Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Upcoming holiday historical events

A 1921 postcard depicting Mission San Juan Capistrano, from the collection of Phil Brigandi.
The Christmas season has rolled around again, and the lineup of holiday historical events is starting to fill the calendar. The beautifully restored 1889 Dr. Howe-Waffle House & Museum, 120 Civic Center Dr. West, will kick off the festivities with the Santa Ana Historic Preservation Society's Holiday Open House, this Sat., Dec. 1st, 11am-4pm. If you'd like to soak up the vibe of a Victorian Christmas, with all the decor, goodies, fellowship, and caroling around the (1870s) piano, this would be a good place to do it. An arts and crafts boutique will also be featured on the back patio, and all items in the gift shop will be on sale. (A historic/architectural walking tour of Downtown will also be available at 2:30 for $8. RSVP to 714-547-9645.)

Looking for an event in South County? Get a sneak peek at the Dana Point Museum (still a work in progress) at City Hall, Suite 104, on Sun., Dec. 2nd. This event is the Dana Point Historical Society's Holiday Open House and will run from 2pm to 5pm. (If you'd like to participate in the concurrent potluck, please bring a finger-foodish dessert or appetizer for about a dozen people.)

Also, the Orange County Historical Society will hold their Holiday Social and "Show & Tell" program on the evening of Dec. 13th. I'll write more about that in another post, soon. Meanwhile, be thinking of what interesting artifact or tchotchke of local history you want to bring that evening.
The San Clemente Lifeguard Headquarters decked out for Christmas.
Less Christmas-y but still worth checking out: Groundbreaking surfer and Hobie retail founder Dick Metz will speak and share his amazing collection of classic surfing photos at the The Surfing Heritage Foundation,110 Calle Iglesia, San Clemente, on Thurs., Dec. 6th, 6pm. Most of the programs I write about on this blog are free, but this one is $10 (a fundraiser for SHF) -- but I think you'll find Metz more than worth the price of admission. We had him speak at the Orange County Historical Society a couple years ago, and even the non-surfers in the crowd thoroughly enjoyed his stories about the development of the sport and the industry.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Aren't you a little short for a Pilgrim?

Happy Thanksgiving! The photo above shows the cast of the 5th grade Thanksgiving play at Santa Ana's Franklin Elementary School in 1931. Genevieve Straw is the Pilgrim lass in black. The entire class (sans 1620s garb) is shown below.
This has been a particularly difficult year for which to be thankful. But I am sincerely thankful for my family, my amazing friends, my job, and all the great folks at the Orange County Historical Society. I'm also, of course, thankful for my readers (like Doug McIntosh, who submitted today's photos) and fellow local historians for continuing to inspire and encourage me. 

But enough of this cloying sentiment. Go eat too much.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Broad Breasted Turkeys of Santa Ana

Even as I post it, I fear this Young's Turkey Ranch ad, from the 11-16-1950 edition of the Huntington Beach News, is going to restart all the commotion over historic turkey ranches. And just when we'd gotten everyone calmed down after my last post on this subject! For months, people would corner me after lectures to ask poultry-related questions. I was chased across the fairgrounds by gobbler fans wanting to swap bird-related anecdotes. Also, I received a number of anonymous (and vaguely threatening) letters demanding the stuffing recipes of Orange County pioneer families. 

Frankly, I'm not an expert on the subject. But when November rolls around, what else can an Orange County history blogger fall back on? It's too late for Halloween hijinks in 1920s Anaheim and too early for 1930s Christmas shopping at Rankin's. So it's back to the vintage papers for more old news about dead birds.
The species Meleagris orangecountius in its natural environment.
Even the quasi-comprehensive Jim Sleeper's Orange County Almanac of Historical Oddities (with a special sub-section on poultry in Vol. II) has precious little to say about turkeys. Under "Quadrupeds," however, Jim wrote, "Oddest turkey. Reported in the [Santa Ana] Standard (5-16-1891) was a young turkey belonging to Fred McCaffy of that town, which had 'four legs and four eyes and a mouse head.' The account is not clear whether it was Fred or the turkey which 'had been preserved in alcohol.'"

In truth, back when Orange County was primarily agricultural, we had plenty of poultry ranches -- mostly chicken, but also enough turkey that we didn't run out of Thanksgiving drumsticks. Yet somehow, they never got the kind of press that citrus or even celery managed.  

So what do we know about the aforementioned Young's Turkey Ranch?
A quisling turkey (now hiding in Argentina) advertises Young's in a 1954 L.A. Times ad.
George L. Young (1916-1990) came to Orange County from Monterey Park in 1936 and started the successful Western Printing Co., but wished he had a job where he could work outdoors. Thus, in 1945, Young’s Turkey Ranch was born, just west of the Santa Ana River on 1st St. The Young’s owned the ranch for 26 years, and sometimes sold as many as 10,000 turkeys around the holidays. During the rest of the year, they also supplied meat to restaurants and stores.

"Yes," I can hear you tryptophan junkies say, "but what were their turkeys like?"

The L.A. Times' "Shopping with Vicky" feature gave an effusive review to Young's  turkeys. To be fair, "Vicky" was an "expert" fabricated by the Times, who would lavish your service and/or product with effusive love and affection (in print) for a fee. (We've heard about women like that!) Accordingly, Vicky was astonishingly diverse in her tastes and interests, from discount lumber to little neck clams.
On Nov. 15, 1962, Vicky breathlessly exclaimed to her loyal readers, "You should be making your plans for those memorable holiday meals and the 'star' of any dinner is Mr. Turkey. I know where you can find the very best, those huge broad breasted, so extra meaty, perfectly cleaned and oven ready birds. Young's Turkey Ranch, 3109 W. Bolsa, Santa Ana, sell only turkeys and the finest turkeys you'll ever find, and oven ready. So many people know that Young's broad breasted turkeys are the best so you should call JE 1-2126 and order your bird now."

Clearly, Vicky never met and adjective she didn't like. And when words failed her, repetition filled the critical gaps. (Did we mention that Young's turkeys are broad breasted and oven ready?) You knew Vicky was sincere because she couldn't write her way out of a paper bag.

As with the rest of Orange County, development caught up with the Youngs. Property values and taxes rose, and in 1959 they turned seven of the farm’s 10 acres into the Quiet Village Mobile Home Park. (Can’t you just hear Martin Denny’s hit version of “Quiet Village” with all the tropical birdcalls replaced by turkey gobbling?) Some of the ranch operations moved out to land near Temecula for a while. But in 1971 the Youngs closed their ranch entirely and opened a body shop and riding stables on the property.
Quiet Village Mobile Home Park in 2003, when its great sign and a bit of its semi-Polynesian theme were still intact.
It's very much the same story as other forms of agriculture in Orange County: Post-WWII development simply made land too valuable to use for fruit, vegetables, and livestock. Thus, today's "old fashioned" Thanksgiving begins with a trip to a supermarket or Costco -- not to a mom and pop poultry farm.

 Somehow, coming home with pigeons you caught at the mobile home park wouldn't be quite the same.

Monday, November 05, 2012

"Authors Night" and South O.C. history field day

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, this Thursday, Nov. 8, 7:30p.m., at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. Authors include Jason Schultz (Jason's Disneyland Almanac), Mike Heywood (Orange County: Twelve Decades of Extraordinary Change), Ted Dougherty (Knott’s Halloween Haunt: A Picture History), Chris Epting (Baseball in Orange County), and Frank Ritenour (San Juan Capistrano Treasures, etc.)

Thursday night will also mark the release of the OCHS's annual Orange Countiana historical journal. Contributors to the 2012 journal will be on hand to sign their work as well. They include Orange County Supervisor John M.W. Moorlach (“The Orange County Bankruptcy”), Froy Tiscareño ("Memories of Memo"), and editor Phil Brigandi. All member of the Society receive a copy of the journal as part of their membership. Additional copies are available for $20 each, and back-issues will also be available for sale.
OCHS hiking group visits the Trabuco Adobe. Note "Old Saddleback" in the background.
Saturday turned out to be an all-you-can-eat South Orange County history day! I started the morning providing backup support at the Orange County Historical Society's Fall "History Hike" to the Trabuco Adobe and the Portola Expedition campsite of San Francisco Solano, took a detour through Live Oak Canyon, and wound up among the adobes of San Juan Capistrano.

Historian Phil Brigandi led the morning's hike/tour through part of O'Neill Park. In the photo above folks are checking out the ruins of the Trabuco Adobe (circa 1810), which was an outpost for the cattle operations of Mission San Juan Capistrano. Today the remaining walls are somewhat protected by a wood shelter. A number of holes punched in the plywood provide an opportunity to peer inside. (See photo below.)
 This is one of the oldest buildings in Orange County outside of Capistrano. Sadly, it's largely neglected and no serious archeological work has been done on the site. One suspects such a dig would reveal a great deal of information from the mission and rancho eras.

Many years before the adobe was built, on July 24 and 25 of 1769, the Portola Expedition (the first non-Indians to travel up through California) camped at this site, which they called San Francisco Solano. Soon, however, the soldiers in the expedition began calling the area "Trabuco" after the blunderbuss (a.k.a. trabuco) one of them lost nearby.
The photo above shows our intrepid team hiking down into Trabuco Creek. There were about 30 hikers in the party.

 After the hike, I caught up with friends for lunch at Cook's Corner -- an establishment that got its start in the 1930s.
A 2007 photo by Phil Brigandi shows Cook's Corner on a quiet day.
Our long lunch led to discussion of San Juan Capistrano. Specifically, we ended up talking about some slightly strange photos of the Mission, and about the details of the 1850s raid on the town by Juan Flores' marauding gang. On a whim, we all decided to drive down there and puzzle things out first-hand. When it comes to local history, research in contemporary sources is crucial, but you really need to "put boots on the ground" also.

 The first thing I noticed at the mission was the progress on the new entrance complex. It's looking nice so far, with a large ramada and a faux-adobe structure that the builders seem to be giving the first-class treatment.
New entrance/exit construction: If they're smart, they'll make you exit through the gift shop.
 Our first stop inside the Mission was the South Wing (now partly occupied by the gift shop), where Don Juan Forster and his family lived from 1844 to 1864. During those years, Forster made some alterations, including adding a bedroom for his daughters, which shows up in a number of photos, including the one below. Note the bricked-off archway and how the entire corner under the arches is closed off. 
Now, in the next photo (below), see how that corner is once again open, as it was in the Mission Era. We found lines in the adobe that still make it obvious where exactly the brick walls were added and later removed. This -- along with the photo above (displayed at the Mission) -- answered some of our questions about strange-looking window and door placement on this wing in early photos.
 Another of our questions involved the age of various materials spread over the adobe walls of the mission. In various places over the centuries, designs, pigment, and graffiti have been applied to the mission walls. As various layers of concrete, plaster, etc, erode or fall away from the buildings, it would be nice to date those marks and messages by the materials they were applied to. The material the particularly puzzled us was a light-colored concrete-like layer that seemed to have fairly early markings on it. My understanding was that the original coverings for the adobe and rock walls were plaster -- but what was meant by plaster in those days?

In the photo below, from the Great Stone Church, the concrete-like material in question holds what some have said are architectural sketches for elements of the church itself. (Note the straight lines and compass-drawn arcs.) If that's true, the material it's scribed into must be original to the building. But it doesn't look or feel like plaster. One of my readers must be an expert on these things, right? Anyone?
The easier ones to peg are the more recent markings, which often include both a name and a date. More on that in a future post.

Our next stop was down the street on a stretch of El Camino Real -- near the Blas-Aguilar Adobe (circa 1794) and what's now Town Center Park -- that was hit hard by Juan Flores' gang in the 1850s. The outlaws looted the town and robbed numerous businesses along this stretch of the highway, including the shops of Michael Krazewski and George Pflugardt. One of Krazewski's employees was wounded and Pflugardt was killed.
Blas-Aguilar Adobe (a.k.a. Casa de Esperanza) in Capistrano.
The tale of the gang is worth telling at another time (and involves the murder of Los Angeles Sheriff James Barton), but our task was to use old maps and existing landmarks like the Blas-Aguilar Adobe to pace off where exactly Pflugardt's murder and the robberies took place. The murder appears to have taken place just inside the boundaries of the park, not far from the adobe. Krazewski's place seems to have been about halfway up between that spot and the modern Ortega Highway.

This is the kind of tomfoolery local historians get up to when they have a lazy Saturday afternoon to spend. And yes, I really WOULD rather be doing this stuff than watching football, or going to a movie, or terrorizing tortoises with an ATV, or whatever "normal" people do.