Thursday, December 16, 2010

A quick jog through historic Santa Ana

Dave DeCaro of Daveland stopped by the Orange County Archives the other day to visit me. He didn't have much time, but he did stick around long enough for me to give him an abbreviated tour of Downtown Santa Ana. Naturally, we started with the Old Courthouse and the Archives. Then, with time at a premium, the obvious next place to go was 4th Street (with a quick detour onto 3rd as well). I took all the photos in today's post during that short tour. Dave's version of the trek is posted on his blog and a new Santa Ana page on his website.
The photo above shows Dave at the Yost Theatre (1912). The image below was taken at 4th and Sycamore, and shows a variety of historic buildings, including the tall First National Bank Building and the ornate Orange County Title Company Building (with a modernized lower half). Before the strip malls and shopping centers of the 1950s and the malls of the 1970s, 4th St. was the most important shopping and business district in Orange County. Much of the street's historic infrastructure can still be seen between misguided attempts at updating and improving the buildings.
Some of the coolest buildings here are the old theaters, with the West End Theatre (1915), shown below, being a prime example. The West Coast Theatre on Main St. (not depicted here) is also a beauty.
I spent most of the tour pointing at things and talking -- not taking photos -- So I'm not showing you even a fraction of the interesting stuff we passed. And our short timeframe meant that a lot of neat places were skipped entirely -- like the snazzy Santora Building at Broadway and 2nd St.
I'm not sure what the story is on the building shown below, at Broadway and 4th, but I like it. The upper floors have loads of character, while the first floor suffers from a half-baked art-deco overlay.
One of my favorite blocks in all of Santa Ana is the 400 Block of West 4th St. directly across from the enormous Reagan Federal Building & Courthouse. This tidy row of old two-story commercial buildings (below) show what Santa Ana could be if it got its act together. Santa Ana has loads of potential to be welcoming, fascinating and charming. Sadly, few expect to see that potential realized.
Buildings along this part of 4th include the Lawrence Building and the Clausen Block. An underwhelming pastrami place just moved out of one of these storefronts. One can only hope it's replaced by The Hat.
In the photo above, you see the back of the old Santa Ana City Hall (1934), designed by architects W. Horace Austin and H.C. Wildman after the big quake of 1933 made the even older City Hall unsafe. The building project was partially funded by the WPA.
Why photograph the back of City Hall? Because the parking lot behind it (at left) is also historically important. That land was Santa Ana's Chinatown. It was burned down in 1906 after leprosy was discovered there. (Yes, all the residents were removed from the buildings first!)
It's also fun, as you walk down 4th St., to look for signs (sometimes literally) of the old businesses that used to inhabit the buildings. Signs and logos for stores like Krieger's (above), Woolworth's, Buster Brown Shoes, and Rankin's Department Store can still be found amid the architectural details. This is fertile ground for urban archaeology.
Unlike many downtowns that simply died and faded away, Downtown Santa Ana is still a bustling commercial hub. The area just has different customers now. The shops now sell quinceanera and wedding dresses, trips home to Mexico, cheap children's clothes, and "check wiring" services.
There's also a really cool Western-wear store on East 4th and an honest-to-God newsstand on Broadway, between 4th and 5th.
If you're interested in a tour of Downtown Santa Ana, check out the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society's website. They often conduct tours on the first Saturday of the month, and occasionally offer them at other times as well.
(Or if all else fails, find a local historian and see if he'll spend his lunch hour giving you a walking tour.)


doug McIntosh said...

Nice post and walking tour of downtown Santa Ana.
Back in the day, 4th Street was the place to shop & be seen.
Did archaeology work at the R. Reagan Court house site in 1995. Took photos of some of the same buildings you did.
Nice to see that there has been little change to the structures since then.
Would you like a couple of photos of the excavation work?
Thanks for your posts & efforts and documenting OCs past.

Connie Moreno said...

WHAT A FANTASTIC POST!!! Wish I could use bold and colored fonts to express myself, LOL. Love these shots and I would LOVE to take a similar tour with you some day. Hey, I won't be employed soon... maybe we can do it?

Tris Mast said...

Yes, OC needs more The Hat locations!

CoxPilot said...

My Uncle, future mayor of Santa Ana during the '50s, had his law office on the top floor of the building on 4th and Broadway. I remember, as a kid, looking out that big window over the town and thinking how cool it was. The wood in the offices was very impressive. He later built his new offices directly across the street from the new city hall.

Chris Jepsen said...

@Doug: Thanks! And yes, I'd love to see photos of the dig at the Reagan Building. I hear that was quite a project. O.C. folks who care about history and archeaology still bring it up from time to time.

@Connie: I'm very sorry you'll be out of a job soon. This economy has brought so much pain to so many. But yes, I'd be happy to put a tour together one of these days. (BTW, you always seem to express yourself just fine WITHOUT fancy fonts.)

@Tris: I like The Hat a lot, but Benjie's on Tustin Ave in Santa Ana makes an EVEN BETTER pastrami sandwich. Order the Benjie's Special! Very messy, but outstanding.

@CoxPilot: I'd love to get in and see the interiors on more of these buildings. Many of them are locked down fairly tight. I've been up through the First National Bank Building a few times to take photos off the fire escape -- But a lot of the interior has been changed over the years.

Daveland said...

Chris - Many thanks again for the tour. And yes...I will be back for round two! This time though I will be sure to save more time.

CoxPilot said...

That parking lot behind the old City Hall was ounce the site of the Walker Theater. And; next door to the City Hall on Main St, was Pep Boys. One would drive around the back of the City Hall, through the ally between the Walker Theater and the City Hall, to reach the service center (one car slot) for Pep Boys. You could get all the stuff you get today in that little one car spot. All the kids went there in those days because it was the only place you could get cheep hot rod stuff.