Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Here's a promotional card created for Jim Sleeper's 1st Orange County Almanac of Historical Oddities (OCUSA Press, 1971). The hole in the upper left corner mimics the hole drilled through each copy of the almanac itself. Why? "This is for the installation of the Almanac on a short nail within arm's reach of wherever the reader sits down to do most of his serious thinking," wrote Jim on page two. "Articles have been tailored to coincide with the usual time reserved for these moments of enlightenment."

Despite the inauspicious reading environment originally suggested for these volumes, Jim's almanacs really are an indispensable part of any Orange Countian's personal library. I treasure my copies and have backup copies, just in case. They are full of fascinating historical facts, stories, and observations -- rendered with brilliant (if curmudgeonly) wit and charm that delights even those readers who've never before expressed an interest in local history. Not just a remix of material from other sources, the Almanacs are primarily composed of accurate content you'll find nowhere else, which makes them essential reference material for local historians.

Curiously, "the usual time reserved for these moments of enlightenment" also happens to be about the same length of the average, modern, Facebook-addled attention span. So even the grandkids will enjoy the Almanacs, assuming they've learned how to turn pages in actual books.

If you do not have all three editions of Jim's Almanac, give yourself a belated Christmas present. The third edition is available through the Orange County Historical Society and sometimes through the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society. The first and second editions are harder to find, but often turn up on Amazon.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Church of Reflections, Knott's Berry Farm

The Church of Reflections and revolving Christmas tree at Knott's, late 1950s
Some of you will remember the little historic Church of Reflections (1876), which stood in the middle of Knott's Berry Farm, near Reflection Lake, the "Original" Berry Stand, and other charming but low-key attractions. It was moved across the street, near Independence Hall in 2003. Here's a brief timeline of the amazing history of this little church:
  • 1876 – The church was built as First Baptist Church of Downey and was located at Second and Church Streets in Downey. It was built of redwood.
  • 1891 – A baptistry was added to the church.
  • 1922 – The building was purchased by St. Marks’ Episcopal Church and moved to Fifth St. “across from the fields”
  • 1953 – The church was vacated and would remain unused for a couple years.
  • 1955 – Early in the year, the church was condemned to make way for the expansion of Downey Community Hospital.
  • 1955 Sept – Knott’s Berry Farm purchased the church building, along with its 1911 Estey organ and 1900 Belgian stained glass windows. Walter Knott just wanted to move the building to the Berry Farm, but building codes wouldn’t allow it. So the steeple, windows, fixtures, and perhaps a few other elements of the building were moved to Knott’s and the rest was rebuilt with new materials.
  • 1955 Oct 2 – The first service was held in relocated church. The church was initially used by a Lutheran congregation, with a Rev. Foster officiating. The new name, “Church of Reflections” was announced.
  • 1958 Nov – A neon cross was added to roof. Knott’s employees purchased a new stained glass window as an anniversary present for Walter and Cordelia Knott, which was placed behind the altar. The first wedding is held at the new location.
  • 1976 Jan – The building was plaqued by Native Daughters of the Golden West
  • 1979 Aug – Longtime pastor Rev. Claude Bunzel retired and the schedule of church services became more limited.
  • 2003 Oct – The church was removed to make way for a new roller coaster. The steeple, stained glass windows and pews are moved to a site across Beach Blvd. and became part of an otherwise new (but similar) church building. The final service beside the lake was held on Oct. 5th. Services later resumed at the new location, near Independence Hall.
  • 2016 -- Meetings between Buena Park City officials, local church leaders, historians, Knott's Berry Farm and the Knott family are held to try to locate yet another new site to which the church building might be moved. Knott's plans called for the current site being used differently. Some of the likeliest options for a new site seemed to be existing churches in Buena Park. (As part of those meetings, this was when I dug up the information above.) The church closed at this time.
  • 2018 -- The nonprofit Church of Reflections Preservation Foundation was formed to raise money to move the church  a mile southwest to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.
  • 2020 May -- Knott's announces that the move was planned for September 2020.

Jim Sleeper on Red Hill

I was doing research in the files of the Orange County Archives last week for an article about Tustin’s Red Hill for the Jan. 2017 County Connection employee newsletter, when I came across the most informative piece on Red Hill I've ever seen. It was an April 21, 1975 letter from historian Jim Sleeper to Orange County Historical Commission Chairman Wayne Gibson, who must have asked Jim for an overview on the subject. By Jim's standards, this was just a rough collection of notes and thoughts, but by any other standard it's an invaluable look at an important historical landmark. (To say I quoted him extensively in my own article is an understatement.) Anyway, I thought I’d share the text of it here, along with some illustrations I've added, for the benefit of my readers:

Dear Mr. Gibson:

The press of business prevents me from supplying more than a cursory sketch of Red Hill. Suffice it to say that I consider it to be the most significant natural landmark, with the singular exception of Santiago Peak, left in the county. As for community identification, Red Hill is to Tustin what the Spurgeon “clock” is to Santa Ana, or the “plaza” is to Orange.

Physical significance

Standing 347 feet in elevation, the hill itself is roughly 1,000 feet long and perhaps half that distance in width. It is well defined, both by its obvious color as well as its geologic distinctness from the nearby hills. Volcanic in origin, Red Hill houses an impressive number of minerals. Among the most significant are baryta, aluminum, barite, black sulphide of mercury, mercury, cinnabarite and tiemannite. (State Mineral Survey Bulletin 91, 1922.) In addition, the hill was long a source of petrified wood.


Known to the Gabrielinos as Katuktu, the place figured in Indian mythology as a “place of refuge” stemming from its association with early tales of the Great Flood. Data regarding Red Hill’s Indian legends was gathered by John P. Harrington, of the Smithsonian, from survivors of the Juaneno tribe in Capistrano just prior to World War I. (If memory serves me, the name Katuktu was also adopted as the chapter name of the local D.A.R.)  Indian burials and numerous artifacts have been discovered on and around the hill, but to my knowledge, only one serious “dig” (ORA-300) has been made in that area. This was in 1971.
Red Hill circa the 1950s. Photo courtesy First American Corp.
Early designations

Following its Indian name, a variety of titles were applied to the hill. During Spanish times it appears on the Grijalva Diseno of 1801 simply as Las Ranas, a designation apparently supplied by the missionaries. Red hill stood at the head of the Cinega de las Ranas (“Frog Swamp”) which ran from that place to Newport Bay – hence the name “Frog Hill.” During the Mexican period, the site appears on the José Antonio [Yorba] map of 1839 as Serrito de las Ranas. And on the Jose Sepulveda 1841 diseno as Cerrito de las Ranas. Significantly, this is the name which Sepulveda used in his first (but unsuccessful) application for a rancho grant in 1836. When finally issued a year later, the same parcel was designated as the Rancho San Joaquin. In effect, then, Cerrito de las Ranas is the first name for the bulk of what is today called the Irvine Ranch. Other names were applied to the hill with no apparent confusion. Cerro de las Ranas and ultimately Serrito or Cerro Colorado were the most common.

Following American intervention and settlement, the English equivalent of Cerro Colorado was applied in the 1870s. Just as often, it was referred to as “Rattlesnake Hill,” an appellation which persisted until after the turn of the century, and with considerable justification judging from contemporary accounts.

Survey Point

Unquestionably, Red Hill’s greatest significance during the Rancho Period was as this area’s initial survey point. It is the one point in common for the three ranchos making up the Irvine, marking as it does the eastern border of the [Rancho] Santiago de Santa Ana, and the north-south division point of the [Rancho] Lomas de Santiago and the [Rancho] San Joaquin. Apparently, the hill itself was monument enough, for nothing more than a small rock cairn at its top commemorated this all-important base point.
Survey equipment in use atop Red Hill, 2012. Photo courtesy O.C. Surveyor.

Despite its several minerals, cinnabar was the one most prized during the sixty-odd years that Red Hill was intermittently worked as a mine. The scarcity of “quicksilver” elsewhere in the state (non-existent elsewhere in the county) made it significant. Consequently, the promise of big profits stimulated numerous attempts. Mission records may disclose an awareness of the mineral (as mentioned in some papers), but this is unconfirmed. The earliest allusion to Red Hill’s potential occurs in Harvey Rice’s Letters from the Pacific Slope (1869). In describing the San Joaquin (Irvine) Ranch, he states that “mines of coal and quicksilver have recently been discovered.”

As to actual mining, the initial attempt seems to have been in 1884 when it was prospected for cinnabar. Until 1893 all attempts were direct operations of the ranch itself. The earliest name applied was the “Rattlesnake Hill Mercury Mine.” An analysis and description of improvement work is described in Bowers’ Tenth Annual Report of the State Mineralogist (1890). In the year or two following this report, the Irvine Co. sank a tunnel 400’ long, another 30’ and one 30’ shaft.

Fairbanks’ Eleventh Annual Report of the State Mineralogist (1893) mentions a tunnel several hundred feet which was run into the hill from the south as was another 100’ long on the north side.
Between 1896-98 the property was leased by Thomas “Shorty” Harris, who worked the mine with a crew from the Santa Clara Coal Mines. This effort resulted in several shafts about 70’ deep.

The first stock promotion of the mine occurred early in 1899 when a ten year lease was taken cut by two Santa Ana men, R. J. Kimball and J.A. Turner. In the course of the next six months they sank two shafts, one to a depth of 80’, another of 30’. Reports indicate that eight men were employed “around the clock,” and that some 50 tons of ore had been extracted. Literature boomed the mine’s assays as running “as high as 80%’ (of mercury-bearing ore), reputedly worth $250-600 per ton. The mine was heralded as exceeding even that of the Almaden in Spain, the richest in the world, which runs only 10%.” In its best veins, Red Hill’s cinnabarite ran possibly to 50%, but overall it was 5% sulphide of mercury – still high for this type of material. Appearantly production did not match the bombast of publicity, however, for correspondence indicates that the Irvine Co. had trouble collecting its $200 annual lease fee.

On Feburary 2, 1907, Red Hill passed [out of] ranch ownership after forty acres in “block 13, Irvine Subdivision” were sold to Felton P. “Frank” Browning.

During World War I, when mercury was at a premium, the mine was worked again, this time by A. W. Sheets under a lease from Browning. A “chalk mine” was also reported on the hill during this period.

In 1927 the mine was revived by a miner named McWaters who leased the property and recovered 120 flasks of mercury (then selling at $120 per flask). McWater’s method was to distill ore from previous tailings in a wood burning retort. His overall “take” was placed at $12,000. A year or two later, a prospector named Secrest took over the mines and built a larger gas retort, though is profits, if any, are unknown.

Reputedly Red Hill was reactivated for the last time during World War II, though I cannot confirm the developers or their output.
Detail of map from the miniature book, Katuktu, by Herschel C. Logan
Historical Associations

In addition to mining, Red Hill (under one name or another) figured as a landmark skirted by the Portola party (1769), the mission fathers on El Camino Real, the Stockton-Kearny expedition (1847), the Coastline Stage (1866), and the Seeley & Wright Stage Line (1869), which passed either in front or behind the hill depending on the swampy road conditions at the time. During the 1890s, Red Hill was the scene of frequent turkey shoots, and was the first rifle range of Co. L, the local militia, which also staged mock skirmishes here. In 1899 the first heliograph experiment in the county was conducted by Co. L between the top of Red Hill and Huttenlocher’s Opera House in Santa Ana. In 1909 the first flight of a manned aircraft in Orange County, a glider built by Dana Keech and piloted by Ray McTaggert, took off from the top of the hill.

Historical Recognition

On January 8, 1930, the preliminary application for Red Hill as a California landmark was filed by county historian Terry E. Stephenson. Granted, the site was registered as State Historical Landmark #203.

In 1968 the Historical Advisory Committee of the Advance Planning Division of the O.C. Planning Department designated Red Hill as a county landmark. It so appears on the historical site map of 1969 as #57.

Possibly more telling of the hill’s community identification is the fact that a dozen commercial houses in the Tustin area have incorporated “Red Hill” as part of their business name, not to mention its use as a street name, as well as that of a school, a church and even a volunteer fire station.
An illustration of the retort from Logan's 1979 miniature book, Katuktu.

In my estimation, Red Hill is an important site – geologically, geographically and historically – not only to its immediate community, but to the county as a whole.

Sincerely yours,

James D. Sleeper

Recent photo of Red Hill's peak. Photo by Chris Jepsen.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Bristol Avenue & H.R. Bristol

H.R. Bristol's first Santa Ana drug store, circa 1887.
Ever wonder how Orange County's Bristol Avenue got it's name? This major north/south thoroughfare extends from the Garden Grove Freeway in Santa Ana, past South Coast Plaza, down through Costa Mesa where it turns east, and into Newport Beach where it was once called Palisades Road. It dead-ends at Jamboree Road, just above Upper Newport Bay.

But who was Bristol named for?

Henry Richard Bristol was born on August 22, 1855 in Farmington, Illinois. He was the son of druggist Riley Bristol and his wife, Maria. Henry followed in his father’s footsteps and became a pharmacist. In 1877 he married Ella Frances Grouard. Their children would include Edna (1879), Henry Raymond (1885), and Marian (1891).  The family left Farmington and arrived in Santa Ana in 1882 and Henry initially made his living here as a farmer. But in the mid-1880s he returned to the pharmacy counter, establishing his business in a commercial space on the first floor of the Rossmore Hotel at Sycamore and Fourth Street.

The railroad boom of the late 1880s gave Orange County’s economy and population a big boost, and business was growing fast. In 1888, Bristol brought a partner into the business – druggist A. R. Rowley of Indiana, who’d moved to Santa Ana only the year before. The business became the highly successful Bristol & Rowley Drug Store. Soon, they needed a larger space, and they had a big two-story building constructed on the northeast corner of 4th St. and Main St., which would become known as the Bristol & Rowley Block. This is now the site of the First American Corp. parking lot.
Medicine bottles from Bristol & Rowley at Santa Ana Historical Preservation Soc.
Around 1908, Rowley retired from working in the store and handed over the day-to-day operations to younger managers and pharmacists. Rowley died in 1918.

For health reasons, Bristol sold his share of the business to Rowley in the early teens and moved to Los Angeles County – first to South L.A. and finally settling in the young community of Owensmouth, in the San Fernando Valley. There, he grew Valencia oranges. The Bristols regularly visited all their old friends in Santa Ana, and their Santa Ana friends reciprocated. In fact, for many years the Santa Ana Valley Ebell Club even held annual day trips to the Bristol’s ranch. 
Oranges and tract homes along Bristol Ave. near the I-5 Freeway, circa 1950s.
Ella died in June of 1924. Henry died Feb. 28, 1928, just a year after taking a trip to Hawaii aboard the S.S. Calawaii. Henry, Ella, and their son Laurence are buried together at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Long after the drugstore was gone, the building at 4th and Main was called the Bristol and Rowley Block, although it eventually became known as the French Building before being bulldozed to make way for Montgomery Wards.

What lasted longer was the name Bristol Street, named for pioneer druggist H.R. Bristol. The street was called Newport Road until at least 1891 and was called Bristol Street by 1894.
Traffic camera view of Bristol Ave. at Santa Ana Blvd., 2014.
What remains a mystery is why a significant thoroughfare was named for a local druggist who'd only arrived a dozen years earlier from Illinois. He doesn't appear to have owned land or a business along Bristol Ave. Did he do something special to warrant this honor? If you know something more about H. R. Bristol, please let me know.
Bristol headstone at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery. (Photo from

Monday, December 05, 2016

Come to "Show & Tell" at the O.C. Historical Society!

It’s time again to rack your brain and rummage through your garage and your scrapbooks in preparation for the Orange County Historical Society’s annual Show & Tell and holiday gathering! It's all happening this Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, 7:30 p.m, at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. And you are invited! Plan to bring a choice artifact, photo, or a bit of memorabilia that connects to an interesting story or fact about Orange County’s past.

Maybe it’s an orange crate from the packing plant mom worked in. Or maybe it’s great-grandpa’s branding iron, an early redwood surfboard, a plate from an old local restaurant, or a one-of-a-kind photo of Walt Disney giving Water Knott a “noogie.” Everyone’s looking forward to seeing and hearing about the item you bring.

We’ll have a sign-up sheet when you enter and participants will be called up one at a time. The public is welcome and refreshments will be served.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Knott's California Mission models are back!

Bob Wier working on Mission San Luis Rey model, 2014.
I just received this press release from Knott's Berry Farm:


BUENA PARK, Calif., November 2016 – Knott’s Berry farm announced today that the beloved scale models of California’s historic Missions have returned to the park on Wednesday, November 30. This project reflects Knott’s continued appreciation and preservation of California’s rich history.

Scaled models of the original California Missions boarder the same midway between Silver Bullet and the south entrance of Fiesta Village, as it did previously for many years. Twenty-year veteran of Knott’s Berry Farm’s woodshop and current Knott’s craftsman, Bob Weir, has been meticulously restoring the missions for over three years, for a new generation of guests to appreciate.

“Knott’s Berry Farm prides itself in celebrating California’s rich, living history, and the California Mission models hold as much educational value as they do sentimental value for many of our guests,” said Knott’s general manager, Jon Storbeck. “We know that grade school curriculums in California include lessons on the California Missions, so we’re pleased that Knott’s Adventures in Education programs will allow students a unique and authentic learning experience that can only be found at Knott’s.”

In addition to the return of the historic missions, Knott’s is hosting its Early California History Day on March 15, 2017, in which students will have the opportunity to visit and tour the displayed models within the park, as well as have the opportunity to display a mission of their own. One homemade mission model will be selected to represent an individual school and enter into the California Missions competition. The winning models will be awarded special Knott’s Berry Farm prizes.

In the 1950’s as Knott’s Berry Farm grew in popularity, Walter Knott needed a way to keep park guests off of the stagecoach trail between the train depot and the northern end of the park for safety reasons. In keeping with the spirit of Knott’s – attractions both entertain and educate – Walter commissioned Leon Bayard de Volo to create scale models of all 21 California Missions. The missions were displayed in lit cases along the midway running between the Calico Railroad and what is now the south entrance to Fiesta Village.

The area was named El Camino Real (“The King’s Highway”), in honor of the actual California highway that connects all 21 missions.  On the North and South ends of El Camino Real stood two full-size double-arch “ruins,” which were built and installed at Knott’s in 1955 and 1956, respectively.  Today, the double-arch ruin that originally marked the entrance to Mission row near the train station can be found near the Ghost Town General Store and the Indian Trails Stage.  The northern most double-arch is still standing in its original location, behind Wave Swinger in Fiesta Village. 

Observe replicas of the historic California Missions such as:

• Mission Santa Barbara
• Mission San Gabriel
• Mission Santa Cruz
• Mission San Diego
• Mission San Buenaventura
• Mission San Carlos Borromėo
• Mission San Luis Obispo
• Mission San Antonio
• Mission Santa Clara
• Mission La Purisima Concepción
• Mission San Miguel Arcángel
• Mission San Luis Rey 
• Mission Santa Ines
• And more

...The park will install all 21 mission models within the coming months. 

Ed -- For a history of Knott's mission models, see my four-part series on the subject from several years ago. I'm also briefly quoted in today's Orange County Register article on the return of the mission models.

The Mission models are one of the many classic Knott’s attractions that not only charmed and entertained but also fostered a desire to learn more about history. Naturally, you don’t get an in-depth history lesson from a theme park display, but your imagination is sparked and you want to learn the rest of the story. I’m hardly the only historian who was heavily influenced as a child by attractions like Ghost Town, the Western Trails Museum, Independence Hall, and the miniature Missions.  But the Mission models’ return isn’t just about inspiring future historians – It’s also an encouraging continuation of Knott’s tradition of being far more than just an amusement park.