Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The "Gummo" of the Earp Brothers

People seem to think that the "wild and woolly West" didn't apply to Orange County. They're shocked to learn we had cowboys, Indians, shoot-outs in saloons, posses chasing horse thieves, and any other Old West cliche you care to mention. Admittedly, we weren't home to many of the big names from the history books, but we weren't exactly out of the picture either.

For instance, there's no record of famous lawman Wyatt Earp visiting Orange County, but some of his famous family definitely spent time here. Wyatt’s father, Nicholas, youngest brother, Warren, and other family members lived near Lake Elsinore and would sometimes find their way to the other side of the mountains. Warren did farm work for H.S. Pankey, in the Gospel Swamp area, south of Santa Ana. Warren wasn't with his brothers at the famous O.K. Corral shoot-out in 1881, but he helped Wyatt hunt down the man who killed their brother, Morgan. Warren was shot dead in 1900 during an argument with a cowboy at a saloon in Wilcox, Arizona.

It may be a thin thread connecting O.C. to the O.K. Corral,... But it's interesting that a thread exists at all.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Travel back to the year of Orange County's birth

From the exhibit: A scene at the Hotel Laguna, circa 1889.
An exhibit entitled "O.C. Circa 1889" is opening, just in time for the County's 125th birthday, at the Old Orange County Courthouse. It will launch with an opening reception on July 17th, 7pm-9pm, featuring a lecture by historian Phil Brigandi, who assembled the photos and information for the exhibit. Please RSVP by July 14 to 714-973-6607. The exhibit runs through Oct. 10th.
Visitors will get a chance to see what life was like here in 1889, the year Orange County broke away from Los Angeles to become its own county. Rare photos of local communities, family life, agriculture, transportation, schools, recreation, businesses and notable personalities are accompanied by information telling the story of Orange County's beginnings. I've gotten a sneak preview, and it looks fascinating! Hope to see you at the reception!
W. A. Connoly's blacksmith shop, Fullerton, 1889.
By the way, there's currently a small display about Orange County's agricultural history on the first floor of the Old Courthouse, courtesy the Orange County Archives. Stick your head in and say "hello" if you decide to stop by and check it out.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Wintersburg secret revealed!

Mary Urashima leads a tour in the Furuta Barn at Wintersburg.
Wondering what the big Wintersburg announcement will be tomorrow? (Referenced in yesterday's post.) Wonder no more! The cat is out of the bag! See the National Trust's video announcement of America's 11 Most Endangered Historical Sites. Also, check out the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force Facebook page for additional information.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Huntington Beach, O.C.'s birthday & Key Ranch

Huntington Beach Pier, April 1906
This weekend marked the 100th anniversary of the first recorded instance of surfing in Orange County. (There's reason to suspect that it may have happened earlier without anyone writing it down.) In 1914, to celebrate the opening of Huntington Beach's new concrete pier (the old wood pier, shown above, had been damaged in storms), a whole weekend of festivities were planned. Among the assorted revelry was a demonstration of surf riding by George Freeth. This story has already gotten a lot of coverage elsewhere, so I won't flog it to death again here.

Speaking of Huntington Beach,... There will be several interconnected events on Tues., June 24, related to the Historic Wintersburg Preservation project. First there will be a national press conference at Huntington Beach City Hall with mayor Matt Harper and the Wintersburg Preservation Task Force. Apparently, it's "big news," but it's all super secret right now! Then, from  11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., 10% of your bill at The Red Table Restaurant (16821 Algonquin, in H.B. ) will go toward the preservation effort. At 6:30 there will be another big announcement at The Red Table regarding Wintersburg. Keep an eye on HistoricWintersburg.blogspot.com for more information.
Orange County's 125th Birthday Party, hosted by the O.C. Historical Society.
The big birthday party to kick off Orange County's 125th anniversary celebration was a big success! The ballroom at the historic Santa Ana Ebell Club was packed with historians, longtime residents, descendants of pioneers, two County Supervisors (Moorlach and Nguyen) and all sorts of other nice folks who are proud to call Orange County home. My thanks to everyone at the Orange County Historical Society who worked to make it a great evening!

I suppose this is old news now, but I haven't mention that the George Key House at Key Ranch Historical Park sustained some significant damage during the "La Habra Earthquake" in March. The historic building is still closed for assessment and repairs, but the surrounding park property is open by appointment.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Arches

Wood panel from The Arches, carved by "C. Abel," and found in Costa Mesa.
Recently, I visited Normandy's New York Hardware Co. in Costa Mesa. It's a delightful place full of both modern hardware (doorknobs, hinges, etc.) and antique mall brick-a-brack. And what did I find there, but a number of old signs and decorative panels from one of Orange County's most historic restaurants: The Arches!

It began as a service station, built in 1925 on Pacific Coast Highway, at the intersection of Newport Blvd. in Newport Beach. This was the same year the highway opened between Huntington Beach and Newport.

Historian Phil Brigandi writes, "John Vilelle (1897-1981) built The Arches. Originally he had a partner named James Sturgeon, but he didn’t stay around long. Vilelle & Sturgeon ran the gas station, and their wives, Fern Vilelle and Anna Sturgeon [later] ran the restaurant."
One of several wood panels from The Arches seen at Normandy's.
Ten-year-old Victor Chatten named the place in a 1926 newspaper contest and won five dollars. Clearly, it was named for the Mediterranean arches on the front of the building. Later, a diner and and market were added. The diner would evolve and improve over the years.

"Not long after prohibition ended in 1933, Johnny Vilelle got a liquor license, and started serving cocktails." says Brigandi. He sites as 1941 ad bragging of "unexcelled Steak Dinners and Good Coffee. Cocktail Bar in connection" and a 1949 ad for "Steak, Chicken, Lobster in Season, Cocktails.”

In 1936,  a large bridge was built nearby, taking Newport Blvd. over the highway at what was then one of the most dangerous intersections in Orange County. Soon, the bridge was unofficially dubbed "Arches,"  and the name stuck. Soon, not just the business, but also the bridge and the surrounding area was known as The Arches. It was a landmark, and remains so today.
An early image of The Arches service station (left) and market/cafe (right)
The business went through multiple sets of hands, but the name was always retained. The import of Arches as a place on the map was at least as significant as The Arches as a specific business.

Eventually the service station disappeared. And what started as a diner eventually completed its transition into a high-end restaurant and watering hole for the well-heeled.  John Wayne, Shirley Temple, and other famous folk were regulars.

"By the early 1970s," Brigandi writes, "The Arches was being touted for its French food, and – if the old Orange County Illustrated magazine is to be believed – the bar had a reputation as a place for 'swingers.'"
A view of The Arches from across the highway, circa 1955.
Dan Marcheano bought the restaurant in 1982. He moved out in 2007 and new owners (Los Arcos Newport LLC) moved in, fully prepared to continue the tradition of The Arches.

But Marcheano took the name with him. After a certain amount of unpleasantness between the old and new owners, Marcheano opened a new "The Arches" in Cannery Village -- and then, when that didn't work -- to a location on Westcliff Dr. This forced the owners of the old location to come up with a new name. Keeping a big curlicued "A" on the beginning of their roadside sign maintained a familiar look, so the place became "A Restaurant."
The Arches shortly before its renovation into A Restaurant, 2008.
 The new owners also found that certain infrastructure issues probably hadn't been dealt with in many decades. The entire restaurant was jacked up into the air and new foundations and plumbing were installed.

Meanwhile, the new The Arches on Westcliff struggled and finally closed at the end of 2010.
Revisiting the old Latin maxim, "De gustibus non est disputandum."
A Restaurant seems to be flourishing. I hope this original location eventually reclaims the moniker that everyone still calls it anyway: The Arches. Regardless, the owners of A Restaurant might want to get their butts over to Normandy's New York Hardware and reappropriate some historic signage.
More relics of The Arches at Normandy's New York Hardware.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Branding iron mystery

Someone walked into the Orange County Archives today with three branding irons he'd acquired from a descendant of Vincente Yorba, Jr. I traced the brands and posted the tracings above. The center one looks like a variation on Bernardo Yorba's original brand from the 1830s/1840s, but it's not exact. Do any of you sharp-eyed readers know the "who" or the "when" of these brands?

I can tell you some places these brands do not appear: They aren't in the "Historic Brands of Orange County" guide in Jim Sleeper's 2nd Orange County Almanac of Historical Oddities. They don't appear in the 1919 California Brand Book (the only edition I have at hand). They also don't appear in the little chart of rancho brands at First American Corp., which is also reproduced in Cindy Tino-Sandoval's Images of America: Yorba Linda. They are also absent from the county's old Brand Book and the other filed brands at the Orange County Archives.

So now the ball is in your court. Please leave your comments in the comments section below. Thanks in advance for any light you can shed.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The House of Bernardo Yorba

The historic Bernardo Yorba adobe, when it was still standing - Circa 1900.
The exploration and documentation of the ruins of Bernardo Yorba’s home by Don Meadows in 1919 will be the topic of the next Orange County Historical Society meeting. Historian Phil Brigandi, a longtime friend of Meadows, will tell us about this early adventure in local archaeology. This program will be held Thursday, May 8, 2014, 7:30 p.m., at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange.

(The previously announced speaker is unable to attend. We knew it was just a matter of time before the dumb guy who schedules OCHS' programs screwed up.)

OCHS also has a small book on this subject, The House of Bernardo Yorba by Don Meadows, available for sale. They should have copies available at the meeting and also sell them through their website.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Upcoming Orange County history events

Dann Gibb at the lower adit, Blue Light Mine, Silverado. Photo by Phil Brigandi.
Today I'm posting a bunch of upcoming local history related events you'll want to know about. (May, in particular, is lousy with 'em!) But everyone loves photos, so I'm also including a few images from the Orange County Historical Society's April 12th "History Hike" to the old Blue Light Mine in Silverado Canyon. Mike Boeck and Phil Brigandi did a great job leading the tour and interpreting the historical sites, (and we thank Karin Klein for pushing us in the right direction to begin with).  I should point out that OCHS had special permission to visit the mine area, and that none of the adits are open anymore. More photos from the trek are posted here. It was a fun day and a fascinating hike! Look for another OCHS History Hike to be announced for this coming fall.

Now,... On with the upcoming events -- right after this photo...
Chris gives a pep talk at the trail head. Photo by Mike Boeck.
First of all, if you haven't see the exhibit, "California Scene Paintings: 1920s-1970s," at the Irvine Museum, you should do so before it closes on May 8. It's great art by great artists, telling the story of California in the 20th Century.

Apr. 27 - Eric Lynxwiler will present "The Birth of Knott's Berry Farm: An Illustrated Presentation" at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, at 1pm. It will be followed by Boysenberry pie and two circa 1960 documentary shorts about Knott's: "Come and Get It" and "A Family Builds a Mountain." Tickets at Fandango.com.
May 3 - This weekend will be packed full of events! On Saturday, check out the Costa Mesa Historical Society's "Early California Days" at the Estancia Adobe, or spend the day at the Tustin Area Historical Society's 18th Annual Home & Garden Tour in Old Town Tustin.

May 4 - On Sunday, take the family to the Rancho Days Fiesta, 10am-3pm at Heritage Hill Historical Park in El Toro, a.k.a. Lake Forest. There'll be ropin' and ridin' and all kinds o' old-timey music and dancin' along with crafts, historical tours, and other educational opportunities. I'll be there, tending the O.C. Archives' booth and giving away free wooly mammoths. (Just checking to make sure you were reading.) This is also the last weekend of the Ramona Pageant in Hemet, so this is clearly the weekend to overdose on "the romance of the ranchos." Olé!

May 3 & 4 - Railroad Days will be held at the Fullerton Train Station, 9am-5pm on both Saturday and Sunday. The BNSF Railway will let you clamber around a modern locomotive cab, and Disneyland's Ernest S. Marsh locomotive and Kalamazoo handcar will be on hand, along with countless other rail-related exhibits, displays and activities. This event is sponsored by the Southern California Railway Plaza Association.
Hiking through the woods. Photo by Charles Beal.
May 6 - I'll be speaking on "Tiki and Polynesian Pop in Orange County" (similar to a talk I gave in 2010)  at the Garden Grove Historical Society, 7pm, at the historic Stanley House at 12174 Euclid St. Once again, Hawaiian attire is welcomed, but not mandatory.

May 8 - Jeannine Pedersen of the Cooper Center will discuss "Archaeology in Orange County" at the Orange County Historical Society, 7:30pm, at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. (Remember: Archaeologists do not follow maps to buried treasure and X never, ever marks the spot.)

May 10 - Santa Ana Fire Museum will hold an open house, noon to 4pm. See my review of their grand opening here.

May 16 - The Orange County Historical Society will sell local history books (and sign up new members) at the Main Street Car Show in Garden Grove, 4-8pm.

May 17 - The Orange County Archives will be open to the public for Saturday hours, 10am to 3pm. (Other Saturdays in 2014 on which the Archives will be open include June 21, July 26, Aug. 30, Sept. 20, Oct. 18, Nov. 15, and Dec. 13.) Across the street, at the Howe-Waffle House, on May 17, the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society will hold an open house and Edgar Allen Poe/Edward Gorey event.

May 17 & 18 - Hal Lutskey's Vintage Postcard & Paper Show will return to the Glendale Civic Auditorium, Sat. 10am-5pm, and Sun.10am-4pm. It's worth the drive.
Overview of Silverado Canyon. Photo by Phil Brigandi.
May 25 - Histo-tainment guru Charles Phoenix will give another of his "Anaheimland" A/V spectacles at Loara Elementary School, Anaheim, at 2pm. Tickets available at charlesphoenix.com.

May 31 - The Anaheim Citrus Packing House gourmet food mall will finally have its grand opening. As a big fan of adaptive reuse, I look forward to see what's been done. And like everyone else, I'm tired of just peering in the windows. Bring on the food!

June 7 - The 125th birthday of the historic Howe-Waffle House and the 40th anniversary of the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society will be celebrated at a special open house, noon to 4pm, 120 Civic Center Dr. West, in Santa Ana.

June 7 - The Sugar Beet Festival is a community shin-dig for West O.C. and East Long Beach that sneaks in a local history focus. Local history groups can register to get a free spot for a booth at the festival. Surprisingly, the Sugar Beet Festival will be held not in the old sugar hub of Los Alamitos but at The Shops at Rossmoor.
Phil Brigandi at the Blue Light Mine's stamp mill site. Photo by C. Jepsen.
June 13 - ORANGE COUNTY'S 125th BIRTHDAY PARTY! It was the summer of 1889 when the southern part of Los Angeles County broke away to become Orange County. Accordingly, the Orange County Historical Society is holding an old-fashioned birthday party along with their annual dinner at the historic Ebell Club of Santa Ana! Historians Phil Brigandi and Chris Jepsen will present a look back at our struggle for independence and more than twelve decades of growth. Attendees will enjoy a silent auction featuring items like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm tickets, and much more. Other features include an excellent dinner buffet, an “O.C. History Trivia Game,” and great old-time music, birthday cake, and party favors for everyone! (I'll link to the event flyer and sign-up form the moment it's available.)