Friday, June 19, 2015

Pat Hearle, 1931-2015

Pat Hearle teaching kids about archaeology at Santiago Oaks Regional Park, 1986.
I'm sad to report the passing of Pat Hearle. She was a regular at the County Archives and an active member of the Orange County Historical Society, the Orange County Pioneer Council, the Pacific Coast Archaeological Society, and the Old Courthouse Museum Society for many years. Hardly  a week went by when I didn't have a conversation with Pat. She is already missed.

Pat had a few favorite stories, which I will attempt to retell as best I can:
  • Pat was a member of Orange County's pioneer Greenleaf family. Her ancestor, Dr. Edward F. Greenleaf was from the same little town in Clark County, Missouri as William H. "Uncle Billy" Spurgeon. After Spurgeon founded the town of Santa Ana, he wrote to Greenleaf, inviting him to come and serve as the town's first doctor. Pat said she once visited that small Missouri town and said she could see exactly why both Spurgeon and Greenleaf both wanted to escape.
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  • When she was a girl, Pat's family owned a large parcel of land on Greenleaf Street in Santa Ana. Somewhere on that land was "the largest pepper tree in Southern California." How large was it, you ask? It was large enough that it appeared on aeronautical charts and aviators used it as a navigation landmark. Sometimes pilots, while trying to get their bearings, would circle the tree again and again. Pat remembered climbing this giant tree and watching the planes circle.
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  • Pat was on the faculty of Walt Disney Elementary School in Anaheim when it opened in 1957. Walt Disney himself was on hand for the opening. He'd had his artists paint a mural of Disney characters all around the school's multi-purpose room. He also gave free one-day Disneyland passes to all the students and teachers and their families. School was dismissed early. Pat went home, collected her sons, and spent the day with them at Disneyland -- on Walt's nickel.
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  • Pat enjoyed the annual Orange County Pioneer Picnics, and recounted how people at each table would brag about how early their families arrived in O.C. "My family arrived in 1918," one would say. "Well," huffed another, "my family came here in 1902." If asked, Pat would say her family arrived in Santa Ana in 1882, which usually ended that particular line of conversation. She got a kick out of the awkward silence thereafter.
Pat had many lifelong friendships, she loved her archaeological trips to China Ranch in the Mojave, and at the end of her life she worked hard to remain as independent as she could for as long as she could. She was a strong woman with many interests and it was hard not to like her.

Here's Pat's obituary from the June 16, 2015 issue of the Orange County Register:
Leonore Patricia "Pat" Hearle, late of Anaheim, died May 23, 2015 of natural causes at age 83. Born December 21, 1931 in Santa Ana, she was the only child of Leo Patrick Flaherty and Hazel Greenleaf Flaherty. A lifelong resident of Orange County, Pat grew up on Greenleaf Street in Santa Ana, and graduated from Santa Ana High School and Santa Ana College where she sang and performed leading roles in numerous productions. She earned her B.A. and teaching credential at Cal State Long Beach, and, after her 1954 marriage to Herbert David Hearle, she taught briefly at the newly opened Walt Disney School in Anaheim. After the birth of her third son, she went back to teaching at Cambridge Elementary School in Orange where she taught kindergarten and first grade for thirty years. In 1960, she was Vice President of the Long Beach State Alumni Association, and at different times was a longtime member of the Orange County Sports Car Club, Junior Ebell of Santa Ana, and the Pioneer Council of Orange County. After her 1977 divorce, she served four terms as President of the Pacific Coast Archaeological Society. She was always active on the planning committee for Santa Ana High School Class of 1949 reunions, and also served as a member of the Old Courthouse Museum Advisory Committee for many years. Her longest and favorite residence in adulthood was in Bluebird Canyon in her beloved Laguna Beach. She is survived by her sons, Patrick (his wife Sally), Kevin (his wife Libby), and Michael; two granddaughters, Ashley and Amanda; and one great-granddaughter, Austin. A Celebration of Life will be held June 20, 2015 [at 12:30 p.m.] at the Clubhouse of Harbour View Park at 16600 Saybrook Lane in Huntington Beach. In accordance with her wishes, she will be buried in the last of the Greenleaf family plots in Santa Ana Cemetery.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Green Cat, Santa Ana

Illustration from an ad for The Green Cat, Santa Ana Register, Jan. 15, 1937.
Like other felines, Orange County's popular Green Cat had more than one life. This is the story of its first incarnations in Santa Ana. A future post will tell the story of a later incarnation in Westminster.

The Green Cat Cafe started as a confectionery, lunch counter and soda fountain at 300 N. Main (at 3rd St.), in Downtown Santa Ana. It was the sort of place where office workers could get an affordable lunch, where soda jerks assembled malts and phosphates with appropriate panache, and where children stared into glass candy displays before slowly and painstakingly making their selections.
The Green Cat's first incarnation is shown on the left, 1920s.
It began in June of 1927, when Navy veteran and Kansas native Lambert James "Jim" Detrixhe (1888-1973) moved to Santa Ana from El Monte with his wife Alice and young son Billy. At the same time, he bought the Roth Drug Store at the northwest corner of Third St. and Main. He’d previously run a soda fountain and had been in the catering business for 17 years. As such, he put a lot of stock in the drug store’s fountain business and immediately invested in a refrigeration system that allowed him to make his own ice cream. The store came with seven stools, but within a year, Detrixhe expanded the number to twenty four. To reflect the new focus on treats and lunches, he changed the name to The Green Cat, and he purchased signature green jadeite glasses and dishes.

Long ago, green cats – like flying broomsticks and bubbling cauldrons – were associated with witches (a tradition that dates to at least the 1500s). In a short 1915 comic movie entitled, “The Green Cat," a presumably witchy “old maid” with a green cat plays tricks on two buffoons. A longer comedy of the same name, featuring Snub Pollard, was released in 1923 and played the following year at Walker’s West Coast Theatre, two doors up from Roth’s Drug Store. A fictional “Green Cat Café” also served as the opening setting for the play, "The Good Little Bad Girl." So perhaps one of these instances explains the name Detrixhe gave his café. Or it may also have been a riff on an earlier Santa Ana institution: the popular Green Dragon Confectionery.
Advertisement in the Santa Ana Register, Feb. 27, 1932
In any case, “The Green Cat,” seemed to have caught on as a name for businesses, as there was also a place called The Green Cat on Rural Route 2 near Orange.

In 1931, Detrixhe moved the popular café up the street to a larger space at 415 N. Main, added a dance floor, and expanded the menu to include heartier fare. The already popular business became even more popular. Women's clubs, charitable organizations and the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce met there. The mayors of local cities gathered there to plan how to approach the County government about needed road improvements. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce held a meeting there to rally people against the PWA and other New Deal make-work programs. The Eddie Martin Pilots Association met there to screen films on aviation. The Republicans met there. The Democrats met there. Presidential candidates stumped there. And the County Council of Epic Clubs met there for a special dinner in 1936 with L.A. County Supervisor John Anson Ford as their speaker (after listening to a radio broadcast of FDR).
A 1947 view of the second Green Cat location, at 415-417 N. Main St.
On May 17, 1935 a banquet was held by Santa Ana’s city leaders to honor the good citizenship of Orange County's Japanese Americans and the friendship between the nations of Japan and the United States. Representatives of five local Japanese organizations attended. No one in the room could have predicted that the next decade would bring Pearl Harbor, World War II, the interment of California’s Japanese-Americans, and the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan. In retrospect, this evening of brotherly love at the Green Cat was a rather poignant moment in Orange County history.

W.H. Spurgeon, Jr., president of the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce, acted as M.C. for the evening; Santa Ana High School football star Kiyoshi Higashi introduced a group of girls performing traditional Japanese dances; and Japanese Consul to Los Angeles Tomokazu Hori shared his thoughts on friendship and commerce.

"I am especially happy to see... hearty friendship toward each other between the Americans and Japanese,” said Hori. "World peace and harmony is largely a matter of personal friendship. As long as the peoples have friendly regards toward each other, their countries will be friends no matter what political or financial difference there may be between them. ...These two countries have every reason to stand together and work together for the peace, progress and prosperity of mankind."

Sadly, Emperor Hirohito didn’t get the memo.

Prominent local rancher Hisamatsu Tamura, Jr. gave a talk on "the growing friendliness between Americans and Japanese." Speakers lauding their Japanese-American neighbors included Postmaster Terry E. Stephenson, Judge James L. Allen, and Stuart Strathman of the Placentia Chamber of Commerce.
Banquet facilities at the Green Cat, shown in the Register, Sept. 13, 1939.
In the early 1930s the Green Cat fielded an excellent baseball team, the uncreatively-named Green Cats, which played churches, businesses, fraternal organizations, the Irvine Beanpickers, and others in the Orange County Nightball League.

In February 1936, the Green Cat Café reopened after a brief refurbishing. It could now seat 118 in new leather booths on the spacious first floor, and 250 in rooms for private parties on the second floor. (The walls on the second floor could also be folded back to create an enormous banquet hall.) New refrigeration, ventilation and a sound system were installed as well.

It was this new and improved Green Cat that Detrixhe sold to established restaurateur Stanton "S. S." Hinegardner and his son, Orval "O. W." Hinegardner in October 1936. S. S. Hinegardner had operated the Santa Ana Cafe at Sixth and Main in the 1920s. His son would now become the active manager of the Green Cat. They kept the old staff (of 22), but made a few changes, including operating the place 24 hours a day. 
Advertisement in the Santa Ana Register, Oct. 19, 1935
But selling the restaurant didn’t mean Detrixhe had given up on the Green Cats baseball team. In fact, immediately after selling his restaurant, he doubled down, starting an additional Green Cats women's softball team. This team was initially managed by “Bomo” Koral (who was later instrumental in the development of Santa Ana’s park system) and did battle with such rivals as Tiernan's Typists and the phone company's Hello Girls. Some of these Cats, like Amateur Softball Association Hall of Famer Ruth Sears, later went on to join the more famous Orange Lionettes.

Within a year, Detrixhe would uproot and run another restaurant in Santa Monica. Meanwhile, the Green Cat Café continued its popularity. They added an adjoining Kit Kat Cocktail Lounge next door, where bartender Al Crowne added a novel twist to mixology by playing musical spoons.

Despite this juggernaut of pure entertainment, the Cat was in trouble. In July 1939, the state came after O. W. Hinegardner, saying he hadn’t made a single payment into the state unemployment insurance fund since taking over the Green Cat. Even a good restaurant with customers can fall victim to poor management. On January 17, 1940 Hinegardner sold his interest in the operation to his father and closed the place.
The original Green Cat building still stands near the West Coast Theatre.
Since that time, the Green Cat's second, larger location has been torn down for the First American Title Insurance complex. But the original location has continued on as a series of cafes. In recent memory, it was El Nidito and retained the look of an old lunch room. Today, with a remodeled interior, it serves as The Little Sparrow, where a hip crowd dines on international fusion cuisine. It’s a rare case of a sparrow following after a cat. 

(Stay tuned for a follow-up post about the Green Cat's revival…)

Monday, June 08, 2015

Cow Punching in Old Orange County

Roundup at the Forster Ranch, San Juan Capistrano, 1900
I just wrote a short article on the history of cattle in Orange County for the June 2015 County Connection (county employee) newsletter. (Link.) You'll notice I give somewhat short shrift to the Rancho Era, but that story will be covered in the next installment of the series. Meanwhile, here's something to think about:

Mission San Juan Capistrano ran about 14,000 head of cattle during peak years and Mission San Gabriel had around 16,000. The ranchos covered the hills and plains of O.C. with cattle. And in the decades prior to World War II, Orange County was home to about 30,000 head.

Today, lawyers outnumber cattle by more than thirty to one in Orange County. (Insert your own joke involving "a lotta bull" here.) We have more freeway call boxes -- even in this age of mobile phones -- than cattle. And despite efforts to stamp out both carbon emissions and fun, Orange County has more beach fire rings than bovines.

In fact, there are more dogs at “Corgi Day” at Huntington Beach’s Dog Beach than there are cattle remaining in the hills of O.C.

Whoopee ti yi yo, git along little doggies.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

How Little Saigon ended up in central Orange County

Asian Garden Mall (1987), 9200 Bolsa Ave., Westminster
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War. From Orange County’s perspective, this was a critical turning point: Not only was it a major moment in world history, it was also the spark that led to the creation and growth of Little Saigon -- now a key part of our cultural landscape.

The Orange County Archives has assembled a display entitled, “Orange County’s Little Saigon: Evolution of a Community,” located in the first floor lobby of the Old Orange County Courthouse, 211 W. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana. (Open Mon-Fri.) It should be up through the end of the year.
The first part of the exhibit uses a selection of photographs to give a brief overview of the subject. A larger case of artifacts then highlights Vietnamese culture, including holidays, folklore, history, and also features one of the first Little Saigon street signs (on loan from the Westminster Historical Society).
"This area along Bolsa was the most economically deprived area in Westminster,” said former mayor Joy Neugebauer. “Within a few years of Vietnamese arriving it became our highest value area, and it remains so today."
An enormous panel centered on two aerial photographs – showing the center of Little Saigon both today and prior to 1975 – depicts in detail the transformation of an underutilized and economically depressed area into the thriving commercial and social center it is today.

The “before” map highlights small communities like Bolsa and Silver Acres, landmarks like the Zenith Aircraft Corp and Post Bros. tractor shop, and everyday roadside scenes. The current map highlights key businesses, temples and other institutions that played a significant role in the development and growth of Little Saigon since the end of the Vietnam War.
Flags of freedom fly over Little Saigon.“The Communists took over South Vietnam in 1975, and that is too long," Soc Nguyen of Garden Grove told the O.C. Register. "A couple of more years and the Communists will fall. The people have no freedom.” (Photo by DHN)
Hanging over the whole exhibit are the flags of the former Republic of Vietnam, now a symbol of ethnic unity and cultural identity; and of the United States, which is proudly displayed in Little Saigon seemingly more than anywhere else in Orange County.
A CIA agent helps evacuees into a helicopter on a Saigon rooftop, hours before the city fell to North Vietnamese troops.
After the fall of Saigon, on April 30, 1975, (a.k.a. “Black April”), several waves of refugees fled Vietnam’s hostile new Communist regime. Those who had supported a free Vietnam feared being sent to “re-education camps,” or worse.

Although a small number of Vietnamese arrived while the war was still ongoing, the vast majority arrived afterward. The first big wave of refugees arrived immediately after Black April. Many more – held up in foreign refugee camps, escaping on small boats, or waiting for other opportunities to flee Vietnam – came in later waves.

“In Saigon,” the saying went, “even the lamppost wants to go to America.”
Refugees at temporary housing facility at Camp Pendleton, May 1, 1975.
In 1975, about 50,400 refugees were brought to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, abutting the southern end of Orange County. Pendleton was the first and largest “reception center” for refugees seeking to resettle in the United States. It was nicknamed “Little Saigon.”

Orange County families and religious organizations sponsored about 75% of the Vietnamese who came through Camp Pendleton, giving them their first taste of everyday life in Southern California.
Today, our first Vietnam-town is “graced” with an unconvincing statue of President Obama outside a Mexican nightclub.
"Vietnam Town" at 2331 W. First St., in Santa Ana, predated Little Saigon as Orange County’s first Vietnamese business center. As early as 1975, this small Vietnamese-owned shopping center featured the Saigon Market, the Vietnamese Book Exhibition, and a service club for refugees.

Apartment complexes in Garden Grove near the refugee center at St. Anselm Episcopal Church became one of the first identifiable clusters of Vietnamese residents in Orange County. It was well north of what became Little Saigon.
The Vietnam War Memorial (2003) at Sid Goldstein Park in Westminster was designed by sculptor Tuan Nguyen.
A handful of immigrant business owners – most of whom arrived in the earliest waves – began buying affordable under-utilized land along Bolsa Avenue in Westminster for the specific purpose of creating an “Asiantown” or Vietnamese business district.

Among the early businessmen who developed much of Little Saigon’s commercial core was Frank Jao, who created such landmarks as Far East Plaza, Asian Village Center, Bolsa Mini Mall and the iconic Asian Garden Mall. Others included Dr. Co D. Pham, Tony Lam, and Danh Quách. There were thirty Vietnamese-owned businesses in Orange County in 1979. There were 350 by 1981 and about 750 by 1988.
1980s strip malls like this one typify much of Little Saigon’s commercial district.
Initially, the existing population of Orange County seemed uncomfortable with Little Saigon. There were the usual barriers of language and cultural differences that face any new group of immigrants. And in the wake of losing a brutal and controversial war, many Americans also had a negative knee-jerk reaction to any reminder of Vietnam. A few were even openly hostile to the newcomers.

But Little Saigon proved to be a vital part of Orange County, driven by a people who value family, education, hard work and freedom. In very little time, the Vietnamese – many of whom arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs – have joined the ranks of Orange County’s teachers, entrepreneurs, business leaders, elected officials, doctors and more.

The Communists may have erased the name Saigon from maps of Vietnam, but both the name and the spirit of a free and determined people are alive and well in sunny Orange County. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Old Courthouse time capsule contents revealed

Evan Krewson gingerly carries the "Japanned" metal box.
An important event in Orange County’s Centennial Celebration took place on the front lawn of the Old Courthouse on the morning of Nov. 10, 1988. The photo above shows a time capsule from 1900 being removed from the cornerstone of the courthouse by Evan Krewson, who’d recently completed overseeing the historic building’s restoration. What treasures would be found inside?

Supervisor Roger Stanton acted as master of ceremonies for the event, O.C. Historical Commission Chair Jane Gerber made some opening remarks, and historian Jim Sleeper oversaw the opening of the time capsule.

An article in the next day’s Orange County Register, by Dawn Bonker, described events as they unfolded. Excerpts follow:
     . . . A lot more than old dust was jostled free in the ceremony to retrieve a time capsule planted July 4, 1900, an open the Orange County Centennial Corporate History Exhibit. Signatures of county supervisors, a blank marriage license and a newspaper advertising daily milk delivery for $1.50 a month were among the historical treasures.
     But the highlight in the eyes of historians and archivists was the 200-year-old Spanish coin from the ruins of Mission San Juan Capistrano.     
     And though some of the documents had disintegrated into a pile of flakes and crumbs, archivists – dressed in white gloves to sift through the trove – were pleased that much of the box’s contents had survived their interment without benefit of hermetic seals or air-tight plastics.
     . . . Several hundred people were interested enough to attend the Orange County Historical Commission’s opening of the time capsule on the grounds of the newly restored Old Orange County Courthouse in downtown Santa Ana. . . . Many boasted an Orange County heritage older than the courthouse.
     Before the capsule was lifted from the granite stone in which it has rested for 88 years, county Supervisor Roger Stanton called for audience members whose families had been in Orange County 100 years or more to stand and say the names of their forebears.
One-by-one, the mostly white-haired children and grandchildren of county pioneers recounted stories of elders who had farmed, homesteaded and worked in Orange County a century ago.
     . . . Masons slid the cornerstone out and a rectangular indentation covered with a scrap of metal and a thin slab of concrete were spotted.
     As for the condition of the documents inside, there was some disappointment. At the time the capsule was buried, the Santa Ana Standard newspaper had reported that the capsule was hermetically sealed. But the newspaper was obviously mistaken, county historian Jim Sleeper said as the decaying box was placed before him. Two holes had rusted through the metal cash box, allowing dampness to enter and destroy some of the papers rolled up inside.    
     “Well, it looks like the county went low bid,” Sleeper quipped.
     The documents were put on temporary display in the courthouse museum and were expected to be removed today so they could be dried out and examined by [County Archivist Gabrielle] Carey and other archivists who will preserve the documents. Once properly preserved, the documents will be displayed publically, she said.
     Meanwhile, the Historical Commission is planning to fill the cavity left by the 1900 time capsule with a state-of-the-art, $1,000 stainless-steel box. Among the items that will go into it are photographs and records related to the courthouse’s restoration, current maps of Orange County and mementos and buttons from the Orange County centennial celebration.
When the Old Courthouse was new.

A more complete listing of the 1900 time capsule’s contents follows:

NEWSPAPERS:
  • Anaheim Weekly Gazette (6/30/1900)
  • Santa Ana Evening Blade (7/2/1900)
  • Orange County Herald (7/4/1900)
  • Orange Post (6/30/1900)
  • Santa Ana Bulletin (6/26/1900)
  • Santa Ana Standard (6/30/1900)
ORANGE COUNTY GREAT REGISTER OF VOTERS:
  • Great Register, 1890
  • Great Register, 1896
  • Supplement to the Great Register, 1898
MAPS:
  • Map of the Town of Santa Ana, Los Angeles County, 1887
  • Map of Orange County, California by S. H. Finley, C. E.
PAMPHLETS:
  • “Orange County, California – Its Progress, Resources, Prosperity”
  • “Orange County and the Santa Ana Valley” (Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce, 1900)
  • “Orange County, California – History, Soil, Climate, Resources, Advantages” (Santa Ana Board of Trade, 1891)
  • “Southern California Paradise” (1887)
  • “Orange County and the Santa Ana Valley, Southern California” (Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce, 1887)
LETTERS WRITTEN FOR TIME CAPSULE:
  • James H. Hall, County Auditor wrote about the assessed value of real property in O.C., 1890-1900.
  • M. A. Forester to F. P. Nickey, explaining the origin of the Spanish coin in the capsule.
  • J. P. Greeley, County Superintendent of Schools wrote a summary of the county school system.
  • John J. Overton, O.C.’s oldest citizen, 103 years old, of Westminster. Tells of his remarkable health and his extensive military service in three 19th Century wars. (6/26/1900)
  • W. A. Beckett, County Clerk, gives a summary of County formation, elections, and the construction of the Courthouse. (7/4/1900)
AUTOGRAPHS:
  • Orange County officials (1900)
  • Officers of the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce (1900)
LISTS OF OFFICIALS (& RELATED MATERIAL):
  • Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce, list of officers, directors and members (1900)
  • Anaheim elected officials (1870-1900) with notes about the city’s incorporation, charter, and city buildings and infrastructure. (1900)
  • City of Orange city officials and incorporation date.
  • Time capsule ceremony executive committee members and Santa Ana Fire Dept. (7/4/1900)
OTHER MATERIAL:
  • Marriage license form (blank)
  • Crop and chattel mortgage list (fragment)
  • Public School Manual, Orange County, California
  • Chamber of Commerce Minutes of Annual Meeting (fragment, from unknown city)
  • Silver Spanish 1788 coin found in the rubble of the Great Stone Church at Mission San Juan Capistrano

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A visit to the Fountain Valley Historical Society

New officers sworn in at Fountain Valley Historical Society.
 I spoke today at the Fountain Valley Historical Society (17641 Los Alamos St.). They were a fun audience and very gracious hosts. I must admit that I've never been over there when the clubhouse was open, so I was very pleased to find some interesting artifacts and collections. But naturally, my eye always goes to the "fun stuff " first, like this (possibly circa 1950s?) hand-lettered poster, donated by the Courreges family:
Talbert Whiskerino Contest /P.T.A. fundraiser poster
Like all historical societies, they have some items that they can't identify. Perhaps you can help by identifying one or both of the people in the following pastel portraits:
These are believed to be Fountain Valley residents, and both portraits are dated 1970.
The image below -- which hangs in a frame on the clubhouse wall -- depicts the "world's champion draft stallion 1902-1906." I can't quite make out the rest of the faint pencil notes written on the upper left of the photo. But on the lower right, the following is written in what appears to be Thomas B. Talbert's scrawl: "Owners Fred H. Bixby, W. J. Newland, S. E. Talbert, T. B. Talbert." Of course, these are all familiar pioneer names, but what's the story on this fat, bob-tailed horse?
 I'm pretty sure he's related to the horse (shown below) in "What's Opera, Doc?"
"Oh Bwunhilda, you're so wuv-wee..."
In his memoir, My Sixty Years In California, Tom Talbert wrote about various horses he owned, traded, sold and even raced. But I can't find a mention of this Rubenesque equine.

Speaking of horses, the exhibit shown below is a rather unique approach to displaying a historic saddle.
The panel attached to the plywood horse reads, "History from Eddie Booth. Story of the Silver Saddle. This famous saddle was owned by the Gisler  family. It was shown and enjoyed in many parades. The family donated it to the Fountain Valley Historical Society. It was displayed in the old barber shop building. Next, it was moved to Knott's Berry Farm for a few years. I was retiring from the Farm and the President of the Historical Society requested [that it] be returned. In the meantime, the Knott family sold the farm. I was told by the new owners that they purchased everything. A secretary discovered a letter stating the saddle was on loan. The owners honored the letter and I was able to return [it] back to Fountain Valley. It was placed on display in the lobby of the City Hall. It [has] now found its home in the Historical Society Building. Enjoy!!!!  Ed Booth"

Yet another Knott connection! (They're everywhere!)

Anyway, my thanks again to FVHS for having me over for lunch, conversation and a tour!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Abe Lincoln, Steve Martin and Knott's Berry Farm

Steve Martin as Asa Trenchard in Our American Cousin, 1965.
A couple days ago, Janet Whitcomb, who usually writes about South O.C. history, emailed me a great North O.C. story taken from her own childhood memories. It was so interesting, in fact, that I asked if she'd let me share it here. So without further ado,...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015
From: Janet Whitcomb:
Subject: With apologies to Sgt. Pepper: It was 150 years ago today...

This morning I suddenly realized, while listening to my car's radio on my way to work, that I knew exactly where I was 50 years ago.

Knott's Berry Farm!

More specifically, my mother and grandmother took me to see an abridged production of Our American Cousin at Knott's Berry Farm's Birdcage Theater. And it may well have been that we attended on April 14th instead of the 15th . . . but read on, and I’ll go into that issue a bit later.

Our American Cousin was the play President and Mrs. Lincoln attended the evening of April 14, 1865. And as anyone who has studied American history knows, during the play's performance—halfway through Act III, Scene 2, to be a bit more exact—John Wilkes Booth gained access to the theater box where the Lincolns and their guests were seated and assassinated President Lincoln.
Martin's rustic character proves out-of-place in Victorian England.
As for our presence at Knott's Berry Farm's Birdcage Theater . . . We arrived in the afternoon (it was a school day, after all) with the express purpose of attending the play. (These were the days when both entrance to and parking at Knott's were free of charge.) Soon we'd found seats in the theater and, once the lights went down, saw to our immediate right—where a "box seat" would've been located—the silhouetted figure of Lincoln. This silhouette remained lit until the third act, when immediately after the following line:
"Don't know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdologizing old man-trap."
—a single shot rang out and the entire theater went dark. Then the lights came up, one of the play's actors rushed out and very nervously announced: "On this day, one hundred years ago, the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was shot."[Or died, depending on which day we were there, as Lincoln was shot on April 14th and died April 15th. I simply remember my mom made sure I was aware that we were attending on a Very Important Anniversary.] The actor then added a few other words to the effect that Lincoln would live forever in the hearts of Americans, and that the play would now resume.

Which it did . . . minus the illuminated silhouette.

Obviously all of this made an impression on me, for as I was driving to school this morning I heard about commemoration ceremonies at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. At which point I recalled that my mother and grandmother were thoughtful enough to give me a Lincoln memory of my own.

And here’s a postscript to this “memory play”: Upon looking up the Birdcage Theater’s production of Our American Cousin online, I found information  indicating that actor/comedian Steve Martin may well have been in the production we saw. This link takes you to [Dave DeCaro's website], Daveland, which displays a very young Steve Martin, in photos from the production dated June 1965. So perhaps Steve was on stage in April as well.  I certainly remember the barn backdrop with the exaggerated perspective. At the time, however, I was far more interested in animals and drawing than I was in actors!

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Discovering Bunnyhenge

In early 2013, while grading land for the new Newport Beach Civic Center Park, backhoe operator Greg Oswald uncovered an amazing relic of Orange County’s prehistoric past. “The side of the area I was digging caved in a little, and suddenly I was looking at a huge pair of bunny ears!”

Those ears turned out to be part of the first of two ancient eight-foot-tall stone figures on the site depicting Desert Cottontail Rabbits (Sylvilagus audubonii). Then, something even more astonishing was found: A large circle of sixteen, four-foot-tall stone rabbits on top of a hill.

“We were shocked,” said Jack O’Hare of the project’s landscape architecture firm, Peter Walter Partners. “But the archaeologist monitoring the dig, Hazel Lepus, told us that native rock art is often found near water, and this is right next to a small wetland habitat.”

Archaeologists estimated that this “Bunnyhenge” was built anywhere from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. “Radiocarbon dating suggests that the bunnies were carved between 2400 and 2200 BC,” said Lepus. “Based on protein residue sampling, it appears the rabbits were originally brightly colored with ochre pigment. A variety of other natural colors were used to highlight the eyes.”
These sorts of monolithic stone animal effigies are extremely rare, but not unheard of. Similar sites have been discovered from the Conejo Valley to Caerbannog, Wales. In fact, at roughly the same time as the Newport Bunnyhenge discovery, a large figure of a dog relieving himself was found only a mile away, near the Orange County Museum of Art.

“These ‘rabbit rings’ had ceremonial or religious significance, and were probably used in puberty or fertility rights,” said Dr. Peter Binkenstein, who teaches anthropology and Native American Folklore at South Dakota State University. “But bunnyhenges were also used as calendars. By observing the alignment of the stars, sun, moon and planets in relationship to their floppy ears, one could mark the passing of the seasons.”

Further excavation showed that the center of the Bunnyhenge circle was used as some sort of fire pit. This led the City Council to briefly propose a ban on the site.
Local Juaneño and Gabrieleno Indian leaders are baffled by the stone rabbits. But the site is drawing people with neopagan and new age beliefs. In the wee small hours of Feb. 20th, reports of strange goings-on and possible fire at the park brought the Newport Beach Police to investigate. All they found was a smoldering bunch of white sage and a bag of Purina Rabbit Chow (Garden Recipe) – its contents scattered across the circle.

“Something was definitely going on up there,” said NBPD Lieutenant Frank Harvey. “This is one of the most culturally sensitive places in our city and as a resident myself, it makes me hopping mad to think of someone messing it up.”