Saturday, April 28, 2012

Aloha to the Royal Hawaiian

After 65 years, the Royal Hawaiian -- one of the last Polynesian/Tiki themed restaurants in Southern California, one of the oldest restaurants in Orange County, and a Laguna Beach landmark -- closed yesterday. Francis Cabang opened the Royal Hawaiian at 331 N. Coast Highway in 1947 and members of the Cabang family ran the place until 2006 when it changed ownership and underwent a major remodel.

I'm sad but not entirely surprised that the place closed. The key reasons given for the closing are the economy and high rent, which makes sense. But a number of major changes since 2006 probably didn't help either. Prices went up, the amazing and enchanting jungle village decor all but disappeared, their lapu-lapu shrank (a common problem when reaching age 65), and it was not uncommon for meals to be accompanied by modern rock music rather than something from the islands. Stu News Laguna is reporting that another key cause of the closure was the city cracking down on how late live music could be played. Of course, it wasn't that long ago that the place didn't have live music at all.

But even the watered down Royal Hawaiian was far better than no Royal Hawaiian at all, and it will be missed.
There are articles about the restaurant's closure in both the L.A. Times and the O.C. Register.

The placemat at the top of today's post is from the late 1940s and was given by Royal Hawaiian owner Junior Cabang to the guys at Oceanic Arts in Whittier. The illustrations of the restaurant immediately above and below are from the late 1940s or early 1950s. I wish I had photos of the old interior. It was  truly remarkable. At one point, the place was so popular that a second Royal Hawaiian was opened in Anaheim. It stood at 1025 S. Los Angeles St. (now Anaheim Blvd).

 The Royal Hawaiian's Facebook page reads, "It's with heavy hearts that we announce the closing of a Laguna Beach icon. After 65 years of business we served our last lapu lapu last night. We can't express how much gratitude we have for all of our guests, regulars and staff who have supported us."
The photo above shows two of the tikis by carver Andreas Bumatay that stood in front of the restaurant prior to it's remodeling in 2006. The photo below shows the Royal Hawaiian's back bar after the remodel. It was probably the most visually interesting bit of the new stuff.
It's getting more and more difficult to get an authentic fix of Mid-Century tiki style in Orange County. Don the Beachcomber's (the former Sam's Seafood) in Sunset Beach and Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room are just about all that's left. (And the Disney version, while delightful, was always pretty,... Disneyfied.)

Like those "doomsday preppers" hiding guns and canned food in their lead-lined cellars while waiting for the apocalypse, perhaps I need to build my own authentic tiki room -- Insurance against the sad day when Orange County's last vintage tiki torch is snuffed out.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Millard Sheets and Home Savings & Loan

An exhibit entitled, "Millard Sheets Studio: The Art of Home Savings & Loan," will run from May 5 to June 17 at the Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, in Santa Ana. The exhibit will focus on Sheets' murals and stained glass for Orange County and South Bay bank buildings, including the recently restored Rolling Hills Home Savings Bank. A panel discussion on May 6 at 2pm will feature Adam Arenson, Mike McGee, and architectural historian Alan Hess. (The photo above shows the Santa Ana Home Savings at 1300 N. Main St.) 
Millard Sheets (1907-1989) served as art director for the chain of Home Savings banks, and incorporated each community's history, landmarks and culture into the artwork. In Buena Park, you can see two former Home Savings buildings at the intersection of Beach Blvd and La Palma Ave. The building on the southeast corner was the first Buena Park Home Savings. When they outgrew that building, they built a new one on the northeast corner. The image above is the Knott's Berry Farm themed mural from the front of the newer building. The painting below hangs inside the newer Buena Park building.
From 1952 until the beginning of the 1980s, Sheets, collaborating with artists like Denis O'Connor and Susan Hertel, designed the buildings and artwork for Home Savings branches all over California. The mural below is from the Downey branch. The painting above is by Hertel.
Sheets studied art at Chouinard Art Institute (the source of so many of my favorite California artists) in Los Angeles. During the Great Depression, he helped lead the government's Public Works of Art Project in Southern California and painted murals inside the Department of the Interior building in Washington, D.C.The photo below shows a statue in front of the Santa Ana Home Savings. Note the echos of 1930s Regionalism.

According to LAMurals.org, "During World War II [Sheets] traveled to India and Burma as a war artist for Life magazine. From the late 1930s until 1955 he headed the art departments at Scripps College and Claremont Graduate School. In 1953 he became director of Otis Art Institute (now Otis/Parsons), and while in that position created a new official seal for the County of Los Angeles... Outside of California his major commissions included murals for the Detroit Public Library, the Mayo Clinic, the dome of the National Shrine in Washington, D.C., the Notre Dame University Library, and the Hilton Hotel in Honolulu."

I used to enjoy visiting the art gallery of Millard's son, David Stary-Sheets, which was located at first in Old Town Irvine and later in Laguna Beach. He specialized in furniture and in paintings by the California Regionalists, including his father. Sadly, David died in 2000, and there hasn't been anything quite like the Stary-Sheets Gallery since then.

Anyway, this Home Savings exhibit is long overdue. If you're not a fan of these buildings and their art, I'd be a little worried about you.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Yorba Cemetery

The annual Mother's Day Blessing at the historic Yorba Cemetery will be held Saturday, May 12. The cemetery will open at 9am. Mass will begin at 10am. The mass will be followed by an Indian blessing. If you have loved ones in the cemetery, you're encouraged to bring flowers for their graves. The event is open to everyone. If you have questions about the event or the cemetery, contact Diana Robles at (714) 739-5716.

The cemetery is located between Anaheim and Yorba Linda on what was part of Don Bernardo Yorba's Rancho Canon de Santa Ana. It closed in 1939 and is now operated by the County of Orange. It is the "oldest private cemetery in Orange County predated only by the Mission Cemetery in [San Juan] Capistrano."

The great photo of the cemetery's entrance comes from Daralee Ota.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Rancho Days at Heritage Hill, El Toro

Explore the history of Orange County’s ranchos and Indian cultures at the annual Rancho Days Fiesta at Heritage Hill Historical Park, 25151 Serrano Rd., Lake Forest, May 6, 11am to 3pm. Highlighting the historic Serrano Adobe (shown below in 1935), this event explores what California was like in the mid-19th century. The photo above was taken at last year's event, and shows some of the restored historic buildings from old El Toro.
The event will include re-enactors and period food. Enjoy performances of Mexican Rancho-era and Juaneno songs and dance. Learn the crafts of rope knotting, basket weaving and adobe brick-making through interactive demonstrations. $4 per adult, $3 per child (ages 3 to 12). Ages 2 and under free. For more information, call (949) 923-2230.
The photo above shows the Serrano Adobe before the surrounding park was developed.

On a related note, Janet Whitcomb has been writing articles about El Toro/Lake Forest history for Patch.com in recent months. You might want to take some time to check them out.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Olinda, Ray Rast, Veta Schlimgen, Laguna, etc.

Today's photos were all taken by Phil Brigandi at this past weekend's Orange County Historical Society "History Hike" amid the remains of the historic oil fields of Olinda (now part of Brea). According to O.C. Historical Commission plaque #50, "On this site, Edward L. Doheny drilled the first oil well in the Olinda field in 1897. Olinda #1, drilled to 806 feet, pumped about 50 barrels per day (bpd). By 1898, ten wells were drilled, some producing up to 100 bpd. In 1899, the Santa Fe Railroad built a branch line to the oil field, and the settlement of Olinda was founded..."


The photo above shows some of our group at one of the old wells. One of the stops on the trek was Olinda #1, which is the oldest still-producing well in Orange County. The photo below shows the group's stop at the Olinda Oil Museum, which is located in an old Field House (1912). Olinda native Jack Smith shared some of the museum's artifacts and shared how they were used in the oil fields and town.
OCHS' "History Hikes" to (or through) historic sites are held at least a couple times each year. Watch for the next one sometime in Fall.

I've heard rumors, but now it's official. Ray Rast, Professor of History at CSUF's Department of History, and his wife, Veta Schlimgen, Director of the Brea Museum, have been offered excellent jobs at Gonzaga University in Washington State and will be on their way at the end of this semester. Both did great local history work while they were here. We were hoping they'd stay, but we wish them well in their new adventures.

80th Anniversary of the Festival of the Arts” will be the topic at the Laguna Beach Historical Society’s meeting, May 8, 7:30pm, in the City Council Chambers at Laguna Beach City Hall, 505 Forest Ave. Speakers include Sharbie Higuchi, Dee Challis Davy, and Dan Duling.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Around Orange County with Esther Cramer

Today's photos are all of Esther Cramer (see yesterday's post) and were provided by our mutual friend, Don Dobmeier. The photo above shows Esther on a 1974 field trip to North Orange County historic sites. Yes, she was already on the Orange County Historical Commission then. The photo below shows some of the Commissioners on their way to another historical trek in Feb. 1976. From left to right are Commissioners Gibson, Prothero, Baum, Dobmeier, Chilcote, Cramer, and Sleeper. (I was four at the time, and nobody thought to invite me.)
I'm told 1976 was a very busy year for the Commission. With the country's bicentennial celebration going full-throttle, the pressure was on to identify and plaque the hell out of various historical sites. Cal State Fullerton's Heritage House (1894), a.k.a. the Dr. George Clark House, shown below, was only one among many. In this photo we see Esther speaking at the dedication of the County historical plaque at the Clark House.

Today's final photo shows Esther speaking at a historical dedication of some kind at the Modjeska Home in 1994. Supervisor Gaddi Vasquez is the second from the right among the seated dignitaries. And I think that may be Pamela Harrell wearing blue in the back row.
I have not heard yet about plans for a memorial service for Esther. When I do, I'll certainly post the information on this blog.

Esther R. Cramer (1927-2012)

One of Orange County's greatest local historians, Esther Rigway Cramer, passed away early Sunday, after a long fight with cancer. Her passing leaves a gaping hole in our local historical community and certainly also in the community of La Habra.

Esther's parents were La Habra pioneers, and she was born, raised, and lived her whole life in that town.  She graduated from Fullerton Union High School in 1944, and later was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Mortar Board at Pomona College. Esther was charming and unerringly polite, but was also a very strong woman in the best possible sense.

Beginning in the 1960s, her lifelong love of her community led her to study and write about its history.  She became the leading North County historian.

In addition to her popular local newspaper column and magazine articles, she also wrote numerous books, including La Habra: The Pass Through the Hills (1969). This first book won awards from the Southern California Historical Society, UCI, and the American Association of State & Local History.

[The photo above shows Esther speaking in Courtroom One of the Old Orange County Courthouse at a Centennial Scholarship ceremony. The photo below shows Jim Sleeper, myself, and Esther on a visit to the library.]
Esther's second book, The Alpha Beta Story (1973) focused on the history of a major grocery store chain. Soon, Alpha Beta asked her to create a Consumer Affairs office for them. Her success led to her election as Chair of the Food Market Institute's national Consumer Affairs Council.  She retired as Alpha Beta's Vice President of Community Relations in 1986.

But being the public face of Alpha Beta was, of course, only the tip of the iceberg.  Her faith, her community, and certainly her family were central in her life. As her friend Phil Brigandi wrote, "...She has always been equally devoted to her three daughters and her late husband, Stan. Longtime devotion is one of the hallmarks of Esther’s life."

If I had to guess, I'd say that sense of devotion is partly what helped Esther keep an active and productive life nearly 15 years after doctors predicted she would be gone. She had work to do and duties to fulfill. Not the least of these duties was seeing that her ailing husband, Stan -- who passed away several months ago -- was cared for properly.  

Over the years, Esther also showed her devotion to the cause of recording, preserving and sharing local history.

She served on the Orange County Historical Commission since its inception, nearly forty years ago. There, she exhibited her skill for cutting through the haze of distractions, differing opinions and bureaucratic double-talk, and regularly set the Commission back on track. (Every board and committee should have an Esther. ) As a Commissioner, she championed the Centennial Scholarship program and projects that focused on serious history. She also served as co-editor and contributor for two editions of the Commission's book, A Hundred Years of Yesterdays: A Centennial History of the People of Orange County and their Communities.

She was also a member for decades of the La Habra Old Settlers Society, where her crowning achievement came with the opening of the La Habra Historical Museum in 2010. The idea for the museum and much of the museum's research collection came directly from Esther.

[The photo below shows Esther and Stan Cramer (both in blue) speaking with Paul Simons of the O.C. Historical Commission in 2010.]
Esther was also a stalwart member of the Orange County Pioneer Council, took an active and important role in their ongoing oral history project.  Brigandi writes, "She was one of the first local historians here to turn to oral history in a serious way, recording interviews with old timers whose memories stretched back into the last third of the 19th century."

She was also a longtime member of the Orange County Historical Society, where she once served as president, and still served on the editorial board for the Society's journal, Orange Countiana  -- a publication she helped launch decades ago.

When the City of Brea approached its 75th birthday, it rightly approached Esther to turn their history into a book. Brea: The City of Oil, Oranges, and Opportunity, was published in 1992. She followed it up with A Bell In the Barranca (1996), a book for children about La Habra's history.

But as serious a historian as Esther was, she was a great deal of fun to be around. Like most intelligent people, she had a great sense of humor. Not that she was above a corny joke or pun, either. It was no surprise when she wrote a well-researched article about Basque sheep ranches specifically so she could use the title, "Baa Baa Basque Sheep."

As local historian Cynthia Ward wrote today, "Orange County has lost a legend. Esther Cramer knew everything there was to know about North County, and thankfully enjoyed sharing that knowledge with others. Esther was one of a kind, and will be missed."

Indeed she will.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Nice new books and why old books smell funny

 Somehow in the chaos of the past week, I failed to mention this past weekend's joint book signing by authors Guy Ball (Images of America: Tustin), Juanita Louvret (Tustin As It Once Was) and Ellen Bell (Images of America: Irvine). I fully intended to plug the event and apologize for not doing so. The photo of the event, below, comes from Guy. The front page of the Tustin News, above, is actually from an earlier event, but how often do you see one, let alone two local historians on the front page of the newspaper? Anyway, go buy their books.
 Speaking of books and authors, Dr. Beth Holmgren, author of Starring Madame Modjeska: On Tour in Poland and America, will be the featured guest at a lunch, lecture and book signing event on April 21, 11am to 3pm, at Irvine Ranch Historic Park, 13109 Old Myford Rd., Irvine. Hosted by the Helena Modjeska Foundation, in partnership with OC Parks and the OC Public Libraries, the lunch and lecture will be in the park's garden, followed by a book signing in the adjacent Katie Wheeler Library. Reservations are required. RSVP by April 14. Tickets are $30 for lunch, checks payable to the Helena Modjeska Foundation. Mail checks to 8335 Bogey Avenue, Hemet, CA 92545. Call (949) 923-2230 with questions.
Pancho Barnes, Moye Stephens, & Richard Halliburton,” will be the topic at the Laguna Beach Historical Society’s meeting, April 24, 7:30pm, in the Council Chambers at Laguna Beach City Hall, 505 Forest Ave. Speaker Barbara Schultz is the author of Pancho and of Flying Carpets, Flying Wings, a biography of Moye W. Stephens. Pancho, of course, was a pioneering early woman aviator who had a home and an air strip in Laguna Beach.

Recently, I came across an interesting online video by AbeBooks -- one of the better sources for used books online. The video explains the reasons why old books start to smell musty. It may be more complicated than you think. Frankly, I can't smell it anymore. (Click here to see the video.)

Monday, April 09, 2012

New local history books from all over O.C.

 Hear the authors of the latest Orange County history books discuss their work, and then have a chance to meet them, buy their books, and have the books signed at the Orange County Historical Society's annual “Authors Night” program, Thursday, April 12, 2012, 7:30p.m., at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. (The photo above is from Authors Night a few years ago.) Here’s a look at some of the authors and books scheduled for this Thursday:
Tustin As It Once Was by Juanita Louvret: In an era when the heart of Tustin was the intersection of Main and D, folks flocked to town to get supplies and swap stories. Some of these stories featured Tustin notables like C.E. Utt, who tried his hand at every local crop; Sam Tustin, whose Buick touring car became the town fire truck; Big John Stanton, who formed the one-man police department; and Dr. William B. Wall, who found inspiration for his orange crate label in a rooster painting from Grover Cleveland. Drawing from her Tustin News column “Remember When,” third-generation Tustin resident Lovret recalls Tustin’s small-town ranching roots.
Images of America: Irvine by Ellen Bell: This author and her family have lived in Irvine for more than 20 years. Most of the photographs in this book are from the collection of the Irvine Historical Society. Bell also writes the local travel blog, SoCal Day Tripper. On the OCRegister.com sports page, she is known as “The Afternoon Angel,” and writes about her passion for Angels baseball. She is a contributing writer for Orange Coast Magazine, OC Family and Orange County Register Travel. In a recent Register interview, she wrote, “History gives us a sense of community. …In a time of constant change, history is not self-sustaining. It takes effort to keep it alive."
A Brief History of Orange, California: The Plaza City by Phil Brigandi: Orange started small but grew big on the promise, sweat and toil of agriculture. Born from the breakup of the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, its early days were filled with horse races, gambling and fiestas. Citrus was the backbone of the economy for more than half a century, though postwar development eventually replaced the orange groves. Historian and Orange native Brigandi traces the city’s roots back to its small-town origins: the steam whistle of the Peanut Roaster, the citrus packers tissue-wrapping oranges for transport, Miss Orange leading the May Festival parade, and the students of Orange Union High celebrating Dutch-Irish Days.
The History of Fullerton Union High School 1893-2011 by Diane Oestreich: The story of one of Southern California's oldest high schools is captured by Diane Oestreich, who looks at her alma mater (Class of 1964) and former workplace (she was the school’s teacher librarian from 1994 to 2010), from a variety of perspectives. The book examines the early days of Orange County and the growth of the school and community during its 118-year history. Topics include notable faculty and alumni, the Mission Revival campus, clubs and organizations, student activities, and an overview of curriculum. A chapter on athletics looks at various sports, facilities, and leagues over the years.  
Wild and Beautiful: A Natural History of Open Spaces in Orange County by Allan A. Schoenherr:
Dr. Schoenherr’s new book explores the natural history of the creatures, plants, habitats, and landscapes that constitute the open spaces in Orange County. The Register described his book as, “packed with facts and stunning photos of wild land, habitat and species, as well as full-color maps. There are sections on climate, weather, seasons, wildfire, geology, earthquakes and the subtle intricacies of the tidal zones. And Schoenherr carefully untangles the web of federal, state, local and private wild land to make sense of the many overlapping jurisdictions.” Schoenherr is a retired Professor of Ecology from Fullerton College, and has written extensively about California’s natural history.

The Unseen O.C. by Corey Schlom: "In southern California's smallest county, there are some places left that few have ever seen," writes Orange County native Corey Schlom. "These places tell real stories and reveal incredible history... places that are awe inspiring." Young Mr. Schlom, who has run his own photography business since high school, has now photographed some of those corners of our back country and complemented them with local history and legends in his new book.  
Jim Sleeper: Orange County’s favorite historian, Jim Sleeper has also been invited to attend. Whether or not he can be there, his books will be available for sale. Jim has been exploring O.C.'s back country and writing since he was fourteen years old. He also spent two years in the Army Air Force, eight in college, six as a reporter and script writer, ten with the Forest Service, and four as staff historian for the Irvine Co. He also served as historian for the Rancho Mission Viejo Co. and a consultant to both the Register and the Los Angeles Times. Since he began freelancing in 1969, he has written eight books and more than 500 articles. Jim will sell and sign copies of his Third Orange County Almanac of Historical Oddities, the first volume of Great Movies Shot In Orange County, and whatever earlier titles he may have stored away.

By my count Author's Night should provide you with AT LEAST eight books to buy, and certainly, some of the authors will bring copies of many of their earlier works for sale as well. And then you'll need to get extra copies as gifts for your friends and family.

You may just want to bring a pack mule for the trip home.

Hope to see you Thursday night!

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Easter bonnets and fried chicken

 It's Easter 1960-something at Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant in Buena Park, and the staff are showing off the latest in spring fashions, starting with Mrs. Knott herself (shown above). Does anyone know what elves have to do with Easter?
Next up is one of the waitresses, wearing the Easter egg version of a Carmen Miranda hat. (Click to enlarge any of these images. It's worth it.) Note that some of these photos were taken inside the restaurant's kitchen, which is sort of interesting to see.
 Next up is a hat made of an Easter basket full of flowers, on top of a plate, balanced on a napkin, balanced on a waitress' head. Stunning. I'm beginning to wonder if they weren't having a "make your own Easter bonnet" contest.
Another of the waitresses found (or made) a hat that actually matched her dress. Even with the bunnies dancing around on it, it somehow maintains a bit of dignity.
Try to have a happy Easter,... Even if you don't have Peeps and an elf on your hat.

The world's largest plow

From housing tracts to Vietnamese strip malls, today it's hard to tell that Westminster was once mainly a farming community. That's why it comes as such a surprise to stumble across the world's largest plow at the southwest corner of Brookhurst Ave. and Bishop Place.
The Post Brothers' Plow was built by Charles R. "Hap" Post and Norman R. Post in 1937 to reclaim farmland ruined by large quantities of silt deposited by the flooding Santa Ana River. It came in handy again in 1938, when the flooding was even worse.  At a rental rate of $100 per hour or per acre, the enormous carbon steel blade pulled Westminster's famously rich topsoil back to the surface.
The plow is 15 tons, 37 feet long, 12 feet high, 11 feet wide, and has a 86-inch blade. Each wheel is more than six feet across. In the photo above, the plow is being pulled -- as was the norm -- by a series of five "100 Drawbar h.p. D-8 Caterpillar tractors."
In addition to restoring thousands of acres of farmland throughout the Santa Ana Valley, the plow was also used to cut ditches for drainage and pipelines. In the 1940s it served the war effort in Nevada, digging trenches for cables at bomb test sites. (Next time there's a power outage in Westminster, you might want to stop by and see if the plow glows a little.)
According to local historian (and former Westminster mayor) Joy Neugebauer, Tom and Miriam Warne acquired the plow from Hap Post and put it on display at their "Rancho Bolsa" as a way to share the area's agricultural heritage with future generations.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Easter, books, a chair, and the 1940 Census

 This utterly charming image of Easter 1914 in Laguna Beach comes from Tom Pulley's postcard collection, which is available in digital form at the Orange County Archives. The lad has two bunnies in front of him, and I assume that's a third one he's making "hop around."
 There will be a joint book signing with authors Juanita Louvret (Tustin As It Once Was), Ellen Bell (Images of America: Irvine), and Guy Ball (Images of America: Tustin) at Barnes & Noble, 13712 Jamboree Rd., in Irvine, on Sat., April 14, 2pm to 4pm. (If that sort of thing interests you, an even larger gathering of local history authors will be talking about, selling and signing their books next week Thursday at the Orange County Historical Society. I'll post more about that event soon.)
I'm trying to help someone identify this chair (shown above), which was found amid a collection of furniture owned by early Orange Countians. I wonder if anyone out there might recognize the crest that appears on the chair's back. It looks like this...
Please leave a comment or send me an email if you have a lead or a guess.

As of April 1st, the 1940 U.S. Census is now available to researchers. This is great news for genealogists and historians! Read more about it in U.S. News & World Report.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Floral Park, MCAS Tustin, and Frontierland


The historic Floral Park neighborhood in Santa Ana is holding their annual Home & Garden Tour on April 28 and 29, 10am to 4pm. Presale tickets are $25. The tour will feature homes from the 1920s through the 1950s, an array of gardens, an antiques and collectables sale, a classic car display, and more. For additional information, visit www.floral-park.com.

(Yes, I know that's not Floral Park in the postcard image above. It's likely a lot closer to Downtown. But my supply of old Floral Park photos is a little low at the moment.) 

In case you missed it, the Register recently ran an article about the County's initial plans for the enormous "north hangar" at the former MCAS Tustin Lighter-Than-Air Base. And yes, they're keeping the hangar.

Daveland has been running a lot of great posts about the early attractions in Disneyland's Frontierland, from the stagecoach to Casa de Fritos. Go and skim all the way back to March 20th when the series started. Great stuff!