Jan Dennis

“I guess you would call me a bit of a maverick,” said Jan Dennis, recounting a legacy in Manhattan Beach that spans nearly 50 years.

“I guess you would call me a bit of a maverick,” said Jan Dennis, recounting a legacy in Manhattan Beach that spans nearly 50 years.

With a dynamic, distinguished and growing resume, Jan has never shied away from local politics or community issues. “I wondered why someone didn’t do something … then I realized I was someone.”

After relocating to the South Bay with her husband, Stan, in 1961, Jan gracefully balanced raising a family and a steady involvement in Manhattan Beach service. She first volunteered with the local Head Start program, eventually heading up the Mira Costa PTA. By the 80s she was president of the chamber of commerce, member of the city council and the second female mayor of Manhattan Beach from 1986-87.

During Jan’s term as mayor, the city celebrated its 75th anniversary. When she vocalized a need to document Manhattan Beach’s history, she was told there was nothing to write about. “They said, ‘Jan, if you want to write a book, then go and do it,’” she recalled of one late-night planning session. “So I said, ‘I will.’”

Six books later, Jan has published hundreds of photos, facts and milestones about the city’s storied past. “I fell in love with the research,” she shared, thumbing through hardcover editions that document everything from local architecture to the contributions of women in Manhattan Beach. “I thought, ‘What were the women doing besides baking brownies and cookies?’ They did a lot of volunteering, they started the school system, but you never heard about them.”

Not one to drag her feet, Jan now focuses her energy on the Manhattan Beach Heritage Conservancy, a group she started in 2006 to help safeguard significant landmarks in the city. Currently, she’s working on a self-guided walking tour of homes and gardens in the downtown and Strand neighborhoods, all structures from 1900-1932. “We’ve got to leave some knowledge of this town to the next generation,” she said. “I feel that history is the heart and soul of the community.”

 

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