Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Here's an ad for the Pacific Electric Railway's "Red Cars" and buses, from the Dec. 31, 1950 issue of the Huntington Beach News. Today they'd also tell you that it was "green" to take mass transit.
Update: Doug McIntosh sent me this great image of a Pacific Electric token to go with this post. Thanks, Doug!

Monday, December 29, 2008

The man who saved Buena Park

Today's photos show what is now known as George Bellis Park, at 7171 Eighth St. in Buena Park. The first photo is undated but probably from the 1940s. The second photo is from 1956. I was curious to know who George Bellis was, did some digging, and found the answer interesting,...
The citizens of Buena Park were alarmed when they heard that the new Santa Ana Freeway (I-5) was going to cut their town in half. The plans showed a 27-foot-high berm bisecting the community, with only one pass-through, on Grand Ave., connecting the two halves. Moreover, the plans called for only one freeway exit for the city. By most accounts, it would have ruined the city.
The community fought tooth and nail for a better plan. Buena Park Chamber of Commerce president George Bellis was probably most responsible for getting the State to adopt a new below-ground-level plan for the freeway with three bridges connecting the north to the south, and improved freeway access.
Bellis spent most of his life in the automobile sales and tire business, and had served as president of the Southern California Automotive Dealers Association. He was also Buena Park's representative to the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Orange County. Perhaps his experience with these and other trade organizations gave him experience in dealing with Sacramento.
George Bellis was also responsible for organizing the creation of the ten-acre Buena Park Recreation Park and softball field on land rented from the Santiary District. In the 1940s, the Buena Park Lynx, the local womens softball team, was contending at national championships, and the community got behind the effort to give them a decent place to play. The park, which was later renamed in honor of Bellis, also served as the first home of Buena Park's Silverado Days festival.
Speaking of the "Center of the Southland", the Buena Park Historical Society's Annual Board Installation event will be held Jan. 26, 6pm, at the Stage Stop Hotel, 6601 Beach Blvd.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas in Orange County

Before I give myself a little Christmas vacation from blogging, I'm posting an assortment of images from Orange County Christmases past. The image above shows the parlour of the Keech House at 201 E. Washington St. in Santa Ana in about 1910. It remains one of the city's most attractive homes even today. Among his various accomplishments, E. E. Keech was one of Orange County's first prominent attorneys. He also founded the Orange County Law Library, was a president and founding member of the Orange County Bar Association, and trained a young Earle Stanley Gardner (creator of Perry Mason) in the law. I'm sure I'll be writing more about Keech and his interesting family in the coming year.
The next photo shows the Irvine family home (current site of the Katie Wheeler Branch Library) at Christmas 1944. James Irvine's beloved hunting dogs are asleep under the tree.
The third photo, (below,) shows the Church of Reflections (next to the Lake of Reflections) at Knott's Berry Farm at Christmas in 1963. Both the church and the lake were recently removed, although bits of the church have been incorporated into a new version of the building on the other side of Beach Blvd. This removal, along with the removal of the Little Chapel by the Lake, meets the Constitutional requirement of separation of church and theme park.
My final image for today, (below,) shows Santa Claus visiting the Orange County Board of Supervisors at the County Hall of Administration in December 1988. Supervisors Tom Riley and Don Roth are contributing gifts to a toy drive. Later, Roth resigned in a scandal that involved him accepting gifts.
If I don't post again before the 25th, I'd like to wish you all a Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fullerton Police, bank robbers & the Frontier Motel

I just added about 100 images to the Orange County Archives' Flickr account. The two sample images above are both from Fullerton in 1927. The first (top) shows the entire Fullerton Police Department. (Back row, from left: Ernest Garner, Steve R. Mills, Frank Moore, Robert C. Mills. Front row, from left: John Trezise, Chief James M. Pearson, John Gregory, Jake Deist.)
The second image shows Fullerton P.D. Patrolman Ernest E. Garner with criminals W. Benjamin Morrison (left) and George Horine (right) of San Jose. The two 19-year-olds robbed a bank in Saratoga, California the week before and were on the run. The one at the wheel of the car fell asleep as they drove through Fullerton, and crashed near the corner of Spadra Rd. (now Harbor Blvd.) and Whiting Ave. These are the best dressed teenage criminals I've ever seen.
"Don't tell my mother," Morrison begged the police. "She had carbon monoxide poisoning a couple of years ago and lost her memory. If she finds out about this it will give her a setback."
On a completely unrelated note, the WalterWorld blog has a nice before-and-after post about the Frontier Motel in Anaheim. In the 1950s, this motel's promotial literature referred to it as a "New Ranch Style Motel," and stated, "We Aim at Pleasing You - and We Hope We Hit the Mark!" It was hard to go wrong marketing "Ranch Style" anything in the 1950s. And of course the Western theme tied nicely into both mid-Century pop culture (in general) and Frontierland at Disneyland.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Rankin's, Santa Ana

In honor of all of those who are still doing their last-minute Christmas shopping, here are a couple photos of Rankin Dry Goods (a.k.a. Rankin's Department Store) around the time of its opening in 1917. The building still stands at 117 W. 4th St. (at Sycamore) in Santa Ana, but the business is long gone.

Friday, December 19, 2008

O.C. Fair, Silverado Canyon & Pancho Barnes

Reader Barry Kazmer sent me this photo of the 1962 Orange County Fair. He writes, "I also have a bunch of photos of the O.C. Fair Rodeo from 1964 as well. I did that for a summer school class in Anthropology I took. I used the RCA (Rodeo Cowboys Association) as a foreign culture and I managed to get an A in the class.”
A few days ago, yet another O.C. book from Arcadia Publishing hit the shelves: Images of America: Silverado Canyon, by Canyon resident and Silverado Branch Library volunteer Susan Deering.
A rough-cut of Nick Spark's documentary, "The Legend of Pancho Barnes" will be shown at the Planes of Fame Air Museum at the Chino Airport, Jan. 22, 5:30pm, as a fundraiser to complete the project. The "suggested donation" to KOCE Foundation is $50-$100 at the door. Contact Andrea Eldridge to reserve seats. Barnes had a home and private airport in Laguna Beach.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sunkist, KOCE, and the Story of Orange County

Today's image is the cover of a 1932 coloring book from the California Fruit Growers Exchange. The illustration isn't identified as Orange County, but it might as well be. The CFGE created the iconic "Sunkist" brand around 1907, and in 1952 they changed their name to Sunkist Growers, Inc. A marketing powerhouse, the CFGE even made orange juice a standard breakfast drink for most Americans. As Phil Brigandi likes to say, they "could have even taught Walt Disney a thing or two about marketing." (Thanks to Doug McIntosh for the image.)
I recently discovered that KOCE-TV has posted The Story of Orange County on YouTube. This series was created for the County's centennial in 1989, and features an interesting mix of historians and other experts. Here are the segments, in order:

Episode One: "Birth of a County"
  • Part 1: With Paul Apodaca, Norman Neuerburg and Harry Francisco
  • Part 2: With Bernardo Yorba, Tony Forster, Richard J. O'Neill, Tony Moiso & Florence Mitchell
  • Part 3: With Steve Donaldson, Glenn Dumke & Pam Hallan-Gibson

Episode Two: "Dawn of a New Era"

  • Part 1: With Irvin Chapman & William Myers
  • Part 2: With Doug Langevin, Esther Cramer & Barbara Milkovich
  • Part 3: With Eugene Hanson & SAAAB trainees

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Strandt's Indian Map

This is the map of Indian village and burial sites in Orange County that Herman F. Strandt created in 1921. This post is sort of an addendum to my Dec. 13th entry. (The map comes by way of Jim Sleeper, by way of Mike Boeck, by way of Mike Bornia. My thanks to all of the above.) More information about Strandt can be found in Paul G. Chace's paper on Locating the Buck Ranch Prehistoric Burial Ground, Huntington Beach, California -- which is an interesting bit of reading in its own right.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Santa Ana, Dana Point, Golden Bear, etc.

The 1909 postcard above makes me wonder what kind of person schedules a "stag party and smoker" for 10:00 Christmas morning. Out of curiosity, I drove past and photographed 506 S. Sycamore in Santa Ana.
Speaking of scurrilous doings in Santa Ana, here's the latest on the historic Basler-Twist House: The big pieces of the house have been moved to Cabrillo Park, mostly rejoined, and topped with a new roof. Unfortunately, I hear that the contractors didn't follow historical standards, the City didn't pay much attention to the plans, and extended exposure to the elements did the interior no good. I hear there's even a big stained glass window missing.
Also in Santa Ana, the Centennial Heritage Museum is changing its name to the Heritage Museum of Orange County, which is not to be confused with its earlier name, the Discovery Museum of Orange County.
On Jan. 3, the Dana Point Historical Society will celebrate the City's 20th Anniversary. The event will begin at 2pm aboard the brig Pilgrim in Dana Point Harbor. Former mayors Judy Curreri and Mike Eggers will speak about the founding of the city. Souvenir city history booklets and a Dana Point 2009 historical calendar will be available. The Historical Society will have a number of displays.
It comes to my attention that Robert Carvounas' history of Huntington Beach's landmark Golden Bear is almost ready to go to press. Once published, it will be available through the Huntington Beach Art Center on Main St.
This month's Atlantic Monthly has an article combining four of my favorite things: Disneyland history, Space Age architecture, retro-futurism, and P.J. O'Rourke. Check it out.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Irvine Ranch Conservancy: Altar Rock and Herman Strandt

Altar Rock, 2008 (Photo by author)
(Continued from 12-1-08)
The last stop on our Irvine Ranch Conservancy tour was at Orange County’s most mysterious archaeological site: Altar Rock. Historian Jim Sleeper describes it as "a peculiarly carved one-ton sandstone rock... [once at] the center of an Indian camp. Numerous 'pot hole' rocks surround the stone, which resembles an elfin throne." (Rancho San Joaquin Gazette, Vol. III, No. 1) . Anthropologist Steve O’Neil of the Pacific Coast Archaeological Society told me that the rock’s placement has parallels to rock art sites in the south half of the Santa Ana Mountains. However, he said, “It’s strange. It doesn’t fit with anything else known in Native American or Hispanic design. It doesn’t compare to anything else.” . Historian Phil Brigandi told me that the “shallow grinding pits” he found near the rock are “similar to those used to grind pigments.” I’m told there are also some deeper grinding pits near the rock, like those used to grind meal, but we didn’t see them on our visit to the site.
Altar Rock as photographed by historian Jim Sleeper, date unknown.
The rock was a well-known landmark to Irvine Ranch cowboys. According to Sleeper, it “was finally excavated and examined in 1954 by Herman Strandt, and amateur archaeologist from Anaheim… He carefully measured the three-foot high stone, calculated its eleven different planes… and chalked on its sides a number of unnoticed ‘dipper-like’ petroglyphs which have since disappeared. …At the time of Strandt’s study, the [rock] also bore the initials ‘RF’ on its top and front.” (Both this quote and the black and white photo above come from Jim Sleeper’s 3rd Orange County Almanac.) . I've been asked to not give the location of this site, except to say that it's on Conservancy-owned land. (If you know where it is please DON'T post about it here.) Access to the site is controlled, which should hopefully prevent vandalism.
Herman Strandt points out features on his famous map.
Having shared what little is known about this curious site, I’m going to step back and discuss the aforementioned Mr. Strandt. . Herman Frederick Strandt was born in Germany in 1884. He grew up in Hamburg and was fascinated by tales of American cowboys and Indians. His interest in archaeology began while helping his father drill wells. He emigrated to the U.S. and lived in Milwaukee where he worked as a janitor at a manufacturing company and began to do archaeological work in his free time. 

But it was not until Strandt moved to Orange County, in 1921, that he fully immersed himself in the world of pre-history, working many archaeological sites throughout Southern California and Arizona. . Although the newspapers sometimes referred to him as “Dr. Strandt” or “Professor Strandt,” his day job was actually in the cement business. And as Sleeper points out, Strandt’s unprofessional habit of “’pot hunting’ earned him a poor reputation among Indian experts.” And yet, Strandt developed a well-known map of Indian village and burial sites in Orange County, documented sites for the WPA during the 1930s, and added considerably to our knowledge of pre-historic Southern California. 

When Strandt retired in 1947, his avocation became a nearly full-time job. He sold many of his better finds to major museums, but he also kept many relics. In fact, he had his own large museum, with about 10,000 displayed items, in the backyard of his home at 1025 S. Broadway, in Anaheim. He also owned many more artifacts which were not displayed. . Herman and his wife Minnie had at least three children: Esther, Ruth and Herbert. Herman Strandt died in 1963. His personal collection was purchased by Bowers Museum in 1953.
Altar Rock (with sunglasses for scale), 1979.
[Update: The aforementioned Stephen O'Neil writes: "I am quite sure that [the rock] is Native American in origin -- enough other singular looking large stone carvings have been found in the south coastal region, very different from one another and yet each of a unique design, that something the size and shape of [this one] is not surprising. More is known of the local and frontier Hispanic culture, and there is more documentation of the pioneer Spanish/Mexican families, that if they had made it we would have some clue."]

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Anaheim, Irvine Ranch, Orange, books, etc.

Today’s photo shows Disneyland around Christmas in 1966. These days the castle is slathered in a LOT more holiday décor. Recently, the castle’s walk-through was rebuilt and re-opened.
If you enjoyed last week’s posts about my recent Irvine Ranch Conservancy trip, you should tune in Real Orange on KOCE-TV 50 on Friday night. They’ll be airing a segment with Chris Epting and Maria Hall-Brown that was shot during that trek. Presumably, you'll get to see more of what we saw that day. For my part, I have one more installment of my Conservancy blog series left to post (soon).
Someone is angry that the Orange County Archives provides free access to historical photos. The complaint and many excellent responses are posted on the Register’s website. The anonymous complainer is afraid that the Archives will cut into his historical society’s business of selling photos.
Speaking for myself as a local historian, this seems strange on several levels. First of all, public collections obviously belong to the public. Secondly, each historical collection has different materials, meaning their society will always have something unique to offer. And finally, historical societies should be (and most are) thrilled to have easier access to historical images. The key function of a historical society, after all, is to promote an understanding and appreciation for history among the public. Local history is a small pond, and it behooves us to work together toward our common goals.
The Register also has a brief interview with Phil Brigandi about his new book, Images of America: Orange. Phil will be signing his book tonight at the Orange County Historical Society meeting and also on Friday, 6-8pm at Barnes & Noble, 791 S. Main St., Orange.
The public is invited to a Victorian Christmas Open House at Anaheim's historic Woelke-Stoffel House (a.k.a. the “Red Cross House”) 418 N. West. St., on Dec. 13, noon to 3pm. This event will also be sort of a rededication of this beautiful building, which has recently undergone a great deal of restoration. The Mother Colony House Museum next door will also be open. (And yes, the house is also adjacent to the giant ficus which provided Imagineers with inspiration for the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House at Disneyland.)

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Orange County Grand Jury

A key duty of the Orange County Grand Jury is to act as a watchdog over "all aspects of county government, including special districts, to ensure the county is being governed honestly and efficiently..." (The photo above shows the 1954 Grand Jury in the Department 2 of the Old O.C. Courthouse.) Each year, they submit a report on their findings. Here are a few interesting quotes from early Grand Jury reports:

1900 – “We… recommend that a complete list of all county indigents, together with the amounts drawn from the county by them, be published in the weekly papers of the county each month.”

1901 – “The [Orange County Board of] Supervisors, we think, should receive special commenation for their manner in spending the public money for a new court house.”

1902 – “We recommend that the City of Santa Ana vote bonds and secure their own electric light service.”

1905 – “In regard to the county library, we recommend that an inventory be taken of all books, amounting to near four thousand volumes.”

1906 – “We recommend/demand the re-establishment of the county rock pile, with a penalty that any one who will not do a fair days work shall be confined to the dungeon upon a ration of bread and water.”

1908 – “At Fairview [School], the scholars have been allowed to dig a hole some ten or twelve feet deep on the playground,… offering an opportunity for serious injury.” (Fairview is now part of Costa Mesa.)

1909 – “[The] Serra School [is] situated in an old house and but for the flag we would have passed it by. It is in good condition.” (Serra is now called Capistrano Beach and is now part of Dana Point.)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Christmas, Orange, Huntington Beach and books

Today's photo shows Downtown Orange in December 1937. The photographer was standing in front of Watson's Drug Store, looking west at the Plaza.
The historic Newland House in Huntington Beach will have a Christmas Open House this Friday, Dec. 12, 4-9pm. A handbell choir will perform beginning at 5:30. This event will be held concurrantly with a meeting of the Huntington Beach Historical Society. (Their first meeting in a LONG time.) The Society will meet in the "barn" behind the Newland House at 7pm. There will be a short business meeting, including nominations of officers, and a "Pie Party" with lots of different pies to sample. A bluegrass band will also perform. Both the Open House and the meeting are open to the public.
On a related note, Idelle Jungbluth-Canaga, one of the founding members and past presidents of the Huntington Beach Historical Society passed away recently. She was also the founder of the Order of the Newland Rose.
The Orange County Historical Society's annual Author's Night will be held this Thursday, Dec. 11, 7:30pm, at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. Featured authors who will be speaking, signing, and selling their books include Phil Brigandi (Orange), Roberta Reed (Santa Ana, 1940-2007), Chris Epting (Vanishing Orange County), Richard Harris (Early Amusement Parks of Orange County), and Kai Weisser (Huntington Beach Lifeguards). Consider it a painless way to do a little holiday shopping. (Although authors will also sign books that were purchased prior to the event.)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Mystery photo

Today's mystery photo comes from a school somewhere in Orange County, around 1955. About half the children have cameras on their desks, and the second boy from the front is wearing a "Davey Crockett" t-shirt. Clearly, this was not a modern school room, even by mid-'50s standards. Someone suggested it might be Fountain Valley Elementary School, but that was pretty much a wild guess. As always, any help you can offer in identifying this photo would be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

El Viaje de Portola

I've recently written about two historical plaques placed on the Irvine Ranch by this group, so I thought I should provide a little background on them.
El Viaje de Portola equestrian group formed in 1963. Their annual ride, which began in 1964, follows undeveloped portions of explorer Gaspar de Portola's historic trail through Orange County.
This 3-day weekend horseback camping trip is a men-only event. (Wives and girlfriends traditionally head for the Swallows Inn in San Juan Capistrano.) Members include big landowners, developers, bankers, politicians, a few real cowboys and a bunch of would-be ones. The event raises money for the restoration work at Mission San Juan Capistrano. In recent years, their annual trek has been a 30-mile round trip. The ride has gotten shorter over time, as Orange County’s wilderness is paved. El Viaje de Portola also regularly ride in Capistrano’s Fiesta de las Golondrinas parade.
Today’s photo comes from Doris Walker and shows part of the group in 1969. Normally, they don’t dress this way, but that year marked the 200th anniversary of the Portola Expedition.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Huntington Beach and Dana Point

I'm afraid the next chapter in the ongoing Irvine Ranch series must wait until next week, when I can do more research. Hopefully it will be worth the wait.
Meanwhile, today's image is a sneak peek at the Huntington Beach Centennial shirt from Reyn-Spooner, which should be available around March 2009. The shirt is 100% cotton and depicts scenes of the City from as far back as the 1930s, including the Golden Bear, oil fields, and the double-arches that once graced the intersection of PCH and Main St. Yes, Reyn-Spooners are expensive, but they last forever. I'd wear their shirts every day if I though I could get away with it.
Mike Haywood’s new book is Century of Service: A History of Huntington Beach, published by the Huntington Beach Kiwanis. The book has a special focus on the people and groups who have served the community over the decades. Special thanks to Mike for donating a copy to the Orange County Archives.
It’s also come to my attention that a few copies of Steve Holden’s History of the Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce may still be available through the Chamber’s offices. If you’re interested, you might get in touch with them at (714) 536 8888.
Dana Point has added the historic Woodruff Home (1930) at 33872 Valencia Place to their City Historic Register. Their Planning Commission has also recommended it for Mills Act designation.
Speaking of Dana Point, a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the proposed destruction of the “Doheny House” at 35101 Camino Capistrano is now available online. This document never would have been issued unless the Dana Point Historical Society had demanded (repeatedly) that the City and developer do the right thing. The newly minted DEIR cites the effects of the proposed project as a “significant impact” to the community’s historic resources. Although this won’t save the house by itself, it is a step in the right direction and makes the process a bit more transparent. If you’d like your comments about house included in the Final EIR, email them to and put “35101 Camino Capistrano” in the subject line.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Irvine Ranch Conservancy: Cañada de los Bueyes

(Continued from 11-30-08) The next stop on our Irvine Ranch Conservancy tour was in Weir Canyon -- once called Cañada de los Bueyes (Canyon of the Oxen). The historical marker (behind Mike Boeck in the photo above,) reads, "Through this canyon in Mexican days, oxen-drawn carretas carried hides to the embarcadero at San Juan Capistrano. Commemorated by El Viaje de Portola, April 16, 1971."
The embarcadero was called Bahia de Capistrano. In modern terms, it ranged from the Dana Point headlands to Doheny State Beach. This is where trading ships came to trade with Mission San Juan Capistrano. People sometimes hauled cow hides (a.k.a. "California bank notes") and other goods more than 75 miles to do business here. Hides were the heart of Southern California's economy.
This illustration from Terry Stephenson's book, Caminos Viejos, shows a carreta traveling through Orange County - probably at the peak of the hide trade, in the early 1800s. Stephenson once wrote that the name, Los Bueyes, "probably dates back to the first or second generation of the Yorbas."
Althought it seems rugged and round-about today, Cañada de los Bueyes was considered a quick route to Capistrano for those living in inland areas like the Santa Ana Canyon and Riverside. As historian Phil Brigandi put it, "We look at this today and say, 'THIS is a shortcut?'"
The group photo above shows some of our group near the Canyon's historical marker. Included are (from left to right) Jim Sleeper, Phil Brigandi, Maria Hall-Brown, Mike Bornia and Chris Epting. More photos from our tour (and from other parts of the Irvine Ranch) can be viewed on my Flickr account.
(To be continued...)