Monday, September 17, 2018

The Orange County Plain Dealer

Our Anaheim/Nixon/Disneyland friend Jason Schultz just added another 4,000 scanned pages of the Anaheim Gazette to the many old Anaheim newspapers he’s digitized and made available at YoreAnaheim.com. This amazing resource includes a brief history of the Gazette, and I thought Jason might also appreciate brief histories of some of the other Anaheim papers. Naturally, I began with the most obscure.  Here’s a slightly longer version of my history of the Orange County Plain Dealer, which Jason may or may not decide to use…

The Orange County Plain Dealer was launched in January 1898 – briefly in Fullerton, before moving to Anaheim, depending on which accounts one reads. Although it covered North Orange County generally, the newspaper’s focus was Anaheim-centric to the point that it was often incorrectly called the Anaheim Plain Dealer. The paper was originally owned and edited by James E. Valjean, the former editor of the Portsmouth (Ohio) Blade, a Republican, and the inventor of an improved stomach pump. He bought a small local paper called the Independent and built the Plain Dealer on its bones. The name of the new paper may well have been inspired by the Cleveland Plain Dealer in his previous home of Ohio. Once the new Orange County Plain Dealer became established, Valjean’s wife, Sarah Jane, moved from Ohio to Anaheim to be with him. In 1913, he made Earl R. Abbey (future Orange County Coroner) manager of the paper.

Shortly after a destructive fire at the newspaper plant and just prior to Valjean’s death in 1914, Abbey became the Plain Dealer’s publisher. Fred A. Chamberlain, also an employee of the paper, became editor. They purchased the paper and remained until 1916, when Paul Vincent Hester (editor) and Rolla Ward Ernest (manager) became the paper’s new co-owners and operators.

Ernest, going through an ugly divorce and looking for ways to lower his alimony, tried to sell his interest in the paper to Hester in 1923.  But Judge Cox put the kibosh on the sale.

On May 8, 1925, publishers Ernest and Hester sold the entirety of the Plain Dealer (by now an afternoon daily paper) to John S. Baker and his son-in-law, Anaheim Bulletin publisher Lotus Harry Loudon, for $35,000.  The afternoon daily was purchased with financial help from Loudon’s friends, developers Alfonso Bell (tennis star, oil tycoon and namesake of the communities of Bel Air, Bell, and Bell Gardens) and Phillip A. Stanton (politician who founded Seal Beach, Huntington Beach and Stanton). Louden and Baker immediately merged the Plain Dealer with the Bulletin.

Lotus H. Louden
A $90,000 libel suit against the Plain Dealer by Rev. James Allen Geissenger of the White Temple Methodist Church contributed to the newspaper's sale. The Plain Dealer had accused Geissenger of supporting the Ku Klux Klan’s recent takeover of Anaheim’s city government. However, hard evidence to support this claim could not be produced in court. The court forced Ernest and Hester to make a large payment to Geissenger, print a retraction on the front page (of the very last issue) of the Plain Dealer, and agree not to engage in newspaper work for at least fifteen years. Handing the reigns over to Loudon as publisher may have been one final slap at Geissenger and his associates, since Loudon was also an ardent adversary of the KKK. (Loudon was also a co-founder of the Anaheim Halloween Festival – where, he reckoned, dressing up like a bed-sheet ghost was more acceptable.)

Today, scattered issues of the Plain Dealer, beginning April 1898, can be found at the library at University of California Irvine's Special Collections. More complete runs of the Plain Dealer, from Sept. 1902 to March 1903 and from Jan. 1919 to May 1925, can be found on microfilm at the Anaheim Heritage Room. Of this latter collection, all but the issues from April 30, 1919 through December 1920 are now available at YoreAnaheim.com.

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