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.