Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Travel back to the 1920s aboard the Pacific Electric

The Big Red Cars in Orange County, (a look back at the Pacific Electric Railway), will be the topic of this year's annual dinner of the Orange County Historical Society, June 21, 2013. Even if you're not a member, you need to attend if you're interested in local history, the P.E., the 1920s, architecture, or just meeting friendly people. Let me explain this multifaceted evening of fun:

The event will be held at the beautiful Santa Ana Ebell Clubhouse (built 1924, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places). It will kick off with a social hour with a no-host bar and and great music of the 1920s, courtesy Josh McIntosh's outstanding record collection. Several rounds of walking tours of the historic French Park Neighborhood will also be offered during this time. The buffet dinner will feature beef, chicken, fish and (special order) vegetarian entrée, all kinds of good sides, and dessert. Extremely rare silent film footage of the P.E.'s cars running through O.C. will run on the screen while we enjoy our meals and the company of friends old and new.

But the big feature of the evening is a fascinating and well-illustrated program about the Pacific Electric by Steve Crise and Michael A. Patris, authors of Pacific Electric Railway: Then & Now. I've heard wonderful things about a version of this program they've presented for historical groups in Los Angeles, and for this occasion they're reworking their material to put the focus more on Orange County.

Reservations are a must, so please RSVP by June 11. As of this writing, tickets are still available (and surprisingly affordable). For more information, visit OrangeCountyHistory.org or go directly to this PDF of the flyer/registration form. Confirmation will be made by email. If you attended OCHS' 2012 dinner at Knott's Berry Farm, you know you don't want to miss this year's event.
Ebell Club, Santa Ana, designed by noted local architect Frederick Eley in 1924.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Clara Mason Fox and OCHS

Lorraine Passero, author of Clara Mason Fox: Pioneer, Painter, and Poet of Orange County, will speak at the O.C. Historical Society tomorrow (Thurs., May 9), 7:30 p.m., at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. (See the OCHS website for details.)

More than 50 years after the death of local pioneer Clara Mason Fox, a box found in an attic helped piece together the narrative of this remarkable woman. Clara's story, expressed through her art, poetry, and writings tells us that the Mason family left Illinois in the 1880s and were among the first settlers of Silverado Canyon. A true pioneer of her era, Clara served as perhaps the first schoolteacher in the canyon, and became an early Laguna Beach artist. She eventually travelled alone to New York City to study art at Cooper Union. After marrying local rancher George Fox and moving to El Toro, Clara was the first to write a history of that town.

In 2010, a serendipitous discovery of more than 150 of Clara's botanical watercolors—some dating back to 1894—were discovered in cabinets filled with plant specimens at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont. These watercolors are currently part of the exhibit “When They Were Wild: Recapturing California’s Wildflower Heritage” (March 9 – July 8) in the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery at the Huntington Library in San Marino. The exhibit also includes work by other artists, including Alice Brown Chittenden (1859–1944), Ethel Wickes (1872–1940), and Milford Zornes (1908–2008).

Hope to see you at OCHS!

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Visiting historic Wintersburg

Standing in front of the Furuta family home, built circa 1912.
Yesterday I served as a volunteer docent on a tour of the historic Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church/Furuta Family Farm complex in Huntington Beach. This site, which is in immediate danger of destruction, is probably the most important Asian-American historic site in Orange County, and among the most important in Southern California. The tour was led by Mary Adams Urashima, and was held in conjunction with the California Preservation Foundation's annual conference, which is being held in Orange County for the first time in about 30 years.
Me, standing in front of the Church's manse (parsonage), built around 1910.
I have posted about Wintersburg many times before, and I won't rehash the site's whole history here. It's at the corner of Warner Avenue and Nichols St. in north Huntington Beach. If you want to learn a lot more about it, I strongly recommend a visit to the blog, Historic Wintersburg. Mainly I'm posting today to share a few of the photos from our tour. Normally, one can't access the property, but we had special (and much appreciated) dispensation from the current landowners, Rainbow Environmental Services (until recently known as Rainbow Disposal).
Original mission building of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church (1910)
Most good historians will tell you, there's no substitute for actually visiting the site you're studying and interacting with it. Even if the physical environment has changed over the years, a visit provides you with a sense of place and a picture in your head that help make sense of everything you read or hear about the site. It's hard to imagine writing much meaningful history about a place you've never been.
The Furuta family's barn (ca 1910) -- Likely the last agricultural barn left in the city.
One of the high points of our tour was walking through the Furuta family's barn, which includes several additions representing the various eras of history at the site. Lots of interesting details are visible, including a vintage walk-in refrigerator, exposed knob-and-tube wiring, cloth-insulated wire, original hardware, and wire racks for drying flowers.
Inside the Furuta barn, Carey casts a wary eye toward the ceiling.
The tour was a great experience, and I'm glad we had a bunch of locals in the group as well as all the folks who came to the conference from elsewhere. It would be too bad if all this effort was expended on people who feel no personal investment in Orange County. Not that dissemination of knowledge is ever a waste of time, but in this case the most important thing is to educate and inspire local people, who can make a difference to this preservation effort. Mission accomplished, I think.
A photo I took earlier of the newer church building (1934).
After the tour, we went over to the Huntington Beach Central Library, where we heard more about the history of the local Japanese community from Dennis Masuda, who grew up attending the church, and  from Dr. Art Hansen, a Professor Emeritus from CSUF who has studied and recorded the community's history for decades. Mr. Masuda gave us some excellent perspective and brought all this highfalutin' history talk back to a relatable human scale. And Art was both an inspiring teacher and a fire-and-brimstone evangelist for preservation and history.
Mary Adams Urashima, Dennis Masuda and Dr. Art Hansen at our panel discussion.

But most of the day came down to Mary, who did a fantastic job. Her enthusiasm for historic Wintersburg is contagious, and she is bubbling over with more stories about the site, (and the people who lived and worshiped there,) than she has time to tell. Every threatened historic site should have friends like her. My thanks to Mary and to all others involved in yesterday's event.