The traditional Costa Mesa Fish Fry began in 1946, right after the war. (In earlier years, Costa Mesa had held a Scarecrow Carnival, but somehow that didn't have the same kind of staying power.) The local Lions Club sponsored the first Fish Fry, and has done so ever since. The batter recipe -- which is still used today -- came from Lion and Orange County Supervisor Heinz Kaiser. He is shown above serving fish at the 1947 Fish Fry. (The brown stains on the table indicate freshness.)
[Correction (5-29-2012): I have updated this entry to correct a couple glitches pointed out by Costa Mesa Historical Society maven Mary Ellen Goddard. According to the old Costa Mesa-Newport Harbor Lion's Club website (my original source) the Fish Fry got its start as the Scarecrow Festival, with the fish fry element added in 1945. According to Mary Ellen, that's not true. The articles I drew my information from have since been pulled from the Lions' website, but one can still be found (at least in part), here on the Daily Pilot's website.
Mary Ellen writes, "...There seems to have been no food served at the first two Scarecrow events in 1938 and 1939. In 1940 and 1941, the American Legion put on a beef barbeque at the Scarecrow Carnival. There was no fish fried at the Scarecrow Carnival. The dates of these events were: June 4, 1938; July 1, 1939; June 1, 1940; and August 30, 1941,... The Fish Fry was decided upon at a meeting of the Lions Club in 1946. And for most of the time since, it has been a yearly event."
Got that? It's 1946, not 1945. And they didn't fry any fish at the Scarecrow event. I know this seems like awfully small punkin's, but I know how easily a bit of wrong information can be perpetuated ad nauseum on the Interweb, and I hate the idea of being part of that cycle. I honestly thought I was going to the "horse's mouth" for this particular bit of information, but sometimes even the horse is wrong. (And no,... horse was served at neither the Scarecrow Carnival nor the Fish Fry.)]
The image above shows some of the Fish Fry crowd on June 7, 1952. I've included a detail from the same photo below, which should provide you with a better view of the background when you click on it. Note the signs for local businesses like Tewinkle Hardware.
Recently, I’ve mentioned a number of local history books that are in progress or on their way to press. Here are a few more…
Guy Ball is compiling photos for an Arcadia Publishing book about the history of Tustin. The book is due this coming Spring.
Don Ballard is compiling a series of magazine-format follow-ups to his book about the history of the Disneyland Hotel.
Gordon Bricken is working on a follow-up to his Civil War Legacy in Santa Ana, which will discuss the importance of immigrants from the North and South to Orange County in the years after the war.
Phil Brigandi is wrapping up work on his history of the Boy Scouts in Orange County.
Christopher Merritt’s long-awaited book about the history of Knott’s Berry Farm, Knott's Preserved, is going through its last round of edits and should be out this Fall.
Rob Richardson is working on an Arcadia book entitled Railroads & Depots of Orange County. I’m sure this will be a big seller and provide many images that few of us have seen before.