Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Santa Ana Rings in 1915

Celebrating the arrival of the new year a century ago would, in some ways, be familiar to many of us. Most folks spent the evening at home with family and friend or perhaps at a small party. The Santa Ana Register reported one such party "at the cozy new home" of H. F. Hayward, 734 Cypress Ave.: "The self-invited guests brought refreshments and had arranged a program of games, and the evening sped along with much merriment. As the clock struck twelve, one guest came in dressed all in white, with a badge across the breast on which was printed the words, 'January 1st, 1915.'"

Of course, some prefer larger gatherings: "The masque carnival at the Armory skating rink on New Year's eve was socially a big success. [The Armory Building near 4th and Birch St. was turned into a skating rink for special events.] Two hundred and seventy-five enjoyed the rollers during the evening, which ended with a confetti battle. The committee of five chosen from the spectators in the balcony, which was packed the entire evening, acted as judges for the prize costumes. Awards were made as follows: Ladies' first prize, Miss Leora Peters (a typical cow girl), gold bracelet; gentlemen's first prize (cowboy), solid gold cuff buttons'; ladies' second prize (comic), Miss Margaraet Wilson, Yama Yama girl [a character from a popular 1908 musical], cut glass nappy [candy dish]; gentlemen's second prize (comic), Dutchman, gold watch-chain."

New Year's day itself "was celebrated quietly in Santa Ana, the attractions of the opening of the San Diego Exposition and the Rose Tournament drawing hundreds of people away from the city. Cars were crowded yesterday with local people going to the Crown City, but the San Diego pilgrims largely left by train on Wednesday afternoon and evening. Family dinners and dinner parties were much in evidence, no so largely as at Christmas time, but still enough of these to make the day bright with the social spirit."

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

The Great Stone Church, Mission San Juan Capistrano, Christmas 2011
With the majority of my gift-wrapping now done, I'm taking a moment to post a few photos I took at Christmastime 2011 at Mission San Juan Capistrano.  The image above is from the ruins of "the Great Stone Church" which was destroyed in an earthquake 202 years ago.
Soldiers' barracks, Mission San Juan Capistrano, Christmas 2011
 The soldiers' barracks building is now used to show films about the Mission's story and also as meeting space. At the holidays, it usually features a beautiful Christmas tree.
Serra Chapel, Mission San Juan Capistrano, Christmas 2011
And where better to tell the story of Christmas than in Serra Chapel (1782), the oldest church in California, and the only remaining church where Fr. Junípero Serra himself celebrated Mass.

A visit to the Mission is always worthwhile, but this seems an especially appropriate time of the year to do so.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Marion Knott Montapert (1922-2014)

Marion Knott at 75th anniversary of her mother's restaurant, 6-13-2009.
Marion Knott Montapert, the last of Walter and Cordelia Knott's children  -- and the only one of their children to be born on their famous berry farm -- died  November 13.  Over the years, she went from selling rhubarb on street corners, to waiting tables in her mother's tea room, to managing Marion & Toni's Dress Shop with her sister, to being a key player in the planning and operations for one of the world's best-known theme parks. She put a fence around the park, added the Fiesta Village and Roaring 20s areas, and introduced rollercoasters. 

An obituary for her appears in the Orange County Register, and a shorter blurb about her passing appeared in the L.A. Times. I won't rehash them here, but I will share a few additional comments...
Marion Knott on "Boomerang" rollercoaster at Knott's Berry Farm, 1990.
When Phil Brigandi and I were bringing the enormous Knott's Berry Farm historical collection over to the Orange County Archives and were trying to organize and make sense of it all,  Marion Knott was a great resource. She not only answered a bunch of Phil's questions, but we also got the chance to scan some of her personal scrapbooks of the farm.

I did not meet her in person until 2009. She had not visited Knott's Berry Farm since the family sold it to Cedar Fair, and had sworn she'd never return. But for the 75th anniversary of  her mother's restaurant (Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant), she made an exception. She was very much afraid of what she would find. What would the new people have done to the place she and her parents and her siblings had built?

To her surprise, she was very pleased with what she found, and she said so publicly. She was very gracious and patient with all the people who wanted to meet her that day, including me.

Of course, I wasn't going to write about Marion Knott today, until I heard about her passing. I was going to write about the good news that has added a large portion of the old Santa Ana Register to their searchable database. One of my first searches after getting access to a account was to find the Register's earliest references to the Knott family after their arrival in Orange County.

The earliest Knott references, in the mid-1920s, are surprisingly not about the soon-to-be-famous berry farmer, Walter. Rather, they are about Cordelia Knott attending the Jolly Stitchers club of Buena Park, with baby Marion in tow. Today, of course, hardly a day goes by when the Knott name fails to appear in the paper. About 4,000 people a day enjoy the theme park that bears their name, and -- at least for now -- even more enjoy the line of jams and preserves they created. And the philanthropic work the Knott family continues to do in Orange County has had an enormous impact.
The Knott children: Toni, Russell, Virginia and little Marion, circa 1925.

At the time of her death, Marion Knott was next on the list of people to be approached for an interview for the Orange County Historical Society's oral history project. Let this be a lesson to all of us who do local history work: Always interview the older generation NOW, not later.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Election Day and Halloween are coming soon

Election Day has long had the indignity of falling soon after Halloween, providing obvious opportunities to recast political hobgoblins as "real" ones and to make comparisons between politicians and other unholy creatures. In this political cartoon from the Nov. 1, 1914 Los Angeles Times, California's reform-minded governor, Hiram Johnson, is bedeviled by a host of issues. Despite the frightening cast of characters around him here, Johnson easily won re-election two days later, getting nearly twice as many votes as the next runner-up.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A couple more scenes from O.C.'s 125th birthday

Fairgrounds, Aug. 1: Giant walking "fair foods" add gravitas to the national anthem.
In addition to the aforementioned museum exhibit, the well-attended birthday party/dinner, and the presentations before the Board of Supervisors, Orange County's quasquicentennial (125th birthday) has also been celebrated in a number of other ways. There was a day-long shin-dig in San Juan Capistrano (big on fun, short on history), a special program at the O.C. Fairgrounds on the County's actual birthday (Aug. 1st), a lecture before the Old Courthouse Museum Society, an article by Erika Ritchie in the Register, an event at Irvine Park sponsored by the O.C. Historical Commission, and (it would now appear) a forthcoming new edition of the book Visiting Orange County's Past.
Fairgrounds, Aug. 1: Jim Washburn celebrates with a little flag waving.
 I did not make it to all the events, but I was disappointed to see that a number of events with lots of potential ended up not being promoted. It's hard to have a party without people. Oh, well,... We'll have all our ducks in a row for O.C. 150th birthday, in 2039.

A few OC125 tchotchkes have emerged from this year's celebrations, including two very-limited-edition pins, official OC125 mason jars(!?) from OC Parks, and some OC125-branded postcards and bookmarks from the Orange County Archives. I think everyone who came up with stuff like this was essentially working with no budget, so this is pretty good for an off-beat anniversary like 125. Centennials and sesquicentennials are easier sells.
Phil Brigandi discusses O.C.'s 125th birthday at the Old Courthouse., 7-17-2014.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Vodie's bear, and Saturday doin's

Vodie's bear, Santa Ana, hours before moving to his new home at MONA.

Here's a run-down of some local history-related events happening this Saturday, Oct. 25:
  • The Los Angeles Archives Bazaar (which also includes Orange County) will be held at the beautiful Doheny Library at USC. This is a great place to learn about many, many historical archives, collections and libraries you never knew existed. If you have an interest in researching or writing Southern California history, you need to go.  
  • The Santa Ana Historic Preservation Society will hold their 17th Annual Historical Cemetery Tour. This year's theme is, "A Hot Time in Old Orange County Tonight; Santa Ana’s Firefighting History.” This is a popular event, and cemeteries are always an interesting "prop" for discussing the people who founded and built a community.
  • The Anaheim Halloween Parade -- which isn't about history, but which is certainly a historic Orange County tradition in its own right -- will once again ply the streets of Downtown Anaheim.
Between a busy summer, taking on some other writing duties, and being beset by endless computer problems (now finally resolved), this old blog has mostly been on hiatus. I'm going to start back by catching up on a few things I wanted to write about earlier. This is one of those stories,...
Happy Bear watched over 17th and Bristol.
In June, my fellow OCHS board member, Josh "Mr. Garden Grove" McIntosh, saw that the old Vodie's Alignment & Brakes on 17th St. in Santa Ana was being bulldozed. Within hours, he'd managed to halt the demolition of the iconic "Happy Bear"sign and promptly found a  new home for it at the Museum of Neon Art (MONA) in Glendale! I love a preservation story with a happy end!

The story of the Happy Bear sign begins with brothers Will and Henry Damman, who invented an electric starter for the Model T in the 1910s. Although Henry Ford came up with his own version and ended their venture, the Dammans turned around and started the Bear Manufacturing Company, which built auto repair equipment. According to the Rock Island Preservation Society, "Bear equipment became the standard for diagnosis and repair of wheel, steering, and frame alignment.  Later, the company expanded [into] auto safety equipment of all types."

Beginning in the 1920s, Happy Bear's image appeared at innumerable mom-and-pop auto shops that used alignment equipment built by Bear Manufacturing. I'm told Bear Manufacturing would sometimes install a free bear sign for their customers at the same time they installed the alignment equipment in their shop and trained the staff on how to use it.

Happy Bear signs of different sizes were made, but Vodie's was one of the largest and -- at this late date -- among the best-preserved. Vodie's Alignment & Brakes was founded by Vodie Edgar Clemmons (1914-1997) of Garden Grove.

Happy Bear signs started disappearing from the American landscape in the 1960s and '70s. Bear Manufacturing became part of Automotive Diagnostics, and the brand faded away.

In 1973, the Grateful Dead used slight variations of the bear's likeness on the cover of their album "History of the Grateful Dead, Volume One." Soon, the bears were a symbol of the band, appearing on shirts, decals, etc. Deadhead lore says the bear was printed on blotter acid produced by soundman and "underground chemist" Owsley "Bear" Stanley before it appeared on the album cover. Deadhead lore also claims the bear was an old piece of clip-art that pre-dated even its use by Bear Manufacturing. (If anyone sees a pre-1920s use of the bear, let me know.)

Anyway, Santa Ana's Happy Bear, being an especially good example of Bear Manufacturing signage, was something MONA seemed very pleased to receive. Plans are being made to restore it and get the neon elements working again. 

Another Happy Bear sign (at another Vodie's) still stands at 9891 Garden Grove Blvd. in Garden Grove.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

125 years of L.A./O.C. sibling rivalry

Southern California citrus, as shown in Sunset Magazine, March 1911
The rumors are true. We were part of Los Angeles County until we split off, 125 years ago this month, to become Orange County.

We seceded for the usual reasons: It was too hard to get to the county seat to do business, all our tax money was spent in the “big city,” we had a strong enough economy to survive on our own, and we wanted the right of self-determination. L.A. wanted to hang onto us, not out of love and affection, but out of financial and political expediency. We’ve been wary of L.A. ever since.

Asked if he got to Los Angeles very often, Orange County’s “last rustic,” historian Jim Sleeper, once told a reporter, “Hell! I wouldn’t drive up there to watch Jesus Christ wrestle a grizzly bear!” (An L.A. newspaper printed the comment on their front page.)

For their part, Angelenos have invented an imaginary “Orange Curtain” dividing our counties, which I suppose explains why so many of them think they can’t venture south of Coyote Creek. Many also cling to the claim that there’s “no culture” down here, and therefore no reason to visit.
The old plaza in Los Angeles, circa 1869 -- our previous county seat.
For all our sibling rivalry, sometimes we're more like our older sister, Los Angeles, than we (or they) would like to admit. Still, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate the fact that, 125 years ago, Mom and Dad gave us separate rooms.

Unlike Los Angeles, with its delusions of adequacy, we're not accustomed to gloating and bragging. But since this month marks our 125th birthday, perhaps a bit of comparison is in order,...

Let me start by pointing out that the "HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH" is in Orange County! Really!

Also, Orange County is friendlier, cleaner, and less cramped than Los Angeles. We have better governance, air quality, public safety, school districts, parking, and water conservation. We enjoy cheaper gas, better drivers, a more user-friendly airport, and even a more interesting Spanish Mission. We have lower taxes and less violent crime. We call it a riot when kids get unruly and knock over trashcans in Huntington Beach.
Early 1920s Southern California postcard. (Images courtesy O. C. Archives)
Our freeways and streets are better designed, better maintained, and less congested than those in L.A. Our beaches are cleaner and more accessible. And with the exception of now-ubiquitous Home Owners Associations, we have a long tradition of defending the freedom of the individual.

And if that wasn’t enough, Sacramento clearly hates us – Which is perhaps the ultimate proof that we’re doing things right!

Feliz cumpleaños, Orange County. ¡Viva la independencia!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Orange County's 125th birthday continues

This eagle (sans color) appeared in the Santa Ana Standard in 1889, to mark county secession.
Although Orange County’s birthday was last Friday, the Board of Supervisors hosted a reception this morning and had some historical presentations at their regular meeting. It was, after all, exactly 125 years ago today - on Aug. 5, 1889 - that the very first Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting was held.
A scene from this morning's pre-meeting birthday reception.
Today, Phil Brigandi gave a talk on the politics of county separation, I gave a talk about our secession and our 125 years of progress, and Supervisor John Moorlach discussed the way in which California’s counties evolved. Moorlach, who’s been the biggest proponent of the “Quasquicentennial” celebration, also presented a birthday proclamation to the rest of the board.
I was graciously asked to speak at this morning's meeting by Orange County Clerk-Recorder Hugh Nguyen.
Back at that first meeting, in 1889, the board met in a room above the Beatty Brothers Store, at Fourth St. and Sycamore, in Santa Ana. (I believe the Spurgeon Building now sits on that site.) It was ridiculously hot, and the men sweltered in their wool suits. That day, they arranged to buy supplies, rent office space, and have copies of relevant L.A. County assessments made. They also approved an official county seal. Supervisor Sheldon Littlefield, from Anaheim, wanted a bunch of (sour) grapes on the seal, but an orange with three leaves won out.
The chosen county seal design did not honor Anaheim's vintners.
Today’s event, by contrast, was delightfully well air-conditioned, dealt with the sorts of issues you'd expect in a county of 3.1 million residents, and was run as if they'd had 125 years of practice. I was glad to have been asked to be a small part of it. Watch for more “OC125” events in September and October.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Happy 125th Birthday, Orange County!

Created by County Surveyor S. H. Finley in Aug. 1889, this was the first official map of Orange County. (Courtesy the Library of Congress)
One hundred and twenty five years ago today, on Aug. 1, 1889, the southern portion of Los Angeles County broke away to become Orange County. This is our quasquicentennial -- an event marked by County government this afternoon with a small ceremony and birthday cupcakes at the Orange County Fair.

On the day Orange County separated, we had about 15,000 residents, three incorporated cities, and no paved roads. Our growth was slow and steady, reaching only 34,000 by 1910. But in the following decade, our population nearly doubled. In the roaring '20s, it doubled again, to 120,000.

Prior to WWII, Orange County was centered on agriculture. Many crops would do well and bring prosperity, taking advantage of our ideal climate and soil, until a disease would wipe them out and force us to find something new, beginning the cycle again. Along the way, we had enormous success with grapes, apricots, walnuts, celery, sugar beets, chili peppers, avocados, strawberries, beans, lemons, and, of course, the once-ubiquitous Valencia orange.

The manpower behind all that bounty was provided by a diverse population, including Americans, Mexicans, Germans, English, Japanese, Chinese, Basques, Indians, and the descendants of the Spanish Californios.

Our first half-century brought the Pacific Electric Railway, colleges, new cities,  highways, parks, floods, earthquakes, multiple oil booms, an airport, Knott's Berry Farm, and the aviation innovations of Glen Martin and others. Those decades saw the growth and development of our schools districts, churches, civic organizations, water management and other infrastructure.

With the Depression and the war, growth slowed, and it took more than two decades to double our population again. World War II brought us military bases, most notably at El Toro, Tustin, Los Alamitos, Seal Beach and Costa Mesa.

Things went bananas in the postwar boom, and the population more than tripled between 1950 and 1960, reaching 700,000 - a number which was more than doubled just a decade later. A combination of the "quick decline" disease, new tax structures that crippled agriculture, and demand for more housing brought an end to the age of orange groves and changed our landscape forever. The massive growth and development never stopped.

The last half of the 20th Century brought us Angels, Rams, Ducks, and Mickey Mouse. We became the home of megachurches, freeways, universities, modern venues for the arts, major tourism and aerospace industries, planned communities, a brush with municipal bankruptcy, and waves of immigrants from Mexico, Vietnam and elsewhere.

Today we have 34 incorporated cities and a population of 3.1 million - a more than 22,000% increase since our founding. Orange County also has a cohesive sense of place, identity and community that our older sibling, Los Angeles, never will. Whether we're from San Clemente or La Habra, we're Orange Countians first, and we're proud of our home. We have done well with our independence.

Happy 125th Birthday, Orange County! You don't look a day over 100!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The "Gummo" of the Earp Brothers

People seem to think that the "wild and woolly West" didn't apply to Orange County. They're shocked to learn we had cowboys, Indians, shoot-outs in saloons, posses chasing horse thieves, and any other Old West cliche you care to mention. Admittedly, we weren't home to many of the big names from the history books, but we weren't exactly out of the picture either.

For instance, there's no record of famous lawman Wyatt Earp visiting Orange County, but some of his famous family definitely spent time here. Wyatt’s father, Nicholas, youngest brother, Warren, and other family members lived near Lake Elsinore and would sometimes find their way to the other side of the mountains. Warren did farm work for H.S. Pankey, in the Gospel Swamp area, south of Santa Ana. Warren wasn't with his brothers at the famous O.K. Corral shoot-out in 1881, but he helped Wyatt hunt down the man who killed their brother, Morgan. Warren was shot dead in 1900 during an argument with a cowboy at a saloon in Wilcox, Arizona.

It may be a thin thread connecting O.C. to the O.K. Corral,... But it's interesting that a thread exists at all.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Travel back to the year of Orange County's birth

From the exhibit: A scene at the Hotel Laguna, circa 1889.
An exhibit entitled "O.C. Circa 1889" is opening, just in time for the County's 125th birthday, at the Old Orange County Courthouse. It will launch with an opening reception on July 17th, 7pm-9pm, featuring a lecture by historian Phil Brigandi, who assembled the photos and information for the exhibit. Please RSVP by July 14 to 714-973-6607. The exhibit runs through Oct. 10th.
Visitors will get a chance to see what life was like here in 1889, the year Orange County broke away from Los Angeles to become its own county. Rare photos of local communities, family life, agriculture, transportation, schools, recreation, businesses and notable personalities are accompanied by information telling the story of Orange County's beginnings. I've gotten a sneak preview, and it looks fascinating! Hope to see you at the reception!
W. A. Connoly's blacksmith shop, Fullerton, 1889.
By the way, there's currently a small display about Orange County's agricultural history on the first floor of the Old Courthouse, courtesy the Orange County Archives. Stick your head in and say "hello" if you decide to stop by and check it out.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Wintersburg secret revealed!

Mary Urashima leads a tour in the Furuta Barn at Wintersburg.
Wondering what the big Wintersburg announcement will be tomorrow? (Referenced in yesterday's post.) Wonder no more! The cat is out of the bag! See the National Trust's video announcement of America's 11 Most Endangered Historical Sites. Also, check out the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force Facebook page for additional information.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Huntington Beach, O.C.'s birthday & Key Ranch

Huntington Beach Pier, April 1906
This weekend marked the 100th anniversary of the first recorded instance of surfing in Orange County. (There's reason to suspect that it may have happened earlier without anyone writing it down.) In 1914, to celebrate the opening of Huntington Beach's new concrete pier (the old wood pier, shown above, had been damaged in storms), a whole weekend of festivities were planned. Among the assorted revelry was a demonstration of surf riding by George Freeth. This story has already gotten a lot of coverage elsewhere, so I won't flog it to death again here.

Speaking of Huntington Beach,... There will be several interconnected events on Tues., June 24, related to the Historic Wintersburg Preservation project. First there will be a national press conference at Huntington Beach City Hall with mayor Matt Harper and the Wintersburg Preservation Task Force. Apparently, it's "big news," but it's all super secret right now! Then, from  11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., 10% of your bill at The Red Table Restaurant (16821 Algonquin, in H.B. ) will go toward the preservation effort. At 6:30 there will be another big announcement at The Red Table regarding Wintersburg. Keep an eye on for more information.
Orange County's 125th Birthday Party, hosted by the O.C. Historical Society.
The big birthday party to kick off Orange County's 125th anniversary celebration was a big success! The ballroom at the historic Santa Ana Ebell Club was packed with historians, longtime residents, descendants of pioneers, two County Supervisors (Moorlach and Nguyen) and all sorts of other nice folks who are proud to call Orange County home. My thanks to everyone at the Orange County Historical Society who worked to make it a great evening!

I suppose this is old news now, but I haven't mention that the George Key House at Key Ranch Historical Park sustained some significant damage during the "La Habra Earthquake" in March. The historic building is still closed for assessment and repairs, but the surrounding park property is open by appointment.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Arches

Wood panel from The Arches, carved by "C. Abel," and found in Costa Mesa.
Recently, I visited Normandy's New York Hardware Co. in Costa Mesa. It's a delightful place full of both modern hardware (doorknobs, hinges, etc.) and antique mall brick-a-brack. And what did I find there, but a number of old signs and decorative panels from one of Orange County's most historic restaurants: The Arches!

It began as a service station, built in 1925 on Pacific Coast Highway, at the intersection of Newport Blvd. in Newport Beach. This was the same year the highway opened between Huntington Beach and Newport.

Historian Phil Brigandi writes, "John Vilelle (1897-1981) built The Arches. Originally he had a partner named James Sturgeon, but he didn’t stay around long. Vilelle & Sturgeon ran the gas station, and their wives, Fern Vilelle and Anna Sturgeon [later] ran the restaurant."
One of several wood panels from The Arches seen at Normandy's.
Ten-year-old Victor Chatten named the place in a 1926 newspaper contest and won five dollars. Clearly, it was named for the Mediterranean arches on the front of the building. Later, a diner and and market were added. The diner would evolve and improve over the years.

"Not long after prohibition ended in 1933, Johnny Vilelle got a liquor license, and started serving cocktails." says Brigandi. He sites as 1941 ad bragging of "unexcelled Steak Dinners and Good Coffee. Cocktail Bar in connection" and a 1949 ad for "Steak, Chicken, Lobster in Season, Cocktails.”

In 1936,  a large bridge was built nearby, taking Newport Blvd. over the highway at what was then one of the most dangerous intersections in Orange County. Soon, the bridge was unofficially dubbed "Arches,"  and the name stuck. Soon, not just the business, but also the bridge and the surrounding area was known as The Arches. It was a landmark, and remains so today.
An early image of The Arches service station (left) and market/cafe (right)
The business went through multiple sets of hands, but the name was always retained. The import of Arches as a place on the map was at least as significant as The Arches as a specific business.

Eventually the service station disappeared. And what started as a diner eventually completed its transition into a high-end restaurant and watering hole for the well-heeled.  John Wayne, Shirley Temple, and other famous folk were regulars.

"By the early 1970s," Brigandi writes, "The Arches was being touted for its French food, and – if the old Orange County Illustrated magazine is to be believed – the bar had a reputation as a place for 'swingers.'"
A view of The Arches from across the highway, circa 1955.
Dan Marcheano bought the restaurant in 1982. He moved out in 2007 and new owners (Los Arcos Newport LLC) moved in, fully prepared to continue the tradition of The Arches.

But Marcheano took the name with him. After a certain amount of unpleasantness between the old and new owners, Marcheano opened a new "The Arches" in Cannery Village -- and then, when that didn't work -- to a location on Westcliff Dr. This forced the owners of the old location to come up with a new name. Keeping a big curlicued "A" on the beginning of their roadside sign maintained a familiar look, so the place became "A Restaurant."
The Arches shortly before its renovation into A Restaurant, 2008.
 The new owners also found that certain infrastructure issues probably hadn't been dealt with in many decades. The entire restaurant was jacked up into the air and new foundations and plumbing were installed.

Meanwhile, the new The Arches on Westcliff struggled and finally closed at the end of 2010.
Revisiting the old Latin maxim, "De gustibus non est disputandum."
A Restaurant seems to be flourishing. I hope this original location eventually reclaims the moniker that everyone still calls it anyway: The Arches. Regardless, the owners of A Restaurant might want to get their butts over to Normandy's New York Hardware and reappropriate some historic signage.
More relics of The Arches at Normandy's New York Hardware.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Branding iron mystery

Someone walked into the Orange County Archives today with three branding irons he'd acquired from a descendant of Vincente Yorba, Jr. I traced the brands and posted the tracings above. The center one looks like a variation on Bernardo Yorba's original brand from the 1830s/1840s, but it's not exact. Do any of you sharp-eyed readers know the "who" or the "when" of these brands?

I can tell you some places these brands do not appear: They aren't in the "Historic Brands of Orange County" guide in Jim Sleeper's 2nd Orange County Almanac of Historical Oddities. They don't appear in the 1919 California Brand Book (the only edition I have at hand). They also don't appear in the little chart of rancho brands at First American Corp., which is also reproduced in Cindy Tino-Sandoval's Images of America: Yorba Linda. They are also absent from the county's old Brand Book and the other filed brands at the Orange County Archives.

So now the ball is in your court. Please leave your comments in the comments section below. Thanks in advance for any light you can shed.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The House of Bernardo Yorba

The historic Bernardo Yorba adobe, when it was still standing - Circa 1900.
The exploration and documentation of the ruins of Bernardo Yorba’s home by Don Meadows in 1919 will be the topic of the next Orange County Historical Society meeting. Historian Phil Brigandi, a longtime friend of Meadows, will tell us about this early adventure in local archaeology. This program will be held Thursday, May 8, 2014, 7:30 p.m., at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange.

(The previously announced speaker is unable to attend. We knew it was just a matter of time before the dumb guy who schedules OCHS' programs screwed up.)

OCHS also has a small book on this subject, The House of Bernardo Yorba by Don Meadows, available for sale. They should have copies available at the meeting and also sell them through their website.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Upcoming Orange County history events

Dann Gibb at the lower adit, Blue Light Mine, Silverado. Photo by Phil Brigandi.
Today I'm posting a bunch of upcoming local history related events you'll want to know about. (May, in particular, is lousy with 'em!) But everyone loves photos, so I'm also including a few images from the Orange County Historical Society's April 12th "History Hike" to the old Blue Light Mine in Silverado Canyon. Mike Boeck and Phil Brigandi did a great job leading the tour and interpreting the historical sites, (and we thank Karin Klein for pushing us in the right direction to begin with).  I should point out that OCHS had special permission to visit the mine area, and that none of the adits are open anymore. More photos from the trek are posted here. It was a fun day and a fascinating hike! Look for another OCHS History Hike to be announced for this coming fall.

Now,... On with the upcoming events -- right after this photo...
Chris gives a pep talk at the trail head. Photo by Mike Boeck.
First of all, if you haven't see the exhibit, "California Scene Paintings: 1920s-1970s," at the Irvine Museum, you should do so before it closes on May 8. It's great art by great artists, telling the story of California in the 20th Century.

Apr. 27 - Eric Lynxwiler will present "The Birth of Knott's Berry Farm: An Illustrated Presentation" at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, at 1pm. It will be followed by Boysenberry pie and two circa 1960 documentary shorts about Knott's: "Come and Get It" and "A Family Builds a Mountain." Tickets at
May 3 - This weekend will be packed full of events! On Saturday, check out the Costa Mesa Historical Society's "Early California Days" at the Estancia Adobe, or spend the day at the Tustin Area Historical Society's 18th Annual Home & Garden Tour in Old Town Tustin.

May 4 - On Sunday, take the family to the Rancho Days Fiesta, 10am-3pm at Heritage Hill Historical Park in El Toro, a.k.a. Lake Forest. There'll be ropin' and ridin' and all kinds o' old-timey music and dancin' along with crafts, historical tours, and other educational opportunities. I'll be there, tending the O.C. Archives' booth and giving away free wooly mammoths. (Just checking to make sure you were reading.) This is also the last weekend of the Ramona Pageant in Hemet, so this is clearly the weekend to overdose on "the romance of the ranchos." Olé!

May 3 & 4 - Railroad Days will be held at the Fullerton Train Station, 9am-5pm on both Saturday and Sunday. The BNSF Railway will let you clamber around a modern locomotive cab, and Disneyland's Ernest S. Marsh locomotive and Kalamazoo handcar will be on hand, along with countless other rail-related exhibits, displays and activities. This event is sponsored by the Southern California Railway Plaza Association.
Hiking through the woods. Photo by Charles Beal.
May 6 - I'll be speaking on "Tiki and Polynesian Pop in Orange County" (similar to a talk I gave in 2010)  at the Garden Grove Historical Society, 7pm, at the historic Stanley House at 12174 Euclid St. Once again, Hawaiian attire is welcomed, but not mandatory.

May 8 - Jeannine Pedersen of the Cooper Center will discuss "Archaeology in Orange County" at the Orange County Historical Society, 7:30pm, at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. (Remember: Archaeologists do not follow maps to buried treasure and X never, ever marks the spot.)

May 10 - Santa Ana Fire Museum will hold an open house, noon to 4pm. See my review of their grand opening here.

May 16 - The Orange County Historical Society will sell local history books (and sign up new members) at the Main Street Car Show in Garden Grove, 4-8pm.

May 17 - The Orange County Archives will be open to the public for Saturday hours, 10am to 3pm. (Other Saturdays in 2014 on which the Archives will be open include June 21, July 26, Aug. 30, Sept. 20, Oct. 18, Nov. 15, and Dec. 13.) Across the street, at the Howe-Waffle House, on May 17, the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society will hold an open house and Edgar Allen Poe/Edward Gorey event.

May 17 & 18 - Hal Lutskey's Vintage Postcard & Paper Show will return to the Glendale Civic Auditorium, Sat. 10am-5pm, and Sun.10am-4pm. It's worth the drive.
Overview of Silverado Canyon. Photo by Phil Brigandi.
May 25 - Histo-tainment guru Charles Phoenix will give another of his "Anaheimland" A/V spectacles at Loara Elementary School, Anaheim, at 2pm. Tickets available at

May 31 - The Anaheim Citrus Packing House gourmet food mall will finally have its grand opening. As a big fan of adaptive reuse, I look forward to see what's been done. And like everyone else, I'm tired of just peering in the windows. Bring on the food!

June 7 - The 125th birthday of the historic Howe-Waffle House and the 40th anniversary of the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society will be celebrated at a special open house, noon to 4pm, 120 Civic Center Dr. West, in Santa Ana.

June 7 - The Sugar Beet Festival is a community shin-dig for West O.C. and East Long Beach that sneaks in a local history focus. Local history groups can register to get a free spot for a booth at the festival. Surprisingly, the Sugar Beet Festival will be held not in the old sugar hub of Los Alamitos but at The Shops at Rossmoor.
Phil Brigandi at the Blue Light Mine's stamp mill site. Photo by C. Jepsen.
June 13 - ORANGE COUNTY'S 125th BIRTHDAY PARTY! It was the summer of 1889 when the southern part of Los Angeles County broke away to become Orange County. Accordingly, the Orange County Historical Society is holding an old-fashioned birthday party along with their annual dinner at the historic Ebell Club of Santa Ana! Historians Phil Brigandi and Chris Jepsen will present a look back at our struggle for independence and more than twelve decades of growth. Attendees will enjoy a silent auction featuring items like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm tickets, and much more. Other features include an excellent dinner buffet, an “O.C. History Trivia Game,” and great old-time music, birthday cake, and party favors for everyone! (I'll link to the event flyer and sign-up form the moment it's available.)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter, Orange County

Did he lose a bet?
Yes, that's Newport Beach's own John "Duke" Wayne spoofing his own macho image in an appearance as the Easter Bunny in a 1972 episode of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.(Thanks to Manny M. for tipping me off to this.)
/Wayne is given two lucky rabbit's feet.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Golden West vs. Goldenwest

Tractor pulling a 20-ton dredger for Golden West Celery & Produce Co., 1915.
The Mayor of Huntington Beach, Matthew Harper, (an old friend from my high school days), just asked me, "Goldenwest or Golden West? The question will be on the agenda on Monday."

The origins and correct spelling of this north-south street running through Huntington Beach and Westminster have led to more than a little head scratching in recent years. I still don't have all the answers, but here's what I've discovered so far...

Maps from 1911 to 1927 show the street’s name as Westminster Ave. One of the conventions for county roads was to name them for the community they led to.

By 1935 at the latest, the road was called Golden West Ave. It likely took its name from the Golden West Celery & Produce Co., which incorporated in 1902 and did its packing in the town of Smeltzer, near the spot where Edinger Ave. now crosses the railroad tracks. (It became the Golden West Warehouse Co. after the celery industry tanked.)

On a related note, the phrase “the Golden West” was often used in the late 1800s and early 1900s to evoke a certain romantic or nostalgic notion of California. Examples include the play and opera entitled “The Girl of the Golden West,” the local Golden West Citrus Association, and the fraternal service group known as the Native Sons of the Golden West.
Golden West College, named for the street, opened in 1966.
The earliest reference I’ve found (so far) to the one-word “Goldenwest” in connection with the street is on a 1962 county survey map (RSB 59/2-3). But that seems to have been a fluke rather than the norm at that time. Almost always, “Golden West” was the preferred spelling until at least the 1980s or 1990s.

Beginning around 1981, a few references to “Goldenwest Ave.” began to appear in newspapers. By the end of the 1980s it was showing up that way on county survey maps and a few street signs. In 1997, the Thomas Guide changed the spelling in their maps from “Golden West” to “Goldenwest.”

In the 2000s, the digital mapping software used by Huntington Beach's police and fire departments in responding to calls was unable to cope with a single street having multiple names. City Council Resolution 2009-76 adopted a single name for each street facing this problem. One of these "fixes" was the official changing of “Golden West Ave.” to “Goldenwest Street."

I guess we'll learn the next chapter of this story after the City Council meets on Monday.
Akiyama Goldfish Farm, Golden West Ave, looking north from Bolsa Ave., Westminster, circa 1960.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Most Historic Building in Orange County?

In 1796, Don Jesus Jose Maria Andreas Santiago Antonio Abramowitz was given permission by Mission San Juan Capistrano to build a home at what’s now 31971 Camino Capistrano, on the northwest corner at Del Obispo St. The men of the family mixed the adobe and made bricks while the women shaped the red clay roof tiles over their ample thighs.

Almost immediately upon its completion, cliff swallows began building their nests in the eaves of the house. One day, Fr. Junipero Serra was passing by the house just as the Don's son, Tavo, was shooing the birds away. Serra invited the birds to come live at the Mission, and they’ve been returning there ever since.(This annual migration, of course, inspired that beloved romantic hit tune of the 1940s, "Inka Dinka Doo.")

In December 1818, the cut-throat pirate Hippolyte de Bouchard ransacked San Juan Capistrano and commandeered the old adobe as his base of operations, burying a share of his pirate treasure under the home’s dirt floors. It is said that some of the treasure may yet remain.
In the 1850s, the building served as a stagecoach stop and roadside coffeehouse, operated by Juan Valdez. In the early 1850s, Valdez let the adobe’s basement be used as a hide-out for the notorious highwayman Joaquin Murrieta. The famous bandit fell in love with Valdez’ daughter, Guadalupe. After Murrieta’s death, Guadalupe could never bring herself to marry another man. She would tell the story of her whirlwind romance to anyone who would listen, right up until her death at the astonishing age of 135.

(The basement later also served as a hideout for Juan Flores, the Tomato Springs Bandit, and Patty Hearst during her time with the S.L.A. Each fugitive left their name etched in the adobe walls.)

For some years after the mission was secularized, the adobe served as the local Catholic Church. In fact, it was here, in 1865, that President Abraham Lincoln signed the document which returned the mission to the Church’s ownership. It’s said that his ghost can still be seen playing mumbleypeg on the porch each Presidents Day at midnight.

Shortly after the repatriation of the mission, the old adobe was purchased by Horst D. Westenfiel who sold beer and sandwiches. Ramona, (the half-Indian beauty for whom Helen Hunt Jackson’s named her blockbuster novel), famously ate part of a cheese sandwich there in the 1870s. Beginning around 1890 and continuing for half a century, the adobe was best known to tens of thousands of tourists as "The Place Where Ramona Ate A Cheese Sandwich." (Trade in Ramona/sandwich-related tourist tchotchkes kept the town's economy afloat even during the Great Depression.)

Next to the adobe was the famous “Old Hanging Tree,” on which many a criminal met a sudden end. Eventually the tree died, but its wood was used to build actress Helena Modjeska's home in the Santa Ana Mountains.
The main room as it appeared prior to the 1960 adaptive reuse project. Note the circa 1900 fireplace.
The back room of the adobe -- accessible via an outside door -- served as the town's first public library until the 1920s, when the building's new owner, Bessie May Mucho converted the whole building into a combination cathouse and speakeasy.

Rumrunners brought in booze through an old tunnel in the basement – once used for quick escapes by Murrieta – which ended in another basement on the far side of Camino Capistrano. The tunnel is sealed off now, but still exists and is said to be haunted.

Because it was so historically important, Walter Knott moved the adobe to Knott’s Berry Farm in 1941. But he moved it back when Capistrano locals complained.

In the early 1950s, the adobe was part of a large area suggested as a site for the future Disneyland by the Stanford Research Institute in a report developed for Walt Disney. Being close to a freeway and another major tourist attraction (the mission) was seen as a benefit. But the site was ultimately found unsuitable because a portion of it sat on an ancient Indian cemetery. Walt said a cemetery in his theme park would have been, "like, a major bummer, man."
Among the more modern of the many historical plaques that slather the adobe.
In 1961, the building was rehabbed and repurposed to become San Juan Capistrano Bank. Conveniently, the corner intended as the vault already had double-reinforced walls thanks to a brief period during which the building was used as the county jail.

Since then, it has remained a bank, cycling through a number of names, including Southern California First National Bank and California First Bank. It was already a Union Bank (its current name) in 1996 when an unarmed but extremely convincing robber made off with almost $2,000.

Many famous Orange County residents, including Gwen Stefani, Dean R. Koontz, John Wayne, Dennis Rodman, Richard Nixon and Octomom, have done their banking there.

A recent environmental impact report on the adobe found it to have no historical significance. It's scheduled to be bulldozed and replaced with a frozen yogurt stand next year.