Friday, September 29, 2006

Remembering Villa Sweden

Anyone who remembers Huntington Beach in the last half of the 20th Century will remember the Villa Sweden smorgasbord at 552 Main St. They were known for their wholesome all-you-can eat fare and reasonable prices.

As a kid, the Swedish meatballs, dark limpa bread and jello deserts were my favorites. Many of their selections would have been right at home at any Midwestern family potluck: From cabbage roll to carrot-raisin salad.

The Backlund family came to America from Sweden in 1951 and opened the restaurant in 1961. It closed sometime between 1984 and 1990. (Anyone have an exact date?) The building now houses the Shore House Cafe.

The image above is from an Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce guidebook, circa 1974.

Link: More photos.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Last round-up for Rustler Sam?

It was bad enough when Golden West College PC-ized their cowboy mascot, Rustler Sam, by removing his cigarette and stubble. But now they want to put him on a surfboard or run him out of town altogether. Some consultant convinced GWC that their beach-side location (over three miles inland) meant they needed a new nautical mascot.

In March 1966, just months before GWC opened, a College Council of students, administrators and instructors voted to adopt the "Rustlers" name. Some of the also-ran nominations were the Batmen, the Gladiators, the Crusaders, and the Bruisers (with black and blue school colors).

A few years later, Rustler Sam was designed for GWC by "Tumbleweeds" comic strip creator Tom K. Ryan. I'll be the first to admit that Sam is goofy looking. But that's his charm.

If the students and alumni had decided on their own to nix their mascot, that would be fine. I could even understand the arguement that rustlers were criminals and that Sam should be re-christened Cowboy Sam or Marshall Sam. But ending a tradition on the advice of a consultant just stinks.

Link: Register article.
Link: L.A. Times article.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Evangeline Update?

Yesterday, the Register broke the "news" that the Evangeline Hotel (1906) at 421 8th St., (a.k.a. The Colonial Inn hostel), had been purchased. The timing of the story puzzled me and other O.C. historians who heard about it closing escrow over a month ago.

Regardless of the timing, this is good news. The Evangeline was in immediate danger of being torn down before these buyers came along. Now it seems the building will be restored and put to some good use.

There aren't many buildings left from H.B.'s pre-oil years, and the Evangeline is one of the most historically interesting. For instance: Among its earliest guest were Civil War vets attending the Grand Army of the Republic conventions at the old H.B. Methodist Campground. (The photo above shows some of these men and their family members on the porch of the hotel.)

The Evangeline has craftsman lines, a redwood frame, and still features a large carriage barn in back. On the front curb you'll still find metal rings to tether your horse.

Rumors for the future include conversion to a bed and breakfast, a woman’s retreat, or simply a humongous house. Personally, I'll be happy with almost any re-use that involves a responsible restoration of the building.

Link: Register article

Friday, September 08, 2006

Nostalgic for Huntington Center

Bella Terra is having their belated grand opening this weekend. Their PR people are calling Bella Terra "Huntington Beach's lifestyle center." Who knew our “lifestyle” was defined by a faux-Italian shopping center?

Personally, I still miss Huntington Center. Sadly, as the middle class was pushed out of Orange County, the businesses that served them (e.g. most of the stores in Huntington Center) fell by the wayside. Now we have Wal-Mart and Nordstrom’s, and not much in between. .
The photo above is The Broadway at Huntington Center in 1965, just days before it opened.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Alicia Wentworth

One of H.B.'s great citizens, Alicia Wentworth, died on Friday. She was our City Clerk for 15 years, and official City Historian for 17 more.

Without Alicia's subtle guidance when I was young, my life would be very different today. I first met her in 1989. I was taking photography at Edison High School and thought it might be interesting to photograph old buildings around H.B.

My involvement with local history could have ended with that project. However, someone -- probably Connie Brockway -- suggested I talk to Alicia.

Alicia had collected photos of old H.B. for many years, but had only recently been appointed City Historian. She not only told me where to look for the historically important houses, but shared stories about old H.B., and had me do more photography specifically for the City's collection. I mostly photographed places before they were torn out and replaced with condos and stripmalls. It was my first paying job of any kind -- and in retrospect, I'm pretty sure the money was coming out of her own pocket.

But the money wasn't the point. She got me hooked on local history, and it has remained my avocation for all these years. It was only a few years ago that I was given the opportunity to turn it into an occupation and a career.

I knew Alicia's health must really be bad when she told me she could no longer make it in to City Hall. She could not be slowed down easily. Even after she was home and recovering from multiple-bypass surgery, she was able to help me solve a number of historical mysteries over the phone. Like me, she loved her work.

Thank you, Alicia, for all your help and kindness over the years. Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm and knowledge, and for giving me a crucial nudge or two in the right direction.

Link: Obituary, Register

Monday, September 04, 2006

Historic Orange County place names

Valerie Takahama has a nice little quiz in today's Register, based on Phil Brigandi's new book, Orange County Place Names, A to Z.