Colorful personalities have long inhabited the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
They include the “Hermit Philosopher,” Louis Dart and his flotsam castle, “Beefsteak Johnnie,” who loved big steaks, and E. G. Lewis, the original promoter of the Palos Verdes Project, who spent a few years at a federal penitentiary for mail fraud.
Add “Portuguese Charlie,” Charles Lindgross, to this list of nearly forgotten characters of early Palos Verdes history.
Portuguese Charlie was a cantankerous fisherman who lived in a small shack perched above Portuguese Bend with his dog Rover. For twenty years he used his culinary skills to delight thousands of hungry visitors who came to Portuguese Bend.
His fish bakes became so popular that they spurred regular boat trips from Long Beach to Portuguese Bend where tourists dined on his fish dinners and would “float in glass bottomed boats, viewing the most vari-colored sea vegetation.”
The popularity of these excursions sparked a proposal in 1910 to develop a new resort at Portuguese Bend.
A boat owner negotiated with then-landowner Jonathan Bixby to develop a proper restaurant for Portuguese Charlie which would include a tent city and a powered glass bottom boat.
This proposal went nowhere though as the Bixby interests had other plans.
This wasn’t the only time things didn’t go Portuguese Charlie’s way. In 1911, game wardens investigating violations of fish laws along the coast noticed lobster and bass traps lying behind Charlie’s cabin. They arrested Charlie a week later when the same traps were found illegally set in the ocean.
Upon his arrest, Charlie reportedly blurted out “Damn!” and threw his dirty dishrag to the floor. Though proclaiming his innocence, he quickly pled guilty and paid a $125 fine, noting he wanted to get back to serving his great fish dinners to his customers.
A few years earlier at a New Year’s celebration in San Pedro, Charlie got into a fight and shot his adversary in the face. The man survived and Charlie was acquitted for acting in self-defense.
While Portuguese Charlie may have broken state law, he was careful not to violate any federal ones.
Recounting his interactions with smugglers, he said: “Boys, I hunt and fish out of season, yes, sir; I break the state laws all to hell, but when it comes to monkeying with Uncle Sam, that lets me out. But what you do ain’t none o’ my business. An’ I ain’t interferin with you one way or the other.”
In 1913, real estate developers featured the “famous fish cook, Portuguese Charlie” at the grand opening of a development at Los Angeles Harbor called “Breakwater Heights.”
Charlie baked a monster sea bass weighing 220 pounds and the developers boasted afterwards: “You do not know what fish tastes like unless you were there.”
Shortly thereafter, Charlie was evicted from Portuguese Bend. Harry Phillips, foreman for the Palos Verdes Syndicate which had recently purchased the Palos Verdes ranch, wanted Portuguese Charlie, Beefsteak Johnnie and other squatters out to make room for development.
Charlie relocated to Whites Point where he continued to entertain visitors with his famous fish dinners. Contemporary reports of Portuguese Charlie drop off by mid-1914.
However, in 1930 he was remembered by J. Farrell MacDonald, an early Hollywood character actor who appeared in hundreds of movies from 1910-1951, and who used to have lunch with Portuguese Charlie when he was at Portuguese Bend.
MacDonald said that Charlie would always come in with his thumb buried in his (otherwise wonderful) fish and potato soup. If anyone objected, Charlie “looked about and chucked” and “didn’t care whether you liked it or not. I have played Portuguese Charlie—no, not regarding the soup!—many times since.”
Dennis Piotrowski and Monique Sugimoto are Adult Services Librarians at the Palos Verdes Library District.