Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mentally Sensitive in Laguna

I was looking at a map of Aliso & Woods Canyon Park in the Laguna Beach area recently and noticed that it included “Mentally Sensitive Trail.” Of course, I immediately wondered how it got its name.

It's no secret that Laguna has its share of folks with a tenuous grip on reality: Artsy types (distinguished from actual artists), cultists, occultists, rich hippies, and people who pay a fortune to balance their homes on the edges of cliffs. But would one celebrate this kind of "mental sensitivity" with the naming of a park trail?

Probably not.
Photo of a newer trail sign, taken by Yelp user "Yvonne N."
Perhaps the trail was named in honor of the snowflake millennials in our universities, who are so "mentally sensitive" that they are unable to cope with even the micro-ist of "micro-aggressions" and who melt when exposed to opinions different from their own. But again, why would anyone commemorate something so embarrassing?

Actually, it turns out the real answer is less pathetic, but still pretty funny. 
Detail from OC Parks trail map of Aliso & Woods Canyon Park.
According to OC Parks Resource Specialist Rick Schaffer, the oral tradition is that "it was originally an unauthorized trail with a sign that read, 'Environmentally Sensitive Area'" but that "someone scratched off the 'Environ' letters, leaving 'mentally Sensitive Area'" on the sign. In 2011, this steep trail was developed and made official, but the old name stuck.

Sadly, the creatively vandalized sign is long gone, but a new and official "Mentally Sensitive Trail" sign has replaced it.

Update: I hear through the grapevine that this and other colorful trail names are currently being changed to new and boring names. Really?!? Why is boring always considered "better" in Orange County these days?

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Silverado Days

Silverado Canyon. Photo by Clara Mason Fox courtesy O.C. Archives.
I’ve been looking a bit at the story of the brief silver boom that launched Silverado. The canyon had earlier been known as Canada de la Madera (Canyon of the Timber) or simply Madera Canyon. This small silver rush in the Santa Ana Mountains in the late 1870s and early 1880s may not have been that tremendously significant to the development of Orange County, but it has lived for over 140 years as a key element of our folklore and “local color.” The boom itself went bust in 1882 when miners learned the hard truth: The Santa Ana Mountains contain almost any mineral you can name, but not in large enough quantities to make mining profitable.

If the topic interests you, I suggest starting with Phil Brigandi’s recent article about Silverado, which is posted to his O.C. Historyland website. The page also links to a bunch of primary source material from contemporary newspapers, which is pretty remarkable.) But I’ve got some additional information handy, so I might as well share it here.

What follows are some interesting excerpts about Silverado from Jim Sleeper’s A Boys’ Book of Bear Stories (Not For Boys): A Grizzly Introduction to the Santa Ana Mountains and from an article entitled “Silverado Days” by Robert S. Farrar, which appeared in Orange County Illustrated in Feb. 1965. Admittedly, the Illustrated article as highly derivative of pages 49-59 of Terry E. Stephenson’s much superior Shadows of Old Saddleback. But I’m not retyping ten more pages for you.


…In the summer of 1877, a chance discovery of silver-bearing ore in Pine Canyon unleashed the greatest mining flurry the Santa Anas have ever known. The strike, and several others that followed within the next four years, changed not only the face but the disposition of the hills…
If repetition of story counts, the Henry Smith and Bill Curry get the credit for touching off Silverado’s explosion. An oft-quoted passage from [Terry E.] Stephenson’s Shadows [of Old Saddleback] has done much to perpetuate their names and what now appears to be a dubious fact of history.

“Thus it was, a quiet canyon with hardly a half-dozen mountain homes in it, when one day in the fall of 1877 Hank Smith and William Curry, both of Santa Ana, hunting in the upper mountains, came upon some rock that looked to them like silver ore. An assay was reported as showing the rock to be a blue and white quartz carrying silver to about $60 a ton. These two men staked a claim that they called the Southern Belle and soon ran in a tunnel some fifty feet.”

Since then, the myths that have turned up regarding Silverado’s first mine would fill a book,... Suffice it to say that the Mexicans prospected Madera Canyon long before any gringo swung a pick there, and records show that the Southern Belle was really discovered on August 12, 1877, by H.C. Purcell and G.F. “Goldie” Slankerd. A week after their discovery, the Santa Rosa Mining District (named for that mountain) was organized.

Though a half dozen claims were staked that summer, the mineral wealth of Pine Canyon was little publicized until almost the end of the year. Even then, there was no rush into the Madera until after the spring rains subsided. Once the human flood tide began, however, every bored farm boy and village slicker who could borrow a shovel and steal the time poured into the hills. Most couldn’t find their way across creek without a compass, and their knowledge about mining ranked right alongside that of a duck. Among those so qualifying was W.F. Heathman, a pioneer Santa Ana resident and for years its city attorney. Recalling the silver stampede of ’78, Heathman wrote:

“…like all other mining excitements, many strove to reach the mountains and stake off a claim, and with others I went also. In a brief period of time there camped on the site of what was known as ‘Silverado’ over six hundred persons intent on making their fortunes . . . I secured a claim which a mining expert declared to be worth one hundred thousand dollars. I fully believed him and wrote to my brother in the east that I had surely made my fortune. The mine petered out and I was sorry I had made the statement.”

At the apex of the excitement, a portly Anaheim product named Pharez Allen Clark, who ran a toy shop and lending library when not hustling real estate, acquired the flat at the end of Madera Canyon. There he platted a townsite which he called “Silverado City.” City proving a bit sanguine, “camp” was generally substituted and describes it much better. Nonetheless, according to H.S. Knapp, four or five hundred prospectors came upon the place and staked half again that many claims.

“…a post office was here established that fall, and in a very short time the new town of Silverado boasted of three hotels, three stores, seven saloons, two blacksmith shops, two meat markets, a select school, and all the other industries of a first-class mining camp. Town lots sold as high as seventy-five dollars each, yet nearly all the dwellings were canvas tents, and the occupants of board shanties were looked upon as ‘bloated aristocracy.”

…One mine was the “Grizzly,” just off Pine Canyon. In August of ’78, the Grizzly was renamed the “Maggie,” for Maggie Gillett, who ran one of Silverado’s meaner hotels. It is not known whether this honor paid off a board bill or was a tribute to Mrs. Gillette’s disposition.

A mining village sprang up at the fork where Pine Canyon enters the main Canyon. P.A. Clark, a real estate man from Anaheim, laid out the townsite. Appropriately, he named it Silverado, and Canada de la Madera became Silverado Canyon. Population soared … Three stages rain daily from Santa Ana and two from Los Angeles, and seats were at a premium.

The next few years were filled with excitement. J.D. Dunlap, a Deputy United States Marshal sent to arrest a Mexican outlaw hiding in the mountains, never succeeded in apprehending the fugitive but caught the mining fever instead. Dunlap located the mine which has become the most famous in the area, the Blue Light. He put a crew to work, opened up some rich galena ore, and helped to spread the exciting news of silver. Soon a company of eastern financiers formed the New York Mining Company. They located all the property that had not already been staked out, put a large force of men to work driving tunnels and sinking shafts, and spent a sizable fortune on this development.
The Western Zinc Company, composed entirely of French stockholders, began operations in Silverado and installed a quartz mill to handle the ore. In the shadow of the bigger companies were the lone prospectors and “pardners.”

…"'Dad' Justice, a most colorful character filled with the prospector’s perennial optimism, pronounced “a great silver ledge, as great as the richest Virginia City . . . has ever known, lies buried in the Silverado’s ridges awaiting the lucky strike of some miner’s pick."

The lucky strike never came. The Blue Light mine offered the greatest promise. Once the owners believed they had struck the Mother Lode: they pierced the whole side of the canyon with tunnels, in search of the great ledge of ore they knew must be there. But disappointment was their only reward, and the dream of wealth became more and more a myth. . . . By 1883 the last family left, the post office shuttered, and Silverado stood deserted.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Jim Sleeper is here to stay

It's been almost seven years since the passing of Orange County historian Jim Sleeper (1927-2012). Since then, his papers have landed at UCI's Special Collections, the Orange County Historical Society has published a volume of his previously uncollected work, a bit of video of him speaking has surfaced, and many rare volumes from his research library are now available at the Orange County Archives. Younger generations of historians continue to reference and be inspired by his work, the public continues to enjoy his books, and the Orange Countiana journal and County Courier newsletter he helped create in the 1970s are still being published. I doubt there will ever be a time when he isn't still a tremendous influence on the study and practice of Orange County history.

I recently came across the following article about Sleeper, written by historian and Jose Antonio Yorba’s great-great-granddaughter, Mildred Yorba MacArthur. It was published in Laguna Federal Savings' Laguna Federal Highlights (Vol. 30, No. 3) in September 1977:

Jim Sleeper: An Orange County Original
 by Mildred Yorba MacArthur

The inspiration for this piece is a letter received from historian Jim Sleeper, December 10, 1974, thanking me for some old Orange County mining pictures.

He wrote, “Great pix. Have run down dope on mine (1899) and believe I can identify most of the gents. Will respond more fully when I get a moment. Right now I am stepping around like a blind dog in a meat house. In the meantime, get off of your big fat Spanish veranda and get something into print.”

Well Jim, this is it!

He hasn’t been around long enough to take himself or anyone else seriously, for he was born April 16, 1927, at Santa Ana, the son of Boyd Sleeper and Italia Perrine Sleeper. He’s a third generation Orange Countian, the grandson of “Big” Jim Sleeper, who was an early sheriff and later the county assessor for 34 years. He says, “When it comes to local pride, I’m not just provincial, I’m downright bigoted.” Whatever it is, he hues to well-documented facts, which he records with comic overtones and the end result is delightful reading. He is the past president of the Orange County Historical Society, lecturer, speaker, and listener.

At any meeting he is the quiet one, fondling his pipe, taking in that which he thinks is important and only voicing an opinion when called upon. At the ripe old age of 46 he became the founder-president of the Old Timers’ Annual Picnic. Only sudden death can keep a member from missing one of these events, held in late June, rain or shine, at Santiago Park on North Main Street in Santa Ana. That day Jim becomes host and president.
For several years, Jim was staff historian for the Irvine Company. He wrote and edited their San Joaquin Gazette, starting with a Christmas edition in 1966. It took his readers on a 130-mile stagecoach trip from San Diego to Los Angeles, which included “43 miles of bladder-busting road,” with stops and pictures of Anaheim, Tustin, Santa Ana and San Juan Capistrano in the fifties and sixties. This issue and all others that followed were instant collectors’ items, as are all his writings.
Jim Sleeper’s other accomplishments include his Orange County Almanacs, replete with a hole plugged in the left hand corner of their bright orange covers, through which a cord could be run, for hanging purposes, for easy reading in primitive locations.

Never has so much been crammed into so little space, for Jim is the master of the footnote. It is positively unsafe to skip even one line of the fine print, for you may unearth your own family skeleton in some remote corner. Don’t be afraid to resort to the use of a magnifying glass, for the rewards are great. He also includes pictures of old and young people, places and things. His tables of contents include such gems as, “Tried and True Health Remedies; Rainfall Records; Handy Argument Settlers; Wild Animal Log Book; Official City Flowers; Bumper Crop Reports; and Pithy Political Promulgations.” There are also some puzzles and his favorite recipe for orange spice cake.

The space usually reserved for fillers by other authors is used by Jim to record his own musings, such as, “Ecology boils down to whether someone is going to build a house blocking your view; Justice is when your side wins; He who cuts his own firewood is twice warmed;” and to farmers, “Don’t plant your land. Wait for a developer to make an offer, then haggle like hell.”

Jim’s full-length book, Turn the Rascals Out, published in 1973, is advertised as the story of Orange County’s Fighting Editor, Dan M. Baker, but in it he follows his man from one end of the U.S. to the other and his stormy publishing activities in Orange and Los Angeles Counties. It is a scholarly piece of writing, replete with indexes, annotations, and a fat bibliography, but it is never dull. The book is dedicated to the late John “Sky” Dunlap, a gentleman-journalist who assisted and encouraged so may writers on their way up.

Jim is not a selfish historian, for if he comes across an old clipping or a quote, he’ll pass it along. Recently, he sent Miss Lorna Mills a faded clip, dated August 10, 1900, from the Santa Ana Weekly Blade. It was about her Uncle Fred B. Mills, who lived on a ranch at Ocean View, now Huntington Beach. While digging for a water well he discovered bitumen at a depth of 125 feet. He was sure there was coal thereabouts and his neighbors were heating and lighting their homes from their own gas wells nearby. However, Lorna’s Uncle Fred preferred to go on raising celery which was bringing a fine profit,” without the element of uncertainty incident to mining ventures and oil drilling propositions.” Then came the Huntington Beach boom! Lorna’s uncle and her beloved Dad, the late James H. Mills had other distractions, as Jim Sleeper reports on page 54 of his 2nd Almanac, under the title “Ducks.” “Firing only a single barrel, Fred managed to down 35 wild ducks. The following day he added 32 more sprig in the same fashion.”

The best way to explain Jim Sleeper’s sense of humor is to refer to page 4 of his 2nd Almanac, where Mrs. Calvin Lambert of Tustin wrote, “I enjoyed the Almanac so much and thank you and your wife for getting you to do it. Please write another and tell us her name.” Jim’s answer, immediately below, “Her name is Mrs. Sleeper.”

I ran that one down in the fine print, where he hides that which he prizes most, and it said, “Her name is Nola and she is a school marm.” The Sleepers have a rustic retreat in the mountain area of Holy Jim Canyon and a home in Tustin, where Jim answers the phone.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Things to see and do in Orange County

Ostrich racing (in pirate garb) at the Orange County Fair, 1951.
Someone writing a guidebook contacted the Orange County Historical Society about things to see and do in Orange County. The Society forwarded the email to Phil Brigandi and I. The author had undoubtedly already covered the obvious stuff, and Phil's reply highlighted some historical sites that offer tours and also some great hiking routes/trails. I sent the author a list of some additional ideas, which I'm sharing with you too -- just in case you were running out of things to see and do...

Here’s a thoroughly incomplete list of random good stuff off the top of my head,… In no particular order:

1) The Crystal Cathedral/Christ Cathedral campus in Garden Grove: It’s not just a religious site, but also a “historical petting zoo” of modern architecture, with buildings designed by Philip Johnson, Richard Neutra, Dion Neutra and Richard Meier. Richard Neutra’s drive-in church (now called the Arboretum) is a particularly wonderful landmark of the mid-century California car culture. And don’t miss the beautiful little chapel in Dion Neutra’s Tower of Hope.

2) Little Saigon in Westminster and Garden Grove (centered on Bolsa Ave between Magnolia Ave. and Bushard St.): Make a day of it and explore. Along the way, be sure to visit the Asian Garden Mall, a couple of Buddhist temples, the Hoa Binh Garden Grove Supermarket (with huge fish swimming around in tanks next to the fish counter), and the large bas relief mural and statues in the parking lot of the 99 Ranch Market. Moran Street, north of Bolsa Ave is also worth a detour – while visually unexciting, it’s the international hub for free Vietnamese media.

3) A drive through Live Oak Canyon offers a glimpse of the beauty of the Santa Ana Mountains without having to off-road or hike.

4) The Lovell Beach House, in Newport Beach: Although this is a private residence (please don’t disturb the owners), it’s an important stop for anyone who cares about architecture or history. This 1926 masterpiece by Rudolph Schindler is the spot where European modernism came to the United States. Its impact on our current built environment is tremendous.

5) A drive through Laguna Canyon, from Irvine down to the beach, is another place where one can still glimpse the beauty that brought so many people to California in the first place. Be sure to stop and see the sea lions and other critters at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.

6) Heisler Park in Laguna Beach, offers one of the most beautiful views of the Orange County coast.

7) El Farolito Restaurant, Placentia. Yes, there are some satellite locations, but go to the original in Placentia. This family owned and operated  Mexican restaurant – in a repurposed old house – is probably the best in Orange County.

8) Indoor Swapmeets – Enter a world you may have been unaware of at the Brookhurst Indoor Swap Meet or the Stanton Indoor Swap Meet.

9) Drive down the Balboa Peninsula and then take the Balboa Island Ferry across the harbor to Balboa Island where you can stop at one of the two ice cream stands on Marine Ave. for a Balboa Bar rolled in chocolate and peanuts. (Frozen bananas are for out-of-towners who watched Arrested Development.)

10) For lovers of all things botanical, there are two great locations in Corona del Mar: Roger’s Gardens and the Sherman Gardens & Library. Very different places, but both pretty amazing. Roger’s displays for Halloween and Christmas are particularly wonderful.

11) Disneyland: I’m sure this is already on your list, but I’m looking at this from another angle. This was the only Disney park Walt had a direct hand in. It was the first Disney park and it changed theme parks utterly and forever. The Pirates of the Carribean, if you’ve never seen it, is worth the price of admission alone. Even outside the park, there’s some wonderful things to see, including the beautiful lobby of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and the Disney-fied Tiki bar known as Trader Sam’s at the Disneyland Hotel.

12) Anaheim Halloween Parade: A tradition since the 1920s. Always held on the evening of the Saturday before Halloween. Earlier in the day there’s a Fall Festival held downtown.

13) Festival of the Arts/Pageant of the Masters/Sawdust Festival/Art-A-Fair in Laguna Beach

14) The Crab Cooker restaurant – Locations in Tustin and Newport. (Newport location temporarily closed for reconstruction after idiot developers destroyed the old historic bank building they’d been in since the 1950s.) The Crab Cooker is an institution. Simply but perfectly cooked fresh fish with cheese potatoes and coleslaw – all served on paper plates. Oh, and then there’s their wonderful red clam chowder – served in paper bowls.

15) Mission San Juan Capistrano is obvious, yes. But less obvious is the Los Rios District, across the railroad tracks from the Mission. It’s the oldest continually occupied neighborhood in California and his home to some great historic homes and the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society.

16) A day antiquing and dining in Old Towne Orange.

17) Visit the inside of one of the Lighter-Than-Air (blimp) hangars at what used to be the Tustin Naval Air Station (later MCAS Tustin). They are the largest free-standing buildings in the world and to walk inside one is to have your mind and sense of scale blown all to hell. Your brain simply refuses to believe what it’s seeing. Getting in will require finding one of the rare public events, meetings or tours held there.

18) The Nixon Library in Yorba Linda. No matter your politics, this place is fascinating.

19) I agree with Phil Brigandi that getting to the top of Old Saddleback is a perfect “Orange County bucket list” objective. But I’ll point out that if you’ve got a good off-roading vehicle, and if the roads are open, you can DRIVE to the top. I certainly don’t recommend driving to the top in a Lexus, but I’ve proven that it CAN be done.

20) Visit the Blas-Aguilar Adobe museum in San Juan Capistrano for a tour and a bit of perspective on the Acjachemen people who already lived here when the Franciscan missionaries arrived. Check for open hours.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

A load of bull about the naming of El Toro

Painting of El Toro depot by Edgar Gerry Starr (Saddleback Area Historical Soc.)
How El Toro got its name (which means “the bull” in Spanish,) has been the subject of many conflicting explanations. An attempt to find the truth is in order.

But first, a bit of background…

El Toro is on part of the old Rancho Cañada de Los Alisos, granted to Jose Serrano in 1842 with additional acreage added in 1846. Dwight Whiting acquired most of this property for his Whiting Ranch in the late 1880s.  Judge Richard Egan of San Juan Capistrano applied the already longstanding “El Toro” name to the Santa Fe station here in 1887. Although the town itself was initially called Aliso City, the El Toro name was already ingrained in the hearts of locals. The town would be known as El Toro, and soon there was also an El Toro Post Office (1888), followed by an El Toro School District.

El Toro kept its name for over a century and developed from a small rural crossroads into a sprawling suburban landscape. In the mid-to-late 20th century, it grew so fast that newcomers (with no sense of place or local history) greatly outnumbered established local families. So when the community incorporated as a city in 1991 the residents voted to change the town’s name to Lake Forest, which was lifted from a 1960s housing tract.
The Serrano-Whiting adobe. Now part of Heritage Hill Historical Park.
So what are the competing origin stories for the name El Toro?

FIRST STORY: Clara Mason Fox’s A History of El Toro (1937) discusses Don Jose Serrano building a new adobe home (which still stands in Heritage Hill Park) on his rancho:

“The Serrano [family’s] explanation of the name El Toro, applied to the ranch, and later to the town, is that the herds of cattle moved to the neighborhood of the new home were dissatisfied, and the bellowing of the bulls heading the herds caused the Indian helpers to call the ranch El Toro.”
A California vaquero roping cattle.
SECOND STORY: Joe Osterman, in his Old El Toro Reader (1992) collected a number of origin tales for the name El Toro. He began with this one…

“The story most people believe today goes this way: …one of…Jose Serrano’s prize bulls fell into a deep dry hole where and effort to find underground water had failed,” writes Osterman. “The bull was not found until it was dead, and buzzards were circling overhead. So, they say, the town was named in honor of that bull.”

Later generations of Serranos identified the unfortunate animal as a white-faced prized bull owned by Jose’s son, Francisco.

As in the old game of “telephone,” it seems this story has changed over time. One local recounted a happier mutation of the tale in which the rancho’s vaqueros (cowboys) couldn’t free a bull stuck in a waterhole during heavy rains. But somehow, after several days, the bull was able to struggle free all by himself.

THIRD VERSION: The story Osterman preferred personally was more straightforward:

“This place on the Serrano rancho was called ‘el lugar de los toros.’ This means ‘the place of the bulls.’ Don Jose and his vaqueros …used this place as a pasture for the bulls. This ‘place of the bulls’ was located in the area of El Toro Road and the railroad tracks.”
The “Place of the Bulls” appears on a 1936 map of local historical sites, created by the WPA.
FOURTH VERSION: Another tale Osterman credits to an “early newspaper story”:

“A farmer was trying to drive a bull out of his cornfield. The bull knocked the farmer’s horse down and killed the animal with his horns. The bull chased the farmer around his dead horse and the man could not get away. A second man passed by [on horseback] and tried to drive the bull away. Even two men could not get the bull to leave. The man on horseback then rode to Santa Ana for help. …When help finally returned, the bull still had the farmer cornered. The bull had to be killed with a shotgun.”

FIFTH VERSION: A classic bit of Orange County folklore holds that a mission padre was charged by a large bull while walking down the El Camino Real between San Juan Capistrano and San Gabriel. In the first volume of the Orange County Historical Society’s Orange County History Series (1931), historian/newspaperman Terry E. Stephenson wrote,…

“There is an old, old story that a devout padre, by the holding up of his hands and a prayer to God, stayed the charge of a mad bull, and the place was called El Toro.”

This tale is also referenced by Osterman and in a 1929 pictorial historical map of Orange County created by artist Jean Goodwin.
Detail of map by Jean Goodwin (later Jean Goodwin Ames), published by Fine Arts Press for the local AAUW chapter.
All five of these stories have staying power, but are any of them true?

Although it doesn’t make much of a story to tell around the campfire, historian Jim Sleeper pointed out that the name appears as “Agua del Toro” in rancho applications to the Mexican government as early as 1837. In documents from 1841, it appears again as “Cienega del Toro.” Sleeper puzzled out that these names indicated the headwaters of Serrano Creek. (Thanks to Phil Brigandi for pointing me to Sleeper’s 1969 article, “The Many Mansions of Jose Sepulveda,” in Pacific Coast Archeological Society Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 3.)

The 1837 date pushes the name back into the mission era and debunks all the stories involving the rancho (granted in 1842), the Serrano Adobe (built in 1863), farmers (who wouldn’t have been on the scene until the late 1880s at the earliest), or the seeking of aid in Santa Ana (founded in 1869).

In fact, the only one of these stories that isn’t shot down by known historical facts is the one about the padre stopping a charging bull with prayer. But we have no solid source for the story and it does have the ring of a parable fabricated to make a point about the power of prayer.

In short, we may never know exactly how El Toro became El Toro, but we know that it stayed that way for at least 154 years.
The village of El Toro, 1970. Railroad tracks in foreground.

And why did people vote to change El Toro to Lake Forest in 1991?

Residents of the Lake Forest planned communities thought their name sounded more chic. Some also did not want to be associated with the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro – what with all its unfortunate connotations of defending our country and our freedom. Others felt, in the words of one resident, that the name El Toro sounded “less than up and coming."

To be fair, the name of the Lake Forest housing tract had a story behind it as well: It was named for a manmade forest and some manmade lakes.

The forest?

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, "experts" touted the quick-growing eucalyptus tree as a solution to California's need for lumber and a source for medicinal oils. Dwight Whiting took the bait and planted over 90 varieties of eucalyptus on 400 acres. But the wood warped, split when you put nails in it, and stank when you burned it. The "medicinal" oils were also disappointing.  Whiting tore out some of the trees to plant other crops, but many still stand today.

And as for the lake,…

The lake in Lake Forest refers to the man-made lakes built by developer Occidental Petroleum in the late 1960s. The first was originally called Lake I, and is actually two lakes, now sometimes called Hidden Lakes. The other has the romantic and inspiring name of Lake II. The closest thing to a natural lake in the area—a glorified mud puddle near El Toro Road at Muirlands—was turned into a grocery store parking lot long ago.
Sign at the entrance to the Lake Forest housing tract.
The name change to Lake Forest was both sad and infuriating to those who had lived in the area for many years, or generations.

"It's like losing a right arm … It's either you take it like a man or cry like a baby " said Ray Prothero a member of a local pioneer family during an interview with Los Angeles Times reporter Davan Maharaj. His voice breaking Prothero  said, "They shouldn't change the name of the library and the other institutions. It will be like erasing history."

When informed of the name change by Maharaj, then-90-year-old Reyes Serrano – a retired cowboy and the great grandson of Don Jose -- said, "It makes me want to take my gun and go up there and make them change it right back to El Toro." His wife, Dona, had a similar reaction: "You mean they actually did that?" she asked with a pained expression. "It's these damn city people that come to our country and make a city and change the name. Dammit!"

Friday, February 15, 2019

Trask is Dummer

Judge D. K. Trask, circa 1900
On the list of strange Orange County street names, Trask Avenue ranks right up there with Heil Avenue, Meats Avenue, and Weakfish Lane. Trask runs about eight miles through Westminster and Garden Grove, passing such landmarks as the Brodard Chateau restaurant, the Garden Grove Elk’s Lodge, car dealerships, Leroy L. Doig Intermediate School, and the headquarters of the Orange County Motorcycle Club. But where did Trask Avenue get its odd moniker?

The surname Trask refers to those from the North Yorkshire town of Thirsk, which Norse invaders originally named Tresc or Trask – meaning marsh. Although Westminster was pretty marshy in its day, the street’s name is actually a reference to the unfortunately named Dummer Kiah Trask (1860-1914).

Trask was an Ohio native who spent his formative years in Maine. He came to California in 1882, initially living in Stockton where he taught school, studied law, sat on the board of education, and served as principal of a business college and normal school.

In 1887 he married Ida C. Folsom (1860-1922). Together they would have four children: Ida Mary Trask (1889-1975), Dummer F. Trask (died in infancy in 1891), Dorothy Kate Trask Goodrich (born 1897) and Walter Folsom Trask (1896-1919).

In 1890 the family moved to Los Angeles, where “D. K.” set up a law practice and served briefly on the L.A. Board of Education. In 1898, Governor James Herbert Budd appointed him to a vacancy on the Superior Court of Los Angeles. Trask was reelected to a full six year term as judge in 1900, and for a few months in 1905 he was even discussed seriously as a candidate for governor.

Andy Osterdahl, on his blog, The Strangest Names In American Political History, writes that in early 1906, “…Trask (while still serving on the bench) accepted the presidency of the Consolidated Realty Company, which had been 'organized for the purchase of business property' in the city of Los Angeles.”

Trask did not run for re-election in 1906. Instead, Osterdahl writes, he "formed the law firm of D.K Trask and Co. and was also active in a number of non-political areas, being a longstanding member of the Knights of Pythias Lodge … and in 1910 was elected as president of the Jefferson Club of Los Angeles. Trask also held a seat on the Los Angeles Police Commission, entering into that office in 1909.”

In 1910, Trask purchased seventy acres in Westminster, bordered by today’s Trask Ave. on the north, Westminster Ave. on the south, Richardson Way on the west, and Beach Blvd. on the east.

D. K. Trask died of a stroke on March 12, 1914 while in the middle of ‘trying a lawsuit’ in probate court. Ironically, he died without a will. Ownership of the Westminster property ultimately became half owned by his widow, Ida, with the rest split evenly between his three living children. So far, no evidence has been found that the Trasks ever actually lived on this property.

When Trask Avenue received its current name is unknown, but references to it can be found as early as May 1926 when the road was significantly widened and improved.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Ranney Street, Garden Grove

Excelsior Dairy ad from the Santa Ana Register, 1916.
Alert reader Steve writes: "I recently ran across Ranney Avenue in Garden Grove and wondered who it was named after or what its history is. Do you know anything about it?"

Walter D. Ranney founded the Excelsior Dairy in 1915. This successful business was later run by his sons. The dairy was headquartered on Westminster Blvd in Garden Grove. The ranch covered the area between Taft and Wright (Brookhurst) Streets -- Today’s Ranney Street runs right through the middle of it. The company was dissolved in 1954, but the Ranney's Excelsior Creamery Co. in Santa Ana continued to operate for some time thereafter.