Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter Hill, fluffy concrete, and guys named Carbon

Easter Hill, with the Marcy Ranch headquarters in the foreground, circa the 1920s.
Local legend says Easter Hill, in the Cowan Heights area of North Tustin, was named for the Easter sunrise services held on its peak long ago. You can still see the hill directly ahead of you as you drive north on Newport Ave. between  17th St. and the foothills.  Its summit is topped by a large and unique white house (10251 Sunrise Lane) that's hard to miss.

The hill itself was part of a 17,000-acre parcel of the Irvine Ranch that James Irvine, Sr. considered worthless for agriculture. It was sold for chump change in 1910 to retired Armour Grain Company president George E. Marcy of Chicago. The primary crops on Marcy's ranch were lemons and Valencia oranges. It was managed by ranch superintendent Albert A. Leake.

"Marcy built ranch headquarters on Newport Avenue near the present Marcy Drive," writes Tustin historian Juanita Louvret, "The property ...included both citrus orchards and grazing land as well as a park with a lake, swans and peacocks."

Marcy died in 1939. His widow, Carrie, sold 822 acres of the ranch -- including the hill -- to retired oil executive Walter R. Cowan in 1944. Cowan subdivided the land into the Cowan Heights residential area.So where exactly do those fabled Easter services come into the picture? The details have been obscured by time.

"Several hills in that area were used for Easter sunrise services," historian Jim Sleeper told the L.A. Times in 1973. "There's no way of knowing who used that one, or when."
Another large, simple cross on another Southern California hilltop.
Jim's friend and fellow historian, Don Meadows, agreed , saying, "I remember a cross somewhere [in that area], but I'm sure it was carved. It stood there year-round, but I believe it was another hill."

Longtime O.C. Historical Commissioner Don Dobmeier -- who was once the gardener at Easter Hill -- says, with more certainty, that "Easter Hill was named by Mr. Marcy. He used to invite his church up to this scenic spot for Easter sunrise services each year. "

In about 1950, Cowan sold Easter Hill to engineer Carbon Chatley Dubbs (1911-1982). Dubbs was the wealthy son of Carbon Petroleum Dubbs, and grandson of Jesse A. Dubbs --  chemists whose contributions to the field of oil refining generated a large family fortune. Carbon C. and his wife, Junia, had seen the hill while flying their airplane over Tustin, and decided then and there that they wanted it. According to Don Meadows, "There wasn't even a road up there until Dubbs put one in."

Like his grandfather, Carbon C.  Dubbs had a creative streak, and among his inventions was a type of light-weight but sturdy concrete block made of pumice. (One wonders if the blocks, like the air-bubble-filled volcanic rock they were made from, could float in water.) The blocks Dubb's Carduco company manufactured in Stanton were six inches by twelve inches by four feet. Even made of pumice, these blocks proved to be too heavy. Dubbs himself got a bad back from carrying them around. A later version was shortened to two feet in length. 
A 1949 illustration for a related C.C. Dubbs, patent: "Process & Apparatus for Molding Porous Concrete Products."
In 1953, Dubbs hired local architect Harold Gimeno to build a nine-room house for him on Easter Hill, using the patented concrete blocks. In fact, the entire house was built of concrete, including the roof. There was built-in furniture all through the house, and hot water pipes ran through the concrete floors, supplying radiant heat in the colder months. "In a way," Gimeno later remembered, "he built the house to show off his blocks. But he also wanted to take advantage of the 360-degree view. ...The house should be there forever, because it was built to be. I'm proud of that job."

The Dubbs raised their two children, Jack and Carbon P. (a.k.a. "Dubby") in the house, and left their mark on the property, including many bird of paradise plants. There were also twelve pepper trees gracing the property, all of which are gone today.

Gimeno remembered seeing a wooden cross "propped up among the rocks" when he first visited the site in the early 1950s. That cross was still on the property, leaning against a wall, when the Dubbs sold the property to Priscilla J. Yale of Tustin in 1973.  It may have been the cross used at the Easter services that gave the hill its name. Mrs. Dubbs wrote a monograph about Easter Hill, but I've never seen a copy of it.
The Easter Hill house as it appears today.
 Today, the home is still owned by Yale, so far as I know. During the time she's owned it, a third story has been added. It is framed construction, not concrete. Carbon C. Dubbs would not approve.


Anonymous said...

What great stories. It's personal histories like this that make history connect with our present day.

Papa said...

Having grown up on Foothill Blvd I remember Carbon Dubbs house very well. My Dad knew them and once said they has a large snake collection there. I also remember the cross. As I recall, it was seasonal, but that was a long time ago.

Bobby Brumback said...

My father was the manager, and I worked at the Country Garden Store (17th @ SA Fwy) in the late 60's and early 70's. Mrs. (Junita) Dubbs was a frequent customer at the nursery and gift shop. I had the pleasure of making many deliveries of plants and Christmas trees to the Dubbs' residence. The estate and view from the house were spectacular. Mrs. Dubbs was a very gracious lady, even to a 19 year old nurseryman. Ken Myres