Wednesday, January 27, 2010

President Lincoln is coming to Orange County

I snuck in and got a few sneak preview shots from the "Abraham Lincoln: Self-Made in America," exhibit which is still in the installation process at the Old Courthouse Museum in Santa Ana. The exhibit is sponsored by OC Parks and the Orange County Archives, and will be complemented by a series of lectures. For details on the exhibit and lectures click here. The exhibit will run throughout the month of February.
The photos above show casts from life masks made of Lincoln. Both are part of the exhibit. It's as close as you'll ever get to seeing the man with your own eyes. Quite amazing.
The core of the exhibit comes from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, and focuses on the story of Lincoln himself. But today I'm giving you a peek at some of the additional materials that have been added to help connect Lincoln's story to Orange County. For example, this is a copy (above) of the document Lincoln signed to give Mission San Juan Capistrano back to the Roman Catholic Church. (Reproduction courtesy of the Mission).
And below is a small sample of a large display of original materials relating to the Grand Army of the Republic (Civil War veterans) annual gatherings once held at the Methodist Campground in Huntington Beach. These ribbons are from the collection of Charles Beal.
Also among the exhibits is this panoramic view (below) of G.A.R. veterans at a Huntington Beach encampment around 1915. Barbara Bellot and the Lovitt family have made copies of this image available to a number of historical organizations here in Southern California.

I understand there will also be some materials on display courtesy of Disneyland and their Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln attraction.
There will be lots more to see, but you'll just have to go see it in person during February. (And while you're there, be sure to see the rest of the Old Courthouse and visit us in the Archives downstairs.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Orange Street Fair & Orange Community Hist. Soc.

Historian Phil Brigandi will discuss the history of the Orange Street Fair at the Orange Community Historical Society's annual dinner on Thursday night (Jan. 28).
The first Street Fair in Orange was held in 1910 and is shown in the photos I've posted today. It was reborn in 1973 as the Orange International Street Fair, which is still held each Labor Day weekend and which now draws hundreds of thousands of attendees.
"My talk will be on both 'first' street fairs, in 1910 and 1973, and will include photos from both events,” says Brigandi. “I attended the 1973 Street Fair and remember it very fondly.”
At the same event, J. J. Friis will posthumously receive the Orange Community Historical Society's William T. Glassell Award. I'm honored to have been asked to present the award to his widow, Harriet Friis, who will accept the award on his behalf. I hope to see some of you there Thursday evening.
Note the apparent lack of people in this nighttime photo. In the time it took to expose this negative, the moving mass of people simply became a blurry ghost-like patch in the middle of the street.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sheriff's Office Annual Report, 1959

Today I'm just sharing one of my favorite bits of graphic art in the Orange County Archives. The cover of the Sheriff's 1959 Annual Report is a wonderful slice of Mid-Century Orange County. Oddly enough, the style of the individual illustrations is more 1930s than 1950s, but the subject matter captures the look and feel of post-war O.C. Unfortunately, we don't know who the artist was.
This fanciful view of the coast (above) might be intended to represent any of several O.C. seaside communities. The topography looks a bit like San Clemente, but the oil derricks on the horizon (in neighboring Huntington Beach?) would tend to indicate Newport Beach. Note Catalina Island in the background and a "TIKI" bar in the foreground.
Dad mows the lawn in front of his new Modern tract home while Junior flies a kite. The tract undoubtedly took the place of an old orange grove, which is why remnants of a eucalyptus wind break can still be seen in the background.
Ten years earlier, agriculture would have played a much larger role on the cover of this report. But by 1959, orange trees and row crops were definitely fading away, with suburbia taking their place. And finally, we have a nod to Orange County's industrial growth. There are still more than a few of these crate-like buildings with snappy Googiesque entryways scattered around the industrial parks of Orange County. It appears this particular fictional building belonged to the "ABCDE Company," which probably made some kind of aerospace components.
Sorry there isn't a bit more substance to this post, but you have to admit the pictures are pretty great, no?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Flood of 1969, H.B. Lifeguards, bungalows, etc.

Today's three photos were all taken Feb. 24, 1969 ("the Flood of '69") and are from the same Flood Control Dept. materials I wrote about Wednesday. The photo above shows the Villa Park Dam spillway, and the photo below shows the Santiago Dam spillway.
The third photo (below) shows the flooded intersection of Bolsa and Harbor Blvd, in Santa Ana. Businesses shown include Food Ranch Market, Bolsa Auto, and one of the old Stanley Meston-designed McDonald's restaurants. Note also the Huntington Savings billboard. Does anyone know the significance of the lifesized sailor in a crow's nest overlooking the intersection?
Kai Weisser, who wrote a book about the history of the Huntington Beach Lifeguards, now has his own blog. He says "it will primarily be book related, HB lifeguard and beach related. I may from time to time include general H.B. [history], which I have a few photos of, or [other related] stuff that comes my way."
The Register reports that a Vietnam War museum has been proposed for Orange County.
Architect Richard Dodd will give a talk about "The Bungalow Era in Orange County - The Embodiment of the Arts & Crafts Movement" at the Mary Wilson Branch Library, 707 Electric Ave., Seal Beach, Jan. 28, 7pm. If you attend, be sure to also check out the Seal Beach Historical & Cultural Society's restored Pacific Electric "Red Car" adjacent to the library.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Flooding in Orange County

Life is full of coincidences. The Orange County Archives recently received a lot of great photos from the old County Flood Control Dept. (now part of Public Works). No sooner had I scanned some of the better images than the skies opened up on us!
Anyway, here are a few of my favorite images from the newly aquired materials. The image above shows the evacuation of the "Mexican quarter" at 4th St. and Artesia in Santa Ana during the 1916 flood.
The image below was taken March 3, 1938 "at 5th Street, west of the Santa Ana River, looking west" in Santa Ana. It shows the old KVOE ("Voice of the Orange Empire") radio station at right, and an "auto lot" in the background. Today, the 1938 flood is certainly the best-remembered "big flood" in O.C.
(By the way, if you can't reach the Archives by phone or email this week, you can blame that on stormy weather, too. Let's just say the storms are creating more than a few headaches for us.)
I was totally amazed when I first saw the photo above. It's an image of the Orange County town of La Jolla in the aftermath of the 1937 flood. That's right, 1937 was a flood year too, but the magnitude of what happened in 1938 made people sort of forget about the year before. In fact, in 1938, La Jolla was all but washed away by the Santa Ana River when it broke through its banks. The photo above provides some truly ominous foreshadowing.
The photo below shows the Pacific Electric Railway bridge over the mouth of the Santa Ana River during the 1927 flood. A note attached reads: "Thousand foot channel when impounded flood waters broke through to the Ocean. The Coast Blvd. [PCH] and P.E. Railroad suffered extreme damage as shown." Indeed, we're seeing the River cut a path directly to the ocean (as it does today), rather than turning southeast to empty into Newport Bay the way it once did.
Hope you're staying safe and dry this week.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Talk Like A Grizzled Prospector Day, Jan. 24th!

Help me start a fun way to commemorate an important moment in California history. On Jan. 24, 1848, James Marshall discovered gold while building a saw mill for John Sutter in Coloma. These few nuggets ultimately led to the Gold Rush.
To honor this historic event, I'm proposing "Talk Like A Grizzled Prospector Day," to be celebrated on Jan. 24th of each year. All you have to do to join in is to talk like a grizzled prospector.
This idea obviously has roots in the popular "International Talk Like A Pirate Day." But it was also inspired by the Prospectors' Day event that Knott's Berry Farm once held each Jan. 24th. The photo below shows the parade from that event in 1973. (Note Walter and Cordelia Knott in the car at right.)
Finally, the event was also partially inspired by a brief exchange in a episode of The Simpsons:

Bart: That ain't been popular since aught-six, dagnabbit.
Homer: Bart, what did I tell you?
Bart: No talking like a grizzled 1890's prospector, consarn it.
You might be wondering how, exactly, one talks like a grizzled prospector. Opinions vary, but for my money, Dallas McKennon's narration for Disneyland's Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland, and Big Thunder Mountain is just about perfect.
However, there's also much to be said for the voices of Gabby Hayes (either drunk or sober), Gabby Johnson (from Blazing Saddles), or even Will Farrell as the "Old Prospector" on Saturday Night Live. Or watch and learn from countless grizzled prospector characters in your own favorite Western TV shows and movies.
Of course, if you really want to get into the spirit of things, you also do the "Walter Huston Dance" from Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Here in Orange County, the ranchos benefited dramatically from the Gold Rush, as miners provided a huge market for beef. Previously, only the hides and tallow from the cattle were particulary marketable. This prosperous period is still enshrined in California lore as the romantic era of the ranchos.
Also, some of Orange County's early gringo pioneers and luminaries first came to California as 49ers. One of these was J.E. Pleasants, who was (among many other things) among the founding members of the Orange County Historical Society.
Anyway, mark Jan. 24th on your calendar, spread the word among your friends, and be ready to talk like a grizzled prospector, dadgummit!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Prehistory, preservation, old county hospital, etc.

Archeologist Doug McIntosh throws a little prehistory into the mix today with these two photos. Both show sites from the Newport Coast Archaeological Project (NCAP) in and around the San Joaquin Hills. In total, this project excavated 35 Late Prehistoric residential sites as part of mitigation for the Irvine Co.'s Newport Coast Planned Community.
The photo above is from CA-ORA 671, and was shot in Aug. 1989. Doug writes, ""This was part of the Irvine Coast/Pelican Hill development. This was a prehistoric rock shelter and habitation site." This site was one of the "French Flat Complex" sites. A paper from one of the other sites in this project, outlining prehistoric construction methods, is available online.
Today's second photo, in black and white, shows Doug at CA-ORA 662, on Pelican Hill -- the largest site in the NCAP. "I do not think that Pelican Hill looks like this anymore," he writes. Talk about an understatement! How I loved this area before they covered it with pseudo-Tuscan McMansions.
The Tustin Preservation Conservancy, in cooperation with the California Preservation Foundation and the City of Tustin, will present a two-day workshop on current preservation issues, January 27-28, at Tustin City Hall. Topics will include Listing on the National Register of Historic Places and the Secretary of Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties (Wed. 9am-4pm), and Historic Resource Surveys (Thurs 9am-5pm). Each day costs $150, or $115 for members of the sponsoring organizations. Following the first day's workshop, there will be a tour of Tustin's LTA Blimp Hangar.
UCI Medical Center will host "Celebrating the Life of Building 10" on Jan. 28, 11:30am to 1pm at the front of the 1914 Fredrick Eley-designed Orange County Hospital Building (Building 10). Come see the place before they tear it down.
The Buena Park Historical Society will hold their 42nd Annual Installation Dinner on Jan. 25th at the historic Stage Stop Hotel. See their website for details.
Werner Weiss has updated his entry on Disneyland's World Clock at
Also, the Register has published another article and an editorial to mark the passing of County Supervisor Harriett Weider.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mystery photo from the late 1960s

Maybe you can help me identify this photo. I found it in a Orange County Planning Department booklet published in 1968. The image was uncaptioned, but it was used to represent how much Orange County had changed from its rural beginnings. In it, we can see signs for a Consumer City discount department store, a Burger Chef fast food restaurant, a bowling alley, and Shell, Hancock and Douglas gas stations. Any guesses?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Huntington Beach Scout Cabin

The historic Troop 1 Scout Cabin in Huntington Beach's Lake Park was completed in 1924. Its construction was truly a community effort, with donations and support coming from seemingly everywhere.
I shot and developed the photo above in the late 1980s and gave copies to City Historian Alicia Wentworth and the Huntington Beach Historical Society. I've been amused to see it used in a number of places as a "historic image." I guess people think any black and white photograph must be really old.
Speaking of the Boy Scouts, I hope to see some of you in a few hours at Phil Brigandi's talk on "A Century of Scouting In Orange County" at the Orange County Historical Society.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Nixon Library & Birthplace turns 20

This past weekend, the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum (originally called the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace) in Yorba Linda began a year-long celebration of its 20th year. Was it really that long ago?
The image above and the image immediately below show the house Nixon was born and raised in as it appeared during his vice presidency. The latter appeared in the 6-15-1959 issue of the Yorba Linda Star.
The Nixon Library's dedication took place on July 19, 1990, with a crowd of 50,000, sweltering heat, and super-tight security. Presidents Bush (Sr.), Ford, Reagan, Nixon and their wives were there, along with a host of other dignitaries and celebrities.
My friends John and Ross and I all volunteered to help at the event. This meant we had to be vetted by the Secret Service and attend a series of training sessions. (The photo below shows us at the Library's fountain after one of the training meetings.) At the end of one such meeting, Nixon and his entire family came out and thanked the volunteers in person. That was the highlight of the whole thing for me -- Getting to see a President and First Lady in person.
Dedication day itself was a crazy swirl of activity, and I ended up bussing tables and pouring soft drinks for a cordoned-off area full of second-tier bigwigs. (At one point, I nearly literally ran into Gene Autry.) I could barely see the speakers, but I was still glad I volunteered. How often do you get to be in the midst of a historic event? Besides, they let us keep the cool "RN" neckties they gave us to wear that day.
(Yes, I will stop working photos of myself into my posts now. Sorry.)
This past Monday, (two days after President Nixon's birthday,) the Nixon Library made about 280,000 more pages of textural materials available to the public, along with a variety of audio-visual materials.
Free admission will be offered to their museum on Feb. 15 for Presidents Day.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

R.I.P. Bill Grundy and Harriett M. Wieder

Newport Beach historian Bill Grundy died on New Years' Day. He founded the Newport Beach Historical Society and was an Orange County Historical Commissioner. The Daily Pilot's story about his death states that "As a sales manager for the Irvine Co. from 1967 to 1969, Grundy helped develop Linda Isle and personally sold off all the lots on the island. ...Linda Isle was once known as Shark Island, named for the sand sharks that used to swim offshore. It was always a sore point for Grundy that the Irvine Co. re-named the island after heiress Linda Irvine, the granddaughter of James Irvine II. ...Grundy was born Feb. 20, 1924. His father, Gordon Milton Grundy, was the first doctor in Newport Beach and was credited with saving the city from the 1918 influenza epidemic."
I'm sad to say that Orange County's first woman Supervisor (1979-1995) and former Huntington Beach mayor (1976) Harriett M. Wieder has also died.
She was born Harriett Pulvers in Toronto in 1920, and grew up in Detroit. In 1941, she married Irving “Irv” Wieder, and they soon moved to Los Angeles. They had two children, Lee and Gayle. Becoming active in the community, Harriett eventually found her way onto the staff of L.A. mayor Sam Yorty – the beginning of her career in public service.
Over the years, Harriett championed such issues as the environment, health care, domestic violence prevention and public safety.
I thought I'd post a few of the better images of Harriett from the Orange County Archives' collection. The image above shows her with the Huntington Beach float at the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival, around 1980. The photo below shows her as a newly minted County Supervisor in 1979, attending the dedication of a mural in Stanton.
Above: Passing the ceremonial gavel as Tom Riley becomes the Chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, Jan. 1994.
Below: Harriett, some guy who squints/blinks every time a flash goes off, and the (then) recently appointed Judge Nancy Stock, in the late 1980s.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Boy Scouts' 100th and a red alert in Orange

Noted local historian Phil Brigandi will discuss the history of Scouting in Orange County at the Orange County Historical Society's meeting this Thursday, Jan. 14, 7:30pm, at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., Orange. He will also be available after the talk to sell and sign his excellent new book, On My Honor, A Century of Scouting in Orange County. Scouts (past and present) and the general public are welcome at no charge.
The photo above shows Boy Scouts from Yorba Linda Troop 99 in about 1918. The photo below shows several Scouts from Orange County's first troop, Anaheim Troop 1, on an outing to Hewes Park in El Modena in about 1911. The Scout standing next to his bike in the center is future Anaheim mayor Charlie Pearson.
Phil is the Scouting historian in O.C., and probably the only person who could have written this book. The book's release was timed to coincide with the centennial of both the Boy Scouts of America and of Scouting here in Orange County.
The photo below was taken at the Scout's Camp Irvine in 1953, the same year the Irvine Ranch hosted the National Boy Scout Jamboree.
Help save Downtown Orange from the bureaucrats! The Old Towne Preservation Association (OTPA) strongly encourages you to attend the Orange City Council meeting tomorrow, Tues., Jan. 12, to oppose the City's draft General Plan update. The new plan would significantly increase density in the area, which would likely lead to the area losing its national and state historic district status. This in turn could end preservation incentives like the Mills Act. OTPA says the plan would open the door to destroying the "historic atmosphere, streetscape, and characteristics which existed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries." The meeting will be held at 7pm, in the Council Chambers, 300 E. Chapman Ave.
In far less dramatic Orange news, The 1920s gas station at 305 Main has been sold. The realtor handling the transaction says the building will not be bulldozed but could possibly be moved in the future. Read more about it in the Register.
Sunday's Daily Pilot featured an article about Fairview -- the town that once stood near the modern intersection of Adams Ave. and Harbor Blvd. in Costa Mesa.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A chili January in Orange County

People today don't always think of peppers as one of Orange County's historically important crops, but they certainly were. At the industry's peak, in 1930, O.C. produced 9,433 tons of peppers!
Today's photos show a chili pepper drying plant in Huntington Beach in January 1947. The images come from the Bob Geivet collection at the Old Courthouse Museum, and are marked "E.C. Fogal," who I assume might be the plant's owner.
Note the pallets full of peppers being stacked in the photo above, and the dehydrator that stack was placed into in the photo below. Charles E. Utt of Tustin invented the first "chili house dehydrator" around 1905. (It was a variation on his earlier peanut dehydrator, which had burned down.) Previously, peppers had been dried in the sun. Little, if anything, of our once-impressive chili pepper empire still remains today. Housing tracts and strip malls cover most of the fields where they once were grown. Today, asking around for chili peppers in Orange County will get you pointed toward a grocery store or to the excellent Chili Pepper restaurant in Orange.
(Tip of the hat to Jim Sleeper's Orange County Almanac of Historical Oddities for some of these peppery facts.)

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Casino San Clemente rides again!

Let's start 2010 with some good news. Not only has the old Casino San Clemente (1937) been saved from destruction, but the new owners are turning it back into the kind of dancing and dining venue it once was. And better yet, they're consulting with the San Clemente Historical Society to make sure they get it right! (Asking local historians for advice on matters relating to local history?!? What a crazy idea!) Their grand re-opening was a big New Year's Eve party.
Kudos to both the S.C. Historical Society and LAB Holdings, LLC for saving this colorful part of Orange County's past!
I apologize for the crummy image above, but for some reason it's the only photo of the Casino I could beg, borrow, or (in this case) steal on relatively short notice.