Thursday, January 30, 2014

Skiing Old Saddleback,... revisited

In the Feburary 2014 installment of my monthly, "Ask the O.C. Answer Man" column in Orange Coast Magazine, I wrote that our local Santa Ana Mountains (and specifically Old Saddleback) were no place for skiing. I stand by my statement and continue to recommend against such activity. But apparently -- if you're determined -- it can, under certain rare circumstances, be done. Sort of.

Alert reader Ryan Lawler writes,  "...You are partially correct when saying the terrain is not at all suited to skiing... but since there are dirt roads carved into the side of the mountain which fill with snow, it IS entirely possible to have a downhill skiing experience in Orange County."

He also provided me with a link to the YouTube video you see above. You'll notice that the only place to ski is on the ten-foot-wide fire roads. (More on that later.)

"This year," he continued, "I plan to actually scout some suitable terrain for a proper downhill experience on an open slope, if we get enough coverage. Stay tuned!"

Good luck with that.

In the meantime, I thought I should do more digging to see if anyone else had tried doing this. It turns out O.C. Register columnist David Whiting also tried to ski Old Saddleback, back in December 2008.

He had to hike all the way up (partly on snowshoes) and had a good deal of trouble skiing back down because the roads weren't steep enough. He could only get up a little speed when the sun went down and the snow crusted over with ice -- allowing him to slide along the surface.

Whiting also noted that the "fire roads in winter are a mix of ice, heavy snow, light powder, fallen trees and buried branches," and are too narrow for a skiier to "carve a series of turns to slow down" or swivel their hips to come to an abrupt halt.

If one did pick up some speed, I would assume the switchbacks on those roads could come as a rather ugly surprise.

"...You stop skiing by either heading smack into the mountain side, or heading toward the other side of the road – a really steep drop off of snarled bushes," Whiting wrote. "Still, you could say I skied Saddleback. No one would call it graceful. No one should call it sane."
I also found another guy, "Rodngun762" who posted a video (shown below) of his own ski excursion down Old Saddleback. He too stuck mainly to the fire roads. And once again, grace and sanity did not seem to be the words to describe this activity. It reminded me a bit of the skateboarders who frequent the parking lot outside my office: They alternate between falling, balancing unsteadily, waving their arms around wildly, and falling more.

So, can you ski on Old Saddleback? Maybe so. But it's hardly recommended. And if you insist on trying it (assuming we ever see precipitation again), keep some pliers and a gallon of Bactine handy for encounters with cactus and other unfriendly flora. Also consider a helmet.

Or better yet, go to the beach.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Calico Mine Ride, Knott's Berry Farm

Bud Hurlbut at his Buena Park workshop in a Calico Mine Ride engine.
In 1960, Wendell "Bud" Hurlbut (shown above) opened a fun new attraction at Knott's Berry Farm that taught us all how the gold mines of California once operated. Bud and his Hurlbut Amuseument Co. designed, built and operated the Calico Mine Ride for decades before actually selling it to Knott's. It was the first real "dark ride" on the farm, and it's still surprisingly effective today. Visitors climb aboard a mine train and travel deep into the dark recesses of a mine, seeing both the activities of the miners and a variety of dramatic geologic features.

Knott's announced in November that the ride would be refurbished with the help of Garner Holt Productions, following in the footsteps of the recent rehab of Hurlbut's other key Knott's attraction, the Timber Mountain Log Ride. In early January, just hours before the ride was closed and work began, I took one last ride. The photos below all come from that evening.
Curiously, the real town of Calico, in San Bernardino County, was a silver (and later, borate) mining boom town. Hurlbut changed his version of the Calico Mine into a gold mine. One suspects that more people were familiar with the Gold Rush than with mining in the Mojave Desert. And let's face it, a gold mine just sounds sexier than a silver mine. And let's not even talk about borate.

(By the way, the Orange County Historical Society is organizing a group historical excursion to the real town of Calico on March 22nd. Click here for details.)
Miners of various ethnicity are depicted in the ride, including the Chinese, who played an important role in the Gold Rush.
In a recent press release, Knott's said the Calico Mine Ride "will undergo an all-encompassing refurbishment," complete with fifty "new state-of-the-art animatronic figures and enhanced scenery," along with "all new audio, [a] theme lighting system, and special effects."

You can see a bit more of the ride's original interior in the video clips I posted here back in 2008.
The 360-degree, four-story "Glory Hole" scene is viewed from two levels.
Garner Holt, president and founder of the company doing much of the refurbishment said he intends to "preserve and enhance the original story of a working gold mine deep in the heart of the Old West" and that the ride "will be filled with lifelike sounds and motion, while maintaining the uniquely authentic feel of the attraction..."

That sounds promising. This great attraction certainly needs and deserves some TLC after 54 years. But it would be a shame if someone were to go in and turn it into a series of humorous tableaus or started throwing in more historical inaccuracies. "Preserve" and "maintaining" sound like the right note to strike. Part of why the ride works is because -- despite the limitations of 1960s technology -- it does have a sense of authenticity.
Miners cut timbers to support new tunnels.
In theory, the revamped ride should reopen in June. I'll do my best to be on one of the first trains to roll back into the mountain. The Calico Mine Ride isn't just a fun way to convey California history -- The ride itself is also a piece of Orange County history and theme park history.
The tunnel begins to collapse as dynamite explodes all around.
Happy Talk Like A Grizzled Prospector Day, everyone!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Talk Like A Grizzled Prospector Day, Jan. 24th

Prospector on citrus label from Sydmer Ross Assoc., Placentia, Orange County, Calif.
Grab yer pick an' pan, 'cause this here Friday, Jan. 24th, is Talk Like A Grizzled Prospector Day (TLAGPD), dadgummit! That's the anniversary of th' discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill and the start of Californee's gold rush in 1848.

This year, even the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence, Missouri will par-tissy-pate in TLAGPD, and them easterners are even stretchin' it out over the entire weekend, (Jan. 24-26). Any gal 'r feller what moseys in an' talks like a grizzled prospector'll git $2 off the price of admission! With that much extra cash in yer pockets, ye could go into town, pay for a hot bath and still have enough left over fer a steak dinner with all the fixin's!

Them museum folk are also takin' votes on yer favorite animated prospector: Yosemite Sam, Yukon Cornelius, or Stinky Pete.

O' course, ye kin have yer own TLAGPD fandango right here in California, which I reckon makes more sense anywise. Invite some friends over fer a Gabby Hayes movie and a slug er two o' rot gut whiskey! Post some keen insights on the TLAGPD Facebook page, or round up yer amigos fer a trip to a local historic mining site. Or, seen as how it's casual Friday, ye might wear yer best red long johns and suspenders. But most of all, Talk Like A Grizzled Prospector, goldurnit!

By the by,... If you was puzzlin' over the purty pitchur at the top o' this here post, it's a pre-1913 orange crate label honorin' the California '49ers, who were sometimes called "Argonauts." (They traveled afar and faced danger t' find gold, jest like Jason and the Argonauts did while seekin' the golden fleece.)

The crate label came from Dos Pinos Groves in what's now the city of Fullerton. They had their own little-bitty packing house right on the ranch! Befittin' it's noble name, Argonaut was the brand used when they was packin' high-quality oranges fer Sunkist.

Santa Ana, Valen-Presidents Day, genealogy and a tree-shaped building

S. Hill & Sons Hardware & Dry Goods Store, Santa Ana.
This photo shows early Santa Ana hardware store proprietor Sam Hill (on the left) and is one of many similarly fascinating images that hang on the walls of the Howe-Waffle House Museum at 120 Civic Center Drive West, in Santa Ana. The Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society is hosting a "Lovers and Leaders Tea and Tour" (celebrating both Valentine's Day and Presidents' Day) in this beautiful Victorian house on Feb. 1, noon to 4pm. Come enjoy "a cup of tea and a selection of delicious sweets" as well as an exhibit of "valentines dating back to the 1800s, and historical presidential trivia, including how Teddy Roosevelt inspired the creation of the famous stuffed bear!" Adults $5, Seniors and Members $4, Students K-12 $3. A optional guided historical walking tours of Downtown Santa Ana (an additional $8) will begin at 2:30pm -- Call 714-547-9645 to RSVP. (A combined house and downtown walking tour ticket is available for $10; please arrive before 1:15.)

On April 19th the Church of Latter Day Saints Family History Center in Orange will hold an all-day fair including workshops that have applications to local history.  For example, last year, they offered Spanish Land Grants in the Southwest, How to Research a Cemetery, Photo Retouching for Beginners,  Document Sources, and County Websites, just to name a few.  No details on this year's program, but you might want to save the date on your calendar if you're interested.

By the way, I'm told the "Bear Tree" store at Hobby City -- one of the best remaining examples of programmatic architecture in Orange County -- is no more. And just like that, Southern California crept one more increment toward total blandness.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The ghosts of November 1970

I visited a county surplus warehouse this week and stumbled across a large chalkboard hanging at the top of the wall. It must have been used by the Orange County Registrar of Voters once, to keep track of the vote counts as each precinct reported in on election night. It's divided with strips of tape, with the candidates' names on the left and the vote counts on the right. When I got close enough to actually READ the names, I was rather surprised. This chalkboard hasn't been touched since election night 1970!
A close-up of one portion of the chalkboard.
The names on the board are quite a who's-who. For starters, Ronald Reagan defeated Jesse "Big Daddy" Unruh to win a second term as governor. And the son of former governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown -- a kid named Jerry Brown -- was elected Secretary of State.

Orange County businessman Howard Jarvis lost his bid to join the state's Board of Equalization. (But eight years later, his "Prop. 13" ballot measure would change California's tax structure forever.)
Over a decade later, Reagan and Jarvis meet at the White House.
Democrat Assemblyman (later State Controller) Kenneth Cory won reelection with the support of friends like Richard O'Neill. Interestingly, (at least to me), Cory's mother, Jane Gerber, was a great supporter of local history, and served on the Orange County Historical Commission in the 1980s.

Cory beat Republican challenger Bruce Nestande, a one-time protege of Reagan. Nestande made it to the Assembly a few years later and served there for three terms before being elected to the Orange County Board of Supervisors. As a young man still waiting for his political ship to come in, Nestande was given a job by fellow Republican Walter Knott as the manager of Knott's new Independence Hall (replica) attraction.
Nestande, Knott, and quasi-Colonial lasses at Knott's Berry Farm's Independence Hall, 1967.
Ralph B. Clark, who owned a gas station at La Palma and Magnolia in Anaheim, won the first of his four terms as County Supervisor on the night the chalkboard was last used. He pushed for responsible development, county parks, and our transportation infrastructure. He's largely responsible for our county's OCTA bus system, and he led the effort to bring the L.A. Rams to Anaheim.
Supervisor Ralph Clark introduces Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
Korean War veteran and longtime Balboa resident Robert E. Badham, was reelected to the State Assembly. He would later serve in Congress, where he was a member of the House Armed Services Committee. A fiscal conservative, he believed in protecting our natural resources and our coastline. I hear he also played a mean tuba.

John Birch Society leader John G. Schmitz won the 35th Congressional District seat. Later, he would become the American Independent Party's presidential candidate. He was also the father of teacher Mary Kay Letourneau (star of the scandal we'll call "Close Encounters of the Sixth Grade.")
I'll probably write more about Schmitz in a later post.
Another familiar name on the chalkboard was Robert Citron, who was elected County Treasurer for the first of many times that night. Although he consulted psychics and astrological charts, Citron apparently couldn't foresee his role in steering the County into bankruptcy in 1994. As county government reeled, he pleaded guilty to six felony counts and was sentenced to a year of work release, five years of supervised probation, and 1,000 hours of community service.

Strangely enough, Citron's father, Jesse, was the homeopathic doctor who supposedly convinced W.C. Fields he should give up scotch before it killed him. If karma worked, a drunk comedian would have convinced Bob to finally give up investment pool management before he helped facilitate the county's bankruptcy.

And those are just a handful of the interesting characters still to be found on that old chalkboard, 44 years later...

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Revenge of the Mystery Tikis!

The odd couple.
You may remember seeing the three tikis in today's post at Hobby City on the Anaheim/Stanton border on Beach Blvd. Carved by Milan Guanko, they graced the seashell store (later Radical Reptiles) from about 1959 until sometime around 2007. Even renowned tiki hunter Sven Kirsten hasn't been able to discover where they've gone.  If you know, or have a possible clue to share, please leave a note in the comments section or send me an email.
He shouldn't have tried the chili.
 In 1955, Jay DeArmond and his wife, Bea, began turning an old chicken ranch on Highway 39 into the colorful roadside curiosity they would later name Hobby City.  They chose the moniker "City" because Orange County already had a Farm (Knott's) and a Land (Disney). (Someday, I'll finish a lengthy piece about Hobby City, but I'd like to chat with the DeArmond's family first.)

In an Oct. 1, 1989 article, Register reporter Dean Takahashi described the DeArmond family enterprise as "perhaps Orange County's oldest living example of cluster retailing: putting retailers of the same or similar goods together to multiply their marketing power and attract customers who know what kind of item they want to buy or want to compare prices. ...On their own, Hobby City's stores -- such as Ansdell Piano, The Aquarium, The Bear Tree, Rocks & Gems, Stamp and Coin, Century Models, and Me and JJ's Miniatures -- would be outside the shopping limelight. But clustered together, they have become a destination for tourists and hard-core hobbyists."
All three tikis were lightly painted at some point -- Clearly not an original feature.
A number of the businesses were owned and operated by the DeArmonds themselves, including a doll museum built to resemble the White House, and the “Treasure Cove” Seashell & Driftwood Shop, which opened in 1959. Treasure Cove catered not just to seashell collectors, but also to the then-popular trend of decorating homes, patios and restaurants in nautical or faux-Polynesian motifs.

In 1999, a young man named Kevin Dunn opened Radical Reptiles in the old Treasure Cove building. He was only 19 when Bea DeArmond first talked to him about opening a reptile store and nature museum for children at Hobby City. The shop moved out in the mid-2000s, when it seemed Hobby City was destined to be bulldozed to make way for yet another damned condo complex. But the housing market tanked, so while Radical Reptiles (and other shops) are now missing, there are still no condos and Hobby City carries on.  (See my earlier posts: 1 and 2)
The Radical Reptiles facade in 2006, with tikis barely visible on the left.
A word about tiki carver Milan Flores Guanko (1906-1994): He had a carving shop at Gray's Nursery further down Beach Blvd. in Westminster. Guanko learned to carve from his father in the Philippines before immigrating to the U.S.  in 1928. During WWII, he began carving full-time. His tikis appeared at Disneyland, the Western Hills Hotel, the Royal Hawaiian Restaurant in Laguna Beach, The Islands Restaurant in Phoenix, Ren Clark’s Polynesian Village in Fort Worth, Texas, and many more restaurants, hotels and apartments throughout the world. He died at age 87 in Glendale, where he’d moved his shop in later years.

Again, if you know where these tikis ended up, or if you have other interesting information or contacts re Hobby City's history, please send me a note.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Balderdash at the barber shop

The barber shop "peek-in" at Knott's Berry Farm's Ghost Town.
The following July 5, 1902 bit of piffle is either the fabrication of some writer at the Los Angeles Times (which published the piece), or a fine example of a small businessman "getting a story placed" by sending the Times a ready-made item it would be delighted to print -- free plug and all. The former scenario would make the story a self-serving breech of journalistic ethics on the part of the paper. The latter would make it a rare example of P.R. practice at a time when Edward Bernays was still in short pants. Which is to say that either way, it's entertaining balderdash and should seem strangely familiar to modern audiences. Here's the article, (which also happens to include the kind of anti-Irish sentiment you don't see much anymore):
Santa Ana, July 4 – A double-fisted, red faced son of Erin sauntered into the barber shop of J. W. Burt of this city a few evenings ago and was waiting for his turn, when he chanced to spy a copy of The Times on the reading table. Turning to Burt, the fellow asked, “Do you take that paper here?”

“I do,” answered Burt.

“Good evening,” said the S. of E. as he started for the door. Once outside he turned and shouted back, “I will not patronize a man who reads that infamous sheet.”

“My dear sir,” replied Burt, “I have lived forty years without your support and I am sure I don’t care a d—n if you never set foot in this shop again. In fact you haven’t money enough to hire me to pull your whiskers out with a block and tackle.”

The stranger has not been seen near this barber shop since, and Burt still asserts that The Times is the best newspaper on the Pacific Coast for the men who labor with their muscles and brains.
I don’t have ready access to a 1902 directory for Santa Ana, but I can tell you than nobody by the name of Burt appears in either the 1901 nor the 1903 editions.

The only J.W. Burt I could find haunting Southern California in those days was a San Diegan who traveled around the southland ginning up new chapters for an organization called the League of Loyal Americans. He held one such chapter-organizing meeting in San Bernardino in October of 1901, and another the following month at Santa Ana's G.A.R. Hall.

Burt of the LLA was certainly something of a promoter, if not a P.R. man.

At the Santa Ana meeting, Judge J. A. Willson was elected temporary chairman and A. B. Paul secretary. According to the Times, “A committee was appointed, consisting of Z. B. West, H. A. Stone and H. Fairbanks, to report at the next meeting, to be called by the chairman, to report on permanent officers and the adoption of a constitution and bylaws.”

Clearly, there have been numerous groups calling themselves the “League of Loyal Americans,” over the past 113 years, and it’s unclear what this group in 1901 was all about, aside from general claims of patriotism. They seem not to have had much staying power hereabouts. (I asked several Santa Ana residents today, and none of them had heard of the LLA.)

If you know more about J. W. Burt or the League of Loyal Americans, drop us a note in the comments section.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Disneyland: Steps In Time - Tomorrowland

Disney artist Herb Ryman's concept illustration of Tomorrowland, circa 1954.
These "before, after and today" images all show essentially the same view of Disneyland's Tomorrowland, looking toward Harbor Blvd and away from the park's central hub. All the park's lands have undergone significant changes in the past 58 years or so, but few offer as many opportunities for "urban archaeology" tours as Tomorrowland.

When Disneyland opened, Tomorrowland wasn't really ready for prime time yet. Disney knew this, and tried to fill space with some uninspiring sponsor-driven exhibits, not unlike today's Innoventions. They filled more empty space with a snazzy 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea exhibit, promoting the Disney film and making good use of movie props. But overall, Tomorrowland was half-baked. Disney gradually improved the area in the coming years. The "turn over rate" for attractions was greater than in other lands. 
Tomorrowland in 1955, shortly after Disneyland's opening. Image courtesy Daveland.
Of course, Tomorrowland had to be updated periodically, to keep it from becoming Yesterdayland. This process has been more or less continuous, but there have been a few particularly notable sea changes.

In 1959, Tomorrowland was beefed up considerably with the opening of the Submarine Voyage and the Monorail -- both in the shadow of the new Matterhorn mountain.

But the land-wide makeover of Tomorrowland came in 1967 with a whole new environment that emphasized motion. PeopleMover tracks wound through the entire area and crossed paths with the Monorail. The Carousel of Progress building revolved just a short distance from a spiffed-up Autopia and the still-newish submarines. The Tomorrowland Terrace stage emerged almost magically out of the ground for regular musical performances. And the Rocket Jets spun high above everything.
The same view in 1974, taken from Yesterland's article on the PeopleMover.
The next major change came in 1998 with a strange re-do that suffered from some big problems. First of all, much of the "New Tomorrowland" was actually made up of tongue-in-cheek (although beautifully executed) references to past visions of the future. A view of the future from the late 1990s should not have highlighted motifs from Jules Verne and the late-1950s Space Age zeitgeist.

The land's redesign was also beset with funding problems which killed any truly impressive projects that might have been undertaken.

Meanwhile, the old Rocket Jets was recombobulated as Astro-Orbiter and placed at the entrance to Tomorrowland, blocking traffic flow and putting the look and feel of the park's central hub all out of balance.
The same angle, circa 2012 -- essentially as it appears today
Disney executives also decided at the last minute that an environmental theme should be included in the New Tomorrowland. This was put across by painting everything ugly dirt colors and by putting edible foods in the planters.It was bizarre and out of place.

The PeopleMover cars were pulled off their tracks and replaced with new Rocket Rods vehicles. This was supposed to make for a faster more thrilling ride. Unfortunately, the engineering of the tracks didn't allow for faster vehicles. So Rocket Rods was a slow ride with fake "speed" sounds (ZOOM! WHOOSH! VROOOM!) played over speakers in an attempt to fool riders. This was the big signature attraction for the New Tomorrowland. It broke down constantly until it was finally shuttered for good in 2000.

Some of the worst ideas from 1998 have already disappeared, and some new and updated attractions have debuted in Tomorrowland since then. But we're still waiting for the next major overhaul. Unfortunately, thinking about the future isn't something Americans seem to be very good at these days. As a culture, we have to dream up a better future before Disney can build a compact replica of it in Anaheim.

Meanwhile, for more Tomorrowland history than you can shake a stick at, check out Werner Weiss' Yesterland website. It's both fun and endlessly nostalgia-inducing.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

History of Public Health in Orange County

The 1914 County Hospital, which until recently stood at the center of UCI Medical Center.
Maybe you can help me with an article I'd like to put together for the Orange County Historical Society's monthly County Courier publication.I found an old article in the Orange County Health Department’s Public Health Report, Vol. 14, #9, Sept. 1964, outlining the history of public health in our fair county. It seemed a fine topic for an article, and I set about to edit, expand and improve on it for future republication. Here's some of the content excerpted from that article....


At the time of its formation, in 1889, Orange County had a population of about 13,000, and there were thirteen physicians in the area. Daily rounds were made either on horseback or in a light spring wagon or top buggy. Roads, by today’s standards, were hardly more than trails. They were dusty in the summer and muddy in the winter. Mud clung to horses’ hooves and loaded buggy wheels so badly that the doctor was fortunate to make two miles an hour. There were no bridges over the Santa Ana River or Santiago Creek, and there was water in these streams the year around. During the rainy season, swollen conditions made fording impossible.

Typhoid fever was everywhere, recurrent outbreaks of diphtheria and smallpox were common, tetanus (lockjaw) was frequent, and snakebite was often a cause of disability. Orange County also had one of the highest death rates from tuberculosis in the state. These conditions conspired to make the lot of the pioneer doctor a difficult one. However, events which occurred elsewhere in California at an earlier date completely altered the disease picture in this area.

The epidemics of cholera, typhoid fever, smallpox, plague, and typhus, which swept the gold rush communities of California in the 1850s, led to the establishment of the State Health Department in 1870. Under the far-sighted leadership of Dr. Thomas H. Logan, California became the third state in the union to establish such an agency.

Shortly thereafter, and as part of the same development, the feelings grew that local government should take primary responsibility in matters of the public’s health. By 1889, when Orange County was founded, it was required that every county and incorporated city have a health department. Guidance was usually provided by a local physician who also served as health officer.

Dr. James P. Boyd, who came to Orange County in 1888, was the county’s first health officer. He took office in 1889 and served until 1911. Dr. Boyd was succeeded by Dr. John Wehrly who served as County Physician and Health Officer until 1915. He was followed by Dr. Arthur H. Domann of Orange, who became the last part-time county health officer.

Dr. Domann -- a man of unusual vision -- advised the Board of Supervisors that the county had reached such a size (over 60,000) that its needs could best be met by selecting a well-trained public health physician to direct the health department’s activities.

After conferring with the State Health Officer, a representative of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Board of Supervisors, and other prominent citizens, Dr. Domann succeeded in obtaining a county appropriation of $10,000 for the first year. To this was added $2,500 each from the state and the Rockefeller Foundation, making a total of $15,000 for operating funds for the first year.

With the help of the Rockefeller Foundation a qualified health administrator, Dr. W. Leland Mitchell, was obtained. He assumed his duties on December 1, 1922. The first health department staff consisted of Dr. Mitchell and a public health nurse, Miss Isabel Durgan, who served as “assistant health officer, county nurse, and dairy inspector.”

This marked the beginning of full time public health services in Orange County. Health Department business was conducted from a small basement office – shared with the coroner and welfare director – located in the County Courthouse in Santa Ana.

Soon, another public health nurse was recruited; a sanitary inspector, Mr. W.W. Chandler, was hired; and a stenographer was employed. They were joined a short time later by a dairy inspector, Mr. John Bichan; and a bacteriologist, Miss Dorthy Beck, who was sent by the State Health Department to serve until another one could be found.

In September, 1923, the City of Seal Beach became the first incorporated city to contract with the County of Orange for health department services. The agreement called for the city to pay the county the lavish sum of $10 per month for these services.

In January, February, and March of 1924, the City of Santa Ana suffered a disastrous typhoid fever epidemic. Actually, there were three epidemics in succession – two traced to water and one to contaminated milk. In all, there were 632 cases of the disease.

At that time, Santa Ana’s “health department” consisted of a part-time physician who recognized that the epidemic could be controlled more efficiently by the county health unit. He advised the city council to make arrangements with the County Board of Supervisors to provide public health services for the city. This agreement was signed in March 1924.

The Santa Ana typhoid fever epidemic provided the opportunity for the health department to demonstrate the values to be derived from a full-time health agency with strong leadership, adequate resources, and skilled auxiliary staff. The State Health Department was contacted and, together with the County Health Department, engineers, physicians, bacteriologists, and other technical personnel were quickly rushed to the stricken city. The source of the epidemic soon became known, primarily through the efforts of the health department laboratory.

The cities of Orange, La Habra, and Huntington Beach, benefiting from the experience of Santa Ana, soon followed suit. In 1932 Newport Beach wrote a contract with the county and, since then, each new incorporated city has contracted for county health department services. Through this arrangement, the cities of Orange County and the county government have been able to provide facilities and professional staff of a quality and quantity that would not be possible, individually, except at a prohibitive cost.

The major responsibility for public health in a democratic society such as ours, falls, naturally, on the medical professionals, the medical institutions, and the people who are formally represented by the voluntary health agencies. In this triangular relationship between, the professions, the institutions, and the people, one part is as important and essential as another. Among the medical institutions (which include hospitals, medical schools, research institutions, and the health department), the health department is a relatively small but important institution. Because of its responsibility to help community leaders in identifying health problems and needs of the community and its obligation to provide support to the medical professions and other medical institutions of the community, the health department most often is cast in the roll of consultant and helper in community health.

In the discharge of its duties the Orange County Health Department had numerous and varied responsibilities. In addition to those mentioned above, these included:
  1. The accumulation and analysis of vital statistics, such as births and deaths, and the incidence of communicable disease – “the bookkeeping of humanity.”
  2. Investigation into community health problems and needs. These may include anything from a suspected nuisance to the need for additional hospital beds.
  3. Enforcement of laws and regulations relating to health.
  4. Education and communication between institutions, within the health profession and to the public.
  5. Direct services in the field of immunization – sufficient to supplement the efforts of the medical profession and medical institutions so that community immunization levels are adequate to control communicable diseases.
  6. Research activities designed to add new and useful knowledge about man and his environment and to develop better methods for solving old problems.
And that's about where the article ends. It definitely needs some pepping up, vetting, and great deal of fleshing out. And of course, a lot has happened since 1964, including the dawn of Medicaid and Medicare in 1965 and a host of organizational and philosophical changes. 

I'm hoping someone out there will be able to point me to some existing resources on the more recent history of public health in Orange County. I could plow through half a century of annual reports, monthly publications, and news clippings, but if someone's already done some good solid work on this subject, I'd rather just ask to quote them instead of reinventing the wheel. As for the current incarnation of the County health agency, I gleaned the following information from the Interwebs:

In the early 1980s, the Orange County Health Department became the Orange County Health Care Agency (HCA). By 2010, it was serving a population of well over 3 million. Today’s HCA provides public health, behavioral health, and medical services. It also provides administrative and financial services related to health care, and provides health services to those in county correctional facilities. The agency has 180 different funding sources and over is responsible for fulfilling at least 200 State and Federal mandates.

One could end such an article, of course, with something pithy about the new era of Obamacare and the related challenges and changes. Anyway, let me know if you have any good leads. Meanwhile, maybe the information posted above will do someone else some good...