Friday, August 31, 2012

Garden Grove, my tiki blog, Wally George, etc.

Garden Grove resident Josh McIntosh recently posted a petition asking his city to adopt the Mills Act. The Mills Act program encourages the restoration and preservation of historic buildings by offering small but significant tax breaks. In return, the community gets improved neighborhoods, (improved by residents, that is), increased property values, and therefore often a net overall gain in tax revenue.

The Mills Act is a state program, but must be adopted by each individual city. It's generally a win-win for everyone, but a surprising number of communities still haven't caught on. Usually, it's left to concerned, history-minded members of the community to bring it to the attention of local government. If you'd like to help Josh and his friends, check out his petition at

The photo above comes from the City of Garden Grove and shows the historic Stanley-Ware Ranch House, which also serves as the home of the Garden Grove Historical Society.
 Last weekend I started a second blog, called Tiki Lagoon. I will continue to write the O.C. History Roundup, and it will continue to be my primary blogging priority. (Has anyone ever used the phrase "primary blogging priority" before?) But I think there's room for a blog about all the stuff that fascinates me about the tiki or "Polynesian Pop" craze that had its heyday during the Mid-20th Century.

There will sometimes be some overlap between my two blogs. My second post on Tiki Lagoon, for instance, was about longtime Garden Grove resident and loopy KOCE-TV personality Wally George who, surprisingly, had a connection to America's (often wildly inaccurate) celebration of the South Seas.
Anyway, if you're interested in all-things tiki, you may want to bookmark the new blog or add it to your reader. And if you have related stories or images (from O.C. or not) to share with the world, let me know.

The Daveland blog is always worth checking out, but today Dave gave us an especially good installment from an O.C.-history perspective. Click on over and check out his virtual tour of Walt Disney's personal apartment, which is still largely intact above the Fire Station on Main Street inside Disneyland. An image from that post appears below.
Also in local theme-park history news, Knott's Berry Farm held a special event today to mark the opening of a historical exhibit in Ghost Town celebrating the 40th anniversary of their Halloween Haunt event. The folks at Knott's were kind enough to invite me, but I just couldn't escape from work this afternoon. (We were quite busy, which is a nice problem to have.) I do, however, look forward to seeing the exhibit soon, as it will be up for the public to enjoy (presumably) through Halloween.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Watercolor, OCHS, and classes in art and history

Today's image is "Bird Rock, Laguna Beach," painted around 1960 by Phil Dike. It comes from my favorite websites for "virtual window shopping:" (Someday when I actually have wall space, I will spend some serious money there.)     

Orange County's role in California Style watercolor painting will be the subject of the Orange County Historical Society's season kick-off program on Thurs., Sept. 13th, at Sherman Gardens, 2647 E. Coast Hwy, in Corona del Mar. If you'd like to participate in the Society's appetizer and dessert potluck beforehand, arrive at 6:30 p.m. with a plateful of goodies. Otherwise, arrive in time for the 7:30 lecture by author, historian, exhibition curator and art dealer Gordon T. McClelland.

From the 1930s through the 1970s, an innovative approach to watercolor painting called the California Style, flourished in Southern California.

Artists like Rex Brandt, Phil Dike, Dong Kingman, and Emil Kosa, Jr. were considered part of the American Scene or Regionalist movement and often painted scenes of everyday city and suburban life. Their work featured bold design, creative use of the white paper as a "color," and highlighted the transparency of their unique medium. One of the key schools that taught this approach to creating art was the Brandt-Dike Summer School of Painting in Corona del Mar.

The presentation will feature outstanding examples of California watercolors inspired by scenes in Orange County, with an emphasis on works painted in and around Newport Beach. McClelland will also address the historical and artistic importance of these works both locally and nationally.

Gordon is one of those guys who literally "wrote the book" on his subject. In fact, he has written many. I'm really looking forward to his talk.

Speaking of art and California history, Diane Ryan is offering classes this fall on "California Regionalism" and "Historic  Southern California Landmarks & Early Pioneers ," through the Huntington Beach Adult School. She is also offering classes on "California Impressionism" and "The History of Orange County" through the Oasis Senior Center in Corona del Mar. (See the Recreation Classes section on the City of Newport Beach website for more information on these last two.) For additional information, email Diane at

For more about both California watercolors and about Diane Ryan, see my post from Feb. 19, 2011.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Thinking big in the Santa Ana Mountains

Some folks in the canyon communities of the Santa Ana Mountains (e.g. Silverado, Trabuco, etc.) are pushing for two things:

1) To have a large portion of the Cleveland National Forest named a national monument, to provide the area and its natural resources with a greater degree of protection. (Their working name is "Grizzly Bear National Monument" - although the bears have been pretty thin out there for more than a century.)

2) To have the occupied and privately held portions of the canyon communities declared a historic district. (Yes, this would include the Holtz Ranch area at the front of Silverado, which is currently the site of a development battle.)

According to Joel Robinson of "Naturalist For You," and his friend Shay, a group of investors/developers from Las Vegas bought up a bunch of Silverado recently and wanted to make significant changes. However, local pushback and the economy have both worked on the side of preserving things as they are. That, of course, could change. And then, of course, there's the general and constant pressure (from all angles) to develop every last square foot of Orange County. (That's one way to prevent wildfires, I suppose.)
Santiago Creek, running through Black Star Canyon.
 I know zero about creating national monuments, so I'll skip that for the moment. But the idea of creating a historical district that encompasses ALL the canyons is daunting. We're talking about a vast amount of land -- larger than any other historical district I'm aware of. And while that area is inarguably saturated with history, I'm not sure how one would approach such a complicated and expansive task. Even creating an official historic district in the middle of a city -- with  all the old houses lined up in neat rows -- isn't easy.  Trying to create a district out of the crazy-quilt that is canyon country would be,... well,... extra not easy.

If SHPO or the NPS would accept reports compiled by volunteer historians, perhaps that would help. But I still wonder how a typical "windshield survey" would work in a place where some folks are twitchy about visitors. (Remember when visitors used to get shot at in Black Star Canyon?)
Sign on the Ortega Highway.
These folks have a lot of challenges ahead of them, but the idea of keeping the backcountry as backcountry is important. Lord knows we have enough housing, strip malls and hotels in Orange County. And we've pushed nature too far to the fringes already. If you'd like to help or have questions, email Joel at

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Historical news from Dana Point

A display about the life of local historian Doris Walker is now on exhibit at the Dana Point Branch Library at 33841 Niguel Rd. The exhibit was created by the Dana Point Historical Society (DPHS) with the assistance of Doris' two sons, Blair and Brent. The display will be up throughout this month. It will be replaced in September with an exhibit marking the 25th anniversary of the DPHS, which Doris helped found.

In other DPHS news, Carlos Olvera has stepped down from his position as president in order to avoid any kind of potential conflict of interest as he runs for City Council. Barbara Johannes has stepped up from the position of vice president to president.

It appears the City of Dana Point is also looking at officially granting local historical status to two sites. The first site encompasses the old gazebo on the top of the bluffs and the remains of the "Scenic Inn" at the bottom of the bluffs. The second site would include the ruins of the 1920s resort hotel left uncompleted by developer Sidney Woodruff, and the adjacent "hide trail" that was marked some years ago with a statue of a hide drogher.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Side trip to Oceanside

Want a break from Orange County while barely leaving home? Just a short drive down the I-5 through Camp Pendleton will give you the chance to explore the history of strange and exotic,... (wait for it)... Oceanside!

I'm sure there's a lot more history to see in Oceanside than I'm covering today, but I'm hitting a few of the high points. First, start by following the signs along the freeway to the California Welcome Center at 928 N. Coast Highway. They have both reasonably clean bathrooms and the brochures you'll need to guide you to your other destinations. Pick up whatever pamphlets interest you, but be sure to get information on Mission San Luis Rey, the Heritage Park Village & Museum, and the "Self Guided History Tour of Downtown Oceanside."

Our first stop is Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, at 4050 Mission Ave, founded in 1798 as the 18th mission in California. Its impressive and pristine church was built in 1811, the year before the Great Stone Church at San Juan Capistrano was destroyed in an earthquake. Perhaps finally learning the lesson of its sister to the north, San Luis Rey is currently being seismically retrofitted, which means visitors don't have access to much of the church at the moment. Still, you can get close enough to admire much of the interior details. 
 The view above shows the mission's courtyard. Note the large tree on the right -- It is the oldest pepper tree in California, planted in 1830. Other interesting features include a small museum of mission life, stone faces carved by the local Indians ("Luiseños") by the lavenderia, a 1913 El Camino Real bell, amazing rose gardens, and a well-kept cemetery with tombstones that reflect the whole history of California.

Right around the corner from the Mission, at 220 Peyri Drive, is Oceanside's Heritage Park Village & Museum. Created in the 1970s in response to the bicentennial push to preserve local history, the park features a number of locally important buildings that were moved to the site to keep them out of the bulldozer's path.
They include the Blade-Citizen newspaper building (shown below), the tiny Libby School (1893), the Johansen House (1888) (shown above), and the City Jail. Even some of the towns old lightposts and street signs have been saved and line the path leading into the park. Additional museum space was created out of mock-Olde-Timey falsefronts that were originally city maintenance buildings.

 Just beyond the park's boundaries are the 1860s cemetery where the town's Protestant pioneers are buried, and an early adobe home.
 Next, we drive back toward the I-5 and Downtown Oceanside. Here's where that self-guided walking tour map comes in handy. There's plenty to interesting architecture to admire here, from the 1880s through today.

Some of the cool things you'll see aren't even on the map, but are worth a few photographs -- For instance, the Star Theater on South Coast Highway, with it's amazing neon sign and space-age ticket booth. Now THAT makes me want to see a movie. Unfortunately, it is now a church, so you can forget about that buttered popcorn.
 Oceanside is also known for a great collection of civic buildings by renown architect Irving Gill. These include their Old City Hall (1934), now an art museum; Police Station (1929), now the Oceanside Historical Society Museum; and Fire Station (1929, shown below), which is still a working fire station.
Just across Pier View Way from the Fire Station is a far less-celebrated (but just as striking) string of small 1950s storefronts. You can see part of one of the buildings on the left side of the photo below, along with the sign for another Mid-Century office. In the middle ground is an earlier office block, with the dome of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church (1927) peeking over the rooflines in the background.
 Just north of Coast Highway on Seagaze Ave. is Oceanside's first permanent post office, a 1936 WPA project with a classic Federalist eagle over the door. And yes, there's an original mural inside. The buildings design was at least partially created by Louis A. Simon, who also designed the 1935 post office in Downtown Huntington Beach.
That's it for today. Like I said, this is clearly just the tip of the iceberg. Consider this the "teaser" that will convince you that it may be worth stopping in Oceanside and snooping around rather than just zipping on down south to Balboa Park or Sea World.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Save what's left of Anaheim's Chinatown

The Chinese began arriving in Anaheim in the early 1870s. By 1876, about a sixth of Anaheim's population was Asian. Most of them lived in what became known as Chinatown -- a segment of Chartres St. that is now under the AT&T building and parking lot on the north side of Lincoln Ave., between Lemon St. and Anaheim Blvd. (The photo above shows a Chinese family on Chartres St. in about 1892.)

During the construction of the AT&T offices and the new Lincoln Ave., workers found Chinese pottery and other artifacts from Chinatown. But those were the bad old days of "Project Alpha," and the builders couldn't be bothered with the state laws that protect archeological sites.  They conveniently called it debris and tossed it aside or took it home.
But MOST of the artifacts are still sitting there, sealed up all this time under the parking lot!
Today, the entire property has been sold to developers for a "mixed use" project with stores and apartments. If things aren't handled carefully, there's a significant chance a grading and construction process could damage much of what lies beneath. Members of the local historical community have looked at early drafts of plans for the site, but nobody has seen anything final yet.

I'd suggest that at the very least, there should be archaeologists observing the site during excavation, so they can stop work as things are discovered and document/recover what's there. That's pretty standard practice. (And perhaps some of the archaeologists and environmental engineers who read this blog can tell if I'm right in thinking that CEQA requires at least this much.) 

And ideally, whatever is built on this site would not only blend in architecturally to the surrounding historic neighborhood but would also pay tribute to the areas' early Chinese settlers. Perhaps a decorative arch, a garden, or something could be included to reflect the history of the location.
The image above shows the last building in Anaheim's Chinatown to be demolished. This house, at 119 W. Chartres St., was torn down in 1940.

"Many Chinese engaged in truck farming northeast of Anaheim and their vegetable wagons were a familiar sight," wrote Anaheim historian Leo Friis. "Actually, Anaheim was a good place for Chinese to live. Its citizens never carried to extremes the prejudice found in many other towns."

Millard Sheets' local history mural (detail shown below) at the old Home Savings building in Anaheim depicts Chinese men working in the local vineyards.
Come on, Anaheim! You've done great things in recent decades by channeling your righteous indignation over Downtown's death-by-a-thousand-cuts.  This is a chance to actually right one of those wrongs directly and take back an important piece of your heritage.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Santa Ana, restaurant opportunities, and genealogy

This is like one of those picture games in (Insipid) Highlights For (Vacuous) Children: Can you find at least four things wrong with this photo of the Old Orange County Courthouse? (And no, the missing cupola and my mediocre photography don't count.) They were shooting episodes of the FX series American Horror Story at the Old Courthouse Friday and today, and a few changes were made to make it more believable as an insane asylum. Now I can truly say I work at the funny farm.
Wanna open a Bob's Big Boy franchise in this still-mostly-in-tact, classic,1960s Armet & Davis-designed Bob's Big Boy building on 17th St. in Santa Ana? It's available, and wouldn't it be great to see it restored with stained glass and its original early California motif? (I wonder what happened to all those big paintings of rancheros and such.) Sadly, the new Bob's that have opened (and in some cases already closed) seem to be missing a lot of the classic elements, including their once excellent "Silver Goblet Milkshakes," vegetable soup with barley, etc. 
With a major wreck on the 55 Freeway yesterday, I took an alternate route to work, which took me past this old cafe at Main and 3rd St. in Santa Ana. Someone has done a nice job of cleaning it up. I only hope that something worthwhile moves in. It would be a great spot for a mini-Ruby's.
Thanks to the Santa Ana Historic Preservation Society for inviting me out to give a historical talk at their big annual gathering last week. The folks working to save the Sexlinger House and orange grove won an award for their preservation efforts, Babe Ruth made a guest appearance, the family of J. Wylie Carlyle were thanked for donating his antique piano to the Howe-Waffle Museum, and Josh "DJ Gummo" McIntosh spun some great records from the 1920s. (Playing Culture Club is not retro. Playing Jack Teagarden IS!) In the photo above, SAPHS President Alison Young discussed upcoming events.

You know, I do try to keep track of the various history-related groups in O.C. and link to all of them in the right-hand column of this blog. But somehow the Orange County Jewish Genealogical Society slipped right past me until now. You're invited to attend their next meeting, at which the topic will be "Hidden Resources at the National Archives," on Aug. 19th, 10:30am-12:30pm at Temple Bat Yahm, 1011 Camelback St., Newport Beach. The speaker will be longtime archivist (and genealogist) Kerry Bartels. For more information, email The event is open to all at no charge.