I was sitting in the Bolsa Chica Conservancy Parking Lot on Warner Avenue near Pacific Coast Highway, when I looked up to see a huge sundial clock on the side of a Fire Station across the street. I haven’t seen any other sundial clocks around the area and wondered who created it.
My research and inquiries showed that a man living in Huntington Harbour not only designed it but the Fire Station as well. This talented USC-trained architect, who also designed the famous Asian-style Bank of America building in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, was once known as a skilled young actor in movies and television.
Richard Tom, also known as Layne Tom Jr., portrayed Charlie Chan’s son in three of the famous detective movies, including the 1937 “Charlie Chan at the Olympics.” Growing up near USC, his mother got him singing and acting lessons.
From 1936-1960, Tom was in a series of films, including “The Hurricane” with Dorothy Lamarr; “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” with Jimmy Stewart; “San Francisco” with Clark Gable; “The Stowaway” with Shirley Temple; “Pork Chop Hill” with Gregory Peck; “Lady in the Tropics” with Hedy Lamarr & Robert Taylor; “The Good Earth” with Luise Rainer and television shows like “Hawaiian Eye,” “Adventures in Paradise” & “The Barbara Stanwyck Show.”
Tom, a Navy veteran and former Huntington Beach Rotary Club president, passed away at 87 in 2015. His widow, Marilynn, who is former Outstanding Artist of the Year in Huntington Beach, said in an interview how surprised she was that he designed a sundial for the Fire Station, which opened 45 years ago.
“The first time I saw it was when I went to a reception there,” said the retired Physical Education teacher at Long Beach City College. “I was amazed because you usually look down on sundials and this was a 7-by-8 foot vertical sundial on a building.”
“The best part is that it’s very accurate and runs entirely on solar power,” said Patrick Brennan, executive director of the Bolsa Chica Conservancy across the street.
“We enjoy this working piece of history, which shows how our ancestors calculated time,” said Joe Pedick, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel of the Harbour, east of the fire station. “How refreshing it is in this Digital Age to have such a simple, yet complex instrument that’s so accurate.”
In 1972, the Toms moved from Anaheim to a home he designed in Huntington Harbour. He also designed libraries, shopping centers, civic centers and courthouses.