Friday, November 30, 2018

Juanita Lovret and Don Tryon

Orange County recently lost two more excellent local historians: Don Tryon of San Juan Capistrano and Juanita Lovret of Tustin.

I only spoke to Lovret briefly once or twice, but I've cited her articles many times. In addition to retelling important but oft-told tales, she also frequently and commendably delved into corners of Tustin's past that no one else had ever tackled. Lovret's fellow Tustin historian, Guy Ball, writes:

"It is with regret and sadness that [I] report Juanita Lovret’s passing recently at age 92.

"Juanita lived in the Tustin area her entire life, taught at Tustin High, was Tustin Woman of the Year in 1996 and was very active in the Tustin Area Historical Society. Juanita also wrote a weekly column ["Remember When"] in the Tustin News for many years and wrote two books about Tustin history.

"Her columns in the Tustin News focused on growing up in early Tustin as well as the earlier histories of so many of our leaders, institutions, and buildings. The [Tustin Area Historical] Society has republished a good number of her columns at

"Details about a public memorial gathering will be forthcoming. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the [Tustin Area] Historical Society in Juanita’s memory. The family has also asked for people who knew her to send letters or cards to them describing their favorite memories of Juanita. These cards and letters can be mailed to: Remembering Juanita Lovret – c/o 13711 Yorba Street – North Tustin CA 92705."

Another great loss to our historical community this month was the passing of Don Tryon, who was always my "go-to guy" at the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. No study of a Capistrano-related topic was complete without a call to Don to see if he had more on the subject. He was always friendly and helpful. Don co-authored the book Images of America, San Juan Capistrano and wrote the regular "Old San Juan" column for The Capistrano Dispatch. His obituary from the Orange County Register follows:

"Don [Tryon] was born and lived most of his life in California, working primarily in the oil industry and raising a family. In retirement, he and his late wife, Mary Tryon, moved to San Juan Capistrano where they became active with the Historical Society, Mission Archeological team, and Fiesta Association.

From about 1990-2015, Don was the Archivist for the Historical Society, preserving the photographic legacy of San Juan Capistrano. During his tenure, the collection grew to over 9,000 photos. Don also served as a Cultural Heritage Commissioner, served on the County Historic Commission, was a Kiwanis; a longtime Chamber of Commerce member, and was a writer of historic facts and stories for various local newspapers. Don was selected as the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce 1999 Man of the Year and was commended in 2000 by the California Legislature for his exemplary record of civic leadership.

Don is survived by his wife since 2009, Penny, by his children Gail and Michael, and four grandchildren. [Ed - He was also married to Mary Ellen Tryon for 58 years until her death in 2008.] In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the San Juan Historical Society Building Fund,"

Goodbye to two more of the good ones.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Autumnal Updates

Irvine Park, circa 1920s. (Don Dobmeier Postcard Collection)
The good folks at Preserve Orange County asked if I'd add a link to their (very impressive) website on links roster. That made me realize that I hadn't updated those links in at least a year. So, after much weeding, pruning, and updating, the links on the right-hand side of this page are mostly up-to-date and functional again. Please browse and perhaps discover a few gems you'd missed in the past.

In addition to Preserve O.C., other new additions to the list include the Orange County California History group on Flickr, the Old Courthouse Museum Society, the Yorba Linda Historical Society,, and a link to a sampling of articles from my old "O.C. Answer Man" column at Orange Coast magazine.

By the way, the Rancho Santa Margarita Historical Society seems to have fallen off the radar. Does anyone know if they're still active?

Friday, October 26, 2018

1890s Halloween: All tricks and no treats

Trick-or-treating is a rich American tradition, but it wasn't until the 1930s that it began to catch on as replacement for the just plain tricks (no treats) that were part of Halloween in earlier generations. A few examples from Orange County follow:
1891 -- John Gould of Tustin, confined to his bedroom all night for having caused trouble the previous Halloween, slipped out the window, went downtown and climbed a tree to sneak into the bell tower of the Presbyterian Church. He rang the bells as long as he dared, waking most of Tustin, and then rushed back home and back in through the open window before the authorities arrived. His grandfather told the cops that John "was up in his room all night."

1892 -- Among the reports from Santa Ana in the Nov. 6 edition of the Los Angeles Times: "Several businessmen of this city are still being inconvenienced by the questionable pranks of a gang of boys on Halloween." Halloween pranks that take five or six days to clean up after sound pretty serious.

1895 -- Some of the boys in Garden Grove decided to "round up" all the wagons and buggies of farmers in the surrounding countryside and leave them all at the blacksmith shop in town. It was dangerous business, as some folks couldn't tell the difference between a prank and out-and-out theft. In fact, one of the Garden Grove boys -- Seventeen-year-old Oscar Ingram -- took a shotgun blast from farmer Ira Woodman, whose carriage he was stealing. At first it seemed Oscar might die. He pulled through, but doctors never could get all the lead shot out of his back.

1895 -- Anything in Santa Ana that wasn't nailed down was moved to an unexpected spot during the night, including a spring wagon placed atop an outhouse at the grammar school. At least one lad, Ray Jones, was injured during the shenanigans when he was hit in the head by a large piece of lumber he was "liberating."

1898 -- Santa Ana boys took the nuts off the axels on a wood and hay delivery wagon, rendering it dangerous and useless until it could be repaired. Some of the pranks were pretty costly.

1899 -- "Halloween was celebrated in Santa Ana in the usual way by mischievous lads, and as a result many gates and other loose paraphernalia about the door-yards were missing this morning," reported the L.A. Times. Gates were a common target on Halloween. Pranksters would neighbors' garden gates from their hinges and then hide them elsewhere. Some were never found.

Attempts to deter young people from such behavior by distracting them with alternatives began early. At first parties were held -- sometimes by families and sometimes by organizations. Events sometimes included bobbing for apples, games involving fortune telling,and dinner involving special foods like tamales and pumpkin pie. Later, larger events like the Anaheim Halloween parade (1923) were held as a fun and harmless way to enjoy the season. And finally, trick-or-treating offered beleaguered citizens a chance to bribe their way out of mayhem with candy and other treats.

Not that plenty of people don't still cause trouble on Halloween, but most of that involves adults with alcohol, not kids with costumes.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Buena Park's mystery monster

Watch for falling arches. (Photo by Gnashes30)
In one of my old April Fools Day posts, I told you about Santiago Sam, the world's shortest bigfoot, who lives among the scrub brush of the Santa Ana Mountains. Now, here's another local bigfoot tale, but I promise I won't make stuff up like I tend to on April 1. (Or at least, I'll only doctor the last photo a little.)

On the night of Monday, May 10, 1982, five people called the Buena Park Police Department to report seeing an eight-foot tall, stinky, hairy, man-like creature walking through a concrete storm drain tunnel on Brea Creek behind Executive Park Apartments (7601 Franklin St.) Witnesses included three teenagers: Bennie Hinsley (18) and brothers Raymond (16) and Chris Bennett, who noticed the creature around 9:30 p.m. and watched it for about an hour.

“We could see the monster's shadow in the drainage ditch," Bennie told a UPI reporter. "We heard the water splash and then we smelled something awful."

It all matched what they knew about bigfoot. The young men also heard the creature made terrifying noises, like a cross "between Godzilla and a gorilla," before it headed west and out of view.
The delightfully mid-century Executive Park Apartments, as they appear today.
Frank and Lorraine Missanelli, managers of an adjacent apartment complex, said they’d heard but not seen the creature. "It roared and growled just like the dinosaurs in the movies,” said Frank.

Disappointingly, the monster didn’t show up for the "monster watch" attended by about a hundred people the following night. However, unexplained phenomenon investigators Dennis Ruminer and Tom Muzila of Special Forces Investigations, claimed to have found giant footprints and handprints near the mouth of the tunnel by using a divining rod and that they had made a  cast of the handprints.

They had less luck with the footprint. "We were looking around the mouth of the tunnel when someone shouted, "There's a track,'" recalled Ruminer. “There were a lot of people around, and as we went to look a kid stepped on the track. So we only saw the front part of the track. It was a humanoid foot with five big toe marks, about seven inches across the ball of the foot. Before we got a good clear look at it, another kid stepped on it and completely obliterated the track."
John DeHerrerra with his hobo photo.
The Buena Park Police Dept., annoyed with hundreds of calls from concerned monster-phobes, held a press conference and announced that they had investigated the area but found nothing out of the ordinary.

The police also introduced freelance photographer and "unexplained phenomenon" buff John DeHerrerra, who presented a photo of a "hobo" he'd taken while waiting for a chance to photograph the creature people had begun to call "Buenafoot." The hobo was only about 6'4", but DeHerrerra suggested that the hobo may actually have been the mysterious hairy hominid in question. The man in the photo was shirtless, covered in dark grease, and according to DeHerrerra, stank to high heavens. The public hubbub died down considerably when it was discovered that the cryptid creature was likely just a filthy bum.

Well, MOST were satisfied with the explanation. "A hobo doesn't walk in water, he walks along railroad tracks," said Frank Missanelli. "Plus, he smelled so bad that if he was on a freight train the engine would uncouple and go off by itself."

Already losing steam, the story still got enough attention that even Dan Rather covered it on the national CBS Evening News.
1960s photo at Knott's Berry Farm may indicate presence of cryptids.
Six years later, on the other side of Buena Park, Knott's Berry Farm announced its new Bigfoot Rapids ride. It was themed to the sort of wooded habitats where bigfeet (bigfoots? bigfootses?) supposedly are most common. (Sadly, the ride lacked any animatronic monsters leaping out of the woods at the passing ride vehicles.) Did Buenafoot provide any of the inspiration for this attraction? Will Buenafoot return to Buena Park any time soon? Does Buenafoot have as much trouble finding shoes in his size as I do in mine? Stay tuned.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Orange County Plain Dealer

Our Anaheim/Nixon/Disneyland friend Jason Schultz just added another 4,000 scanned pages of the Anaheim Gazette to the many old Anaheim newspapers he’s digitized and made available at This amazing resource includes a brief history of the Gazette, and I thought Jason might also appreciate brief histories of some of the other Anaheim papers. Naturally, I began with the most obscure.  Here’s a slightly longer version of my history of the Orange County Plain Dealer, which Jason may or may not decide to use…

The Orange County Plain Dealer was launched in January 1898 – briefly in Fullerton, before moving to Anaheim, depending on which accounts one reads. Although it covered North Orange County generally, the newspaper’s focus was Anaheim-centric to the point that it was often incorrectly called the Anaheim Plain Dealer. The paper was originally owned and edited by James E. Valjean, the former editor of the Portsmouth (Ohio) Blade, a Republican, and the inventor of an improved stomach pump. He bought a small local paper called the Independent and built the Plain Dealer on its bones. The name of the new paper may well have been inspired by the Cleveland Plain Dealer in his previous home of Ohio. Once the new Orange County Plain Dealer became established, Valjean’s wife, Sarah Jane, moved from Ohio to Anaheim to be with him. In 1913, he made Earl R. Abbey (future Orange County Coroner) manager of the paper.

Shortly after a destructive fire at the newspaper plant and just prior to Valjean’s death in 1914, Abbey became the Plain Dealer’s publisher. Fred A. Chamberlain, also an employee of the paper, became editor. They purchased the paper and remained until 1916, when Paul Vincent Hester (editor) and Rolla Ward Ernest (manager) became the paper’s new co-owners and operators.

Ernest, going through an ugly divorce and looking for ways to lower his alimony, tried to sell his interest in the paper to Hester in 1923.  But Judge Cox put the kibosh on the sale.

On May 8, 1925, publishers Ernest and Hester sold the entirety of the Plain Dealer (by now an afternoon daily paper) to John S. Baker and his son-in-law, Anaheim Bulletin publisher Lotus Harry Loudon, for $35,000.  The afternoon daily was purchased with financial help from Loudon’s friends, developers Alfonso Bell (tennis star, oil tycoon and namesake of the communities of Bel Air, Bell, and Bell Gardens) and Phillip A. Stanton (politician who founded Seal Beach, Huntington Beach and Stanton). Louden and Baker immediately merged the Plain Dealer with the Bulletin.

Lotus H. Louden
A $90,000 libel suit against the Plain Dealer by Rev. James Allen Geissenger of the White Temple Methodist Church contributed to the newspaper's sale. The Plain Dealer had accused Geissenger of supporting the Ku Klux Klan’s recent takeover of Anaheim’s city government. However, hard evidence to support this claim could not be produced in court. The court forced Ernest and Hester to make a large payment to Geissenger, print a retraction on the front page (of the very last issue) of the Plain Dealer, and agree not to engage in newspaper work for at least fifteen years. Handing the reigns over to Loudon as publisher may have been one final slap at Geissenger and his associates, since Loudon was also an ardent adversary of the KKK. (Loudon was also a co-founder of the Anaheim Halloween Festival – where, he reckoned, dressing up like a bed-sheet ghost was more acceptable.)

Today, scattered issues of the Plain Dealer, beginning April 1898, can be found at the library at University of California Irvine's Special Collections. More complete runs of the Plain Dealer, from Sept. 1902 to March 1903 and from Jan. 1919 to May 1925, can be found on microfilm at the Anaheim Heritage Room. Of this latter collection, all but the issues from April 30, 1919 through December 1920 are now available at

Monday, August 20, 2018

More than a Big Boy combo plate

Bob's Big Boy, quite literally, gave me my first vision of what the world was like.

No, really.

I was born legally blind, but nobody (including me) knew it for a while. Unintentionally, I disguised the problem behind surprisingly effective coping mechanisms. And of course I didn't know that vision COULD be anything other than a haze of fuzzy shapes and colors. So I had not complaints.

I was three when the problem was identified. My mother was *horrified* that she hadn't caught the problem earlier, even though the pediatric ophthalmologist told here there was no way she could have done so.     
An example of Bob's "Chula Vista" building design. This one in L.A.
When the big day arrived, my parents and I drove down to El Toro (that's Lake Forest to carpetbaggers) to pick up my very first pair of uber-thick prescription glasses, which would (and still do) correct my vision from horrible to 20/20.

We immediately went just down he street to Bob's Big Boy for lunch. There -- unlike the short ride over in the backseat of my parents' Olds Cutlass -- I could finally SEE something! In fact, I could see EVERYTHING!

We'd been to identical Bob's restaurants many times before. It was one of architectal firm Armet & Davis' earthy "Chula Vista" designs for Bob's, which combined the design genius they'd perfected in earlier googie coffee shops with a strong theme of Early California and the Western Ranch House.

But every detail was new to my eyes! The first clear visual impressions I had were of my parents, subtropical plantings, a big George Nelson clock and benches, stained glass windows, "Spanish" wrought-iron light fixtures, decorative Lucite booth dividers, spacious Naugahyde booths, rotating racks of refrigerated desserts, and intriguing framed art depicting the vaqueros, dons and adobes of Early California. Every image was new and amazing to me.
Bob's bank and comic book. The comics were dumb, but I always wanted one.
I kept pointing out the simplest things to my mother, in awe -- Restaurant features I'd walked past dozens of times before and never noticed, like the simulated wood grain of the tabletops and the shiny metal air conditioning vents.

"Look! Look! There are plants INSIDE the building!"

Mom had tears in her eyes. But I was too busy LOOKING at EVERYTHING to notice.

Leaving the restaurant after lunch, I noticed (also for the first time) the large outdoor statue of Bob and ran over to give him as big a hug as my three-year-old arms could muster. It was a ritual I would repeat many time in my early childhood, (and possibly a few times as an adult).
Phil Brigandi and I visiting a Bob's on Glenoaks Blvd, Glendale in 2008.
Through dumb luck, I grew up surrounded by great architecture, including many gems by the Neutras: The Huntington Beach Central Library, Orange Coast College, the Mariners Medical Arts Building (where my pediatrician's office was located), and even a Neutra-knock-off elementary school. I regularly rode my bike past Schindler's Lovell Beach house and I enjoyed the breathtaking designs of Disneyland.

And of course I've been to restaurants with better food and service than Bob's. Even in its golden era, Bob's was never trying to be a fine dining experience -- just a top-notch coffee shop.
Bob and I on my 44th birthday -- In Toluca Lake, California
But still,... No building quite hits me emotionally like a Bob's Big Boy in original condition.

Oh, I know the franchises are now inconsistent and sometimes disappointing. (The one in Orange deserved to close.) And they don't serve my favorite silver goblet milkshakes nor the julienned vegetable (with barley) soup I loved. But just being IN a vintage Bob's is always a bit of a happy homecoming.

Can I trace my love of coffee shop architecture, double-deck burgers, colorful roadside signage, giant fiberglass advertising figures, and George Nelson clocks back to my first clear visual impressions? Can I trace my first step toward a career as a California historian to that moment?

Well, it certainly didn't hurt.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Bud Hurlbut exhibit at Orange County Archives

A proud Bud Hurlbut in front of his new Calico Mine Ride, 1960.
Buena Park’s Wendell "Bud" Hurlbut (1918-2011) was an entrepreneur, designer, and unsung giant of the amusement park business. He introduced ideas that became industry standard, he restored vintage attractions, he created Riverside’s Castle Park, and he crafted beautiful miniature trains. Only Hurlbut’s modesty prevented him from being as famous as Disney’s Imagineers. Locally, he is best remembered for the many rides he designed, built and operated for Knott’s Berry Farm, including the Calico Mine Ride and the Timber Mountain Log Ride. Such attractions were foundational to the engineering, business operation, and artistic design of the modern theme park. Walt Disney himself borrowed ideas from his friend Bud, as did later generations of Disney theme park designers.

(You can find the obituary I wrote for Bud on
Bud shows model of proposed Log Ride to Walter Knott, 1968. (This model is on display as part of the current Archives exhibit.)
The Orange County Archives’ new exhibit, “Bud Hurlbut: Master of Amusement” is now open in the first floor lobby of the Old Orange County Courthouse and continues inside the Archive’s office in room 108. Photos, drawings, models and artifacts help tell the story of Hurlbut’s colorful career and mark what would have been his centennial year. The Hurlbut Collection is just one of countless collections held by the Archives detailing the history of Orange County. This particular collection includes Hurlbut’s diaries, home movies, photos, business records, and much more.
Bud Hurlbut with one of his miniature trains at Knott's Lagoon, circa 1960.
The exhibit will be open to the public from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday (except on holidays) at the Old Courthouse at 211 W. Santa Ana Blvd, in Santa Ana, California. The exhibit will also be open from 10am to 3pm on the following Saturdays: Aug. 18, Sept. 22, Oct. 20, Nov. 17, and Dec. 15. It will run through at least the end of 2018.
Tony Baxter of Imagineering, me, Bud Hurlbut,and artist Kevin Kidney in 2007.
My personal thanks to Steve Oftelie, who spraymounted more photos and text panels for this project than any human being should ever have to spraymount. Thanks to the Old Courthouse Museum for giving us the exhibit space. Also thanks to Ken Stack of Stack's Liberty Ranch for loaning us two of the many miniature carousel horses that once graced Bud's desk as well as a framed blueprint of the Calico Mine Train engines. Thanks also to Adam England of the Muckenthaler Cultural Center for loaning me a (fake) box of dynamite. You'd be amazed how animated the security folks in a government building get when you stroll in with a wooden crate marked, "Danger! Explosives!"

Monday, June 11, 2018

Another bit of old Balboa goes under the knife

Balboa Bikes 'N" Beach Stuff, 601 E. Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach.
Seeing this old building in Balboa with the “Green Fence of Death” around it set off all kinds of alarm bells for me. However, it seems the front portion of the building is being saved even though the back portion is being rebuilt with additional stories added. It’s not ideal, but it beats total demolition by a bunch.

I remember stopping in here in the early 1990s, when it was still a bike rental shop, and finding the staff extremely helpful. I’d ridden my own bike (as I did most weekends) down from Huntington Beach and was on my way toward the Balboa Island Ferry and the rest of my journey down the coast when I got a flat tire. The folks in this shop graciously helped me patch the tire, put it back on the bike, and got me on my way at no charge. Aside from that, all I knew about the building was that it was old and that it had interesting wood floors that sounded a bit hollow and creaky. Now, having my attention drawn back to the building by this construction, I wanted to know more. Here’s what I found,…
Gus' Sea Shell Café, Balboa, circa 1929
The building was constructed around 1929 as the latest incarnation of a popular Balboa café owned by Gus Tamplis (a.k.a. G.B. Temple). Tamplis was born Kostantinos Basilion Tempelis in the small village of Kastria, Greece in the early 1890s and came to America around 1907. When he was naturalized in 1918, he legally changed his name to Gus Basilion Templis. It was under this name that he soon enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He served as a ship's cook during World War I and was honorably discharged in late 1921.

In 1922, Tamplis opened “Gus and Tony’s The Sea Shell” near the Balboa Pier at 105 Main Street. The café specialized in Mexican (“Spanish”) and Italian fare and rapidly gained a large following. By 1923 it was known simply as Gus’ Sea Shell Lunch. By 1924, it was called the Sea Shell Café, and had moved to a somewhat larger space next door at 107 Main. According to the L.A. Times’ (Celebrate!, Vol. 2 historical supplement, Oct. 16, 1988), "…Everybody called him Gus Gus... He spoke with a thick accent,… and usually he only answered direct questions with a 'Yes Yes’ or a 'No No.’ Hence 'Gus Gus.'"

In 1929, Gus Gus moved again to a new location at the Corner of Palm Street and Central Ave. This move was a wise and calculated decision. This put the café directly across the alley from the new and wildly popular Rendezvous Ballroom. The Ballroom played host to some of the biggest musical acts in the country, as well as providing a home for new talent on the way up. By the late 1930s, the Sea Shell café (now serving mostly seafood and) and bar was well-established as was the place where the ballroom crowd congregated.
The Rendezvous Ballroom (the Balboa Pier would be to the right)
During World War II, Gus' cafe was also often the meeting place for the local USO executive committee. It also was the site of the first meeting of the Newport Harbor chapter of the Kiwanis Club in early 1941.

By 1952, Gus was living on Balboa Island and still owned a café somewhere, but it didn’t seem to be called the Sea Shell, and it definitely wasn’t at the corner of Palm and Central (by now called Balboa Blvd) anymore. The building at that location was now selling bamboo and rattan gifts. Later it would become a bicycle rental shop.

Gus Gus died Aug. 22, 1954 and is buried at Fairhaven Memorial Park in Santa Ana.

As for the fate of the old café building,... well,... Keep an eye on that corner!