Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter Hill, fluffy concrete, and guys named Carbon

Easter Hill, with the Marcy Ranch headquarters in the foreground, circa the 1920s.
Local legend says Easter Hill, in the Cowan Heights area of North Tustin, was named for the Easter sunrise services held on its peak long ago. You can still see the hill directly ahead of you as you drive north on Newport Ave. between  17th St. and the foothills.  Its summit is topped by a large and unique white house (10251 Sunrise Lane) that's hard to miss.

The hill itself was part of a 17,000-acre parcel of the Irvine Ranch that James Irvine, Sr. considered worthless for agriculture. It was sold for chump change in 1910 to retired Armour Grain Company president George E. Marcy of Chicago. The primary crops on Marcy's ranch were lemons and Valencia oranges. It was managed by ranch superintendent Albert A. Leake.

"Marcy built ranch headquarters on Newport Avenue near the present Marcy Drive," writes Tustin historian Juanita Louvret, "The property ...included both citrus orchards and grazing land as well as a park with a lake, swans and peacocks."

Marcy died in 1939. His widow, Carrie, sold 822 acres of the ranch -- including the hill -- to retired oil executive Walter R. Cowan in 1944. Cowan subdivided the land into the Cowan Heights residential area.So where exactly do those fabled Easter services come into the picture? The details have been obscured by time.

"Several hills in that area were used for Easter sunrise services," historian Jim Sleeper told the L.A. Times in 1973. "There's no way of knowing who used that one, or when."
Another large, simple cross on another Southern California hilltop.
Jim's friend and fellow historian, Don Meadows, agreed , saying, "I remember a cross somewhere [in that area], but I'm sure it was carved. It stood there year-round, but I believe it was another hill."

Longtime O.C. Historical Commissioner Don Dobmeier -- who was once the gardener at Easter Hill -- says, with more certainty, that "Easter Hill was named by Mr. Marcy. He used to invite his church up to this scenic spot for Easter sunrise services each year. "

In about 1950, Cowan sold Easter Hill to engineer Carbon Chatley Dubbs (1911-1982). Dubbs was the wealthy son of Carbon Petroleum Dubbs, and grandson of Jesse A. Dubbs --  chemists whose contributions to the field of oil refining generated a large family fortune. Carbon C. and his wife, Junia, had seen the hill while flying their airplane over Tustin, and decided then and there that they wanted it. According to Don Meadows, "There wasn't even a road up there until Dubbs put one in."

Like his grandfather, Carbon C.  Dubbs had a creative streak, and among his inventions was a type of light-weight but sturdy concrete block made of pumice. (One wonders if the blocks, like the air-bubble-filled volcanic rock they were made from, could float in water.) The blocks Dubb's Carduco company manufactured in Stanton were six inches by twelve inches by four feet. Even made of pumice, these blocks, according to Dobmeier, proved to be too heavy at 96 pounds each. Dubbs himself got a bad back from carrying them around. A later version was shortened to two feet in length and weighed half as much. 
A 1949 illustration for a related C.C. Dubbs, patent: "Process & Apparatus for Molding Porous Concrete Products."
In 1953, Dubbs hired local architect Harold Gimeno to build a nine-room house for him on Easter Hill, using the patented concrete blocks. In fact, the entire house was built of concrete, including the roof. There was built-in furniture all through the house, and hot water pipes ran through the concrete floors, supplying radiant heat in the colder months. "In a way," Gimeno later remembered, "he built the house to show off his blocks. But he also wanted to take advantage of the 360-degree view. ...The house should be there forever, because it was built to be. I'm proud of that job."

The Dubbs raised their two children, Jack and Carbon P. (a.k.a. "Dubby") in the house, and left their mark on the property, including many bird of paradise plants. There were also twelve pepper trees gracing the property, all of which are gone today.

Gimeno remembered seeing a wooden cross "propped up among the rocks" when he first visited the site in the early 1950s. That cross was still on the property, leaning against a wall, when the Dubbs sold the property to Priscilla J. Yale of Tustin in 1973.  It may have been the cross used at the Easter services that gave the hill its name. Mrs. Dubbs wrote a monograph about Easter Hill, but I've never seen a copy of it.
The Easter Hill house as it appears today.
 Today, the home is still owned by Yale, so far as I know. During the time she's owned it, a third story has been added. It is framed construction, not concrete. Carbon C. Dubbs would not approve.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Civil War history in Orange County

The Orange County California Genealogical Society (OCCGS) is creating and will publish a collection of biographies of all of the Civil War veterans buried in Orange County. The beginnings of this project are viewable on their website.

The gravestone above -- located at Anaheim Cemetery -- is that of William Burton Crandall (1851-1945). Note the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) star next to the stone, and the Sons of Union Veterans plaque on the base, reading, "Last Soldier - American Civil War, 1861-1865." He was, so far as anyone knows, the last Civil War veteran to die in Orange County.

At age 12, Crandall took another man's place in the 52nd New York Infantry in exchange for $300, telling everyone he was 18. When Grant faced Lee at Fredericksburg in 1864, Crandall came away with shrapnel in his hand. Two weeks later, in a battle at the Spotsylvania Courthouse, he was shot in the head. While at the hospital, President Lincoln visited and was horrified to meet a 13-year-old casualty. Lincoln personally discharged him.

Crandall, a painter by trade, moved to California in 1919. Eventually, he moved in with the Woodward family of Yorba Linda. He died penniless, in a rest home in Orange in 1945. There was no marker on his grave.
"Uncle Burt" Crandall in the 1940s.
Then, in the 1990s, Charles Beal, Paul Gillette, Glen Roosevelt, and a couple other Sons of Union Veterans members started tracking down the graves (both marked and unmarked) of Orange County's Civil War veterans. Through many years of research and hard work, they identified many hundreds of graves. The federal government was successfully petitioned to provide headstones for those (including Crandall's) that were unmarked.

Crandall was the last Civil War veteran to die in Orange County, but his was not the last story that needs to be researched and told. There's still plenty of work to do on that front, and I'm glad OCCGS and the Sons of Union Veterans are on the job.

To read more about Crandall and the grave identification project see this 2006 Register article and my Aug. 4, 2007 post on the subject.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tustin, Laguna, Bruce Sinclair & Viola Small

I got to visit Hangar 28 (1942) at the former Marine Corps Air Station Tustin (a.k.a. Santa Ana Naval Air Station). These blimp hangars are each 17 stories high, over 1,000 feet long, and 300 feet wide, and are the largest free-standing buildings in the world. I've often heard the phrase, "I can't believe my eyes," but this was the first literal example I've ever experienced. My brain couldn't accept the hangar's enormity when I was standing inside. Looking at a standard-sized row of doors on the far side of the hangar did not help me grasp the scale of the building. I know that sounds nuts, but it really was a surreal experience. Happily, the County now owns Hangar 28 (the North Hangar), and will be putting it, along with numerous other historic buildings on the property, to further good use. That means someday you'll be able to visit this amazing place yourself. When that day arrives, GO! (Thanks to Steve Sarkis for the photo above, and Lynne Yauger for the photo below!)
Standing on the deck of the air traffic control tower at MCAS Tustin.
I'm sad to report two very important losses to our local historical community: Dr. Bruce Sinclair and Viola Small.

Longtime Santa Ana resident Viola Small passed away March 19 at age 87 following a stroke. Surviving family includes her husband Wayne; son, Bruce; and daughter-in-law, Denise. Viola was on the board of the Historic French Park Homeowners Association, owned 4 historic homes, and was a fundraiser and member of the Old Courthouse Museum Society. We'll all miss her dedication and her friendly smile.

On Feb. 14, we also lost another longtime champion of Orange County history, Dr. Robert Bruce Sinclair. Bruce was an active member of many local organizations, including the Santa Ana, Tustin, and Costa Mesa Historical Societies. He served on the board of the Orange County Historical Society and was president of the Old Courthouse Museum Society for seven years. He helped create an oral history program for the Orange Community Historical Society and received their William T. Glassell Award. A teacher and educational administrator, Bruce was a 43-year resident of Santa Ana’s Floral Park neighborhood. I've already missed seeing him around the Old Courthouse and at OCHS meetings since his health declined. He was definitely "one of the good guys."
Architect and architectural historian Alan Hess will discuss "Desert Modernism vs Seaside Modernism" and will introduce the documentary "Desert Utopia" (about Palm Springs architecture) at the next meeting of the Laguna Friends of Architecture, tomorrow, Tuesday, March 26, 6:30pm, at the Laguna College of Art & Design, Studio 12, 2222 Laguna Canyon Rd., in Laguna Beach. Above is an image of the iconic Enco/Tramway Gas Station (1965) by Albert Frey and Robson Chambers, which now serves as the Palm Springs Visitor Center.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Rock, Folk, & Popular Music in Orange County

Come learn about popular music groups and artists who got their start in Orange County, and the clubs and venues (like the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, pictured above, and the Prison of Socrates in Balboa, pictured below) that helped launch them. The Orange County Historical Society will present “Orange County: Cooler Than It Knew How To Be,” with longtime O.C. journalist and cub historian Jim Washburn on Thurs., Mar. 14, 7:30pm, Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange.
Jim will look at O.C.’s musical past to explain how, “despite prevailing perceptions, culture wasn’t hurtin’ behind the Orange Curtain.” For over 30 years, Jim has written about music and popular culture in the O.C. Register, the L.A. Times, the OC Weekly and other publications, as well as curating several exhibits about same at the Fullerton Museum Center.

The photo below shows a modern view of the favorite beatnik hangout, The Prison of Socrates. Today it's a BJ's Pizza. Note the wonderful deco facade.
Hope to see you on Thursday!

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Bob Baker Marionettes in Laguna Beach

 If you grew up in Southern California anytime in the last half-century, it's likely you have memories of Bob Baker's Marionettes. Baker was and is a Los Angeles guy and his theater there is a certified Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. But today's photos, taken by Doris I. Walker, were taken at a performance at the Festival of the Arts in Laguna Beach sometime around 1964. (My thanks to Doris' son, film historian Brent Walker, for scanning these images and letting me use them here.)
 Baker began putting on puppet shows about 70 years ago, founded The Bob Baker Marionette Theater with Alton Wood in 1963, and contributed to many television shows and movies. He began making and selling marionettes when he was a high school student, and he still sells them on his website today.

In case you were wondering, yes, you can still go see these shows. In fact, Brent saw the puppet shown above only a week or so ago -- About 50 years after his mother photographed it!
My own memories of the Bob Baker Marionettes go back to a Christmastime performance at one of the big department stores in South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. It was at the nice end of the mall (not the Sears end), and I remember having to get spiffed up so we could go to the store's tearoom for lunch afterward. Even in the late 1970s -- even to my first-grade sensibilities -- the show felt a little dated. The characters and stories were very pre-Muppets. But, looking back, it also had a lot of charm.

The show may be from a less jaded age, but that's actually a good argument in favor of driving to L.A. and seeing it. Charming, wholesome things seldom survive this long. And while there's no sign that the Theater is going anywhere, you still might want to go sooner rather than later -- Just to be on the safe side.