Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas at Newport Beach, 1910

Holiday greetings from Newport Beach, in 1910.
Christmas is a good time to get friends or family together and do something fun. In 1910, the folks above apparently decided that "something fun" meant taking the Pacific Electric Railway to the end of the line (Newport Beach/Balboa) and spending the day on the strand.

This image was found in Tom Pulley's postcard collection and comes courtesy the Orange County Archives. I was just going to post it because of the Christmas/O.C. connection. But then I noticed how colorful these people are. (Click on any photo to embiggen.) It called for a couple close-ups.
The Rockettes do not feel threatened by this group.
Note the "Three Musketeers" pose, but with feet instead of swords. That, combined with wearing of dapper suits on the beach, is sort of a hoot.

But the real gem is the dandied-up, cigar-chompin' palooka shown below. Just look at this character! Did he escape from a movie? Was he related to the Bowery Boys or a Dick Tracy villain? Who is this guy? There's a shiny nickel in it for the first person to identify him!
"Make wit da Christmas cheer, youse mugs, or I'll moiderize ya!"
Without much more to say about this photo, I went looking for an extreme example of how different the world of December 1910 was from that of December 2013. I initially thought this was a pretty good example, from the Dec. 18, 1910 New York Times, regarding a new health catastrophe caused by modern technology:
"The aeroplane and automobile have caused a new disease,... When men pass rapidly through the air, the pressure on the face from fast driving prevents the expulsion of poisoned air from the lungs. The carbonic acid gas is forced back into the body. Only a little of it can get away, because of the air pressing on the face. The gas is rebreathed and poisons the system. [This may be remedied with] a mouthpiece... strapped to the face with tubes extending from it on either side to the back of the head."
Today, of course, we're much more evolved. The media no longer trumps up phony health scares or preys on our fear of new technology to generate sensational headlines. And naturally, with all the real threats in the world, we'd never waste our time worrying about the hazards of a ubiquitous natural substance like carbonic acid gas.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Join us for "Show & Tell"

So,... What are you bringing to Show & Tell this Thursday? Because you are invited, after all!

As you may have noticed in today's O.C. Register, the Orange County Historical Society will hold its annual Show & Tell Night this Thursday, Dec. 12, 7:30pm, at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. Rummage through your garage, files, scrapbooks, or trunks for a choice artifact or bit of memorabilia or ephemera that helps tell us something about Orange County of yore.

Maybe you have a local orange crate that connects to a story about a parent who worked in a packing house. Perhaps you have your name badge from when you worked at Disneyland on opening day. What about great-grandpa’s branding iron, or a piece of flatware with the name of a favorite old local restaurant on it? Or maybe you just have an outstanding photo or map of early Orange County that hasn’t seen the light of day in many years. Surprise us! (The photo above shows me with the cogstone I brought last year.)

The event is open to the public. There will be a sign-up sheet when you arrive at the meeting. People will be called up in order of their position on the list. If we run out of time, we’ll save the list for another meeting, so you’ll still get your chance to share your “piece of history” and a bit of the story behind it. (We're a pretty friendly and informal bunch, so don't be intimidated!)

Afterward, refreshments will be served and there will be an opportunity for socializing and seeing some of the night's interesting Show & Tell items up close. For more information about the event see the OCHS website. Hope to see you there!
Judy Moore brought an item from First National Bank of Santa Ana to 2011's Show & Tell.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Strawberries in Orange County

Famed berry grower Walter Knott inspects strawberries with one of his employees.
Strawberries have been grown in Orange County since at least 1880, but for many decades they were grown by few farmers and usually in small quantities. Not that our soil and climate weren’t perfect for strawberries. Those that did grow here thrived. In 1882, George R. Hinde, founder of the Placentia's vegetarian cult, Societas Fraterna, (nicknamed "the grass eaters") exhibited a strawberry that measured 11 ¾ inches in circumference! But commercial production of berries of any kind was negligible in Orange County until the 1910s and 1920s. Land that wasn’t planted in citrus generally went to popular crops like beans, alfalfa, celery, and sugar beets.

Although strawberries were a fairly profitable crop when weather and disease cooperated, they were also very labor-intensive. This is part of why it took a while for them to catch on. They remained a small crop here in 1910s to 1930s – with 200 to 500 acres at most. They grew particularly well in the sandier soils of the western part of the county.
A plastic owl guards a local strawberry field in the 1950s.
Starting in the late teens or twenties, Japanese-American farmers in our area found they could grow small patches of strawberries in unused parcels and turn a significant profit. In some cases, it proved to be a good crop to rotate with some other primary crop: One year tomatoes, one year strawberries.

But it wasn’t until after WWII that strawberries really took off in a big way in O.C. Beginning around 1968, they were clearly our most profitable crop. That year, we had 1,775 acres, which was probably our biggest year for strawberries.
Anglos, Japanese and Latinos work together in an O.C. strawberry field during the Great Depression.
As more and more of Orange County has been paved, strawberries have continued to be a crop that survived in the margins. It was common to find a small field tucked in between housing tracts or shopping centers. Even a small field could be profitable, and growers often had success selling the berries to local residents from roadside stands. But now even these last small pockets of strawberries are dwindling. In 2012, for instance, we lost the last strawberry field in Garden Grove: The home of the Strawberry Festival.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Even more holiday historical happenings!

The Pilgrim, decked out for Christmas at Dana Point.
The Heritage Museum of Orange County will host Family Day, Dec. 8, 11am-3pm. See the Victorian Kellog House Museum "decorated in period holiday finery," tell Santa your Christmas wishes, and check out an exhibit about Sibyl Kellogg Mauerhan. ($5 per family up to 4 people. $2 each additional person.) The museum is located at 3101 W. Harvard St., in Santa Ana.

Looking for gift ideas? Historian Phil Brigandi will sign copies of his new book, “Orange County Chronicles,” on Sun., Dec. 15, 1-3pm at the Costco in San Juan Capistrano. His book traces 200 years of county history, from the earliest Spanish explorers to the explosive growth of the 1960s. For details, call (949) 240-3558.

Mission San Juan Capistrano will host "Christmas at the Mission" in conjunction with the city's annual Tree Lighting Ceremony and community-wide holiday celebration, on Dec. 7, 5:30-8pm. The Mission will feature a ringing of the historic bells, Dickensian carolers, chamber singers, orchestra musicians, ballet folklorico, mariachis and other local musicians. Ther will also be a “Santa’s Workshop” with cookie and ornament decorating for kids, and food vendors serving tamales, pizza, hot cocoa, sweets and more.

The Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton will host their annual Winter Holiday Festival, Dec. 22, Noon-4pm. The event includes "historic home and gallery tours, performances, and an arts and crafts fair. The family-friendly event also provides free art workshops for kids, a children’s play area, and a special appearance by Santa Claus."

The Fullerton Arboretum is hosting "Moonlight & Mistletoe: Victorian Christmas Traditions," Dec. 7 & 8, at 6pm. (Please arrive by 5:45.) "Begin the Christmas holiday season as twilight falls on a December evening in the tranquil setting of the Fullerton Arboretum. Watch as costumed Victorians reveal the stories behind the many traditions that have become a part of the season’s celebrations. Enjoy a full evening’s entertainment as you partake of hors d’oeuvres and wine. Join in songs and laughter; listen to Christmas tales and short stories; meet Father Christmas and “the missus” and dance the Grand March. Seating is limited. $25 per person. Reservations Required. No tickets will be available at the door!”

The Nixon Library is doing their elaborate annual exhibit of model trains and international Christmas trees.

Orange's Old Towne Preservation Association is holding a Holiday Home Decoration Contest. Residents of historic Old Towne "are invited to deck the halls and decorate your house in this annual tradition. Awards are given to Best Block, Most Old Fashioned, Best Use of Lights, Most Original and Most Beautiful. Judges will be cruising Old Towne to view the festive homes" beginning at 6pm, Dec. 15.

The Placentia Founders Society will host a docent-led tour of the historic Bradford House on Dec. 8, 2-4pm. A $3 donation per person is requested for non-members on these days. Group tours are $5 per person.

And if all the usual holidays aren't enough for you, celebrate "Ole Hanson Day" with the San Clemente Historical Society on Dec. 8 "with a chicken dinner, 'The Speech' by Ole Hanson, and 'The Ole Hanson Story' which is a motion picture of San Clemente under construction in the 1920’s. We are encouraging 1920’s clothing. A prize will be given for the most authentic outfit." $12 for members and $15 for non-members. Call Mary Ann Comes at 498-0116 for reservations. The event honors the founder/developer of the city and will be held at the San Clemente Community Center, 100 N. Calle Seville.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The holidays in O.C.'s historical community

Odds are, your local historical society, museum or historical park is hosting some kind of holiday party or event of some kind in the next few weeks. Go check out their website or newsletter and get those Christmas sweaters out of mothballs. Some examples:

A free Holiday Open House & Boutique will be held at the historic Howe-Waffle House (decked out in all its Victorian holiday finery), at 120 Civic Center Drive West, Santa Ana, this Saturday, Dec. 7, 11am to 4pm.There will be refreshments, socializing, carols on a rare 1870s Weber piano, and sales of various items of interest to history buffs and historians alike. At 1pm, actors will perform a scene from That Christmas Feeling, "a funny and touching play about regaining the true spirit of the Holidays."

The Dana Point Historical Society will hold a Holiday Open House on Dec. 8, 2-5pm, in Suite 104 at City Hall. If you'd like to participate in their pot luck, please bring an appetizer, dessert or bottle of wine.

The Orange County Historical  Society will hold their annual holiday social in conjunction with their annual Show & Tell Night, Dec. 12, 7:30pm, at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., Orange. Bring an artifact or item from Orange County's past that helps tell a story about our history. This event is free to the public and refreshments will be served. See the OCHS website for more information.

Heritage Hill Historical Park in El Toro will hold a Victorian Christmas event Dec. 7, 11am-3pm. See the park's buildings decorated for the holidays and enjoy holiday entertainment, children's crafts, historical exhibits, and visits with Santa. The park will also hold holiday candlelight walks Dec. 14 and 15, 5:30pm-8:30pm. "Experience an enchanted evening with luminaria-lit paths, historical buildings aglow with holiday lights and period decorations. There will be performers in each building along with strolling carolers and visits with Santa." (Admission for any of these Heritage Hill events is $3 for children, $4 for adults.)

Do you have another local historical holiday event to share? Send me an email and I'll try to post it here.