Friday, April 26, 2013

Weinermobile, Floral Park, Gospel Swamp & Fullerton College

SoCal music scene, 1969: A sidewalk jam session. (Photo by Doris Walker, courtesy Brent Walker.)
The photo above hails from Capistrano Beach, 1969, and shows actor Jerry Maren (Gerard Marenghi) as "Little Oscar," showing young Blair and Brent Walker how to play their new Wiener Whistles. (No snickering, please. This is a serious blog.) The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile was visiting Capistrano Valley Shopping Center, at Doheny Park Rd. and Victoria Ave., which was built two years earlier and which featured a Vons grocery store and a Thrifty drugstore.

Maren traveled around in the Wienermobile (shown below) promoting Oscar Mayer hot dogs in the 1950s and '60s, but was also known for helping organize Little People of America, and for roles in many films. Today he is one of only three confirmed surviving Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz. (He presented Dorothy with a lollipop on-screen.)

He also had uncredited rolls in TRON, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Hello Dolly!, Planet of the Apes, Spaceballs, and the infamous all-midget Western, The Terror of Tiny Town. HE was also a regular on the bizarre Sid & Marty Croft show, Lidsville, and also portrayed the Hamburglar and Mayor McCheese in a series of McDonalds commercials that stole their look from the Kroffts' H.R. Pufnstuf.
The Weinermobile has appeared throughout O.C. over the decades, including in the 1967 Santa Ana Christmas Parade.
This weekend, April 27-28, will mark the 21st annual Floral Park Home & Garden Tour, in Santa Ana. This really is one of the nicer home tours offered in a historic Orange County neighborhood, and I'd recommend it to anyone. In addition to the tour of numerous "vintage homes and gardens," there will also be an antiques market, and a display of classic cars. Check out the details and ticket information on the tour website.

And now it's "mea culpa" time... In my last post, I said I didn't think that Carolyn Schoff -- the leading authority on the history of Gospel Swamp -- was involved in the Gospel Swamp History Festival tomorrow at the Heritage Museum of Orange County. Well, it turns out I was wrong. Carolyn will present a program entitled "What is Gospel Swamp?" at 11:45am & 2:15pm, April 27, on the museum grounds. It should be an interesting program in what will undoubtedly be a fun day. I apologize for the incomplete information I provided early.

The museum offers this information about Carolyn: "Carolyn Schoff was born in Orange County and raised in Gospel Swamp. After completing her graduate studies in Anthropology, she returned to the area 20 years ago, only to discover that her ancestors, the Forrest family, settled in Gospel Swamp in 1876 only a few miles from her home today. She has been fascinated with unraveling the history and mystery of Gospel Swamp ever since."
Fullerton College mascots Henrietta & Herbie Hornet, 1956-57. (See? I TOLD you this was a serious blog.)
Tomorrow is also the opening reception for "Legends and Legacies: The First 100 Years of Fullerton College" at the Fullerton Museum Center, 301 N. Pomona Ave. The exhibit "explores the historical, social, and cultural growth of the college and its relationship with Orange County through personal histories and collections." The reception begins at 6pm, and includes live entertainment, light refreshments, and a discussion with curators Carlota Haider and Christina Hasenberg. Tickets are $10 for the general public and free to museum members. The exhibit will remain on display through July 14, 2013. See the Fullerton College Centennial website for more information.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Big doin's in Gospel Swamp

In his book, Orange County Place Names A to Z, historian Phil Brigandi writes that "Gospel Swamp" was a well known place name in the late 1800s, which "referred to the marshy lands below McFadden Ave, south of Santa Ana, but it later spread across Fountain Valley... The city folk called their country cousins down in Gospel Swamp the 'Swamp Angels.'"

The old community of Greenville or Old Newport (no relation to Newport Beach) was at the heart of Gospel Swamp, and it stretched down toward what's now South Coast Plaza at the uppermost edge of Costa Mesa. But how the historic name has, in the last sixty years, come to be claimed by places as far away as Huntington Beach and Garden Grove is anyone's guess. I suppose people just love the name and want to adopt it.

Phil goes on to quote an 1873 article from the Los Angeles Star: "The swamp was originally settled by a number of families, among whom were more than the usual proportion of preachers, so the community was remarkable for their piety and church-going. Hence the name of the settlement."

The Swamp Angels were primarily Southern Democrats, and were seen by the city folk in Santa Ana as unsophisticated agricultural types. Despite their contributions to the region's development, their ways and appearance gave them a reputation as hicks or "pumpkin rollers."

On Saturday, April 27, 2013, 11am–4pm, the Heritage Museum of Orange County will hold the first-ever “Gospel Swamp History Festival," It's a good excuse for a family-friendly day of "old time" crafts and fun. The O.C. Blacksmith Guild, a local Quilters’ Guild, the Spinners & Weavers Guild, and the Victorian Tea Society will be there, doing their thing, and kids can make candles and such. There will also be tours and exhibits, and "performances by Native American dancers, storytellers, and living history portrayers." But I don't believe they'll be serving squirrel or possum stew.

It's also worth noting that the Heritage Museum is actually located in Gospel Swamp, and even has its own natural pond on the property -- a rare remnant of the swamp itself.

The festival will also include tours of the grounds and the historic Kellogg House (which is reason enough to check this out), and admission will be $5 ($3 for kids 11 and under).

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Richfield tower, Dana Point & Doris Walker

The Richfield tower in Dana Point, next door to Flake Brothers Burgers.
Brent Walker continues to find, scan, and share more great photos taken by his mother, the late local historian Doris Walker. The image above shows the Richfield Oil tower on Pacific Coast Highway in Dana Point in February 1969, shortly before it was taken down. It was built in 1928 -- not coincidentally the same year construction began on Richfield's corporate headquarters in Los Angeles, which featured a very similar tower at its apex.
At night, the five-foot-tall blue neon letters cast a glow on PCH.
I blogged about the Dana Point tower back in 2008, but didn't have images anywhere near this good. It was one of 36 such towers constructed 50 miles apart from each other along the California coast. Drivers saw it from great distances along PCH, especially at night, and it was visible far out at sea. But Richfield claimed they were "aerial beacons," guiding airplanes safely up and down the California Coast. The ad shown below, which I found in the Dec. 13, 1928 edition of the Huntington Beach News, promotes the radio broadcast that dedicated the whole string of Richfield towers.
You may also remember KHJ as the pre-1989 call letters for TV's Channel 9.
Speaking of Doris Walker, I attended the ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony for the Doris Walker Overlook at Heritage Park (at the end of Old Golden Lantern) in Dana Point. It's kind of a park within a park, and offers an outstanding view of the harbor, the headlands, and down the coast to San Clemente.
Civic leaders and Blair and Brent Walker dedicate the overlook, April 17, 2013.
 The entrance is decorated with "Disney rock" surmounted by several plaques, including one that reads, in part,...
"Doris Walker was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and began writing for publication at the age of eight. After studying English and journalism at Case Western Reserve University, Doris moved to Dana Point in 1963. She worked as an editor, reporter, photojournalist and public relations director while raising her two sons. A member of the Orange County Historical Commission, and a founder of the Dana Point Historical Society and Annual Festival of the Whales, ...this area's history comes vibrantly alive in her many books, including: Dana Point Harbor/Capistrano Bay: Home Port for Romance, Sections of Orange: Orange County, A Centennial Celebration, and the Adventurer's Guide to Dana Point."
The most scenic spot on the overlook features a very attractive bronze "book" depicting various elements of local history that appeared in Doris' work. The center of the site incorporates an existing cement depiction of a large compass, as one might find on an old nautical map.
Doris would have loved this.
It's hard to imagine that anyone -- even Richard Henry Dana -- was ever more enthusiastic about this section of California coast than was Doris. There couldn't be a more fitting tribute to the woman and her work.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Wintersburg still in the news

In case you missed OCHS' preservation meeting last week, at least you can see this video, which was part of Mary Adams Urashima's section of the program. This is also running on local cable.

To find out what can be done to save this important site, check out the end of the latest post at the Historic Wintersburg blog. There's an important meeting coming up on April 23, and they're hoping you'll attend.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Alert Ralph Story. We found another one...

I was walking around taking photos of the ruins of the Saddleback Inn and cut across the Santa Ana Elk's Lodge property to do so. In the process, I stumbled across this plaque: "Prentice Camellia, planted 1881. Orange County's oldest known camelia. Orange County Camellia Society."

There's only one problem... Note the complete lack of camellias!
On the other hand, note the old curbing, which is probably the last remnant of Judge Prentice's home. (See Diann Marsh's story about Prentice for a good yarn.) I knew roughly where the house was (across Elk Lane from the Santa Ana Zoo), but this pinpointed it. You can just picture the old man out on his porch yelling his unsolicited instructions at the workmen building the zoo.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Preservation, MCAS Tustin, Doris Walker, etc.

Learn about orange preserves,... er, rather, learn about PRESERVING ORANGE COUNTY at this week's meeting of the Orange County Historical Society, Thursday, April 11, 7:30 p.m., at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. Attendees will learn about grass-roots historical preservation efforts currently underway throughout Orange County. Speakers will include Ilse Byrnes (SDG&E Station, San Juan Capistrano), John Linnert (Mariners Medical Arts, Newport Beach), Jeannie Gillette (Old Orchard Conservancy, Santa Ana), and Mary Adams Urashima (Historic Wintersburg, Huntington Beach).

This program will not only shine a light on a variety of important local campaigns, but will also serve as an unofficial introduction to preservation for those who may wish to attend the 2013 California Preservation Foundation Conference, which will be held in Garden Grove in May.
Have you ever wanted to get up close to one of the huge blimp hangars at the former MCAS Tustin? Monday, April 15 is your chance! OC Parks is conducting a public planning workshop for a future regional park at the North Hangar. Visit for details and to RSVP by April 10.
Doris Walker's boys and a couple friends inside the coffer dam, at the bottom of Dana Point Harbor, during the harbor's construction, 1970.
The dedication of Doris Walker Overlook -- named for our friend, the late local historian -- will be held at 1pm on Tues., April 16, at Heritage Park in Dana Point. The park is at the end of Old Golden Lantern, where it dead ends at the harbor bluff, and it has a great view of the harbor. I can't think of a better spot. If you have any questions about the event, contact Monique Leon.

After the third fire at the Saddleback Inn in just two years, the place is finally going to be torn down. I'm happy to report that the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society is on the job and is doing their best to salvage historical artifacts wherever possible.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Opportunities to go do history stuff

Sistine Chapel Madonna tableau from the1933 "Spirit of the Masters Pageant."
In 1933, local artists staged a marketing stunt (the flash mob of its day), to promote Laguna Beach's second annual Festival of Arts. They dressed up like famous works of art and marched along Coast Highway. The artists eventually made their way to the festival grounds, where they went on a stage and posed like the figures in the artworks that inspired their costumes. It was the start of the elaborate and exceedingly Laguna-ish tradition we now know as "The Pageant of the Masters." 

They've gotten a lot better at this over the last 80 years, and their tableaux vivants (living pictures) of classic and contemporary artwork often look nearly identical to the original pieces. I know what you're thinking, but it really is something you should see at least once if you're going to call yourself an Orange Countian.
This year's theme, "The Big Picture: A Salute to Art that Inspired the Movies," should be great fun on a warm summer evening in the Irvine Bowl. Seats are located in the Director's Tier Side and normally cost $30, but the Orange County Historical Society is offering them at a discount: $25 for members, and $28 for non-members. The tickets are for Sun., July 14, 2013, and the curtain will rise at 8:30pm. Not only will you get cheaper tickets, but you'll get to sit with a bunch of friendly people from OCHS! Tickets will be available at OCHS's general meetings until they're sold out.

Orange County Historical Society is also promoting another of their popular History Hikes this Spring, but it's only being promoted to their members. This time, the hike is a tour of the ruins of the pioneer homesteads in what's now O'Neill Park, led by a member of one of the pioneer families that lived there. It's a beautiful walk back through time along Trabuco Creek, under the oaks and sycamores. To find out more,... go join OCHS yet already!
The Maag House (1890s) at the Heritage Museum of Orange County, Santa Ana.
The Heritage Museum of Orange County, (you know... the Kellogg House people!), are holding a fun event to raise money to turn the Maag House into exhibit space for rotating historical exhibits. "A Taste of America In The O.C.," will feature wines, micro-brews and restaurants from around Orange County. It will be held on the grounds of the museum, at 3101 W. Harvard St., Santa Ana, on April 6, 2013, 5:30-9:30pm. Tickets ($50) must be purchased in advance, and you don't have much time left. Visit their website at for more information or to get tickets.

About my blogroll: I took some time this past weekend to update the links on the right hand side of this blog. I know it's a long list to scroll through, but I've tried to include every historical society, organization, historical library, and other resource that deals with O.C. history, or which helps us O.C. historians do our jobs. If you find that I'm missing something important, please let me know.