Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Orange County logo

A circa 1960s decal of the Orange County logo.
The much-used Orange County logo, with three oranges in the foreground and fields and mountains in the background, is a mystery. It seems I'm asked about its origins every year or two, which usually leads to a long email or phone conversation, or, in one case, to an article in Orange Coast magazine. Usually it's someone in government asking, but queries have also come from my readers and from groups that use some version of the logo in their own emblems. Often, they want to know if it's legal to use it. (I'm not a lawyer, but speaking as a mere mortal I can't see the harm in it. And since it's been used by many groups and individuals for many purposes over many decades, it might be difficult to copyright it at this late date.)

I hope this post will either stave off the next identical round of questioning or (better yet) inspire someone with MORE of the story to come forward.
1948 version of the County logo.
The earliest use of the logo I’m aware of (so far) is on the cover of a 1948 book of County Ordinances. (Shown above.) In that version, one of the mountains in the background is pretty clearly Old Saddleback – a detail that’s usually screwed-up in later versions. The text in the ring surrounding the artwork reads “County of Orange, California,” in a font that seems more a product of the 1930s than the late 1940s. Of course, it’s possible the artist just wasn’t up with the times.
Tustin's City Seal -- Which came first?
As historian Phil Brigandi points out, the logo has design elements reminiscent of the old Irvine Ranch logo and the Tustin city seal. (Shown above.) But that may just be a coincidence.

Dylan Almendral of the Santa Ana Public Library's History Room makes the excellent point that the county logo also bears some striking similarities to the medal issued to Orange County veterans of World War I.  It certainly could have played a role in inspiring the later design.
"Victory medal" issued to local veterans after World War I.
Although the county logo appears on county government letterhead, publications, vehicles, etc., it has never been officially adopted. It even appears on the center of our county flag, which was officially adopted in 1968. Meanwhile, the official county seal (shown below) remains a single orange with three leaves, as approved at the very first Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting on Aug. 5, 1889. (I have yet to see an attractive colorized version of the seal. Most have the orange looking like an angry meatball.)

County seals have legal significance and are distinct from other kinds of logos or emblems.
The venerable Orange County seal -- Still in use where legally required.
Since nobody really owns the Orange County logo, it shows up in the damnedest places. In recent years, I’ve seen our County logo tattooed on the heads of gang members, appropriated as a corporate logo for sandbag manufacturer, carved into wood as the logo for the Orange County Woodcarver's Club, and sold on hats and shirts in the display window of a Santa Ana head shop. It is nothing if not versatile.
The O.C. Fire Authority logo better represents the foothills, but replaces farms with the sea, skyscrapers, and housing tracts.
It's an attractive image when well executed. But it's often "improved" or "streamlined" by ham-fisted would-be artists. Strangely,  one of the places where most versions -- including the original -- miss the mark is in the representation of Old Saddleback. Any Orange Countian knows those twin peaks like the back of their own hand, but these illustrations usually fail to capture their distinctive profile.
A particularly unfortunate version, with doggy-doo-like mountains.
Happily, around 2017 and 2018, I started to notice some of the crummier versions of the logo being replaced with better ones in both government and civilian use. Either my years of kvetching finally had some impact, or perhaps folks just have better design sense these days. Either way, the restoration/improvement of the old logo is welcome. It's pretty attractive when rendered properly.

Update - Aug. 23, 2023: 
In May 2023, the Orange County Board of Supervisors adopted "the Official OC Brand Merchandising and Marketing Plan" which (according to the pitch) would "provide opportunities to pursue merchandising, marketing, sponsorships and revenue partnerships with private sector organizations, businesses, and non-profit organizations to support programs and events administered by the County of Orange, including the Trademark License Agreement with 10th Hole Associates, Inc. which will permit the sale of County branded merchandise at Salt Creek Beach."

Today, I received an email that may reveal the fruit of their efforts. The missive included an attached event poster featuring a new "Official Orange County Brand." 
New "brand" and the event flyer on which it appeared, Aug. 2023.
The email stated that on "August 24th, the [County] CEO’s office will be part of the OC Park’s Summer Concert Series at Salt Creek Beach [in Dana Point] where we’ll be bringing along our latest wave of Official OC Brand merchandise designs, printed on high-quality tees, long sleeves, crewneck sweaters and die-cut stickers." (For what it's worth, the headliner for the concert was Flashback Heart Attack with Tina Tara as the opening act.) 

As far as I can tell, this is the first public unveiling of this new logo, which is strikingly reminiscent of the County Seal from 1889. At this point, the new "brand" just seems to be for merchandise. Is it meant to usurp the roll of the classic 1940s logo? If so, will it succeed? Time will tell.

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