Friday, December 25, 2015

Wiwish you a Merry Christmas

...and a happy new year!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Los Pastores in Orange County

The photo above shows residents of La Habra’s Campo Colorado in 1934 dressed in their costumes for Los Pastores (“The Shepherds’ Play”) – a Christmas-season Mexican folk drama about the shepherds' pilgrimage to Bethlehem to see baby Jesus. (Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.)

If you grew up in California, you already know about La Posada, Christmas tamales, and the beauty of flickering luminarias. But I must admit that this gringo had to do a little digging to figure out what Los Pastores was about and its origins. Here's some of what I've come across thus far...

In medieval Europe, “miracle plays” were acted out by clergy as a way of teaching Bible stories to the illiterate masses. Eventually, those same masses began performing the plays themselves. But the storylines, characters and details of these folk dramas changed and became cheekier and racier over time. The Church banned these plays in the 15th Century.

In Spain, such plays were called autos del Nacimiento, and despite the ban, they were pressed into service again in the 16th Century to teach Bible stories to the illiterate natives of the New World. What was probably a relatively unadulterated version of Los Pastores (from the Church’s point of view) was used by Spanish missionaries in Mexico to relate the story of the Nativity.

Again, Los Pastores – sometimes called La Pastorela – was adopted by the public, and performances were moved to the town square. And again, the storylines, characters, and details of these folk dramas changed and gradually became more comical and entertaining. What had been a straightforward story of shepherds traveling to Bethlehem became a comedy. It was sort of the “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” version of the Nativity.

Although many versions exist, Los Pastores generally involves lazy, dim-witted, bumbling shepherds who can barely be talked into getting off their butts to go see the new Savior. As they travel, they are alternately protected by angels and tempted by the Devil and his minions with various distractions. An irascible hermit encountered along the way helps the shepherds stay the course. The story ends with the shepherds delivering gifts at the manger and the Devil admitting defeat.

Los Pastores was first brought to Alta California by the Franciscan missionaries. One version of the play was written in 1803 by Fr. Florencio Ibanez of Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad. Some have cited this as the first play written and performed in our state. And it certainly made its way to our own mission town of San Juan Capistrano.  At a 1922 meeting of the Orange County Historical Society, member Bessie Carrillo shared José Juan Olivares’ stories of 1850s Capistrano, including a mention of the Los Pastores players visiting "some of the houses," where they "always found a good dinner prepared for them."

A number of communities in Orange County still performed Los Pastores in the 1920s and 1930s. Many who had fled the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) came to California, bringing their traditions with them. The biggest and perhaps most popular local Los Pastores production was put on by the residents of the Santa Fe barrio in Placentia. But the play was performed by various groups in many local communities, including Anaheim, Buena Park, La Habra, El Modena, Delhi, and Placentia’s La Jolla barrio.
Shepherds urging Bartolo to rise. San Antonio, Texas, 1893. Photo courtesy American Folklore Society.
“In La Habra, the players went from ‘home to home where the Nacimiento altars [had] been arranged,’” writes Gilbert Gonzalez in his book, Labor and Community. “In La Jolla the Pastorela was given in the main street at a designated hour by the nearby Placentia group. … Traditional foods and singing capped all performances.”

In a 2008 Orange County Register article and again in a 2013 article for Somos Primos, O.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick Aguirre recalled the involvement of his grandfather, Jose Aguirre, who led the annual rehearsals and performances in Placentia from 1920 until his death in 1934. The Aguirres had already performed in the play for decades in Michoacán, Mexico before coming to the United States in 1918.

“For several weeks, nineteen men and two young boys, who played the female parts a la Shakespeare, practiced and memorized their lines at Jose's barbershop,” said Judge Aguirre. “Jesus Ortega, a fellow from Corona, California had memorized the entire “cuaderno” (script of the play). He would sit in the barbershop with one leg crossed over, slightly bent over with one hand on his forehead, smoking a cigarette and patiently reciting the lines whenever an actor forgot his cue or his lines…”

“Bedecked in colorful gowns, grotesque, brightly painted, hand-carved wooden masks, swords and staffs, the entourage would perform at a predetermined home,” said Judge Aguirre. Each performance lasted about two hours.

“…The play was presented at pre-arranged homes several times during the Nativity season,” he said. “After the performance the actors were treated to a Christmas feast of tamales, menudo, beans, rice, greens, fruit, cakes, bunuelos, sweet bread, hot chocolate and spirits. The troupe performed all over Orange County and even Los Angeles County. In 1933 they presented in a home in the Simon’s brickyard neighborhood in Montebello. My Dad who was 13 years old played the part of Gila, a female Angel… My great uncles Cistos Raya and Marcial Aguirre played shepherds. My uncle Sydney Aguirre and great uncle Luz Guerrero portrayed devils. My grandfather acted the role of Lucifer. He hand-carved and painted the elaborate wooden mask which had a serpent protruding from the mouth.”

Aguirre also outlined the first portion of the Placentia version of the play, beginning with a chorus singing about the joyous arrival of the Savior. The hymn’s lyrics are fairly universal except for the last bit in which tamales are offered to the Holy Family.

“Suddenly Lucifer appears resplendent in a flowing gown with a grotesque, brightly painted wooden mask,” said Aguirre. “He curses his fall from grace, asserts his control over man, then hides when he sees seven shepherds approaching. They are plainly dressed but carry elaborately decorated seven-foot crooks and beaded satchels.”

Tebano, one of the shepherds, enters and proclaims that an Angel appeared to him, announcing the birth of Christ, and telling them all to travel to Bethlehem. The rest of the story unfolded from there.

The performances of Los Pastores in La Habra were so popular that even the rehersals were crowded with the actors family members, who seemed pleased to hear the story again and again. The presentations themselves drew people from all over north Orange County, according to Gonzales: “The group added a procession and singing, ‘led by men [in brilliant costumes] carrying staffs with beautiful colors and adorned with bells.’”

For the 1928-1929 holiday season, two performances of the play were given by a group from Delhi under the direction of adult education teacher Mrs. Jessie Hayden. The group performed one night at the Logan barrio night school and another at the Fairyland Dance Hall, 2701 S. Main St., in Delhi.
Devils with shepherd boy. San Antonio, Texas, 1893. Photo courtesy American Folklore Society.

“…Most of the cast has been familiar with the various roles for years,” reported the Santa Ana Register. “Members of the cast planned and made their costumes and stage settings,… The Spanish orchestra with Miss Ruth Frotheringham at the piano, presented several Spanish selections between the acts and Miss Henrietta Armendares sang two Spanish songs.”

(In 1934, Hayden would complete her master’s thesis at Claremont College: The La Habra Experiment in Mexican Social Education, which would cite her experiences with productions of Los Pastores in Orange County.)

In their coverage of the 1931 Delhi production, the Register noted that at least 20 different versions of the play were performed in various parts of Mexico at the time, and that the version director Pablo Lopez had selected came from Zacatecas. It was called “The Coming of the Messiah,” and it included roles for more players than most versions, but it sounds like the storyline was a bit of a train wreck.

It began with Lucifer calling together his vices: Sin, Avarice, Pride, Anger, Envy, etc., and sending them out into the world to wreak havoc in the world. The Register article continues,…

“The next scene shows the shepherds awakening in the cold dawn, calling to one another, joking, complaining of the climate and the scarcity of food. The all pray that God will bless their labors and increase their flocks. Then the shepherdesses go to care for their hens and doves and the shepherds depart.

“The second act opens with a little dove scene between the shepherds and shepherdesses. There is a song, “I Shall Die, I Shall Die, Unless You Comfort Me.” Then Lucindo comes from Bethlehem and all ask news of the Messiah. A present brought for one of the shepherdesses proves to be a rat to frighten her; notwithstanding, there is soon a double wedding and a wedding feast. “Let us go to Bethlehem,” cry the shepherds, but the devil comes and opens a box of snuff to confuse them. The only one he can deceive is poor Bato, who is tempted by food and wine. Bato eats so much that his stomach begins to ache. He sings, “I Am Dying,” but the other shepherds cure him. An angel appears announcing the nativity. The final scene shows the shepherds kneeling in adoration before the manger, singing their glorias.”

Both the 1929 and 1931 Delhi productions were held in January rather than the usual pre-Christmas timeframe. More interestingly, it seems that these particular productions involved, or may have been instigated by, those teaching English and “Americanization” to new immigrants from Mexico. Once again, it was being used as a teaching tool.

But clearly, the schools were not always involved. In her book, Conquests and Historical Identities in California, 1769-1936, Lisbeth Haas described an incident in another Delhi production of the play:

"...A resident related his version of the play to the neighborhood priest orally; the priest then wrote it out into the script, but eliminated those parts he considered irreverent or satirical. Los Pastores was rehearsed in a pool hall donated by a community member... When performing the piece, the actors reinserted all the omitted passages and performed it the way they had in Mexico. The actors even sent to a pueblo in central Mexico for the masks used in the play.”

In a faint echo of the 15th Century, clergy once again tried and failed to reign in the popular folk tradition.

But it was the changing times, not censorship, which brought the local performances to an end in the late 1930s. The play’s undertaking required a great deal of “time, effort and expense,” writes Gonzalez, and the tradition was put on indefinite hold by the deepening Depression, as well as “by the 1936 pickers strike, by the 1938 flood, and finally by the war. The coming of age of the second generation in the 1940s did not include the oral and visual tradition known as the Pastorela.” 

I’m unaware of anyone performing the play in Orange County today, but the tradition lives on in several more professionally staged productions in New Mexico and Texas. A movie version, “La Pastorela,” with Linda Ronstadt, Cheech Marin and Paul Rodriguez was released in 1993. (Yes, I've ordered a DVD. But no, it hasn't arrived yet.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Watson's home in the crosshairs

Katie Schroeder of the Orange Community Historical Society writes, "You might want to... get the word out. The home of Keller Watson (Watson's Drug Store) is on the chopping block to be demo'd! There is a Design Review Committee meeting tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. [at the City of Orange City Hall] for those opposed of this plan. They want to construct a 22-bedroom apartment complex on the property. Here are the details from Old Towne Preservation Association's website.

Longtime researcher of historic Orange properties Andrea Donahue adds, "One of their arguments is: 'No evidence was found that Watson Jr. used his residence for work or important social affairs.' Is that an actual necessary criteria? The agenda item also mentions 'striking interior architecture.' Staff considers 1942 construction to be correct..."

And as usual, city guesstimates prove to be just that: guesstimates.

For those who don't read the comments section below, historian Phil Brigandi passes along the following: "The correct date is 1941. Kellar drew the rough sketches and his builder created the finished plans. 'I just hit on a good style,' Kellar later said. It is a landmark house and one of the few from that era in downtown Orange."

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Halloween in the Santa Ana Register, 1910-1920

Halloween spot art from the Santa Ana Register, 1911.
As a local historian, I spend a lot of time rummaging through the old Santa Ana Register (now known as the Orange County Register) and other newspapers of yore. In the process of looking for specific things, I always end up running across other cool stuff that seems worth copying and saving for future reference. Some of latter is related to Halloween because,... well,... because I love the holiday!  Here are a few glimpses of Orange County Halloweens past...
Dragon Confectionery ad, Santa Ana Register, Oct. 11, 1912.
The Dragon Confectionery had a great name -- One that was especially well suited to a holiday full of scary imaginary creatures. As of 1912 this stalwart Downtown Santa Ana business was offering a wide array of holiday-specific goodies and decorations. Most of the advertised goods above are familiar, but I had to turn to Merriam-Webster to discover that Jack Horner Pies are "an ornamental pie-shaped container from which favors or toys are extracted often by pulling a ribbon at a party." So that would go nice with the party favors, baskets for salted almonds and assorted Halloween candies, pies and cakes. I want to go to a party like this on Halloween!

Balboa Pavilion ad, Santa Ana Register, Oct. 28, 1910.
The Balboa Pavilion isn't the first place I think of at Halloween. Today, it's the folks across the water on Balboa Island who get all the attention with their elaborate holiday "yard" displays. (Sans yards.) But in 1910, and for a number of years before and after, the Pavilion was host to a big annual Halloween Dance. Sounds like fun! 
Party decorations ad, Santa Ana Register, Oct. 25, 1920.
Halloween and book stores are both pretty high on the list of things I'm fond of, and here they are together in the same place! In fact, the Santa Ana Book Store was long a major local supplier of Halloween decorations and party favors in the early Twentieth Century.

By the way, this year's Anaheim Halloween Parade  -- a local tradition since the 1920s -- was a real corker. (Photos here.) Hope you didn't miss it. If you did, see it next year!

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

O.C. narrowly averted counter-culture uprising

Crazed beatniks Lera Chapman and Bobby Schaal stick it to the man!
How did Orange County survive the tumultuous youth movement and violent social upheaval of the 1960s? It wasn't easy, as this Oct. 1, 1965 Los Angeles Times article by Jack Boettner starkly illustrates...

The wide tie fad has been stopped before it could get rolling in the Orange Unified School District’s junior high schools.

Students in the 9th grades at Yorba and McPherson junior high schools began showing up in dad’s old four-in-hands of the mid-1940s with the opening of the fall term. But it did not set well with the administration.

Thursday was the last day the broad and bold neck wear could be worn at Yorba.

Homer Jurgens, Yorba vice principal, said the ties “just don’t fit in with the school’s dress code. We feel they are inappropriate for school wear. They are apt to be disturbing in the classroom situation. We know fads do exist, but we have to be careful with certain ones. The dress code was established by a combination of parents, faculty and students last year.”

Jurgens said there has been no formal announcement that the ties must be discontinued, but that the administrators had made the decision after conferring with several teachers. He said he has been breaking the word to the students individually.

George Osborn, principal and McPherson, said the wearing of the wide tie was brought to a halt because they are unacceptable and might cause a “commotion” in class. He said they did not meet the criteria of a dress code drawn up by staff and students.

 “We try to keep the dress within reason,” he said, “yet leave the individual his freedom. If we allowed the  ties, pith helmets might be next.”

Portola Junior High School reported none of its students had joined the wide-tie trend.

Bobby Schaal, 13, one of the Yorba students who has taken to the ties, said one student brought 84 ties to school and was selling them at 10 cents apiece.

Why does he wear them?

“It’s something different,” Bobby said. “I guess you could say it’s a way to chop the old timers.”

He said he was not disappointed that the school had put an end to the mounting fad.

Thus was chaos and rioting averted in Orange County. And indeed, pith helmets never got a chance to wreak their special brand of counter-cultual mayhem. But the kids in Orange were ahead of their time. The following year, British fashion designer Michael Fish would bring back wide, loud neckties. By the late 1960s and early 1970s much of the Western world was wearing them. Even (or perhaps especially) junior high school vice principals! Along with avocado-colored appliances, brutalist architecture and bad men's hairstyles, it was part of what historians now call the "Uglification of America."

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Knott's Halloween history event at OCHS

Boot Hill, Knott's Berry Farm, 1990. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.
Love Halloween? Love theme park history? Boy, have I got the event for you! Join the Orange County Historical Society and authors Ted Dougherty and Eric Lynxwiler for some Halloween fun and holiday history on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. This event is open to the public at no cost.

Halloween is now a multi-billion dollar industry. Yet long before costume-shop chains and Halloween stores cropped up every October, the Halloween season was far more innocent and simple. Many remember when the season entailed trick-or-treating in home-made costumes among a few illuminated porch decorations. That all changed in the 1970s when Halloween's popularity began to explode. One of the pioneers of the now-global Halloween industry was Orange County's own Knott's Berry Farm. Take a trip back in time with authors and historians, Ted Dougherty and Eric Lynxwiler as they share how the family-friendly Knott's Berry Farm theme park was at the forefront in creating a spooky form of entertainment that has been emulated at theme parks around the world.
Ted Dougherty is a historian and author of the award-winning book, Knott's Halloween Haunt: A Picture History. In addition to scaring thousands of guests for ten seasons as a "werewolf" at Knott's, Ted has also consulted, provided historical tours and trained characters for the longest running Halloween theme park in the world, Knott's Scary Farm's Halloween Haunt. Due to his expertise of things that go bump in the night, Ted has worked as an Associate Producer for the documentary, Season of Screams, and featured in numerous media outlets, including Newsweek, the History Channel and CNN. 

Urban anthropologist J. Eric Lynxwiler is the co-author of Knott's Preserved:  From Boysenberry to Theme Park, The History of Knott's Berry Farm, and Wilshire Boulevard:  Grand Concourse of Los Angeles.  Neon enthusiasts may know Eric as the affable host of the Museum of Neon Art's Neon Cruise. Downtown L.A. preservationists know him as an L.A. Conservancy docent for the Broadway Theater district.  While attending UCLA, he spent one school year behind the counter of Knott's shooting gallery and, more recently, worked as theme park's graphic designer on signage, brochures, and its new series of Berry-Market-labeled preserves.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Knott's, Modern architecture, Irvine, Bowers, etc.

So the good news is you're finally tall enough to go on the Sky Jump and the Corkscrew at Knott's Berry Farm. The bad news is the Corkscrew (the world's first inverting steel roller coaster) left the farm in 1989 and is now at Silverwood Theme Park in Idaho. Also, the parachutes of the Sky Jump ceased operation in 1999. Ah, well,... We like the Calico Mine Ride better anyway.

Architectural historian extraordinare Alan Hess has two upcoming speaking engagements you can attend. First, tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. at the Laguna Art Museum, Alan will discuss California Modern architecture. Next month, to celebrate the City of Irvine's 50th Anniversary, Alan will speak at the Great Park Gallery, Sept. 19, 1:00 p.m. You may still have trouble saying "Great Park" with a straight face, but this is a darn good reason to drive out there.

I noticed two more articles on the Bowers Museum Blog that I hadn't noticed before. One is about the amazing coffered ceiling in their Rancho Room. The other describes the background on a photo of a burst solar heater during the "Big Freeze" of 1937. Yes, that "technology" has been around since at least 1891.

And you thought Al Gore invented solar panels! He did not. That's the Internet you're thinking of.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Flogged like a beast" in Dana Point!

Book cover art appealing to a, um, ... niche audience. 
It's pulp non-fiction! I've never before seen a book related to Orange County history presented with a cover quite like this. Two Years Before the Mast is, of course, Richard Henry Dana, Jr.'s classic memoir of life as a sailor in the 1830s (published in 1840). It was a muckraking book, intended to shine a light on the terrible treatment of common sailors and to inspire reform. Locally, however, it is now sometimes misidentified as primarily being a romantic adventure tale.

The section of the book that's retold most often in O.C. is the part where Dana described his visit to the cove below San Juan Capistrano that we now call Dana Point. He arrived as a crew member aboard the Pilgrim, which had come to collect cow hides from the mission. He described the area and recounted the process of flinging hides down from the bluff-tops to the beach below, where they were gathered and taken by rowboat to the waiting ship. He famously called this cove "the only romantic spot on the coast."

Every year, the Dana Point Historical Society does a nonstop public reading of Dana's book. In Dana Point Harbor, there's a replica of the Pilgrim, which is visited by thousands of school children each year. The harbor also hosts an annual Tallship Festival. And a larger-than-life statue of Dana (which looks nothing like him) seems to gaze out toward the horizon. But seldom do you see the Chamber of Commerce using the sort of language you find on this book cover:
The back cover. Only slightly less lurid than the front..
This 1953 paperback edition from the Almat Publishing Corp. was "edited for modern reading" by Marshall McClintock. Almat's Pyramid Books imprint had a knack for churning out pulps with half-naked people on the covers. They featured titles like The Shame of Mary Quinn, The Heavenly Sinner, and The Divine Passion. It's sort of hilarious that they gave the same treatment to Dana.

My thanks to Mark for sending this copy along to the Orange County Archives. One never knows what amazing O.C.-related curiosities he's going to send our way. Just when I think I've seen every form of Orange Countiana, he or one of our other friends/patrons surprises me with something obscure. And that's a very good thing. It's a slow day when you don't learn something new.
Promotional slug from inside the book.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Who owned O.C.’s roads in 1918?

Motoring in Orange County, 1910s
The history of our roads is fascinating, and today I came across a curious 1918 newspaper article that sheds some light on that history.  But first, a bit of background…

Abel “Horse Face” Stearns (and his Stearns Rancho Company) was once the largest landholder in Southern California. He had vast holdings across today’s Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Orange Counties. Here in O.C., his lands included the following ranchos: La Habra, Los Coyotes, San Juan Cajón de Santa Ana, Las Bolsas and Bolsa Chica. But the drought of the 1860s devastated the cattle industry and Stearns was forced to throw in with a real estate partnership to get out from under crushing debt. The partnership, called the Robinson Trust, successfully brought Stearns back into the black by selling land. Stearns died in 1871, but his company went marching along.

The following article, from the May 13, 1918 Santa Ana Register, refers to a document in Orange County’s Book of Deeds 324, page 193:


The county has received an unusual, rather remarkable deed. It covers strips of property from Yorba to the sea, and it slides into deeds given as far back as 1868. The deed, presented to the Board of Supervisors today by the Stearns Rancho Company, is for all interest that the company has in strips of land reserved for road purposes.

As deeds were given by Alfred Robinson, trustee for the ranch company, from 1868 on down to the present day, there were reservations made for sixty-foot roads at township and section lines and for forty-foot roads at quarter-section lines. These reservations left title in the ranch company. Since then, whenever a new road was needed to which the county did not have a deed, the ranch company has been called upon to give deeds.

The matter has been of considerable annoyance to the ranch company as well as to others. The ranch company decided to give over to the county every right it has in the reservations, and to that end it has offered the county a deed. That deed is a blanket deed. It merely says that to the county it deeds all of its reservations for road, natural stream and ditch purposes.
Whittier Blvd. in the La Habra area, looking west, circa 1918

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Malls and shopping centers, 1977

Fashion Island, Newport Beach.
Today I stumbled across a copy of the Shopping Center Development Handbook, a 1977 book about the planning of malls and large shopping centers published by the Urban Land Institute. It's fascinating reading if you're interested in such things, and it uses examples from all over the country. I thought I'd share the book's few Orange County images here on the blog.

Westminster Mall sits on a 93-acre triangular site.
Nostalgia is to history what pine-tree-shaped air fresheners are to forests. But that doesn't mean I don't have something nostalgic hanging from my rearview mirror. Nostalgia has its place, and sometimes it makes us stop and think about the larger and deeper scope of history.

Little inspires more nostalgia in Orange Countians than the shopping malls and shopping centers they grew up with. For me, it's memories of The Broadway, B. Dalton Books, Big Boy Jr., and the fresh-squeezed lemonade stand at Huntington Center (before it became the mess that is "Bella Terra"). It's also Silverwood's, koi ponds, Modernist playgrounds, and tostadas in the Robinson's lunchroom at Fashion Island. For you, it may be fond memories of shopping with your parents or friends at the Mall of Orange, the Laguna Hills Mall, or Fashion Square.
La Paz Plaza, Mission Viejo

I hope at least a few of our local malls survive. It's hard to get nostalgic over cookie-cutter big box stores.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Come to where the flavor is,... Mission Viejo!

Look! It's another great Mission Viejo promotional film from the 1970s! Watch for those Philip Morris product placements! (*cough!*)

What? You didn't know that the Mission Viejo Co. was once owned by an enormous tobacco company?

The Mission Viejo Co. was founded in 1963 by Donald Bren and the O'Neill family. Later, Bren sold his part of the company and bought the Irvine Co. instead. In 1969, Philip Morris invested in the Mission Viejo Co. and in 1972 they bought it outright. The company developed Mission Viejo, Aliso Viejo, and some communities in other states. The cancer people finally sold the company to developer J.F. Shea Co. in 1997.

(Previous Mission Viejo film posted here.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Orange and the Dream of California

Fruit crate art (1920s), extolling twin miracles: Oranges and California.
Author David Boulé will speak on “The Orange and the Dream of California” at the Orange County Historical Society’s season kick-off program, Sept. 10, 2015, at Sherman Library & Gardens, 2647 E. Coast Highway, in Corona del Mar. A social hour and optional potluck of appetizers and desserts will begin at 6:30 p.m., followed by the program at 7:30 p.m. The event is free to the public, and I hope to see you there!

In his presentation, Boulé will explore the five hundred year, intertwined history of the orange and California and how these two iconic entities have built upon one another to feed the imagination and conjure both a compelling fantasy and a remarkable reality.
David Boulé
 “The image of California as paradise and the orange as unique among all fruit has endured for centuries because, partially, these things are true,” Boulé writes. “These truths, recognized by chroniclers, journalists, scientists, growers and other objective observers, have then been magnified by poets and boosters, artists and hucksters, songwriters and bureaucrats – with both artistic and commercial motivation – to appeal to people’s continuing desire to believe that such exceptional perfection can really exist.”

A third generation Californian, Boulé has a lifelong fascination with the history, culture, achievements and uniqueness of the region. For decades he has scoured paper ephemera shows, flea markets, antique stores, the Internet, libraries, museums and bookshops to collect items and information relating to the California citrus industry.  A career in marketing communication has given him particular interest and insight into how the orange helped enhance the popular image of California as a place of potential, reinvention and fulfillment.

1915 brochure promoting Orange County
Explaining how collections and research like his can fill in gaps left in more general, academic approaches, Boulé adds, “I believe an individual zeal and a personal focus can help not only gather materials that might otherwise be dispersed and kept out of context, but add depth and texture to more traditional research approaches.”

David’s collection includes historic photographs, hundreds of postcards, rare advertising and marketing materials, books, phonograph records, posters, journals and personal papers, newspapers and press clippings, and many California orange-themed souvenirs and promotional items.  His collection has been featured in exhibits, he has given numerous presentations. His book, The Orange and Dream of California, was published in 2014 by Angel City Press and will be available for sale at the event.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Mission Viejo, 1967

Here's a 20-minute film from 1967, marketing the new community of Mission Viejo. In his indispesable book, Orange County Place Names A to Z (2006), Phil Brigandi writes, "In 1963, the O'Neill family and a group of investors formed the Mission Viejo Company to develop a master planned community on the northern end of the old Rancho Mission Viejo. The first families arrived here in 1966, and the City of Mission Viejo was incorporated in 1988."

The film footage here includes La Paz Plaza, schools, parks, rolling hills, grazing sheep, Mission Viejo's first church (Lutheran), the then-new Orange County Airport terminal, UCI, Fashion Island, Newport Harbor, and aerial views of the contruction of Dana Point Harbor. For further memories of childhoold there's a  shot of the contruction of Old MacDonald's Farm and an Indian Guides pinewood derby. Interior views of "Spanish Modern" (or perhaps Man of La Mancha Modern?) tract homes will also take you back.

Observant viewers will notice both Richard O'Neill and Tony Moiso of the Rancho Mission Viejo in planning meeting scenes. And just to make sure you know it's the late 1960s, it's backed with easy listening version of Beatles hits. My thanks to Hedy Henderson for pointing out this great footage!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Jewish History and early O.C. Baseball

The Heritage Museum of Orange County (3101 W. Harvard St., Santa Ana) has been hosting some great historical programs in their speaker series. These Saturday events begin with refreshments at 9am, followed by a program at 10am. The next two are,...
  • July 25, 2015: Dalia Taft, Archivist, Orange County Jewish Society — “Celebrating 158 Years of Jewish Orange County: The Early Years
  • Aug. 15, 2015: Luis Fernandez, Professor of History, Santa Ana College - “America’s Favorite Passtime: Early Orange County Baseball

Friday, July 17, 2015

Disneyland turns 60!

Walt Disney with Peter Ellenshaw's 1954 concept map of Disneyland.
Today is the 60th anniversary of the TV show and press preview that opened Disneyland. Tomorrow, July 18th, will be the 60th anniversary of the first day the general public was allowed into the park. To mark the occasion, the great architectural historian Alan Hess left a great post on Facebook. But since Facebook posts are (in some ways) so ephemeral, I am reposting it here, with apologies:
The single most important piece of Modern architecture and planning in the twentieth century opened July 17, 1955. Walt Disney's brilliant insight was to design it with his own studio animators and set designers -- masters of the 20th century's premier technology, the movies. They went far beyond International Style architects' fixation on structural expression to shape space and form using the techniques of film -- editing, sequencing, framing, imagery, color, story telling -- to tap into the heart of modern life.
In just three sentences, Alan manages to say what needs to be said. But I'll prattle on now anyway,...

It's disturbing how little substantive historical research/writing has been done about a place as important and beloved as Disneyland. But I'm very thankful for those who have provided us with what little meaninful work we do have. David Mumford, Bruce Gordon, the Jantzen brothers, Sam Gennawey, Werner Weiss and a handful of others come to mind. It's hard to research a corporation that controls its image and records so tightly. They manage their history like a valuable asset, which I suppose it is. Thus, anything written that goes beyond the depth of a press release is a notable achievement. Kudos to our Disneyland historians!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Green Kat, Westminster

Photo courtesy Westminster Historical Society, with image editing by Bob Ash.
When I set out to find the story of a tavern, I never expected to find an anemic chimp, illegal gambling, witchcraft, women’s softball stars, and a pre-World War II affirmation of brotherly love between Japan and America. But here we are…

A month ago, longtime Westminsterite Chris Garland asked me about the Green Kat Café. This led me to discover TWO convoluted tales that turned out to be part of the same story. My previous green-feline-related post actually intertwines with the following tale, although that tale was set in Santa Ana and this one takes place in Westminster.
Interior of the Green Kat.
The Green Kat began as the Green Gables Cafe, built at the southwest corner of Beach Boulevard and Westminster Boulevard in "New Westminster" in the late 1920s or the early 1930s. New Westminster, was a highway town composed of about 10 subdivisions developed about a mile east of “old” Westminster between 1927 and 1929. The area was later incorporated into the City of Westminster. On a prominent corner of the highway, surrounded by miles of flat, open fields and few buildings of note, the Green Gables almost immediately became a landmark.

"It was very well known in the early years," said Westminster historian and former mayor Joy Neugebauer, "because it was exactly the midpoint between Downtown Santa Ana and Downtown Long Beach. People would use it to give directions."

And so it was that Westminster – founded by a minister as a temperance colony in 1870 – ended up with a tavern as probably its most recognizable landmark.
Ad from the Santa Ana Register, June 2, 1941
The Green Gables appears in the local directories around late 1935, and the first owners were Allen and Marjorie Vorhis (or Voorhees). Along with a service station just across Beach Blvd., its architectural style was an early example of Westminster's spotty Tudor Revival architectural theme.

Tony W. Shackles, a charter member of the Midway City American Legion Post, bought the café in Fall 1937. In April 1940, he sold it to easterners Mrs. Jean Reynolds and Mrs. Josephine Smith, although it was primarily Smith who managed the place. She also remodeled and refurbished the dining areas and kitchen and began calling it the Green Gables Inn. Soon after, the Long Beach Independent wrote, "Dancing is on every week night until 2 a.m. Sunday, dancing is from 3 p.m. to 10. Ray Chapman and his dance band play. Jam session is a feature every Monday, amateur night is every Friday. The popularity of Green Gables Inn is growing steadily as indicated from week to week." 

Perhaps revealing one of the secrets of their success, in 1941 they were busted for having illegal slot machines.
Car towed alongside the Green Kat.
In October 1944 the Green Gables Inn became The Normandy. Mr. and Mrs. Ray Smith of Westminster were the new owners and Harry Greenwood was the manager. By 1951, the proprietors were L. C. Arnold and C. W. Ahlbin.

Meanwhile, Orval W. Hinegardner (1910-1991), who’d closed his Green Cat Café and Kit Kat Cocktail Lounge in Santa Ana in 1940, was still ricocheting around the Southern California restaurant scene. This was nothing new for Orval. Even when he was proprietor of the Green Cat, he also operated McNee’s Café on Whittier Blvd. in Whittier, where his father, (Stanton), was the cook and another Hinegardner, (Clifford), was assistant manager. Orval had a penchant for hopping from one thing to another – a trait that probably wasn’t lost on his four (or more) wives.

Later in the 1940s he would live in El Monte (no wife listed in the directories), and worked at the oddly-named Hi-Knees Party House in Monterey Park.
From the Register, Nov. 7, 1941. I would pay to see a "startling dance band."
But in 1952, The Normandy became the Green Kat Café, and Orval – now living in sunny Corona del Mar – was the new owner. Unlike Santa Ana’s Green Cat, which had once held a fine reputation even among Orange County’s civic leaders, Westminster’s Green Kat was a less-reputable tavern.

“It was a dive,” said longtime Orange County Historical Commissioner Don Dobmeier. “It was a large nondescript structure, painted green. I never went in, but there always seemed to be a lot of cars in front of it, even at 8:00 in the morning.”

It appears Orval wasn’t too hands-on this time. The new Green Kat was managed by "Jeanne" (according to newspaper ads) and by custom motorcycle genius/hellraiser Herk Currie.   

"It was the most popular night spot in the area," said Neugebauer.

It was a landmark, but was also a pretty rough-and-tumble place and a mildly notorious as a pick-up bar. But it was also, in the words of Nick Popadiuk, "the crown jewel in the string of watering holes along Westminster Blvd. during [the town's] classic Dive Bar Era (late '50s-60s) ."
Westminster Ave., New Westminster, Feb. 1957
Soon, Orval and his wife Lorene moved to Midway City, not far from the café.  And they added a new family member: a young female chimp named Sara Heartburn. When she was 13 months old she was found to be anemic, and Garden Grove veterinarian Dr. Stanley L. Baldwin performed a blood transfusion from Chester, a chimp from Long Beach. "The transfusion between chimpanzees may be unique in the annals of veterinary medicine," said the Long Beach Independent.

In 1962, the Green Kat was torn down and replaced with future Orange County Supervisor Ron Caspers' Keystone Savings & Loan -- a building that made dramatic use of the Old English half-timbered look suggested by the city's name.

Caspers' story -- from his meteoric rise in business and politics to the day he disappeared at sea – is far more interesting than that of the Green Cat or Green Kat. But that’s a tale for another time.

[This entry updated 7/17/2015 with new information and photo provided to me by Nick Popadiuk.]

(Click here to go back and read PART I of this two-part series.)