Moonstone is South Bay’s rock of ages

Moonstone is South Bay’s rock of ages

Kristin S. Agostoni DAILY BREEZE

Tucked away inside Mary Barrett’s jewelry box is a pair of silver teardrop earrings that can carry her back six decades.

Their translucent milky-white stones give off a glimmer in her dimly lit Redondo Beach kitchen, and then trigger memories the 79- year-old made as a teen.

In the 1940s, as the school days came to an end and Barrett met up with her three sisters, they’d head down to the water and scour the sand.

Roughly between Second Street in Hermosa Beach and the foot of the Redondo Beach pier, they’d find handfuls of small, off-white stones the waves would wash ashore.

At “Moonstone Beach,” as locals once called it, there was no mistaking the stones for some other rock or pebble.

“Usually we’d try to go after the tide was pretty high,” said Barrett, who serves as historian of the South Bay Lapidary and Mineral Society and lives in the home her family bought in 1943. “You could pretty well pick them out, especially when they were wet.

“They would shine,” she said. “They would kind of sparkle.”

As historians tell it, Redondo Beach was once rich with a type of mineral called moonstone — an orthoclase feldspar, in geological terms — that frequently washed in with the water currents. Residents and out-of-towners loved them, gathering them up for personal rock collections or to make into cuff links and other jewelry.

At home, Barrett would toss the coarse, mottled stones into a tumbler with grit. After four one-week cycles and a brushing of tripoli, she’d saw them into slabs and smooth their surfaces with polish.

“You could make it into pendants, belt buckles,” said Barrett, pulling out some of the creations she made years ago.

A flat moonstone pendant with a hole in its middle hung from the twisted gold rope she held in her hands. A smaller, chunkier stone was attached to a key chain. Others, still waiting to be smoothed and made shiny, sat in a box in their natural, rough forms.

When finished correctly, real moonstones give off what is called an adularescence, said Alexander Angelle, a spokesman for the Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad. The internal structure of the mineral scatters the light that hits its surface, he said, creating an illusion of a moon.

The stones range from semi-transparent to opaque, and can be colorless, white, or even bluish gray. Moonstones are most prevalent in India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, Angelle said. He didn’t know for sure what connection the minerals have to Redondo Beach.

“Scientifically, I think it’s possible,” Angelle said. “Moonstones have been found in the United States.”

Local history books say there’s never been a question; moonstones could be found in Redondo for decades.

As longtime resident Mary Rajala’s mineral collection grew, she opened Mary’s Art and Rock Shop in 1947, the Daily Breeze reported, offering minerals in the form of earrings, cuff links and necklaces.

“Her husband never did take much interest in it,” the 1965 article said, “but he permitted her to put some of her moonstones on display for the tourists, and so her own business began.”

“It’s a good thing she has them actually,” the story said, “since there is not only no Moonstone Beach anymore, there are no more moonstones to be found in Redondo Beach’s King Harbor fill or in the wall of boulders protecting it from the sea.”

City historians say King Harbor, built in the 1950s, changed the water currents and likely kept the moonstones at sea.

If any are left over from the old days, Barrett surmises “they would be way out” past the breakwater.

At least she has plenty of her own to jog her memory.

Copyright Copley Press Inc. 2005

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