Carmel Clay Historical Society exhibit features Northern Beach

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In the early 1920s, Herman Merklin had a vision for a recreation area in Carmel.

“A group of butchers, including Merklin, decided they would buy land at 116th Street over by the White River,” Carmel Clay Historical Society Executive Director Debbie Gangstad said. “The other butchers decided they were going to build houses along the river and then sell, but he had a vision to do this park.”

An upcoming CCHS exhibit will remember the history of Northern Beach Club. The exhibit will first open to the public from 1 to 4 p.m. July 13. CCHS members can view the exhibit from 5 to 7 p.m. July 12. The exhibit will run through Sept. 1.

Merklin bought 22 acres south of 116th Street in 1921 and opened the park in the summer of 1922.

Through the years, the area included basketball and tennis courts, playgrounds and horseshoe courts, along with fishing and boating and a dance floor.

“It was a nice outdoor recreation area with cabins for people to rent,” Gangstad said. “At the beginning, people would swim in the White River.”

In 1928, Merklin built a large swimming pool. Merklin, who immigrated from Germany at age 16, died in 1929. The pool had diving boards and a huge slide.

“It was really the only place in Carmel then to have a family reunion or a party,” Gangstad said. “We have started gathering people’s memories.  A few of the old lifeguards have told their stories.”

However, there is a negative side of Northern Beach’s history. It was not open to people of color. Merklin’s daughter chose to close it in 1971 rather than comply with the federal government’s non-discrimination policy, Gangstad said.

After Northern Beach closed, longtime Carmel resident and caterer Jim Steckley purchased the park in 1980. Gangstad said he didn’t try to fix the pool, but he kept the playground, snack bar area and pavilion for outdoor reunions and catered events. In 1992, former owner Steckley created the Oak Hill Mansion event venue for weddings, receptions and upscale events on the property.  It has changed owners through the years and is now called Black Iris Estate. The Bickford of Carmel senior living facility also is on the property.

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