Friday, August 30, 2013

Fire Museum recap

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the upcoming grand opening of the new Santa Ana Fire Museum. Well, the grand opening was last Saturday, and although I could only attend the last hour of the event, I did get to go on a tour. I thought I'd share some photos here.
Firefighter Luis Fernandez did a great job with the tour. The tour takes you through three floors of the building, as well as the garage and the basement. There are things to see pretty much everywhere. 

Personally, I saw two key facets to the tour: 1) The museum is still primarily a working firehouse (now for the Orange County Fire Authority) and it's fascinating to see how a firehouse works and how firefighters live; and 2) They have a lot of interesting old firefighting "stuff" all over the place, with the centerpiece being a 1926 Seagrave fire engine. Either facet could make an interesting tour all by itself, although the interpretation of the artifacts is still sort of in the beginning stages.
I have the feeling that more than a few of the older artifacts may have been from other fire departments, and simply depict the kinds of equipment that were used in different eras. But there was plenty of original local material as well.
Cold War buffs (is there such a thing?) will appreciate the various exhibits on Civil Defense. The largest collection of such materials are appropriately displayed in the old fallout shelter basement.
Keep an eye on the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society's website for information about hours when the Fire Museum will be open. The folks involved have a lot of enthusiasm and a willingness to work. They also have a lot of cool artifacts, which, as the museum develops,could definitely be displayed and interpreted to great effect. In short, they're off to a fine start and the future seems full of potential.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Downtown Midway City, 1932

The Midway City tract was launched in 1923, halfway between Long Beach and Santa Ana. Tim Castroreale, Broker Associate with Realty One Group, sent me the photo above, depicting the southwest corner of Beach Boulevard and Bolsa Ave. -- the heart of "downtown" Midway City -- in about 1932. It's a bit low-res, but it's still one of the best old Midway City images I've seen.

The image below (from Google Maps) shows the same corner as it appears today.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

See you Saturday at the Archives!

The Orange County Archives will be open this Sat., Aug. 24, from 10am-3pm, for all your local history needs. The Archives are located in the Old Orange County Courthouse, 211 W. Santa Ana Blvd., Room 101, in Santa Ana. (And bring quarters for those infernal city parking meters.)

This may be the only chance you'll have (for at least a month) to visit the Archives if you're normally at work during their regular Monday through Friday hours.  This event is part of the Orange County Clerk-Recorder's new agency-wide, once-a-month Saturday hours. (So if you want to get married or file a deed or something, this would also be a good time to get that taken care of.)

And of course, the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society is also holding the grand opening of their new Fire Department Museum just down the street -- so you'll want to check that out too.

See you at the Archives!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Santa Ana Fire Museum grand opening

Santa Ana Fire Station on Sycamore between 3rd and 4th Streets (Photo: Bowers Museum)
In February of last year, the Santa Ana City Council extinguished the 128-year-old Santa Ana Fire Department, outsourcing services to the Orange County Fire Authority. But the legacy of the Department will live on thanks to some dedicated volunteers.

The Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society (SAHPS) invites you to attend the grand opening of the Santa Ana Fire Museum, which will also serve as their annual member meeting, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, 11am-4pm at Fire Station #75, 120 W. Walnut St. The festivities will kick off with presentations and awards from 11:30 to 12:30, and light refreshments served at 12:30.  Guided museum tours will be conducted from 1:00 to 4:00 and the public is cordially invited to attend this free event.
Restored 1926 fire engine in front of the Santa Ana Fire Museum.
Recently acquired by the SAHPS in an agreement with the City of Santa Ana and the Orange County Fire Authority, the museum is housed in an active OCFA fire station. Firefighter Lou Fernandez, who helped create the museum, is curator of the extensive collections, which include vintage firefighting equipment, photos and memorabilia which ranges from the 1880s to the 1960s. A fully restored 1926 Seagrave fire engine is also part of the collection.

Please RSVP your attendance at (714) 547-9645 or For more information see the Society’s website at or the museum’s website:

The Orange County Archives will also be open for special Saturday hours (10am-3pm) on Aug. 24th. The Archives are located only a short distance from the new fire museum, in the Old Orange County Courthouse at 211 W. Santa Ana Blvd. Stop by while you're in the neighborhood and do a little historical research!

The Old Missions of Buena Park, Part V

Leon Bayard de Volo shows his miniature of Grauman's Chinese Theatre to actresses Jane Greer and Myrna Dell.
(Continued from Part IV...)  Just when I thought I'd completed my series on the Knott's mission models and their creator, Leon Bayard de Volo, I heard from the artist's son. I am happy to report that there is more to the story, and it's all worth sharing...

Nicolo "Nick" Bayard de Volo, writes, "My brother and I found your recent blog about the California Mission models at Knott’s Berry Farm to be particularly interesting and were pleased to hear about the plans for their refurbishment and reintroduction to the park."

He pointed out that their full surname is "Bayard de Volo," rather than "De Volo." He also set the record straight on several other counts: "Although both our maternal and paternal grandfathers were counts and the name is a noble name, we are not sufficiently familiar with the heraldic rules governing title succession to validate our father’s claim to the title of Count.  Furthermore, we don’t know of any connection to the King of Italy."
News clipping from the Ottawa Citizen, Dec. 6, 1929.
Nick also shared more information about his father's background: "My father grew up as a son in an aristocratic, religious family (his father was secretary to Pope Leo) and his education received in the Vatican didn't include any formal art training. His life was surrounded by great art however, inside his home and out, and that instilled in him an instinct for creating art as a profession. His greatest aptitude in this regard was creativity which spawned the ideas that allowed him to earn a living. So what he did wasn't great art but it was creative and accomplished."

This information mostly confirms an article found in the Jan. 3, 1947 issue of the Catholic Northwest Progress: "Leon Bayard de Volo was born in St. Peter's Parish, Rome. His father, Count Joseph Bayard de Volo, was special secretary to Pope Leo XIII, and the boy was educated at St. Peter's Seminary. But his mother, recognizing Leon's special gift, engaged Professor Toeschi to give him art instruction in the home; and at the age of 17, he was named art critic of L'Osservatore Romano. Incidentally, his mother -- called to her eternal reward three years ago at the age of 88--was decorated twice by Pope Pius XI in recognition of her charitable work among the poor of Rome, and by the Italian Government for her Red Cross activities during World War I.
Header from article about Bayard de Volo in the Catholic Northwest Progress, Jan, 3, 1947.
"Bayard de Volo came to the United States in 1908 on a six-months visit, but he has never returned to his homeland. His wife is a Russian, and the artist recalls their wedding with some amusement since 'neither of us spoke English very well.' However, it was his knowledge of other languages that enabled him to make a living until the time when he became established as an artist...

"A very special job of his was the carved and gold inlaid ivory floor of the chapel in the Colleen Moore Doll House--a replica of a floor in the Vatican palace."
The Fairy Castle commissioned by silent movie actress Colleen Moore holds many surprises, including a painting by Walt Disney and tiny 2,000 year-old statues.
Nick confirms this last detail too, saying his father "was one of the artisans that created the Colleen Moore Doll House, completed in 1935 and on permanent display in the Chicago Museum of Science & Industry.  This magnificent fairy tale castle was world famous and toured the world’s capitals for many years.  Around the same time, he was very involved with the wine industry in the bay area (including Sonoma) for which he designed exhibits for trade shows, floats for parades and projects for wine festivals."

That makes it especially appropriate that a set of his mission models is now on display at a California winery.
The chapel of the Colleen Moore Doll House includes a copy of the throne at Westminster Abbey.
Leon Bayard de Volo also was art director for the Greek Theater, made floats for 1931 La Fiesta de Los Angeles electrical pageant, and was involved in innumerable other creative endeavors around Southern California.
A float La Fiesta de Los Angeles electrical pageant, 1931.
Nick writes that his father's work included "the design of floats used in the Motion Picture Electrical Pageant,  performed in the Coliseum in 1936; the design and construction of the Santa Claus float used for decades in the annual Hollywood Christmas Parade; and the design and construction of all 15 floats, one for each movie star, used in the NBC-Santa Claus Lane Parade in 1947.
New Santa Claus float at the 1931 Hollywood Christmas parade.
"He did make the missions that were first exhibited in the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco and currently reside in the California Mission Museum in Sonoma. As surmised in your blog, he subsequently made at least two additional sets of the California Missions.  The first of these (the second set) was constructed for Miniature Fabricators, Inc. in the 1945 time frame and subsequently toured the country for a period of time including being exhibited in Atlantic City in the summer of 1946. The same financial backer, John Author Productions, also commissioned my father to make selected miniatures of Hollywood to go on tour with the mission miniatures."
The main portion of "Hollywood in Miniature," by Bayard de Volo, as it appeared in 2007.
To be continued with the Return of the Mission Models!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Family photos with Rosa Avila Pryor

Rosa Avila-Pryor, (shown holding her grandson, Charles Landell at Dana Point, circa 1901), was born in 1835 into the Avila family, which had owned Rancho El Niguel since 1841.
Alert reader William S. Dean writes, "[I thought] your readers might enjoy seeing a couple of recently uncovered family photographs of my great-great grandmother -- one of Orange County's more intriguing historical figures.

"Rosa Modesta Avila (sometimes spelled Abila) was the daughter of Don Juan "El Rico" Avila and Soledad Yorba.  She was born in 1835, the elder sister of Guadalupe Avila (who married Marcus Antonio Forster).  Rosa married Pablo Pryor in 1863 and as a wedding present was given Rancho Boca de la Playa (including the old Hide House) where she and Pablo lived and raised their family.
Rosa with grandchild Paul Yorba, circa 1909.
"In 1878, Pablo was mysteriously poisoned with strychnine and Rosa struggled to maintain the property and rancho.  Rosa and Pablo's children, included Juan Miguel (who married Emilia Burruel, daughter of Desiderio of "Burruel Point"); my great grandmother, Teresa who married Miguel Yorba (raised at what is now El Adobe restaurant); Reginaldo (who was a well-known constable at San Juan Capistrano); Alberto, whose one-time home is now the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society headquarters; and Christina Soledad, who married Judge John Landell.  Rosa died in 1915."

Rosa with great granddaughter, Dorothy Marie York (daughter of Rosita Pryor and Larkin York), circa 1907.
Here are some excerpts about Rosa Pryor from Lisbeth Haas' book, Conquests and Historical Identities in California, 1769-1936:

"The story of Rosa Pryor is that of one former ranchero who persisted as a farmer in the American period, yet continued to employ the logic of exchange to which she was accustomed, that of Mexican California. When Prior was widowed in the mid-1870s, she and her children became heirs to 6,658 acres of land in Rancho Boca de la Playa, valued at $9,987. Yet a relatively small amount of money still owed on a $1,000 loan to pay taxes, secured by mortgage on their land, had not been paid. ...Her tax assesment profile for 1889 suggests that this debt probably accounted for a decline in Pryor's landholdings to only 463 acres a decade later,... Nonetheless, she continued to maintain the farm as a modest enterprise. In 1890 she employed three Californio workers, and her two sons and one daughter also helped her with the farming. Rosa Pryor made the decisions about planting and about the purchasing of supplies... The family remained relatively prosperous through the 1930s."

Saturday, August 03, 2013

George Arnold for City Council

For many years, George Edward Arnold was a fixture at both Huntington Beach's pier and at City Hall. Colorful, ornery, opinionated, and sometimes outright rude, he was our town gadfly and the unofficial "Mayor of Main Street."

George is best remembered as a perpetual unsuccessful candidate for Huntington Beach City Council. He ran for that office at least six times, including the 1968, 1972, 1976, 1988, and 1994 elections. He variously described himself as a "self-employed entrepreneur," "T-shirt salesman," "handyman" or "landscaper," when filing papers to run.

Weathered, cantankerous, and with a voice that suffered from smoking and a lack of teeth, everyone assumed George was about 20 years older than he really was. His dentures were stolen when he was in the Army, and he never bothered to replace them.

The fact that people had trouble understanding him didn’t deter George in the least. He harangued city officials and staff regularly for almost three full decades, calling for rent control (especially for seniors), a halt to Downtown development, and various other causes. He often accused council members of being paid stooges for real estate developers.

George participated in all of H.B.’s 4th of July parades, riding a bicycle and dressed as a clown or in some other outlandish getup. He was determined to have fun and get some attention, even if he hadn’t filled out a parade entry form.

Born in his family’s home, at 410 Hartford St, in Huntington Beach on January 21, 1927, George was the second child of Harold W. and Anna Marie Arnold. George’s sister, Velma, was one year older. Harold was an electrician and lineman.
The Huntington Beach Pier in the 1920s.
George had a rough childhood. Some say he came from an abusive family. Perhaps that was the reason why he never married or had children himself.

He didn’t have a steady job but he would sweep floors, do yardwork, and sell t-shirts from his flatbed truck at the base of the pier. In his younger days, he worked in the oil fields. Some claim he even had a business license at some point.

Jerry Juergens, who worked for the City's Harbors and Beaches Department for seven years, got to be friends with George and was "once accorded the high honor" of George introducing him as "his a**hole buddy."

Juergens first met George around 1973 "in the old Richard's Coffee Shop near the pier."

"I was a seventeen-year-old sitting with some other Harbor and Beaches employees,"said Juergens, "when George approached our table accusing one of them of stealing some personal items he had left on the beach. He punctuated the indictment by throwing a glass of water in the face of the accused party and ran into the restroom, locking himself in. Another time, George told me about his venture in the chicken ranching business with an associate he referred to as 'Johnny Reb.' George left Mr. Reb in charge of the livestock located somewhere in the desert. When George went back out about a week later he found Mr. Reb in a state of intoxication and all the chickens dead for lack of water. George concluded with, 'I left that drunk son of a bitch in the desert to find his own damn way home.'"

"I think the one quality I admired the most about George was his unvarnished candor," said Juergens.

George was never a bum, and he didn’t panhandle. However, there were times when he had to sleep in a tent on the back of his truck.

He made his pitch to the public from the folding table where he sold t-shirts, down by the pier. Often, the shirts promoted his City Council candidacy. One year, he even printed up shirts in preparation of a run for Governor.

In 1988, George ended one of his campaign speeches by saying, “I’m the only candidate with progress on my mind, love in my heart and sand in my shoes." When another candidate at the event asked if this was true, George took off one boot and deposited a miniature sand dune on the floor.

In 1993, Councilman and former Police Chief Earle Robitaille called George "the village idiot" during a council meeting. George quickly responded with a new line of t-shirts that read, "The real village idiot sits on the City Council."

Another of Robitaille’s outbursts – this time against a different citizen – involved the phrase, “…and the horse you rode in on!” This inspired another line of George Arnold t-shirts. And in a cunning example marketing synergy, George also took to riding into Council meetings on a stick horse, offering insights that came "straight from the horse's mouth."
One of George's t-shirts. Photo courtesy Shawna Corsi.
Over the years, George faced legal trouble for selling t-shirts without a business license, for throwing cigarette butts on the ground, for listing a false address on his driver’s license, and for refusing to tell police officers his name and address.  In each case, the charges against him were eventually dropped.

One of these incidents led to his arrest and brief detention. This too led to a line of campaign t-shirts, featuring an image of George behind bars and the words, "George Arnold for City Council. Your man on the inside."

In late October of 1995, (between election years), George moved to Twentynine Palms. Councilman Dave Garofalo arranged for his going-away party at the Pacific Coast Café (221 Main St.) and got everyone to donate at least $5 each toward George’s moving expenses. "After 50 years in town, he deserves a send-off," Garofalo said.

After moving, George still came back to Orange County now and then, to visit his H.B. friends. But eventually, the accumulation of hard years and Salem Lights caught up with George, in the form of emphysema and heart disease. George Arnold died in Desert Hot Springs at age 73, on March 17, 2002.

Today, a memorial plaque for George Arnold hangs on the wall outside the door of the Sugar Shack café on Main St. Ironically, it faces out onto the redeveloped Downtown that he fought so hard to prevent.