Thursday, May 26, 2011

A lonely orange grove

Elaine Cali writes:

"I'm helping get the word out to help save one of the last orange orchards in all of Orange County.

"The Grain Project is the group trying to save it and they have some great creative ideas to turn this orchard into an urban community garden and save the orchard at the same time.

"The land is currently owned by Concordia University and they've turned it over to a developer who plans to bulldoze it and build 24 homes on this 5 acre orchard site. I'm trying to connect them with the foodie community, historic societies and media outlets and any like-minded bloggers. Here is their Facebook for more information: Save the Sexlinger Orange Orchard. They need more awareness and people to sign petitions to Save the Orchard.

"I'm a 7th generation Orange Countian and I would hate to see this piece of our County's history disappear forever. [The Grain Project has] ideas to create a community garden in this location and retain the orchard and are looking for solutions, as the clock is ticking and the city council will soon decide its fate."

Yes, I'd also rather see oranges than more housing. (Don't we have ENOUGH people in Orange County already?) And I like the folks I've met at the Grain Project too. But I still have to point out this picky detail: Aren't they usually called orange "groves?"

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thanks to volunteers!

With a few rare exceptions most local history work is done by volunteers. Come to that, even the few people with jobs in the field tend to spend much of their free time volunteering to do more.

We sometimes hear people complain that nobody's written a book on a particular topic, or that a particular historic site wasn't preserved. Honestly folks,... If you want to see this stuff done, you probably have to do it yourself. YCPLHSOYA: You Can't Promote Local History Sitting On Your Ass.

I can't possibly thank everyone who contributes to the cause -- That kind of thing could easily take over my whole blog. But I do I want to thank some folks who went out of their way to help the Orange County Historical Society in the past few weeks. At the Anaheim Historical Society’s Home Tour, OCHS volunteers included Phil Brigandi, Don Dobmeier, Judy Moore, and Tom Pickett, (all seen in front of the Woelke-Stoffel House in the photo above,) as well as Kevin DeMera, Teri Vaughn, and John Bushman.
Thanks also to Adam England, Daralee Ota (both seen in the photo above) and Don Dobmeier (again), who staffed the OCHS table at Rancho Fiesta Day at Heritage Hill Historical Park in El Toro. (We tend to have at least two people at our booth, so volunteers can spell each other off and go exploring for a while.) Adam even brought rancho “artifacts” to decorate the booth.

Both the Anaheim Historical Society and Heritage Hill were excellent hosts. I thank them for inviting us and hope we’ll get the chance to be involved in their events again in the future.

Big thanks also to the Chris Epting and Maria Hall Brown and the team at KOCE who put together a great segment for Real Orange, letting people know about the exhibit, "On Location: Orange County In Silent Films." (On display at the Old Courthouse Museum through Aug. 5th.) You made me look better than I deserve!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Architectural salvage material available NOW!

As part of a recent settlement agreement with the City of Santa Ana concerning vintage properties in the Lacy neighborhood, the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society is conducting emergency architectural salvage over the next week. Because of time and storage limitations they are offering cut-rate prices on salvage items to local individuals (no dealers please) who can come to the site and haul away items as they are pulled out. They want to keep these items in the hands of Orange County residents if at all possible.

Their salvage work must be completed by May 30th, so this is a great opportunity for those of you engaged in (or contemplating) remodeling or restoration. The structures being salvaged range from 1890s to 1930s and contain beautiful hardwood. Items are in various condition, some pristine, some with minor damage, and are sold "as-is". Here is only a partial list of vintage items available now:

  • doors and surrounds (some gumwood)

  • windows (casement and double hung)

  • claw foot tubs (with and without feet)

  • corner bathroom sinks and full country kitchen sinks

  • built in dining room and kitchen cabinets

  • Murphy beds (with complete hardware, some with doors)

  • California coolers and shelves

  • mirrored medicine cabinets

  • built in window seats

  • picture rail, baseboards, chair rail

  • small gas stoves

  • mail slots

  • Victorian corner fireplace and mantle

  • decorative pillars

  • full hardwood staircase and banisters

  • pocket doors

  • pillars

If you're interested, please call Lisa at (714) 788-9148 immediately to arrange to come and view the items and get a price quote. Remember, they must have all salvage completed by May 30, and proceeds will benefit the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Devil went down to Buena Park

Today's post is about a place full of fire and lava run by a guy with horns on his head. Naturally, I'm talking about the old volcano at Knott's Berry Farm.

The sign above the infernal little fellow shown above reads, "This is the appratus that controls the volcano. It was made by Henry Legari, and is operated by the gentleman turning the crank. (Sound effect by Bob Hilliard.)" A wide view -- probably around 1950 -- is seen below.
Throughout the 1930s, Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant had grown in popularity and size. At the end of the 1930s, the latest expansion gave diners an underwhelming view of an irrigation standpipe that was part of Walter Knott's farming operations. Ever the problem-solver, Walter figured out a solution: Turn the standpipe into a 20-foot-tall volcano! In addition to hiding the standpipe, the volcano would also add to the growing list of diversions available to guests waiting for their turn at a chicken dinner.

The volcano was built in 1939 at a cost of $600. The lava rock was hauled in from Pisgah Mountain, near the Knott's old homestead in Newberry Springs. Desert landscaping was added. So were signs, reading, "Danger, keep out!" and "Only active volcano in Southern California. Moved in from the Mojave Desert complete—and has been erupting faithfully ever since." Appropriate noises and steam eminated from the volcano. (The photo below shows the volcano in the 1940s.)

One of the volcano's most peculiar attributes was a strange mechinism of cranks, belts and motors that seemed to be operated by a little articulated devil figure (seen above). Some say the devil was added in the 1950s or 1960s, but historian Phil Brigandi points out an article in the Santa Ana Register from late 1939 that mentions him: "One must stop and read the description of how Mephistopheles does his 'devilish work.' By a little study you can follow the work of the many wheels that 'run' the eruptions. The latest radio amplifying set is used with real sound effects such as one hears in many radio programs... Through all these many turns and twists of the 'devil' the much talked of Inferno turns itself loose on the watching public...."
During World War II, a rumor began to circulate that microphones were hidden under some of the tables at the restaurant, and that an antenna inside the volcano was broadcasting the conversations of visiting servicemen to enemy listening posts. The FBI came out to investigate and peer down into the volcano. They found nothing, of course, but it made for a great newspaper story. (I've often wondered if having his patriotism called into question during the war had any effect on Walter Knott's ultra-patriotic stance in later years.)

In 1952, as the restaurant and surrounding shops continued to expand, the volcano had to be moved. It wound up near Marion and Toni Knott's Sport Shop, not far from the Gold Mine. The new location allowed the volcano to be connected to the Farm's steam plant, which provided an impressive blast of steam with each "eruption."
The color postcard image above shows the relocated volcano as it looked around 1960. Note the added cowboy statue.

The volcano and its diabolical control box were demolished in 1998. I've heard the rumor from numerous people that the devil ended up "going home" with someone who used to work for Knott's. I haven't been able to substantiate this rumor, but the FBI hasn't debunked it yet, either.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The End

The photo above shows The End Cafe at the end of the Huntington Beach Pier in February 1983. (This photo was taken by lifeguard Kai Weisser, but somehow a copy also ended up in historian Barbara Milkovich's files.)

The first restaurant at the end of the H.B. Pier, the Sun Parlor (a.k.a. The Sunshine Cafe),was built in 1933, after 500 feet of wooden pier were added to the existing 1,330-foot-long concrete pier. In 1939, it was destroyed when a chubasco (a violent tropical storm) raised 23-foot waves, which tore almost 300 feet off the end of the pier. (See photo below)

After much work, the pier was restored in 1940. But the new building at its end was soon snapped up by the Navy as a lookout post for enemy submarines. After the war, another restaurant moved in.

In 1977, Johnson's Yogurts production manager John Gustafson left his executive position for a life of sunshine and sea breezes as the restaurant's new owner. He named it The End Cafe.
The business was popular, and so was John. He became an unofficial goodwill ambassador for Huntington Beach. Meanwhile, his wife Alice Gustafson owned and operated Alice's Breakfast in the Park Cafe over at Central Park.

In 1983, a large storm badly damaged the pier and The End Cafe. The photo below was taken shortly after the storm at the spot where the counter once stood.

Undeterred, Gustafson purchased Maxie's Pizza in the old Pavalon at the base of the pier. That held him over until October 1985 when, just a month after the repaired pier reopened, he opened a two-story The End Cafe in its old location. Soon, business was hopping again.

Then in January 1988, it happened again. A violent storm rose up. Powerful swells hitting the bottom of the pier dislodged the two-story cafe and slid it into the ocean. A Register article quoted witnesses who saw The End Cafe floating out to sea, "like a houseboat."

Gustafson narrowly escaped death himself. He had been in the building 10 minutes earlier, turning on the burglar alarm. (The photo below shows waves breaking over the pier in 1988.)

Before the storm was over, 250 feet of the pier were gone. Later that year, the entire pier was closed and declared structurally unsafe. After losing his livelihood and investment the second time, and with no insurance on his business, Gustafson said, "I was a little numb for awhile but then I got my second wind. We lost it twice, but the third time's a charm."

With the pier closed indefinitely, he continued to run Maxie's Pizza. Meanwhile several of the cafe's former employees started a citizens group to raise money to build a new pier. They had moved on to other jobs, but wanted to make sure their friend got his business back.

Sadly, eternal optimist John Gustafson died of lung cancer in 1989 at age 59. From his deathbed, he dictated his thoughts to Alice on how the pier could be rebuilt, better than ever. And indeed, in 1992 it was rebuilt, taller and stronger,... But with a Ruby's Diner at the end.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Catching up

I've been too busy to blog much lately. But I decided I was going to give myself a break this weekend. So here's a little photo essay showing a few of the places I've been instead of in front of my computer in recent weeks. I start with the photo above, from the Silent Movie exhibit that ate more time than anything else. More about that later. In fact, I'll probably write more about all these things in future blog posts. On April 20th, David McIntosh took me, some of his family, park ranger Lorrie Zuczek, and a few others on a historical tour of undeveloped portions of O'Neill Park. It was a fascinating trek back to the days of the homesteaders -- including his family -- in what is still wild and beautiful country. We saw the remains of old homes, ranches, reservoirs and other historical features amid the forest of oaks and sycamores. In the photo above, David tells us how some of the area's "vernal pools" weren't so "naturally occurring" after all. His son (and regular Roundup reader) Doug looks on in the background.
Afterward, Lorrie took Phil Brigandi and I over to the Trabuco Adobe (1810), which was an outpost for the cattle operations of Mission San Juan Capistrano. Not much is left, and even the few remaining walls took another hit in last winter's storms. In the photo below, you can see the wood shelter that protects the remaining portion of the building.

On April 28th, I went to the estate sale at Bud Hurlbut's house. Estate sales always make me uncomfortable -- but I did end up with a couple boxes of materials that I felt complimented the many documents, photos, etc, the Hurlbut Estate is already graciously giving to the Orange County Archives. It's better to see these things kept together (where they'll be cared for and made available for research) than scattered to the four corners of the earth. The photo below shows the exterior of Bud's home in Buena Park, after the big crowds had subsided.

The following day, I went to Bud's office to pick up additional materials from the Estate, including Bud's diaries. This will be an important Archives collection long after I'm gone.

On May 1st, I set up booths for both the Archives and the Orange County Historical Society at Rancho Fiesta Day at Heritage Hill Historical Park in El Toro. Luckily, some great volunteers manned the Society booth all day, so I didn't need to be in two places at once. (Thanks to Adam England, Daralee Ota, and Don Dobmeier!) The photo below shows one of the programs that day.

Later in the afternoon, Adam and I went over to Cook's Corner. I'd never actually been IN this famous/infamous 1930s-era back-country watering hole before, and neither had Adam. We were the only ones in the place NOT dressed as bikers. In fact, we were wearing our cowboy duds from Rancho Fiesta Day. Nobody even raised an eyebrow at us. Not even the leather-clad gal carrying an albino boa constrictor around the patio.

The following day, April 1st, I heard the bad news about the burning of the Huntington Beach Women's Club and rushed over to assess the situation and take some photos. I already blogged about that earlier, so I won't rehash it all.

That afternoon we had a Saturday open house at the Archives, which was well attended.

But what really took over our lives for a long time was preparation for the opening of "On Location: Silent Films in Orange County." If I started thanking people for their help with this, the list would be very long indeed -- so those thanks will appear elsewhere. (Or at least they'll appear later.) The exhibit will run through Aug. 5th, upstairs in the Old Orange County Courthouse.

The photo below shows Archivist Susan Berumen with Mr. & Mrs. Harder at the show opening. (Remember the wonderful Ann Harder from the Santa Ana History Room? She now works for the O.C. Law Library.) About 50 or 60 people came to the opening night shin-dig -- Mostly friends of the Archives. I'll definitely write more about the exhibit later.

Just two more photos from the exhibit's opening reception: The photo above shows one of my favorite bits of the exhibit before the doors opened to the pubic. Yes, that's Zorro in old Capistrano. And the photo below shows Jim Sleeper signing copies of his book, Great Movies Shot In Orange County That Will Live Forever (Or At Least Until 1934).

The next day didn't provide much rest either. I already had plans to see the Ramona Pageant, which has been an annual event in Hemet since 1923. Luckily, my friend Stephanie George (of COPH) was willing to drive, so that helped a bunch. Click on the photo from the Pageant's "Fiesta Scene," below, to see if you can spot an Orange County historian making a cameo appearance. (It's like Where's Waldo.)

The Pageant is long, still a little 1920s-ish, and features uncomfortable seats (bring bleacher seat pads or rent a cushion outside) -- but it is definitely something every Southern Californian should see at least once. It has some wonderfully talented performers and great music, it teaches us about the cruelty of the Indian removals, and it uses an entire valley (no lie!) as its stage. Also, they encourage you to consume tacos and margaritas while you watch. Plus, it has a fun community vibe, with what seems to be half of Hemet pitching in to help in one way or another.

The following Monday, May 9th, I took a few hours of comp time to visit a friend from out of town who was in South O.C. We had lunch in San Juan Capistrano and then we milled around the Los Rios District. The photo above shows the Silvas Adobe, built in the 1790s. The plaque outside tells us "this is a typical example of the dozen or more one-room adobes in the Los Rios district. San Juan Capistrano was the first Mission to allow workers to live outside Mission grounds."

And finally, this last photo shows the panel discussion at the Orange County Historical Society on Thursday night. I think this discussion about the remaining buildings from the Japanese community at Wintersburg was an excellent first step toward preservation. The panelists in the photo above (left to right) are Rainbow Disposal COO Jerry Moffett, CSUF Professor of History Emeritus Dr. Art Hansen, historian and former Japanese American National Museum associate curator Dr. Carla Tengan, and Orange County historian Phil Brigandi.

Rainbow Disposal, the current property owners, seem to be very encouraging of our desire to see the buildings saved. Also, I think everyone came away from the meeting knowing a lot more about the site's importance than we did before.

Well,... That's a little peek at just some of the stuff I've been up to recently. My thanks to everyone involved in this mad whirl of activity. I'm looking forward to seeing what's next.

(By the way,... For those who WANT to get out and do something this weekend, there's a lot going on, including the historic home tour in Anaheim.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Historic Japanese-American site in H.B. discussed

The endangered remnants of the Japanese community at Wintersburg (now part of Huntington Beach, at Nichols St. and Warner Ave.) will be the topic of the Orange County Historical Society's annual Preservation Month program on May 12th (this Thursday!), 7:30pm, at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange.

This is the most important extant Asian American historical site in Orange County, and still features the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church -- including the 1910 mission and manse, and the 1934 church -- as well as the pioneer Furuta family's charming California bungalow (shown above). All of this property now belongs to the Rainbow Disposal Company, which has proposed a plan to use at least some of the land for other purpose. Still other buildings are threatened by the planned road-widening project on Warner Ave.

Is there still a way to preserve this important piece of Orange County's heritage?

The OCHS meeting this Thursday night will feature a panel discussion with Associate Curator at the Japanese American National Museum Carla Tengan, CSUF Professor of History Emeritus Dr. Art Hansen, Orange County historian Phil Brigandi (who studied this site in the 1970s), and Rainbow Disposal Co. C.O.O. Jerry Moffatt. Everyone is going into this with a positive attitude and hopefully it will be the spark that eventually leads to at least some of these historic structures being saved.

The meeting is open to the public at no cost, and refreshments will be served. I hope to see you there!

Monday, May 09, 2011

Anaheim Historical Home Tour

The Anaheim Historical Society is hosting its 2011 Historic Home Tour, this Sat. and Sun., May 14 and 15, 10am-4pm. Visit 5 privately owned historic homes, 2 historic commercial businesses, and "a public space not open to the public previously." Guests also receive a free ticket to the Muzeo's "Gold" exhibit. Tickets are $25, and can be purchased at Founder's Park, 418 N. West St. in Anaheim. For more information, call Andrea Manes at (714) 815-3885 or visit their website.

This is always a great event and the perfect way to spend a nice spring day.

The photo above shows a 1952 view of the parlor of the Mother Colony House -- one of the homes included on the tour. This house was built in 1857 by George Hansen, who originally surveyed the townsite of Anaheim for the Germans who founded the town. The Mother Colony House was dedicated as a museum on March 14, 1929, making it the oldest museum in Orange County.