Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Of course, some prefer larger gatherings: "The masque carnival at the Armory skating rink on New Year's eve was socially a big success. [The Armory Building near 4th and Birch St. was turned into a skating rink for special events.] Two hundred and seventy-five enjoyed the rollers during the evening, which ended with a confetti battle. The committee of five chosen from the spectators in the balcony, which was packed the entire evening, acted as judges for the prize costumes. Awards were made as follows: Ladies' first prize, Miss Leora Peters (a typical cow girl), gold bracelet; gentlemen's first prize (cowboy), solid gold cuff buttons'; ladies' second prize (comic), Miss Margaraet Wilson, Yama Yama girl [a character from a popular 1908 musical], cut glass nappy [candy dish]; gentlemen's second prize (comic), Dutchman, gold watch-chain."
New Year's day itself "was celebrated quietly in Santa Ana, the attractions of the opening of the San Diego Exposition and the Rose Tournament drawing hundreds of people away from the city. Cars were crowded yesterday with local people going to the Crown City, but the San Diego pilgrims largely left by train on Wednesday afternoon and evening. Family dinners and dinner parties were much in evidence, no so largely as at Christmas time, but still enough of these to make the day bright with the social spirit."
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 12/31/2014
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
|The Great Stone Church, Mission San Juan Capistrano, Christmas 2011|
|Soldiers' barracks, Mission San Juan Capistrano, Christmas 2011|
|Serra Chapel, Mission San Juan Capistrano, Christmas 2011|
A visit to the Mission is always worthwhile, but this seems an especially appropriate time of the year to do so.
Merry Christmas to you all.
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 12/24/2014
Thursday, November 20, 2014
|Marion Knott at 75th anniversary of her mother's restaurant, 6-13-2009.|
Marion Knott Montapert, the last of Walter and Cordelia Knott's children -- and the only one of their children to be born on their famous berry farm -- died November 13. Over the years, she went from selling rhubarb on street corners, to waiting tables in her mother's tea room, to managing Marion & Toni's Dress Shop with her sister, to being a key player in the planning and operations for one of the world's best-known theme parks. She put a fence around the park, added the Fiesta Village and Roaring 20s areas, and introduced rollercoasters.
An obituary for her appears in the Orange County Register, and a shorter blurb about her passing appeared in the L.A. Times. I won't rehash them here, but I will share a few additional comments...
|Marion Knott on "Boomerang" rollercoaster at Knott's Berry Farm, 1990.|
I did not meet her in person until 2009. She had not visited Knott's Berry Farm since the family sold it to Cedar Fair, and had sworn she'd never return. But for the 75th anniversary of her mother's restaurant (Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant), she made an exception. She was very much afraid of what she would find. What would the new people have done to the place she and her parents and her siblings had built?
To her surprise, she was very pleased with what she found, and she said so publicly. She was very gracious and patient with all the people who wanted to meet her that day, including me.
Of course, I wasn't going to write about Marion Knott today, until I heard about her passing. I was going to write about the good news that Newspapers.com has added a large portion of the old Santa Ana Register to their searchable database. One of my first searches after getting access to a Newspapers.com account was to find the Register's earliest references to the Knott family after their arrival in Orange County.
The earliest Knott references, in the mid-1920s, are surprisingly not about the soon-to-be-famous berry farmer, Walter. Rather, they are about Cordelia Knott attending the Jolly Stitchers club of Buena Park, with baby Marion in tow. Today, of course, hardly a day goes by when the Knott name fails to appear in the paper. About 4,000 people a day enjoy the theme park that bears their name, and -- at least for now -- even more enjoy the line of jams and preserves they created. And the philanthropic work the Knott family continues to do in Orange County has had an enormous impact.
|The Knott children: Toni, Russell, Virginia and little Marion, circa 1925.|
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 11/20/2014
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 10/29/2014
Thursday, October 23, 2014
|Fairgrounds, Aug. 1: Giant walking "fair foods" add gravitas to the national anthem.|
|Fairgrounds, Aug. 1: Jim Washburn celebrates with a little flag waving.|
A few OC125 tchotchkes have emerged from this year's celebrations, including two very-limited-edition pins, official OC125 mason jars(!?) from OC Parks, and some OC125-branded postcards and bookmarks from the Orange County Archives. I think everyone who came up with stuff like this was essentially working with no budget, so this is pretty good for an off-beat anniversary like 125. Centennials and sesquicentennials are easier sells.
|Phil Brigandi discusses O.C.'s 125th birthday at the Old Courthouse., 7-17-2014.|
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 10/23/2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
|Vodie's bear, Santa Ana, hours before moving to his new home at MONA.|
- The Los Angeles Archives Bazaar (which also includes Orange County) will be held at the beautiful Doheny Library at USC. This is a great place to learn about many, many historical archives, collections and libraries you never knew existed. If you have an interest in researching or writing Southern California history, you need to go.
- The Santa Ana Historic Preservation Society will hold their 17th Annual Historical Cemetery Tour. This year's theme is, "A Hot Time in Old Orange County Tonight; Santa Ana’s Firefighting History.” This is a popular event, and cemeteries are always an interesting "prop" for discussing the people who founded and built a community.
- The Anaheim Halloween Parade -- which isn't about history, but which is certainly a historic Orange County tradition in its own right -- will once again ply the streets of Downtown Anaheim.
|Happy Bear watched over 17th and Bristol.|
The story of the Happy Bear sign begins with brothers Will and Henry Damman, who invented an electric starter for the Model T in the 1910s. Although Henry Ford came up with his own version and ended their venture, the Dammans turned around and started the Bear Manufacturing Company, which built auto repair equipment. According to the Rock Island Preservation Society, "Bear equipment became the standard for diagnosis and repair of wheel, steering, and frame alignment. Later, the company expanded [into] auto safety equipment of all types."
Beginning in the 1920s, Happy Bear's image appeared at innumerable mom-and-pop auto shops that used alignment equipment built by Bear Manufacturing. I'm told Bear Manufacturing would sometimes install a free bear sign for their customers at the same time they installed the alignment equipment in their shop and trained the staff on how to use it.
Happy Bear signs of different sizes were made, but Vodie's was one of the largest and -- at this late date -- among the best-preserved. Vodie's Alignment & Brakes was founded by Vodie Edgar Clemmons (1914-1997) of Garden Grove.
Happy Bear signs started disappearing from the American landscape in the 1960s and '70s. Bear Manufacturing became part of Automotive Diagnostics, and the brand faded away.
In 1973, the Grateful Dead used slight variations of the bear's likeness on the cover of their album "History of the Grateful Dead, Volume One." Soon, the bears were a symbol of the band, appearing on shirts, decals, etc. Deadhead lore says the bear was printed on blotter acid produced by soundman and "underground chemist" Owsley "Bear" Stanley before it appeared on the album cover. Deadhead lore also claims the bear was an old piece of clip-art that pre-dated even its use by Bear Manufacturing. (If anyone sees a pre-1920s use of the bear, let me know.)
Anyway, Santa Ana's Happy Bear, being an especially good example of Bear Manufacturing signage, was something MONA seemed very pleased to receive. Plans are being made to restore it and get the neon elements working again.
Another Happy Bear sign (at another Vodie's) still stands at 9891 Garden Grove Blvd. in Garden Grove.
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 10/22/2014
Thursday, August 07, 2014
|Southern California citrus, as shown in Sunset Magazine, March 1911|
We seceded for the usual reasons: It was too hard to get to the county seat to do business, all our tax money was spent in the “big city,” we had a strong enough economy to survive on our own, and we wanted the right of self-determination. L.A. wanted to hang onto us, not out of love and affection, but out of financial and political expediency. We’ve been wary of L.A. ever since.
Asked if he got to Los Angeles very often, Orange County’s “last rustic,” historian Jim Sleeper, once told a reporter, “Hell! I wouldn’t drive up there to watch Jesus Christ wrestle a grizzly bear!” (An L.A. newspaper printed the comment on their front page.)
For their part, Angelenos have invented an imaginary “Orange Curtain” dividing our counties, which I suppose explains why so many of them think they can’t venture south of Coyote Creek. Many also cling to the claim that there’s “no culture” down here, and therefore no reason to visit.
|The old plaza in Los Angeles, circa 1869 -- our previous county seat.|
Unlike Los Angeles, with its delusions adequacy, we're not accustomed to gloating and bragging. But since this month marks our 125th birthday, perhaps a bit of comparison is in order,...
Let me start by pointing out that the "HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH" is in Orange County! Really!
Also, Orange County is friendlier, cleaner, and less cramped than Los Angeles. We have better governance, air quality, public safety, school districts, parking, and water conservation. We enjoy cheaper gas, better drivers, a more user-friendly airport, and even a more interesting Spanish Mission. We have lower taxes and less violent crime. We call it a riot when kids get unruly and knock over trashcans in Huntington Beach.
|Early 1920s Southern California postcard. (Images courtesy O. C. Archives)|
And if that wasn’t enough, Sacramento clearly hates us – Which is perhaps the ultimate proof that we’re doing things right!
Feliz cumpleaños, Orange County. ¡Viva la independencia!
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 8/07/2014
Tuesday, August 05, 2014
|This eagle (sans color) appeared in the Santa Ana Standard in 1889, to mark county secession.|
|A scene from this morning's pre-meeting birthday reception.|
|I was graciously asked to speak at this morning's meeting by Orange County Clerk-Recorder Hugh Nguyen.|
|The chosen county seal design did not honor Anaheim's vintners.|
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 8/05/2014
Friday, August 01, 2014
|Created by County Surveyor S. H. Finley in Aug. 1889, this was the first official map of Orange County. (Courtesy the Library of Congress)|
On the day Orange County separated, we had about 15,000 residents, three incorporated cities, and no paved roads. Our growth was slow and steady, reaching only 34,000 by 1910. But in the following decade, our population nearly doubled. In the roaring '20s, it doubled again, to 120,000.
Prior to WWII, Orange County was centered on agriculture. Many crops would do well and bring prosperity, taking advantage of our ideal climate and soil, until a disease would wipe them out and force us to find something new, beginning the cycle again. Along the way, we had enormous success with grapes, apricots, walnuts, celery, sugar beets, chili peppers, avocados, strawberries, beans, lemons, and, of course, the once-ubiquitous Valencia orange.
The manpower behind all that bounty was provided by a diverse population, including Americans, Mexicans, Germans, English, Japanese, Chinese, Basques, Indians, and the descendants of the Spanish Californios.
Our first half-century brought the Pacific Electric Railway, colleges, new cities, highways, parks, floods, earthquakes, multiple oil booms, an airport, Knott's Berry Farm, and the aviation innovations of Glen Martin and others. Those decades saw the growth and development of our schools districts, churches, civic organizations, water management and other infrastructure.
With the Depression and the war, growth slowed, and it took more than two decades to double our population again. World War II brought us military bases, most notably at El Toro, Tustin, Los Alamitos, Seal Beach and Costa Mesa.
Things went bananas in the postwar boom, and the population more than tripled between 1950 and 1960, reaching 700,000 - a number which was more than doubled just a decade later. A combination of the "quick decline" disease and demand for more housing brought an end to the age of orange groves and changed our landscape forever. The massive growth and development never stopped.
The last half of the 20th Century brought us Angels, Rams, Ducks, and Mickey Mouse. We became the home of megachurches, freeways, universities, modern venues for the arts, major tourism and aerospace industries, planned communities, a brush with municipal bankruptcy, and waves of immigrants from Mexico, Vietnam and elsewhere.
Today we have 34 incorporated cities and a population of 3.1 million - a more than 22,000% increase since our founding. Orange County also has a cohesive sense of place, identity and community that our older sibling, Los Angeles, never will. Whether we're from San Clemente or La Habra, we're Orange Countians first, and we're proud of our home. We have done well with our independence.
Happy 125th Birthday, Orange County! You don't look a day over 100!
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 8/01/2014
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
For instance, there's no record of famous lawman Wyatt Earp visiting Orange County, but some of his famous family definitely spent time here. Wyatt’s father, Nicholas, youngest brother, Warren, and other family members lived near Lake Elsinore and would sometimes find their way to the other side of the mountains. Warren did farm work for H.S. Pankey, in the Gospel Swamp area, south of Santa Ana. Warren wasn't with his brothers at the famous O.K. Corral shoot-out in 1881, but he helped Wyatt hunt down the man who killed their brother, Morgan. Warren was shot dead in 1900 during an argument with a cowboy at a saloon in Wilcox, Arizona.
It may be a thin thread connecting O.C. to the O.K. Corral,... But it's interesting that a thread exists at all.
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 7/08/2014
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
|From the exhibit: A scene at the Hotel Laguna, circa 1889.|
|W. A. Connoly's blacksmith shop, Fullerton, 1889.|
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 6/25/2014
Monday, June 23, 2014
|Mary Urashima leads a tour in the Furuta Barn at Wintersburg.|
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 6/23/2014
Sunday, June 22, 2014
|Huntington Beach Pier, April 1906|
Speaking of Huntington Beach,... There will be several interconnected events on Tues., June 24, related to the Historic Wintersburg Preservation project. First there will be a national press conference at Huntington Beach City Hall with mayor Matt Harper and the Wintersburg Preservation Task Force. Apparently, it's "big news," but it's all super secret right now! Then, from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., 10% of your bill at The Red Table Restaurant (16821 Algonquin, in H.B. ) will go toward the preservation effort. At 6:30 there will be another big announcement at The Red Table regarding Wintersburg. Keep an eye on HistoricWintersburg.blogspot.com for more information.
|Orange County's 125th Birthday Party, hosted by the O.C. Historical Society.|
I suppose this is old news now, but I haven't mention that the George Key House at Key Ranch Historical Park sustained some significant damage during the "La Habra Earthquake" in March. The historic building is still closed for assessment and repairs, but the surrounding park property is open by appointment.
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 6/22/2014
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
|Wood panel from The Arches, carved by "C. Abel," and found in Costa Mesa.|
It began as a service station, built in 1925 on Pacific Coast Highway, at the intersection of Newport Blvd. in Newport Beach. This was the same year the highway opened between Huntington Beach and Newport.
Historian Phil Brigandi writes, "John Vilelle (1897-1981) built The Arches. Originally he had a partner named James Sturgeon, but he didn’t stay around long. Vilelle & Sturgeon ran the gas station, and their wives, Fern Vilelle and Anna Sturgeon [later] ran the restaurant."
|One of several wood panels from The Arches seen at Normandy's.|
"Not long after prohibition ended in 1933, Johnny Vilelle got a liquor license, and started serving cocktails." says Brigandi. He sites as 1941 ad bragging of "unexcelled Steak Dinners and Good Coffee. Cocktail Bar in connection" and a 1949 ad for "Steak, Chicken, Lobster in Season, Cocktails.”
In 1936, a large bridge was built nearby, taking Newport Blvd. over the highway at what was then one of the most dangerous intersections in Orange County. Soon, the bridge was unofficially dubbed "Arches," and the name stuck. Soon, not just the business, but also the bridge and the surrounding area was known as The Arches. It was a landmark, and remains so today.
|An early image of The Arches service station (left) and market/cafe (right)|
Eventually the service station disappeared. And what started as a diner eventually completed its transition into a high-end restaurant and watering hole for the well-heeled. John Wayne, Shirley Temple, and other famous folk were regulars.
"By the early 1970s," Brigandi writes, "The Arches was being touted for its French food, and – if the old Orange County Illustrated magazine is to be believed – the bar had a reputation as a place for 'swingers.'"
|A view of The Arches from across the highway, circa 1955.|
But Marcheano took the name with him. After a certain amount of unpleasantness between the old and new owners, Marcheano opened a new "The Arches" in Cannery Village -- and then, when that didn't work -- to a location on Westcliff Dr. This forced the owners of the old location to come up with a new name. Keeping a big curlicued "A" on the beginning of their roadside sign maintained a familiar look, so the place became "A Restaurant."
|The Arches shortly before its renovation into A Restaurant, 2008.|
Meanwhile, the new The Arches on Westcliff struggled and finally closed at the end of 2010.
|Revisiting the old Latin maxim, "De gustibus non est disputandum."|
|More relics of The Arches at Normandy's New York Hardware.|
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 6/18/2014
Friday, May 16, 2014
Someone walked into the Orange County Archives today with three branding irons he'd acquired from a descendant of Vincente Yorba, Jr. I traced the brands and posted the tracings above. The center one looks like a variation on Bernardo Yorba's original brand from the 1830s/1840s, but it's not exact. Do any of you sharp-eyed readers know the "who" or the "when" of these brands?
I can tell you some places these brands do not appear: They aren't in the "Historic Brands of Orange County" guide in Jim Sleeper's 2nd Orange County Almanac of Historical Oddities. They don't appear in the 1919 California Brand Book (the only edition I have at hand). They also don't appear in the little chart of rancho brands at First American Corp., which is also reproduced in Cindy Tino-Sandoval's Images of America: Yorba Linda. They are also absent from the county's old Brand Book and the other filed brands at the Orange County Archives.
So now the ball is in your court. Please leave your comments in the comments section below. Thanks in advance for any light you can shed.
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 5/16/2014
Tuesday, May 06, 2014
|The historic Bernardo Yorba adobe, when it was still standing - Circa 1900.|
(The previously announced speaker is unable to attend. We knew it was just a matter of time before the dumb guy who schedules OCHS' programs screwed up.)
OCHS also has a small book on this subject, The House of Bernardo Yorba by Don Meadows, available for sale. They should have copies available at the meeting and also sell them through their website.
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 5/06/2014
Monday, April 21, 2014
|Dann Gibb at the lower adit, Blue Light Mine, Silverado. Photo by Phil Brigandi.|
Today I'm posting a bunch of upcoming local history related events you'll want to know about. (May, in particular, is lousy with 'em!) But everyone loves photos, so I'm also including a few images from the Orange County Historical Society's April 12th "History Hike" to the old Blue Light Mine in Silverado Canyon. Mike Boeck and Phil Brigandi did a great job leading the tour and interpreting the historical sites, (and we thank Karin Klein for pushing us in the right direction to begin with). I should point out that OCHS had special permission to visit the mine area, and that none of the adits are open anymore. More photos from the trek are posted here. It was a fun day and a fascinating hike! Look for another OCHS History Hike to be announced for this coming fall.
Now,... On with the upcoming events -- right after this photo...
|Chris gives a pep talk at the trail head. Photo by Mike Boeck.|
Apr. 27 - Eric Lynxwiler will present "The Birth of Knott's Berry Farm: An Illustrated Presentation" at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, at 1pm. It will be followed by Boysenberry pie and two circa 1960 documentary shorts about Knott's: "Come and Get It" and "A Family Builds a Mountain." Tickets at Fandango.com.
May 3 - This weekend will be packed full of events! On Saturday, check out the Costa Mesa Historical Society's "Early California Days" at the Estancia Adobe, or spend the day at the Tustin Area Historical Society's 18th Annual Home & Garden Tour in Old Town Tustin.
May 4 - On Sunday, take the family to the Rancho Days Fiesta, 10am-3pm at Heritage Hill Historical Park in El Toro, a.k.a. Lake Forest. There'll be ropin' and ridin' and all kinds o' old-timey music and dancin' along with crafts, historical tours, and other educational opportunities. I'll be there, tending the O.C. Archives' booth and giving away free wooly mammoths. (Just checking to make sure you were reading.) This is also the last weekend of the Ramona Pageant in Hemet, so this is clearly the weekend to overdose on "the romance of the ranchos." Olé!
May 3 & 4 - Railroad Days will be held at the Fullerton Train Station, 9am-5pm on both Saturday and Sunday. The BNSF Railway will let you clamber around a modern locomotive cab, and Disneyland's Ernest S. Marsh locomotive and Kalamazoo handcar will be on hand, along with countless other rail-related exhibits, displays and activities. This event is sponsored by the Southern California Railway Plaza Association.
|Hiking through the woods. Photo by Charles Beal.|
May 8 - Jeannine Pedersen of the Cooper Center will discuss "Archaeology in Orange County" at the Orange County Historical Society, 7:30pm, at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. (Remember: Archaeologists do not follow maps to buried treasure and X never, ever marks the spot.)
May 10 - Santa Ana Fire Museum will hold an open house, noon to 4pm. See my review of their grand opening here.
May 16 - The Orange County Historical Society will sell local history books (and sign up new members) at the Main Street Car Show in Garden Grove, 4-8pm.
May 17 - The Orange County Archives will be open to the public for Saturday hours, 10am to 3pm. (Other Saturdays in 2014 on which the Archives will be open include June 21, July 26, Aug. 30, Sept. 20, Oct. 18, Nov. 15, and Dec. 13.) Across the street, at the Howe-Waffle House, on May 17, the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society will hold an open house and Edgar Allen Poe/Edward Gorey event.
May 17 & 18 - Hal Lutskey's Vintage Postcard & Paper Show will return to the Glendale Civic Auditorium, Sat. 10am-5pm, and Sun.10am-4pm. It's worth the drive.
|Overview of Silverado Canyon. Photo by Phil Brigandi.|
May 31 - The Anaheim Citrus Packing House gourmet food mall will finally have its grand opening. As a big fan of adaptive reuse, I look forward to see what's been done. And like everyone else, I'm tired of just peering in the windows. Bring on the food!
June 7 - The 125th birthday of the historic Howe-Waffle House and the 40th anniversary of the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society will be celebrated at a special open house, noon to 4pm, 120 Civic Center Dr. West, in Santa Ana.
June 7 - The Sugar Beet Festival is a community shin-dig for West O.C. and East Long Beach that sneaks in a local history focus. Local history groups can register to get a free spot for a booth at the festival. Surprisingly, the Sugar Beet Festival will be held not in the old sugar hub of Los Alamitos but at The Shops at Rossmoor.
|Phil Brigandi at the Blue Light Mine's stamp mill site. Photo by C. Jepsen.|
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 4/21/2014
Sunday, April 20, 2014
|Did he lose a bet?|
|/Wayne is given two lucky rabbit's feet.|
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 4/20/2014
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
|Tractor pulling a 20-ton dredger for Golden West Celery & Produce Co., 1915.|
The origins and correct spelling of this north-south street running through Huntington Beach and Westminster have led to more than a little head scratching in recent years. I still don't have all the answers, but here's what I've discovered so far...
Maps from 1911 to 1927 show the street’s name as Westminster Ave. One of the conventions for county roads was to name them for the community they led to.
By 1935 at the latest, the road was called Golden West Ave. It likely took its name from the Golden West Celery & Produce Co., which incorporated in 1902 and did its packing in the town of Smeltzer, near the spot where Edinger Ave. now crosses the railroad tracks. (It became the Golden West Warehouse Co. after the celery industry tanked.)
On a related note, the phrase “the Golden West” was often used in the late 1800s and early 1900s to evoke a certain romantic or nostalgic notion of California. Examples include the play and opera entitled “The Girl of the Golden West,” the local Golden West Citrus Association, and the fraternal service group known as the Native Sons of the Golden West.
|Golden West College, named for the street, opened in 1966.|
Beginning around 1981, a few references to “Goldenwest Ave.” began to appear in newspapers. By the end of the 1980s it was showing up that way on county survey maps and a few street signs. In 1997, the Thomas Guide changed the spelling in their maps from “Golden West” to “Goldenwest.”
In the 2000s, the digital mapping software used by Huntington Beach's police and fire departments in responding to calls was unable to cope with a single street having multiple names. City Council Resolution 2009-76 adopted a single name for each street facing this problem. One of these "fixes" was the official changing of “Golden West Ave.” to “Goldenwest Street."
I guess we'll learn the next chapter of this story after the City Council meets on Monday.
|Akiyama Goldfish Farm, Golden West Ave, looking north from Bolsa Ave., Westminster, circa 1960.|
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 4/02/2014
Tuesday, April 01, 2014
Almost immediately upon its completion, cliff swallows began building their nests in the eaves of the house. One day, Fr. Junipero Serra was passing by the house just as the Don's son, Tavo, was shooing the birds away. Serra invited the birds to come live at the Mission, and they’ve been returning there ever since.(This annual migration, of course, inspired that beloved romantic hit tune of the 1940s, "Inka Dinka Doo.")
In December 1818, the cut-throat pirate Hippolyte de Bouchard ransacked San Juan Capistrano and commandeered the old adobe as his base of operations, burying a share of his pirate treasure under the home’s dirt floors. It is said that some of the treasure may yet remain.
(The basement later also served as a hideout for Juan Flores, the Tomato Springs Bandit, and Patty Hearst during her time with the S.L.A. Each fugitive left their name etched in the adobe walls.)
For some years after the mission was secularized, the adobe served as the local Catholic Church. In fact, it was here, in 1865, that President Abraham Lincoln signed the document which returned the mission to the Church’s ownership. It’s said that his ghost can still be seen playing mumbleypeg on the porch each Presidents Day at midnight.
Shortly after the repatriation of the mission, the old adobe was purchased by Horst D. Westenfiel who sold beer and sandwiches. Ramona, (the half-Indian beauty for whom Helen Hunt Jackson’s named her blockbuster novel), famously ate part of a cheese sandwich there in the 1870s. Beginning around 1890 and continuing for half a century, the adobe was best known to tens of thousands of tourists as "The Place Where Ramona Ate A Cheese Sandwich." (Trade in Ramona/sandwich-related tourist tchotchkes kept the town's economy afloat even during the Great Depression.)
Next to the adobe was the famous “Old Hanging Tree,” on which many a criminal met a sudden end. Eventually the tree died, but its wood was used to build actress Helena Modjeska's home in the Santa Ana Mountains.
|The main room as it appeared prior to the 1960 adaptive reuse project. Note the circa 1900 fireplace.|
Rumrunners brought in booze through an old tunnel in the basement – once used for quick escapes by Murrieta – which ended in another basement on the far side of Camino Capistrano. The tunnel is sealed off now, but still exists and is said to be haunted.
Because it was so historically important, Walter Knott moved the adobe to Knott’s Berry Farm in 1941. But he moved it back when Capistrano locals complained.
In the early 1950s, the adobe was part of a large area suggested as a site for the future Disneyland by the Stanford Research Institute in a report developed for Walt Disney. Being close to a freeway and another major tourist attraction (the mission) was seen as a benefit. But the site was ultimately found unsuitable because a portion of it sat on an ancient Indian cemetery. Walt said a cemetery in his theme park would have been, "like, a major bummer, man."
|Among the more modern of the many historical plaques that slather the adobe.|
Since then, it has remained a bank, cycling through a number of names, including Southern California First National Bank and California First Bank. It was already a Union Bank (its current name) in 1996 when an unarmed but extremely convincing robber made off with almost $2,000.
Many famous Orange County residents, including Gwen Stefani, Dean R. Koontz, John Wayne, Dennis Rodman, Richard Nixon and Octomom, have done their banking there.
A recent environmental impact report on the adobe found it to have no historical significance. It's scheduled to be bulldozed and replaced with a frozen yogurt stand next year.
Posted by Chris Jepsen at 4/01/2014