Saturday, April 30, 2011

Women's Club of Huntington Beach

The historic Women’s Club of Huntington Beach clubhouse burned to the ground in a fire that started near the back of the building around 3:00 a.m. this morning (April 30, 2011). The little board and batten building was destroyed in minutes, according to neighbors, with the fire department putting out the very last of the flames about an hour later.

This fire may only register a small blip on the radar of most Huntington Beach citizens. But this 101-year old building -- and the philanthropic organization it housed for 95 years -- was an important part of the city's history.

This 1910 surplus school building was purchased in 1916 by the Women’s Club of Huntington Beach and moved to its current location on the 400 block of 10th Street. The Club had spent four years raising the money for the land and structure through a series of events including musical productions, a mock trial, a New Years Eve ball and a minstrel show. The photo below shows the clubhouse the day it opened, in Oct. 1916.

The Huntington Beach Women's Club itself was formed in January 1908 – seven years after the town was founded and a year before Huntington Beach incorporated as a city. Seven women attended the first meeting, which was held at Florence Blodgett’s home. It was formed as a local chapter of the Federation of Women’s Clubs – an organization with its own rich history.

Early members of the Women’s Club of Huntington Beach included such notable pioneer names as Newland, Talbert, Shank, Tarbox, Huston and Howard. These women were probably the best civilizing influence the town ever had.

Historian Barbara Milkovich wrote that "Because [the Club] attracted the wives of business and political community leaders, it had the opportunity to reflect and/or influence the development of public policy within the city. …[The Club] was a stabilizing force within the community during the transition period from religious resort to oil field.”

(The photo below shows members in the clubhouse on July 4, 1951, still in their parade finery.)

Over the years, the Women’s Club successfully promoted the incorporation of Huntington Beach and the creation of a municipal gas system, created weed abatement and civic beautification programs, was instrumental in founding the PTA, and even provided trash barrels downtown to discourage littering.

Perhaps most memorably, they joined forces with the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Board of Trade to create a private library association in 1909. Their book collection and reading room were the beginnings of what would later be adopted by the city fathers as Huntington Beach's first public library. Even then, several members of the Women's Club remained on the Library Board. This was, remember, before women could even vote (which was another cause the Women's Club advocated for).

Later, the Women's Club upgraded the city's modest public library by requesting and receiving funds for a larger "Carnegie Library."

The Club also held regular educational programs at a time when opportunities for education were limited for women.

During World War I, the Huntington Beach Women's Club -- which held an anti-war stance -- took the lead in forming the local Red Cross Auxiliary.

(The photo of the clubhouse interior, below, was taken by Barbara Milkovich in the 1980s.)

The City's oil boom in the 1920s increased the local population dramatically, and increased the Club's membership from 55 members to over 200 members. In 1926, the clubhouse was remodeled and given an addition in back.

The fact that children were playing on the dangerous oil equipment all over town led the Women's Club to lobby for the first city playgrounds -- an amenity that can now be found in nearly every park in town.

Another concern related to the oil boom was the prevalence of dance halls frequented by oil workers (a.k.a. roughnecks). The Women's Club got the city to regulate and patrol these ubiquitous "dens of vice" -- thereby bringing up the whole tenor of the city.

Milkovich wrote that the Club also "provided the entire community with a secular intellectual and social outlet." They held banquets, dances, and other social functions, and rented out their clubhouse for other special events as well. This tradition has continued up until today.

As a senior at Edison High School, the Huntington Beach Women's Club gave me a scholarship and invited my mother and me to a very nice luncheon at the clubhouse. It was the first time I ever went inside the building, and it seems it was also the last.

As soon as I heard the news about the fire this morning, I drove over, surveyed the damage, and took some photos. Walking back to my car, I passed some folks observing the fire's aftermath.

"What a shame," I said, motioning toward the rubble and shaking my head sadly.

"Well, it didn't really fit into the rest of the neighborhood," one of them said.

"It was here long before you arrived," I pointed out.

"Oh, but it was an eyesore, and they were always holding big events right here in our neighborhood. Maybe this fire was a blessing in disguise."

The only way to stifle my urge to scream at them was to get in my car and drive away.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

SAAAB, Côté, Courreges, Archives and Brea

Today's photo shows WWII Army Air Corps veterans who trained at Santa Ana Army Air Base (SAAAB) holding a reunion in the Orange Coast College cafeteria in 1988. They'll be holding their 35th annual reunion at the (much smaller) Captain's Table -- also at OCC -- this Saturday, 11:30am to 1:30pm. $25. The address is 2701 Fairview Rd. in Costa Mesa. For information or reservations, call (714) 432-5707. Sadly, our WWII vets aren't as young or plentiful as they once were, but "nothing can stop the Army Air Corps!"

Those involved in local history or the history of arms are likely to know former Orange County Historical Commissioner Ed Côté of Santa Ana. And if you know Ed you're also likely to know at least some of his family. After a long and valiantly fought battle with cancer, Ed and Patty's daughter, Christine Renée Côté, 29, passed away on April 16th. I will leave the details to the obituary in the Register. A funeral mass will be celebrated Sat., April 30 at 10 am at St. Callistus Catholic Church in Garden Grove. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the St. Callistus Youth Choir with a memo to the Christine Côté Memorial Fund.

Longtime residents of Fountain Valley mourn the loss of native Hazel Lee Courreges, 85, on April 3rd. Wife of the late Joseph John Courreges, Hazel was the matriarch of one of the area's best-known pioneer families. Again, I leave details to her obituary. I didn't meet her, but my friend Dann Gibb has often spoken of her tremendous help in his ongoing efforts to document the history of Talbert/Fountain Valley.

The Orange County Archives will hold an Open House this Saturday, April 30, from 10am to 4pm. This is a good opportunity to come do research or take a tour if you normally can't visit during the week. Hope to see you there!

The Railroad Days event once planned for this weekend by the Southern California Railway Plaza Association has been postponed until 2012, "due to the lingering effect of a weak economy and insufficient financial sponsorships for this year."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rancho Fiesta Day in El Toro

Okay, okay! You CAN go to Rancho Fiesta Day in El Toro this Sunday (May 1st) -- but ONLY if you promise not to enjoy the local history, barbeque, historic architectural tours, music, dancing, nature, Indian lore, interesting exhibits, friendly people, or fuzzy and feathered animals. (That's what they call reverse psychology!)

All of this will take place at Heritage Hill Historical Park, 25151 Serrano Rd., in El Toro (that's "Lake Forest" to the newbies), from 11am to 3pm. Details are posted online.

Today's photos all come from last year's Rancho Fiesta Day. In addition to the Serrano Adobe (ca 1863) and some beautiful landscaping, the park includes most of the historic buildings that were saved when the old town of El Toro was bulldozed, including the one-room schoolhouse (1890), a country church (1891), and a craftsman ranch house (1908). All have been restored and will be open to the public. There is also a replica of part of an Indian village on the site. I don't know if they'll have "make your own adobe" again this year (for those who really want to get hands-on with architecture).

In addition to the farm animal petting zoo area, last year's event also featured an educational exhibit of raptors found locally -- owls, hawks, etc. -- that was truly magnificent. You don't often get to see live wild birds like these from just inches away. (See the second photo from the top, with Archivist Susan looking a bit nervous next to a hawk.) I hope they do this again. Yes, I know that ethnically I'm supposed to like lutefisk and Lawrence Welk -- and there's nothing wrong with those things. (Okay,... maybe a little something wrong.) But this gabacho loves the Californio-style barbecue and mariachi music. And if last year was any sample, Rancho Fiesta Day has plenty of that. And lots of folklorico-type dancing and historical reinactors too.

In the photo below, Jacque Nunez of the Acjachemen tribe tells one of her people's traditional stories in front of the Serrano Adobe.

I'm sorry I didn't get a photo of the singer with the band shown below in front of the Bennett Ranch House. He was on horseback. Singing on horseback. Maybe that's normal somewhere, but not in Orange County. I particularly liked that he ended his set with "I Did It My Way." No joke!

Anyway, this is just a sampling of some of what went on last year. There was a lot more, from crafts to blacksmithing demonstrations. I hope to see you at THIS year's Rancho Fiesta Day. Be sure to stop by the Saddleback Valley Historical Society's museum, and also the booths for the Orange County Archives and the Orange County Historical Society.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter!

In today's photo, Myrtle Carroll makes Easter bunnies at Knott's Berry Farm's Candy Kitchen in 1957. Click the photo to enlarge it and see all the different varieties of rabbits, chicks, baskets, etc.

Today, of course, they wear sanitary disposable gloves for this kind of work. But in 1957, the bits of gunk under employees' fingernails added essential minerals to children's diets and helped build character. Of course, I still prefer Myrtle's bunnies to cheap candy imported from China. An hour after you ingest Chinese fingernail gunk, you're already hungry again.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mostly Santa Ana news

This photo shows North Broadway in Santa Ana in about 1910. If you look carefully, you can still see a number of the impressive homes that once lined the entire street. Most have now been converted into offices..

Speaking of Santa Ana, the Register's website shares the good news that over half the historic homes in the Lacy Neighborhood previously slated for demolition will now be saved. Some of those homes are older than the County itself.

Also in the news is the sad state of the once-popular Saddleback Inn. The place was a hub of Orange County's business and social life back when Bruce Gelker ran the place. What happened?!?

On a lighter note, the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum (which is now curiously calling itself "ExplorOcean,") has appointed Rita Redaelli Stenlund as its new president.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Wherever there is injustice, you will find us..."

Today's photo shows a group of vaqueros (Mexican cowboys) in Santa Ana in the 1880s. The photo comes from the Santa Ana Public Library, but I don't have any additional information. Their fancy-shmancy attire and the wagon behind them suggest they might be part of a parade. But which parade? (The famous Parade of Products launched around 1906.) In any case, it's a pretty great (if small) image and I wanted to share. If you know more about it, please leave a note in the comments.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bud Hurlbut & OCHS history books/authors event

Last week, I went over to Bud Hurlbut's shop and offices and began moving his papers over to the Orange County Archives. It's mentioned in an article in today's Register. For those who don't know, Bud created high-quality and innovative attractions for theme parks all over the world. However, he is most associated with Knott's Berry Farm, where he once built, owned and operated all the rides himself. He even designed such groundbreaking attractions as the Calico Mine Ride (1960) and the Timber Mountain Log Ride (1969). Along with his papers, the Archives is also receiving some artifacts, including two scale models of the Log Ride.

These models were created to show what the attraction would look like when completed. The photo above depicts Bud showing Walter Knott the first and smaller of the two models in 1967. This version included tunnels in the "mountain" through which Knott's steam train and burro rides would pass.
The second and larger model (6'3" long), shown immediately above, includes a lot more detail and is more accurate to the attraction as it was ultimately constructed. I keep noticing more details (as shown below) each time I walk past it.

Thanks to Steve Oftelie for helping me move all this stuff, to Chris Merritt for sharing his knowledge, and most importantly to Philip Coulson and the Hurlbut Estate for making it possible for us to preserve Bud's legacy.

Come learn about new Orange County history books and meet their authors at the Orange County Historical Society’s annual Authors' Night, this Thursday, April 14th, 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. Featured authors include Guy Ball (Images of America: Tustin), Michael T. Barry (Final Resting Places: Orange County’s Dead & Famous), Chris Epting (Orange County Then & Now), Karin Kline (50 Hikes in Orange County), and Joe Santiago (Ebb & Flow: 100 Years of Huntington Beach). Each author will speak about their book, after which there will be time to purchase books and have them signed. Refreshments will be served. As always, this OCHS event is open to everyone. For more details, see the OCHS website.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Mystery photos

Today's two photos come from Tom Pulley's postcard collection, copies of which are held by the Orange County Archives. Neither photo is idenitified very well beyond the assumption that they depict Orange County scenes. Perhaps you can help.

The image above is probably from the late 1930s or early 1940s. One of the men is wearing a badge that reads "Orange Juice." I can't tell what their other badges or hats say, but I assume they're all related to citrus promotion. A sign propped inside one of the building's windows proclaims, "WPA Project." Who are they? Where are they? And what are they doing there? (I know,... I'm starting to sound like Admiral Stockdale!) The second photo shows a Chamber of Commerce building that looks more like a bank to me. Again, we don't know where this was located. The building is on a hill, which lets out some of our flatter communities. (Yeah, Garden Grove, I'm talking to you!) The car's license plate design tells us this is sometime between 1906 and 1913. Maybe some vintage car afficianado out there can narrow that date range for us just by looking at the car. .

The ball's in your court, folks!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Billy Beeman, tours, Anaheim flood, watercolors

Knott's Berry Farm personality Billy Beeman passed away a little after 1:00 p.m. this afternoon. Beeman began playing Western music in Knott's Ghost Town in 1940 with Shirley and the Beeman Brothers. In 1954 he helped found Ghost Town's signature band, The Wagonmasters. He later led the band, from 1959 to 1968. He became a well-known fiddle player and also played in the Lobo Rangers. For more information about Billy Beeman, or to purchase CDs of his work, visit the Wagonmasters website. Fellow Wagonmaster Dave Bourne will plan a memorial service soon, but details have not yet been announced.

The photo below shows The Wagonmasters, along with some friends, on stage at Knott's Wagon Camp in the 1950s. Today, that theater is used for a stunt show. On April 9th, historical tours will be held at Crystal Cove, at the Red Car Museum in Seal Beach, and by the Orange Community Historical Society. Check their respective websites for details..

Anaheim historian Steve Faessel recently wrote a good article about the big 1938 flood. It appeared on page 6 in the March 31st issue of the Anaheim Bulletin. See it on the Bulletin's website.

Huge thanks to Diane Ryan, E. Gene Crain, and Janet Blake for arranging a tour of Mr. Crain's amazing art collection. I only wish I could have spent a few weeks with the collection instead of a couple hours. For someone who's loved the California School for 20 years, this was sensory overload. I would have paid money to see any four of these paintings, let alone hundreds of them. Again, THANK YOU!

Friday, April 01, 2011

Tustin, Santa Ana & books (A last-minute post)

Today's image is a detail from a map of California coast in the 1879 Rand McNally Atlas. Notice that modern Orange County was still part of Los Angeles County at that point. Also note some of the early, interesting, and occasionally odd place names: San Joaquin (Irvine Ranch), Los Alisos (Lake Forest), Point Capistrano (Dana Point), Anaheim Landing (Seal Beach area), Point Lusuen (apparently around Newport Beach), Seranos, Sepulveda, and "Trabuco R. Ho." (which I assume is short for "Trabuco Ranch House.")

Guy Ball
will sign his new history book, Images of America: Tustin, tomorrow, April 2, at the Tustin Area Historical Society Museum, 395 El Camino Real (at Main) from noon until 3 pm. Books will also be available for sale. And visitors can also tour the museum for free. (They have some pretty cool stuff for a local museum.) If you can't make it but would like a signed copy of the book, contact the Museum at 714-731-5701 or visit their website to download a pdf flyer.

I'm sorry to promote this last item so late, but I just learned about it a couple days ago, and this is the first chance I've had to sit down and blog. The same mea culpa goes for the next item,...

The Dr. Howe-Waffle House (1889) in Santa Ana is holding an open house tomorrow, April 2, from noon to 4pm. Chris Epting will be on hand to sell and sign copies of his new book, Orange County: Then & Now, and the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society will offer architectural walking tours of Downtown Santa Ana. For more details, visit