On this date in 1916, Aileen Allen and Her Company of California Mermaids gave a diving and swimming exhibition from the Seal Beach pier, both during the afternoon and during the night. These night-time splish splash-capades were probably scheduled to highlight (Ha! A pun!) the “surf bathing at night” recreational activity made possible by the powerful lighting from the scintillators at the end of the pier. In 1916, Seal Beach’s publicity mill did its best to grind out as many attractions for the new city as possible. Sunset dinners! Carnival and prize dancing! Scintillator surf bathing Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday nights! Weekend fireworks! All this to convince the public that there were “Just Two Places To Go — Seal Beach and Home.”
Aileen Allen with or without her mermaids was an impressive woman. A member of the Los Angeles Athletic Club and one of the first female athletes registered with the Amateur Athletic Union, she placed fourth in the women’s 3 meter springboard diving competition for the 1920s Olympics and once held the world record for women’s high-diving.
Born in 1888, Allen discovered swimming and diving after she married and remained devoted to water sports for the rest of her life. She coached at the Los Angeles Athletic Club after her personal competition days were over and guided many world class athletes to success. She even had a brief movie career as a double for Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties when they did water stunts.
But Aileen Allen’s connection to Seal Beach doesn’t end with the one-day only diving and swimming exhibition on July 30, 1916. She was back in town twice more for more water sport athletics in September 1918 and July 1919, but perhaps her most notable connection to Seal Beach came in 1947 when she saw a young diver, Pat Keller, at a Long Beach dive meet and invited her to join the Los Angeles Athletic Club’s team.
Keller honed her diving skills at the club and won her first national meet in 1949 (and she also got married.) In 1952 and 1956, she won the Olympic gold medals for springboard and platform diving under her married name and the name she still uses today.
She is, of course, Seal Beach’s own Pat McCormick, local businesswoman and Swimming Hall of Famer.
So let’s all raise a special splashy toast to Aileen Allen in honor of her contributions to Seal Beach’s divey history!
– Michael Dobkins