Friday, March 23, 2007

Jim Sleeper, The Port, Dana Point, etc.

There's a short interview with O.C. historian Jim Sleeper in today's Register. (Guy Ball is also quoted in the article, and Phil Brigandi appears in the background of their file photo.) If you have any interest in local history, you need to hunt down Jim's books now and read them. His legendary status as both a historian and a writer is deserved. [The photo at right shows Sleeper in the 1980s.]

Here's one I missed on last week's "Things That Will Disappear Soon" list: The Port Theater, 2905 E. Coast Hwy, in Corona del Mar. It opened in 1950, closed in 1998, and was designated as a historic landmark by the City of Newport Beach in 2003. The last line of the Register's article about the Port's demise is a real winner: "Everybody likes the charm and the past,...But everybody needs to make money."
Why do people think those two things are mutually exclusive? People will pay for things they like! No, the thing that killed the Port -- like the Balboa Theater before it -- was lack of parking.

Recently, Daveland has featured some great late-1950s views of the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train/Nature’s Wonderland at Disneyland.

Cynthia Conti will present "The Historical Approach: A Marriage of History, Archaeology and Architecture" at the Dana Point Historical Society meeting on Monday, March 26, 7pm at the Community Center, 34052 Del Obispo. Refreshments will be served. For more information, call the DPHS at 248-8121.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Huntington Beach, Fullerton, Law Library, Mendez v Westminster, etc.

To learn how Huntington Beach got it's name, check out my last article on Joe Shaw's website. In keeping with the H.B. theme, today's photo is of Dave Stewart's Livery Stable, on 3rd St in Huntington Beach, in 1905. It comes from Thomas B. Talbert's photo collection, and is available at the O.C. Archives.

The Fullerton City Council rejected a proposed 9-story building in historic Downtown Fullerton. The citizens actually stood up and fought against a tower and massive parking structures that would have been totally out of place and scale with their surroundings. Part of preserving historic districts and buildings is making sure that we don't allow poor planning to muck up the area around them. The Council and people of Fullerton deserve high praise for doing the right thing.

On April 27, The Fox Fullerton Theatre will have a live performance on its stage for the first time in 53 years. The Fullerton College Jazz Band will perform from 7 to 8:30pm. For information, call (714) 738-6545.

Also on April 27: The O.C. Public Law Library will hold an open house from 1:30-3:30pm, to celebrate their expansion and renovation. They are located at 515 N. Flower, Santa Ana, (Building #32 in the Civic Center).

And speaking of the law, the Register ran an article today about the various events being held to mark the 60th anniversary of the landmark Mendez v. Westminster decision. When most think of racial desegregation in schools, they probably think of the Deep South in the 1950s and black children escorted to class by the National Guard. That's certainly part of the story. But desegragation began right here in Orange County.

The re-opening of The Parasol (as Mel's Drive-In) in Seal Beach has been delayed until August.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

OC/Q&A: Knott's Berry Farm Edition

Q:  I visited Independence Hall in Philadelphia and found the floor plan to be a mirror image of the version in Buena Park. Why did Walter Knott flop the blueprints?

A:  Like almost every other visitor to the Knott's replica since 1966, you assumed that the side of the building facing Beach Boulevard was the front. It isn't. In Philadelphia, they consider the less flashy northern side to be the front. 

Theme park historian Ken Stack says visitors are additionally confused by "the fact that Knott's turned the Supreme Court Room into a souvenir gallery. There really is not a fully fabricated Supreme Court Room in the Knott's version."

Next time, try entering from the side facing "Knott's Lagoon" and see if that helps.  

Q: How did Knott's Berry Farm end up with Cable Cars and where did they go?

A:  For far more information on that subject than you ever wanted, I refer you to my recent article on

Q: Isn’t it strange that there’s a Panda Express in Ghost Town at Knott’s Berry Farm?

A:  Yes, a Chinese fast-food place looks odd in the Old West. But there’s an easy fix. The building could be redecorated just a little to become Ghost Town’s Chinatown, reflecting the important role of the Chinese in early California. They built our railroads, prospected, picked crops, and started businesses. Many mining boom towns had Chinatowns, as did Anaheim, Orange, Santa Ana and purportedly Tustin. 

For now, however, Knott’s Panda Express just looks like a row of shiny new Western falsefronts and the interior looks entirely modern. This is a major departure from the original aesthetic of Ghost Town as the ruin of an old boom town. 

But it's not too late to "weather" the buildings and redecorate them to make the area look like an authentic Old West Chinatown. Knott’s is always at its best when it combines fun with history.

Q:  Does Buena Park's Silverado Days have anything to do with Silverado Canyon?

A:  It actually has more to do with Knott's Berry Farm. The name "Silverado" just sounded appropriately Old West-ish. In the late 1950s, Buena Park's downtown merchants, threatened by new shopping centers, planned to take a page from Knott's Berry Farm and give Downtown an Old West makeover. For emphasis, they also changed their annual "Home Town Days" festival into "Silverado Days." The event included a parade, barbecue dinner, square dance, and rodeo, and everyone in town dressed like cowboys for the week. More recent additions include carnival rides and contests, including horseshoes and hog-calling. (Sadly, there is no "Buena Park Days" festival in Silverado.)

[This entry was once just a very brief version of the story of the Cable Cars at Knott's. But with a much more complete version now written, I've changed the post to include a variety of items relating to Knott's history.  -CJ 1/5/2023]


Monday, March 19, 2007

Swallows, Balboa, First American, Pirates, etc.

Today is St. Joseph's Day, when the swallows return to Capistrano. I hear they now actually nest at the Mission Viejo Mall, but that didn't stop folks from celebrating at the Mission this weekend. In related news, the Mission is now hosting a display of photos of their visitors over the generations. Sounds like a fun exhibit.

Jeff Delaney, author of one of the Arcadia books on Newport Beach, is now working on another "Images of America" book about Balboa. Sounds like a worthwhile project.

My honorary big sister, Cynthia Ward, passes along this gem: The overdevelopment of historic neighborhoods for overpriced McMansions means "replacing the priceless with the merely expensive." Perfectly put.

I took six hours off work today and spent them at First American Corp., looking through their photo collection for a personal project. Bob Blankman was most helpful and gracious, and I look forward to working with him again.
Every time I visit First American, I'm impressed with their historical collection and their snazzy corporate headquarters. But most of all, I'm impressed by their people. Everyone you run into is pleasant, professional and actually friendly. You can tell it's still essentially a family-run operation and that the employees like working there. Businesses like theirs are few and far between anymore.

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Pirates of the Carribean at Disneyland. Some of the Imagineers who helped create the attraction were there for the shin-dig, including Xavier "X" Atencio, Blaine Gibson, Alice Davis, Harriet Burns and Bob Gurr. Why can't Disney make rides like this anymore?

Don't forget... Tomorrow night is the annual dinner for the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society.

Sites to visit in O.C. before they disappear

I’m starting a list of places in Orange County that are endangered or on their way out. These are places worth visiting and possibly photographing if you’re interested in Orange County and its history. Feel free to post additions to the list by clicking the “comments” link at the bottom of this post.
  1. Hobby City, Beach Blvd, Stanton/Anaheim: Many of the shops have already closed their doors. But there’s still time to see the Doll Museum, housed in a replica of the White House. Also see the model shop, the Cabbage Patch mural, tikis carved by Milan Guanko, the coin and stamp shop, the rock and gem store, and (if you have kids) the Adventure City amusement park.

  2. Movieland Wax Museum, Beach Blvd., Buena Park: It’s already closed and empty, but you can still visit the footprintsand signatures of the stars in the front courtyard, as well as replicas of Michelangelo’s David and the façade of Mann’s Chinese Theater. (See photo above.)

  3. The Book Baron, Anaheim: The 800 lb. gorilla of O.C. used book stores has announced it will be closing soon unless they find a buyer. This is so sad.

  4. San Juan Creek Bridge, Ortega Hwy, above San Juan Hot Springs: This historic landmark seems a likely victim as the highway undergoes major changes.

  5. Sam’s Seafood, PCH, Sunset Beach: One of the last of the Polynesian-style restaurants and tiki bars. The doors are closed now, but you can still take pictures of the place and its iconic swordfish-shaped sign.

  6. The old County Hospital building, Orange: Now part of the UCI Medical Center. This was originally known as the Orange County Hospital and Poor Farm. No rumors are circulating about this place (that I know of), but with all the building and changes going on around there, I can't help but be pessimistic about its odds of long-term survival.

  7. The Reuben E. Lee, Newport Harbor: It doesn’t look good for the faux-steamboat. The Newport Harbor Nautical Museum moved out of this old restaurant, but they don’t seem to be able to find a buyer. The overall push seems to be toward making it disappear.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Denny's, the Congdon House, Charles Phoenix, etc.

Today's photo was taken last year at the Denny's Coffee Shop on Avenida Pico, near the freeway, in San Clemente. It's one of the few left that retains its original "Jolly Roger" font sign. The building design -- with flagstone walls, exhibition kitchen and sweeping check-shaped roof -- was created by Armet & Davis in the 1950s and was used throughout the chain. Recently, some misguided soul at Denny's corporate HQ decided that their restaurants should evoke nostalgia for the 1950s. But instead of returning to their original Googie designs (which would have evoked actual nostalgia,) they opted for a cheesy Fonzie-esque diner overlay that has more to do with Hollywood depictions of the '50s than actual mid-century design. Luckily, this particular Denny's has escaped at least some of the indignities of this chain-wide "diner-ization." (Why couldn't they have just gone back and used their original plans?)

The first wooden structure built in San Juan Capistrano -- the Congdon House -- is the subject of the latest entry at

I recently added links to sites about the Natural History of O.C. and the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians.

If you haven't seen it before, note that Terry Walsh has an article about Edward and Ned Doheny posted on the Dana Point Historical Society's website.

Charles Phoenix's entertaining uber-slideshow (with colorful running commentary) is coming back to O.C. soon. "Charles Phoenix in LA LA Land...A Krazy Kaleidoscope of Southern California Kulture in Kodachrome" will run April 13-15 at the Curtis Theater in Brea. For details visit Charles' website or the City of Brea's website.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"I see dead people."

Death records can be very helpful in understanding the past. Here are some free online resources for O.C. historians who want to learn more about the people who once lived here.

HeritageQuest (available through many libraries) also contains a lot of useful information, and is even better, but charges a membership fee.

Of course, to get very far with historical research you'll probably need to talk to people, read actual books, and dig through the extant records and newspapers yourself - But you can get a good jump start with sites like the ones listed above.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

San Clemente, Fountain Valley, Eichler & Pasadena

Woody's White House Cafe in San Clemente, circa the 1930s
Fountain Valley's 50th Anniversary made the Register again.

And the "Fullerton Grove" Eichler tract also made an appearance in the Register. With Eichler homes so hot these days, some home buyers are willing to compromise and buy non-Eichler homes that look similar. I am told these similar homes are now being called "Like-lers." (Additional Eichler stuff here and here.)

Pasadena Heritage's Spring Home Tour will be held Sun., March 25th. Of course it's not O.C., but I'm told this is a really good historic home tour. For details, visit their website.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Events and news from Brea to San Clemente

Orange Coast College/SAAAB site, circa 1971
Orange Coast College will celebrate its 60th year, and Santa Ana Army Air Base will celebrate its 31st reunion on Sat, March 31 at a two-in-one celebration. Many artifacts and photos relating to the history of both OCC and SAAAB will be on display, including the 1943 murals from the walls of the Service Club. This event will be held at the Frank M. Doyle Art Pavillion, 2701 Fairview Rd, Costa Mesa, on Sat, March 3, 10:30am-4:00pm. $25 (benefits SAAAB Scholarships for OCC students). For more information, call Art or Gladys at (949) 631-5918. To make reservations, call Julia Clevenger (714) 432-5707.

Volunteers should be about done rebuilding the Indian hut at Mission San Juan Capistrano. They were scheduled to wrap things up this past weekend.

The Brea Historical Society is selling copies of A History of Our Town & Our Times, on DVD for $15. It is a three and a half hour collection of short historical features on Brea. Details are available on their website.

Now that their museum is closed, the San Clemente Historical Society's "Museum Store" line of historical photos are being sold at The Frame House, 110 Avenida Del Mar.

The original "hollow" version of Disney's Matterhorn is the subject of Werner's latest update at

Last Wednesday, the Laguna Woods Village Historical Society gave an award to retired teacher Elaine Morgado for her many hours of work in recording their community's history.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Saving paper

Libraries and newpaper publishers are too quick to throw out original materials in favor of microfilm. This isn't an O.C.-specific issue, but it's worth kvetching about.

Case in point: Fantagraphics Books, which publishes beautiful chronological collections of the Peanuts comic strips, can't find a single original copy of one Sunday color strip from 1965. It's missing from Charles Schulz's files, and they can't find an original newspaper from that day anywhere.

Come to think of it, did you know that the O.C. Register threw out its old photos long ago? [See note, below.] That means the best remaining versions of all those images are the half-toned reproductions in the newspapers themselves.

But wait!... The Register ALSO threw out all their original old papers! And all the libraries did the same! That means the newspapers on MICROFILM are now the best remaining version of those images!

Do you know how well photos reproduce from microfilm? It isn't pretty.

Luckily, when the Bancroft Library decided to get rid of their original copies of the Register from the 1930s and 1940s, they asked around to see if anyone else wanted them. Only the O.C. Archives raised its hand, thereby saving a couple decades of history from the dumpster.

Too bad it's only those two decades, or we could've helped Snoopy and his friends.

[ADDENDUM: In recent times, the Register has been very good about retaining its photos and color newspaper pages. The photos they chucked -- long ago -- were pre-1970s stuff. I should have been more specific about that. My experiences with the Register in recent times have been quite positive.

In any case, my purpose was not to point the finger at any particular individual or organization, but rather to highlight the problems caused by the national anti-paper trend, and to point out that Orange County is not immune to these problems.]

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Parasol Coffee Shop, Bob Geivet, and much more

If you've been following the ongoing saga of the Parasol Coffee Shop in Seal Beach, be sure to bookmark the Save the Parasol website. Today's photo shows the Parasol as it looked about five years ago. The photo comes from my own website about Googie Architecture.

"Through the Lens of Robert Geivet: Orange County in the Postwar Era," is the new exhibit opening at the Old O.C. Courthouse Museum on March 15. Geivet covered O.C. for the Long Beach Press Telegram from 1932 until well into the 1960s. He was an excellent photographer and was here for O.C.'s "boom" years, so this has the potential to be a great show. Don't, however, feel the need to rush, since it will be on display for 11 months.

The Newport Harbor Nautical Museum's Steele Model Pavilion is now open, showcasing the museum's collection of model ships. Also, their East Wing Gallery provides interactive exhibits on our nautical history. Visit their website for more information.

Colleen Mensel was recently appointed the new Executive Director of the Centennial Heritage Museum (aka the Kellogg and Maag Houses and environs). Colleen's former position, Director of Operations, has been filled by Jane Van Dyke.

Daveland, a blog by Dave DeCaro, features wonderful photos of early Disneyland (and occasionally Knott's ), with new posts almost every day! Today's post includes a photo of the construction of Monsanto's Plastics Home of the Future. Dig it!

The Garden Grove Historical Society will host a tour of the Stanley Ranch Historical Museum & Village at 12174 Euclid Ave, on Sun. March 19th, at 1:30pm.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Cal State Fullerton happenings

And now a little historical news from my alma mater...

A virtual exhibition featuring photographs and documents from the first 50 years of CSUF, is in progress. It should be online by June as a kickoff to the yearlong celebration. Also, a 50th Anniversary "coffee table book” should be available by September.

Natalie Fousekis and Cora Granata, associate directors of CSUF’s Center for Oral & Public History (COPH), are currently working with the Orange County Great Park Corp. on a project that will conduct 75 oral histories with former military personnel who were assigned at El Toro Marine Base. CSUF students will conduct the interviews. The whole project, including transcriptions, should be wrapped up by this summer.

The Southwest Oral History Association (SOHA) will hold their conference at CSUF this year, April 20-22, 2007. Several COPH folks will make presentations, including Packed Up, Squeezed Out, the readers' theater about the Placentia Packing Houses, and The Olinda Story, the play about the oil boomtown in the Brea hills. For more information, visit SOHA's website.

Today's photo is of one of the early elephant races at CSUF (then called Orange County State College.)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Placentia, Westminster, Dana Point & more Frederick Eley

The historic Berkenstock House (1913) in Placentia will have an open house on March 10, from Noon to 4pm. (See photo above.) Designed by O.C.'s first architect, Frederick Eley, this 5,684 sq ft home is now up for sale, with an asking price of $2.8 million. The Berkenstock Estate is located at 829 Berkenstock Circle, in Placentia. Meghan Shigo is showing the property.

The City of Westminster is kicking off it's 50th Anniversary celebration with a Founders' Day event on March 16. This is an old tradition that's being revived after more than a decade. That will be followed by a various other special events throughout the years. For more information, visit the city's website.

Tina K. just posted a good photo of the old Hi-way 39 Drive-In Theatre sign at

Now that the Dana Point Historical Society's lease has expired and their Museum has been temporarily closed, they will be "bridging the gap" with an outreach desk at the Chamber of Commerce office. They will also continue their program meetings at the Community House.