Friday, August 28, 2009

Knott's Steak House

Since the old Steak House at Knott's Berry Farm recently reopened (under the name "Spurs,") I thought this might be a good time to post some older photos of the place. The image above shows the restaurant's Indian Room in 1958.
The Steak House originally opened as the Buffalo Steak House in 1946. Much like Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant, it grew like Topsy over the years. Additions included a new kitchen and the Family and Garden Rooms in 1952, the Walter Knott Room in 1962, and more construction in 1971. The Steak House also shared a kitchen with the Ghost Town Grill, which was (and still is) more of a short order coffee shop.
The Steak House was run for many years by Dwight "Andy" Anderson, Walter Knott's son-in-law. (Not to be confused with the wood carver named Andy Anderson.)
In 1983, the Steak House was renamed Big Jake's Ranch House. This was likely a reference to the John Wayne movie Big Jake, which held its premiere at Knott's in 1971.
The name eventually switched to the Family Steak House, but things were about to change.
(Image above is the cover of a Steak House menu from about 1949.)
When the Ghost Rider rollercoaster was built in the 1990s, it changed the layout of Knott's Berry Farm significantly. Suddenly, the Steak House was inside the gates of the park, and management felt that a high end restaurant couldn't support itself with such limited public access. The restaurant became Auntie Pasta's in 1998, serving Italian family fare such as pasta and (pretty bad) pizza.
Spurs circumvents the access problem using a system you can read about in a recent Register article.
Another reason for choosing today's topic was Ken Stack's last post on Outside The Berm (which in turn was a response to a post on Gorillas Don't Blog) about the fire at the Steak House. The photo above shows the cleanup effort after the patio area burned on Nov. 15, 1950. Amazingly, that whole section was rebuilt and ready for customers by Thanksgiving. (Is it just me, or does the guy on the roof look like Russell Knott?)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sunset Beach, HB, Knott's, Shirley de Graaf, etc.

Since they don't want to be part of Huntington Beach and because Seal Beach won't have them, the little unincorporated town of Sunset Beach is now looking into becoming its own city. The community began when lots went up for sale in 1904. The images above and below were part of the marketing effort that year. I particularly like the poem in the L.A. Times ad below.
I love how optimistic these illustrations of the town were. The one below is from a 1913 ad and shows some sort of "alternate universe" version of Sunset Beach. Don't get me wrong,... Sunset Beach definitely has its merits,... but it never looked quite like this.
Diane Ryan is offering a History of Huntington Beach class through the City. "Come join others in learning about the rich history of Huntington Beach, its early residents and landmarks. Included is a walking tour of downtown." The class includes four two-hour sessions (10am to Noon) from Sept. 17 to Oct. 8. It costs $55. See page 31 of the current issue of the Huntington Beach Sands for details.
Rev. John Taylor recently wrote about a few angry folks who want the statues of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai removed from the Nixon Library. We don't like communists either, but they do play a significant role in Nixon's story. And if we sanitize history, we become that much more like the authoritarian regimes we revile.
Jay Jennings will sign his book, Knott's Berry Farm: The Early Years, this Saturday, Noon-2pm, in the Courtyard Room at Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant in Buena Park. More details are posted on Viewliner Ltd.
In case you missed the story in the Register, some cretin has torn up a County Park and an archaeological site for his own enjoyment. According to the paper, he's built, "a 'party house,' walkways, a pond and other structures on top of a centuries-old Native American site at the edge of a county regional park," and is also "accused of constructing at least one outbuilding within the boundaries of Santiago Oaks Regional Park, and illegally modifying a nearby hiking trail and fire road with a bulldozer." I know the Juaneno don't carry tomahawks, but maybe we should give them some.
Shirley de Graaf, the wife of CSUF Professor Emeritus Larry de Graaf, passed away Aug. 12. A memorial will be held Wed., 2-5 pm, at the Fullerton Arboretum. She was involved in the university's Heritage House and volunteered with COPH's oral history program. More details are available on the Register's website.
[Ed. - No, I'm not out of the woods on my technical problems yet, but I'm borrowing a computer this evening and posting as much accumulated info as I can.]

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hotel, Laguna Beach, circa 1910s

We're still experiencing technical difficulties. Enjoy a vintage postcard while you wait.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Garden Grove, circa 1930

Here's a great photo of Garden Grove about 1930, provided by Doug McIntosh. We're looking north through downtown in this shot. Note the Pacific Electric tracks running caddy-corner across the photo. The second photo, below, shows roughly the same location today, and was provided by Glenn Frank.
I already mentioned that my schedule would make it hard to post much for the next week or two. Well, it just got even harder. My computer is suddenly struggling to complete even the simplest tasks. This means I either need a new CPU or some kind of major overhaul on the old one. In the meantime, thanks for your patience.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Murals of Anaheim history at GardenWalk

Reader ColonyRabble writes, "This weekend at the GardenWalk, [321 W. Katella Ave., in Anaheim] the public is invited for a family-friendly event, as we unveil 'Anaheim in Motion: History Comes to Life.' Anaheim Planning intern Janet Lee, volunteering her time no less, has created a miracle in coordinating 20 artists, working with hundreds of kids, to produce artistic murals of Anaheim history and culture. Sponsored by the Anaheim Historical Society, Assistance League, YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, and the GardenWalk, with assistance from Disney, the murals are amazing, and will be displayed as public art for roughly the next year, in space generously donated by the GardenWalk. The Unveiling event is tomorrow (Saturday) beginning at 6 pm, with magicians, music, and the best view of the Disneyland fireworks outside of 'the Park.'
"The public is invited, and the event is FREE and kid friendly, in the 2nd floor Gala Garden. Murals are framed throughout the center, with most of them in the Gala Garden and upper floor area. "
Today's photos courtesy the GardenWalk page on Facebook.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Two schools in 1921

Here are two images from Orange County schools in about 1921. The image above shows Fullerton Union High School's buses, bringing in students from surrounding rural areas. The photo below shows the Tustin Grammar School.
It's been a while since my last post, and even this one is just a stop-gap measure. It's been a busy week and things seem likely to stay busy for at least another week or two. However, I will post whenever I can.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Santa Ana Federal Building & Post Office (1931)

Today I'm focusing on another historic Orange County post office: The Santa Ana Federal Building and Post Office, now known as the Spurgeon Station. It is located at 605 Bush St., in Santa Ana and is on the National Register of Historic Places. (#85000134)
In the book, Early Santa Ana, Marge Bitetti writes, "James A. Wetmore and his successor, Louis A. Simon, designed the building in the Mission/Spanish Revival style. Simon worked for the U.S. Treasury for 45 years as supervising architect. He retired in 1941."

Indeed, Wetmore and Simon of the Office of the Supervising Architect are listed as the architects on the building's National Register nomination, and Wetmore's name appears as "Acting Supervising Architect" on the building's corner stone.

But curiously, newspaper coverage during early development of the building mostly cited E. B. Morris of the U.S. Treasury Dept. as the architect in charge. Then, throughout construction, the press repeatedly cites Acting Supervising Architect Von Nerta of the Treasury Dept. as the authority on the project. One wonders just how many architects were involved in creating Spurgeon Station's eclectic mix of styles -- drawing from Spanish Colonial Revival, Federalist, Beaux-Arts, and more.
South portion of Spurgeon Station lobby. (Photo 2023 by author)
The site selection process for the building was underway in Fall 1928 and Spring 1929 and completed plans were delivered in Dec. 1930. Construction began in early Jan. 1931 and continued throughout that year.
The cornerstone was laid on Aug 18, 1931 by Santa Ana's Masonic Lodges. (Their first official event after the dedication of their new Masonic Temple at 5th & Sycamore.) Congressman Phillip D. Swing delivered the address and praised Postmaster Terry E. Stephenson who'd successfully lobbied to start construction two years earlier than scheduled.
At the dedication, Stephenson said, "The first letter I wrote after learning that I was to be postmaster was a letter to Representative Swing to have a Federal building and that I would direct my efforts toward getting one for Santa Ana. That was in 1923."

Stephenson is also known today for having run (and partly owned) the Santa Ana Register and for being Orange County's first real local historian.

The Federal Building's grand opening was held on Jan. 2, 1932, with an open house and reception for the public the following evening. Thousands attended.

Decades later, the other Federal offices moved out of the building, leaving just the main Santa Ana Post Office. 

It was officially renamed Spurgeon Station on Jan. 1, 1968, in honor of William H. "Uncle Billy" Spurgeon -- the town's founder and its postmaster from 1870 to 1880. A ceremony marking the name change was held in Dec. 1967 with Mrs. William Spurgeon Jr., William Spurgeon III, Santa Ana Postmaster Hector Godinez, and Mayor Tom McMichael. At the same time, the city's main post office moved to a new building at 2201 N. Grand Ave.

Update, 2022: In 2009, Spurgeon Station appeared on a list of twenty post offices under consideration for closure by the USPS. Luckily, it survived that potential purge. But it seems at least one notable alteration will soon be made. On Nov. 21, 2021, Congressman Lou Correa introduced legislation to rename the building yet again -- This time to the "Judge James Perez Post Office." The bill is winding its way through Washington, D.C. without significant opposition. 

On a somewhat related note, Santa Ana's Spurgeon Intermediate School was renamed the Romero-Cruz Academy in 2019. Let's hope the Father of Santa Ana (and Co-Father of Orange County) gets to keep his name on Spurgeon Street and on his own iconic commercial building at 4th and Sycamore.

Update, February 2023: Caught in the act by angry citizens, Rep. Correa now claims that the Post Office will carry both names simultaneously, with signage (which had mysteriously disappeared) returned to the exterior proclaiming the building to be "Spurgeon Station" and a plaque on the inside proclaiming the building to be the "Judge James Perez Post Office." It seems that compromise will please no one, but will approximate "saving face" for a few.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Santa Ana School historical plaque

How about a little something on the history of history? Specifically, this is one of the earliest historical plaques in Orange County. This marker for the old Santa Ana School (1867) was placed in 1929 by the Mojave Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) (This chapter was established in 1925 and is still active.)
"Old Santa Ana" of course, was not where the current City of Santa Ana is now. It was approximately where the community of Olive is today.
Carrie McFadden Ford, daughter of William McFadden, was Regent of the Mojave Chapter in 1929 when the plaque was placed (as shown above). A.W. Kammerer provided the granite boulder. A number of the school's original students were present, and gave short talks.
Phil Brigandi (who supplied the photos and info for this post) writes, "Originally, the plaque was located at south end of old Yorba Bridge. It was moved when the freeway was built in the 1960s. My recollection is that in the early 1970s, it stood between the trees right along the side of the road, and I believe it was moved again when the area was developed."

More Belisle's, The City, Laguna Scouts, SCP, etc.

The Belisle's post got such a big response, I figure I might as well post a couple more images of the place. The photo above appears in the Belisle's book I mentioned and was taken in 1955. The second photo shows just how rural that stretch of Harbor Blvd. was in the early years.
Dave, who supplied two of yesterday's photos of Belisle's, has also posted photos and video of The City mall in Orange -- now the site of The Block.
The next Laguna Beach Historical Society meeting will be held Sept. 21, 7:30-9:30pm at the City Hall Council Chambers, 505 Forest Ave. The program will be "A Retrospective of Boy Scouts/Cub Scouts in Laguna Beach - In Conjunction with the 100th Anniversary of Boy Scouts of America," presented by Pam Jensen, Committee Chair for Laguna Beach Cub Scout Pack 35. The public is invited and there is no charge.
The Register just featured an article about the Encyclopedia Lots in Huntington Beach. It seems the City is buying more of them to add space to Central Park. This follows a related article published in March. If memory serves, they both have the name of the Encyclopedia wrong.
There was also an interesting interview with Merl “Bus” Cornelius, the former superintendent of construction and operations manager for South Coast Plaza. He discusses the development of a place we've all visited many times.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Belisle's Restaurant, Garden Grove (1955-1998)

Thanks to reader Dave of Tustin, here are two photos of the late, lamented Belisle's Restaurant in Garden Grove. Harvey and Charlotte Belisle opened it shortly before Disneyland opened just up the street. This popular restaurant was torn down by Garden Grove's Redevelopment Agency in the 1990s to make way for a big hotel which, as it turned out, couldn't be built on that exact spot after all. Soon, a sign reading "restaurant pads available" was posted, leading many to shake their heads at the stupidity of it all. It has now been replaced by several chain restaurants that can already be found all over Orange County.
The workmen who built Disneyland frequented Belisle's, as did noted Modern architect Philip Johnson. In fact, countless thousands visited again and again for their giant-sized portions, vast menu, "home cookin'," and small town, family-run atmosphere.
I met Ronald Reagan once. He was speaking in Garden Grove. Guess where he went for lunch afterward. Yep. Belisle's for meatloaf!
It's not easy to find, but if you're interested in the history of Belisle's, I recommend Charolette Belisle's book, Orange County and Life Before Disneyland: The Story of the World Famus Belisle's, 1955-1995. Her book gave me a new respect for restaurant owners and just how much hard labor goes into operating a popular establishment.
The photo below is from 1980 and cames from an old online auction, I think.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Yorba Linda / Santa Ana Canyon field trip, Part 4

Okay, I know I said that my last post was the end of the Santa Ana Canyon/Yorba Linda irrigation posts. But I didn't expect reader Glenn Frank would overlay the 1908 map Doug McIntosh provided onto modern maps and satellite photos. These images are so cool, I had to share them. But I can stop any time I want. Really.
The detail image above shows specifically the area we were hiking in on July 25th. Interestingly, the Cajon Canal appears on the map exactly where we saw openings into an underground canal. Now I want to go back and see what else we can find.
Glenn writes, "I took some... maps and messed around with overlaying Doug's map on them. I think this is a pretty good match based on the county line, the drastic horseshoe curve and the rail line (which I think must have been moved in the area of Green River Golf Course when the Prado Dam project went in place) because the rail line matches pretty well until that point. ...I used Macromedia Fireworks."
In case you missed the rest of this series (and your mouse finger is too weary to scroll backward), here are links to the previous three installments: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Yorba Linda / Santa Ana Canyon field trip, Part 3

This is the final installment in a series about my trek to see the remains of the Anaheim Union Water Co. canals and related historic sites in Yorba Linda. (See parts one and two.) Part of the canal is probably under this ditch along the side of the railroad tracks. Note the old RR signal foundation that's fallen into the ditch. Also notice how the insulation melted off the telephone lines during the wildfire last year.
Doug McIntosh kindly supplied the 1908 map below, which shows various waterways in Santa Ana Canyon. I wish I had a good way to overlay this map over a modern Thomas Guide.
In the photo below, Steve Faessel inspects and old bridge we stumbled across in the brush. It's hard to say anymore exactly what it once bridged.
This area isn't far from the site of the old Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens (RSABG), which is shown in the two vintage photos below. In fact, our "base camp" for this field trip was in front of the ranch house of Susanna Bixby-Bryant who founded the gardens in 1927. She was the daughter of John Bixby, who purchased the ranch property from Bernardo Yorba's widow in the 1870s.
The RSABG spanned 200 acres and specialized in native flora. Its Assembly Hall featured a large mission-style tower. Around the time of Bixby-Bryant's death, in the early 1950s, the Gardens were moved to Claremont. The ranch itself stayed in the family until 1978. Eventually, much of it was turned into tract housing.
I believe you can see some of our hiking route in the lowlands shown on the right side of the photo above.
Once again, thanks to Don, Steve, Carl, Ron, and everyone else who made this a fascinating trek.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

O.C.'s birthday, Post Offices, Fox, Disneyland, etc

One hundred and twenty years ago today, after nearly two decades of attempts to break free, Orange County finally separated from Los Angeles County. In honor of this occasion, I'll be giving a very brief "birthday presentation" at the beginning of Tuesday's meeting of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. The 1887 woodcut above shows the Santa Ana home of Col. E. E. Edwards, the Assemblyman who introduced a new bill to create our new county.
Thanks to the Register for shedding more light on the Post Office situation I blogged about yesterday. Click here to read their article. It seems as many as 20 O.C. post offices could be closed. I'm trying to figure out from their list just how many of these are historically significant structures. Obviously Huntington Beach is, and I fear "Spurgeon Station" may refer to the snazzy 1930s Federal Building & Post Office in Downtown Santa Ana. If you know more about the histories of the post offices on the "watch list," please leave a note in the "comment" section for this post.
The Fullerton Historic Theater Foundation (the group preserving the Fox Theater) asks concerned citizens to attend a public hearing at the Fullerton City Council Chambers, 303 W. Commonwealth Ave, on Aug. 4, at 6:30pm. "Come support the Fox’s request before the Redevelopment Agency to provide financing to begin major Fox improvements."
Disneyland history fans will want to check out Walt Disney's 1965 speech before original "cast members" (Club 55) at the Disneyland Hotel, which has been posted to YouTube. It's about ten minutes of Walt candidly recalling the beginnings of Disneyland.
As of today, E-Ticket magazine will no longer sell back issues with exceptions of issues sold at their "Last Ride" party at Griffith Park on Aug. 7th. The good news is that one final issue has just been completed. For more details, visit E-Ticket's website. I will miss this excellent publication.
Colleen Robledo is redoing the Orange County Heritage Coordinating Council's website. If you had an account on the old site, it should still work, – but you'll need to reset your password.