the days of the touring car, when Rockaway Beach was a mecca for heat - weary citizens of the valley and others in search of a quiet place to vacation near the beach. Mrs. Laura Dunnigan married Captain Dunnigan in 1919, and lived in San Francisco. Laura came to Rockaway Beach to work as a waitress at Herbert's Place in 1923, during the Prohibition era. "It was a big place on the Old County Road in the middle of the street — up from the corner where the Golden Lantern restaurant is now. He paid me $15 a day, and I made big tips," Mrs. Dunnigan said. "Mr. Blum, the candy man, was one of our best customers." According to Mrs. Dunnigan, Herbert and his partner, a Swede, would anchor a boat at sea and send liquor in on a cable. "The prohibs" would come, but they never found a thing. "They made me an apron with big pockets, to keep liquor bottles in, she laughed. Evidently, she didn't get searched. She didn't work at Herbert's very long, though. Her next job was in San Francisco as a waitress in a tea room. Capt. and Mrs. Dunnigan had come to the seashore for several years. "We used to hike all over—we went to Bolinas Bay, Princeton and we used to stop to eat dinner at Rockaway Beach. That's how we met Herbert. When he found out I was a waitress he wanted me to work for him." Mrs. Dunnigan recalled that she came down to Rockaway Beach "...on the Red Star bus. They were like a big touring car with boards across, to make more seats. "There were only about four buildings in Rockaway Beach . . there was a schoolhouse across the creek and the teacher lived in it." She recalled that Romano's restaurant was called 'The White House,' and it looked just the same as it does now. An Irishman owned it. He was a bootlegger, too. There was a cottage behind the place, but the `prohibs' burned it down.
The bootlegger hid his stuff in coal. When that house burned down, you should have heard the bottles popping!" she laughed. The Captain, whose name was Lawrence Anthony Dunnigan, and Laura, bought some land on Donaldson avenue and by winter, 1924 their cottage was completed. "Capt. Dunnigan wanted to have tourist cabins by the sea. He loved the sea. He wanted this place for his retirement," she said. "There was just a field here with artichokes," she said. "We hired Mr. Hatch and Mr. Dutra. Dutra in those days was a deputy sheriff, carpenter and under-taker. The whole house—doors, windows and everything cost $750, and I have lived in it for 51 years." According to Mrs. Dunnigan, there were some date palms in the area, but many are now gone. These were planted during the real estate "boom" (probably during the Ocean Shore railroad period). After the first cottage was completed, the rest were built and named after the Santa Fe ferries Ocean Wave, San Pablo and San Pedro Tourists came down to Rockaway Beach in their new-fangled autos or by bus for weekends and vacations. "People from Fresno, San Jose and Sacramento came for several weeks for vacations." said Mrs. Dunnigan. 'Lots of people even camped on the beach in tents." The three small wooden frame buildings were originally tourist facilities. The first cottage was built in 1924, and is typical of the accommodations in the 1920's.
By Pat Robinson
January 7, 1976
Rockaway Beach in the late 1920's had artichokes, the quarry and several restaurants where boot-leg liquor was enjoyed. There was a school house, a garage which had been a blacksmith's shop, less than a dozen families and Snug Harbor, a group of cottages still used as private homes today. Where did the name Snug Harbor come from? According to Mrs. Dunnigan, "Captain named it. When he was a young fellow in Alaska, there was a Snug Harbor — a sailor's home. There was even one in New York." The tourist cabins in Rockaway drew a variety of visitors. A lot of people in the Army came here—people would drive by and stop. There was a sign out front. We charged $3.50 a day or $40 a week, even during the depression. The cabins were completely furnished."
The guests could cook in the cottage and for a refreshing bath there was a cold shower outdoors. Mrs. Dunnigan did the cleaning and laundry, which kept her busy, but when there was time, she often went horseback riding. "I kept a horse at Reese's Dude Ranch (now the Vagabond Villa) on Pedro Point," she said. "Some of the people who stayed here would go riding with me. The Gumps and the Floods came down — some of them went riding. "We ate outside a lot. My yard was my living room," she laughed. She recalled "warmer days back then. I lived in my bathing suit."
Her tourists were "people from San Jose, a lot of people from the valley, the Santa Fe railroad and a lot of what you call `hideaway parties'," she said with a twinkle in her eye.
"They'd stay a day; there were a lot of movie stars." Her most frequent celebrity guest was Dick Powell, who became acquainted with Rockaway Beach while filming a motion picture at the old Tanforan race track. "He used to bring a lunch from the Palace Hotel," she says, `I'd set it up for him—place linen on a tray, knock on the door and leave. He'd bring wine and things always tip you heavy." Powell even preferred Snug Harbor over an-other place with hot showers. "He said my place was so clean and he liked the atmosphere," she smiled. Powell even came back after World War II had begun, but by then Snug Harbor was a home for servicemen who were assigned to the area with the Coast Guard. Mrs. Dunnigan, sprightly as ever, had gone to work at the age of 50 for the new dining room that had opened at Reese's Dude Ranch. The year was 1938, and a full course dinner with oysters on the half shell was $1. "The bottle of wine was $1, too," she remembered, "they wanted to charge 75 cents, but I insisted on $1. I helped them design the dining room that's there now. They tell me the chandelier is still in the shape of a wheel." After Pearl Harbor, the mood along the California coast was fearful. Soldiers were all up and down the coast, in tents, in barracks, in "pill-boxes" and on horseback. "Irene Reese and I signed up to spot planes," Mrs. Dunnigan said, "..we went over to Mussel Rock after work—in the middle of the night and were to report anything suspicious. If you were not an American citizen, you were restricted—not allowed out of your house after dark."
Then Reese's closed, and Mrs. Dunnigan considered working as a waitress in San Francisco. The Captain, who had ended a lifetime on ships and boats in 1933 when the bridges crossed the Bay, "strapped on his guns, and went down to the waterfront to volunteer for security work." After considering the commute by bus to the city, Mrs. Dunnigan decided to take up an offer to work for Charles Gust in his restaurant. "It hasn't changed much, really. They had a bar and a room that could serve 100 guests. I knew how to make mired drinks, like a Golden Fizz. I taught Charlie and Nick how to mix drinks. That Nick, he didn't want to measure things," she laughed. In her spare time, there were fund-raising events for the Allied Relief Fund and there was a war effort salvage shop nearby. "I helped work on it," she said. The Captain died in 1954. The tourist cabins were now becoming more permanent rentals. Some of her tenants stayed for 14 years. And Mrs. Dunnigan kept working until she was 74 years old. She is today a delightful storyteller, a church-goer and a person who is interested in people—especially young people. She has shared her vivacity and love for children with friends and neighbors. "I love children," she says, "I have always taken care of other people's children. I love young people. They don't bore me! I like noise and everything that's activity." The most amazing thing to Mrs. Dunnigan is that one of her "children" ended up living across the street. "Florence (Troglia) Graziani used to say to me: ". . . when I grow up, I want to live across the street from you arid have you take care of my children and play with them'," she laughed; and that is just what happened. Now Florence and her family are my family, and they take care of me."
And so, the intrepid one-time waitress, home-maker, coast-watcher, environmentalist (she has sent a few protests to the county government about the quarry) and pioneer enjoys quiet days in her cottage near the sea where she has spent a half a century.
Two months after that interview, on March 6, 1976, Laura Dunnigan was murdered in her home by a mentally-ill tenant of the cottages. She was 87 years old. Carl Arthur Casperson, 30, had exchanged maintenance duties at the cabins for shelter. He often entered Mrs. Dunnigan's cabin to talk to her, and "pray". After stabbing her with a kitchen knife that night, he called his mother to confess his crime. He was arrested, charged, and found not guilty by reason of insanity. Two years later, on March 28, 1978, Casperson died at Chope Community Hospital under mysterious circumstances.
After Mrs. Dunnigan's death, the cabins were willed to Florence Grazianai, Laura's neighbor and "family". Once the cabins lost the bid to become a historic site, Florence Graziani had two of the cabins removed to build homes for her family. Though the cabins no longer exist, they, as well as Laura Dunnigan, are an interesting chapter in Pacifica's bootlegging history.