Saturday, December 14, 2019

Phil Brigandi (1959-2019)

Phil at San Juan Hot Springs, 2009 (Photo by author)
Orange County Historian, author, former County Archivist, and lifelong Boy Scout Philip K. “Phil” Brigandi passed away this week in his beloved hometown of Orange at the age of sixty. He was the author of more than twenty five books and countless well-researched articles about Southern California history. He had, as his friend Lisa Baldwin said, an “amazing gift for retaining, distilling and recounting local history.” His loss has left a gaping hole in the heart of the local historical community and those who loved him.

Phil was born and raised in Orange and was fascinated with local history even as a student at Handy Elementary School. He began to do actual historical research and writing as a teenager, compiling stories of Orange High School and interviewing “old timers.” This, in turn, led him to the Orange Community Historical Society where he was elected to the board of directors at the age of 18. It was there that he began to forge lifelong friendships with fellow historians, including that society’s president, Mark-Hall Patton.

At the same time, Phil was very involved in his local Boy Scout Troop and learned to love camping, hiking and backpacking. He especially loved his time at the Lost Valley scout camp near Warner Springs. He later joined the camp staff and eventually ran the place, becoming something of a legend among Orange County scouters. For the rest of his life, he would return each year to clear trails and teach a new generation of scouts.

Phil was also a Marx Brothers fan from an early age. He interviewed a number of those who worked on their movies and he counted being personally insulted by Groucho Marx as one of the high points of his life.

In Orange, Phil began writing historical columns for the local newspaper. He started writing lengthier pieces by the time he was 19 and published his first real book at age 23. He graduated from California State University Fullerton, where his abilities and enthusiasm were identified, encouraged and guided by Dr. Art Hansen and top History Department faculty.

Phil’s college work took him back to study the history in the areas of San Diego County near his beloved Lost Valley. He made close friendships with elders at the Pala reservation and steeped himself in the lore of the Anza-Borrego desert.
With Phil Brigandi and Jim Sleeper in Jim's office, 2009. (Photo by author)
All through his years as a developing historian, Phil was also befriending and learning from the great Orange County local historians of the day, including Jim Sleeper, Ether Cramer, and Phil’s greatest role model, Don Meadows. They were his heroes, his friends and – by example – his teachers. They were, in some ways, like family to him. He never missed an opportunity to pay tribute to their contributions and he would always hold himself and his own work up to their highest standards.

“Local history is often underappreciated, viewed as parochial, or simply ignored, written by ‘blue hairs’ and the ‘untrained.’,” writes historian and close friend Stephanie George. “But, Phil's research skills and knowledge of his beloved city of Orange, his county, and southern California could match any academic -- and then some -- as he explored through multiple disciplines the very fabric of who we were/are through his multiple books, articles, presentations, and storytelling.”

Phil approached local history as a calling, not just a job or even a career. As such, he was never very interested in how much (or sometimes even if) he was paid for his work. He once said, “My brain just doesn’t make the connection between the work I do and the pay I get. I just do what I do, the best way I know how. Money appears sometime later, and it’s always kind of a surprise.”

What did matter to him was the quality of his work and whether he was helping the greater cause of understanding and preserving Southern California’s history. He wanted to, and constantly did, make meaningful contributions to the subjects about which he cared so deeply.

“I come from that older tradition of historians who put an emphasis on gathering up the facts and stress the narrative and chronological account over theory and analysis,” said Phil. “You have to start with the facts, after all. The analysis should come later. And too often, I've been the first historian to really research a specific topic or place. My emphasis has always been on telling the story.”
Phil speaks at Orange County's 125th birthday party, hosted by OCHS. (Photo by author)
Phil’s articles appeared in Dezert Magazine, the Westerners' Branding Iron, the Orange County Historical Society's Orange Countiana, the High Country, the Overland Journal, the Journal of San Diego History, the Inland Chronicler, Desert Tracks, the Ventura County Historical Society Quarterly, the Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, the Sand Paper, the California Museum of Photography Bulletin, Preview magazine, and many more.

His regular columns appeared in such periodicals as the Orange City News, the Orange Progress, the Rancho News (Temecula), the Aza-Aguanga Stageline, the Hemet News, the Borrego Sun, the Valley Chronicle (Hemet), and the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review and others.

His nearly 30 books included such titles as…

The History of Lost Valley and the Surrounding Area (1978)
Looking Back . . . on the Ramona Pageant (1985)
A New Creation. The Incorporation of the City of Orange, 1888 (1988)
Orange, The City ‘Round the Plaza (1997)
100 Years of Headline News [The Orange County Register] (1999)
Old Orange County Courthouse; A Centennial History (2001)
"Out Among the Groves of Orange" A History of Orange Union High School, 1903-1953 (2003)
Orange County Place Names A to Z (2006)
On My Honor, A Century of Scouting in Orange County, California (2010)
A Brief History of Orange, California - The Plaza City (2011)
Orange County Chronicles (2013)
The Portola Expedition In Orange County (2019 with Eric Plunkett)

Phil also served as editor for a number of books, including A Hundred Years of Yesterdays by the Orange County Historical Commission.
Phil Brigandi, Orange County Archivist (Photo by author)
Phil had little patience for those who did lazy, inaccurate, or out-of-context historical work and for those who used history to grind political axes, invoke divisiveness, drum up marketable shock value, or “check off the boxes” of political correctness for the sake of career advancement.

The few detractors Phil ever had were usually bad historians with a jealous streak. At least a couple of these dismissed him as “a purist.” But that’s exactly what Phil was shooting for. He wanted to tell the narrative and get it right. He was happy to leave fiction, half-truths and wishful interpretation to others.

Phil grew up in a home without much, if any religion. But through friends he found Christ, made a personal study of theology, and was eventually very active in the Methodist church. Over time, he came to feel that the Methodists might not be the right fit for him and he no longer affiliated with a specific denomination. But his faith was always central in his life. Phil never evangelized by hitting people over the head with religion. But he made no secret of being a Christian and he lived and behaved in ways that made others want to know how they might have what he had.

Phil never had a career plan beyond a consuming determination to research and write history. And for the most part, trusting in God worked out for him.

A couple years out of college Phil was hired as the historian and museum curator for the Ramona Pageant in Hemet. During his years in the desert, he was usually working multiple jobs at once – running the Temecula Museum, publishing books, and writing history columns for local newspapers. Work seemed to fall into his lap as he needed it.

After thirteen years in “exile,” Phil was invited back to Orange County. New Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly was reopening the Orange County Archives after a post-County-bankruptcy closure, and he turned to historian Jim Sleeper for recommendations on who should run the place. Sleeper suggested Phil, who happily accepted.

Phil had done some work at UCI’s Special Collections and had some training in the technical/library science end of archival practice, which added to his already vast understanding of Orange County history and how the records were used and could be best utilized. He was the perfect man for the job.
Phil, me, Stephanie George and Kevin Starr at Chapman University.
But Phil soon discovered that running the County Archives was not a one-person job. And the work at hand was not something that a randomly reassigned county employee could assist with. The work of identifying, preserving and sharing the County’s history required someone who not only could do the day-to-day work, but also cared deeply about local history. It was at this point he called me and offered me a job as his assistant. Disillusioned with the culture of the PR and marketing field that had been my day job, I immediately renounced evil, took my vow of poverty, devoted myself to the cause of preserving and sharing Orange County’s history, and never looked back.

The five years I worked for Phil were a far better education than I’d received with my university degree. As my mentor, he helped me build not just a knowledge of facts and how to “do” history, but also the underlying philosophical constructs that are critical to doing this kind of work WELL. He was not only my teacher and the best boss anyone ever had, but ultimately also a good friend. I had been spending my free time on local history projects and had even worked for a Museum before ever meeting Phil – But he showed me how to be an Orange County historian, introduced me to the people I needed to know, and set an enormously high bar for me by example.

And all of this was fun. As he liked to say, “Too many people mistake being serious for being solemn.” He was deadly serious about his work, but he was hardly ever solemn. The Orange County Archives was a fun place to be, good work was being done, stress levels were near zero, Phil was sharing his brilliance with anyone who needed a hand, and researchers always told us how much they looked forward to their visits. It was truly a golden age, and I was so lucky to have been part of it.
OCHS' Portola Trail Tour 2019 organizers.
Although he had his reasons, I never quite forgave Phil for leaving the Archives when he did. But we remained close friends. We went to the Glendale Postcard and Paper Shows together and stopped at a different classic L.A. restaurant for dinner each time. I helped him find homes for Jim Sleeper’s historical materials after Jim’s death. In some ways, he was the older brother I never had. He stopped by often for lunch and I called him often for advice.

And since I’d become president of the Orange County Historical Society, I had plenty of opportunities to Shanghai him as a speaker or volunteer.

And what a volunteer! He was the most reliable – and of course, trustworthy – volunteer a nonprofit ever had. From packing up our office, to speaking several times a year, to leading tours and hikes, to editing the Orange Countiana journal (for eight years), to breaking down tables after meetings, he was the Society’s not-so-secret weapon.

Phil was also a longtime member of the Los Angeles Corral of Westerners (where he also served as editor), Los Compadres Con Libros, the Queho Posse of the E Clampus Vitus, and the Orange Community Historical Society.

Phil made a lot of rules for himself and compromise was not in his vocabulary. Even when sticking to his guns required shooting himself in the foot, Phil insisted on doing things his own way or not at all. It was both noble and confounding.

Phil wanted no part of social media, even when it clearly would have been an invaluable platform for promoting his work. And he would quit a major project if he felt he was being disrespected – Even when he needed the work.

But generally, Phil’s commitment to a personal code was downright inspirational.

His work on the cultural phenomenon that surrounded the Ramona myth was a good example. Phil’s knowledge, research and hard work on the subject were vast. He planned to write a book about the far-reaching effects of Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona on Southern California’s tourism industry, self-image, and more. But early in his life, Phil had decided to be a “sharer” rather than a “hoarder.” So when he learned that Dr. Dydia DeLyser was working independently on a book on the exact same subject, he not only offered to share his knowledge and files, but became fast friends with Dydia and her boyfriend Paul. (Their Christmas Eve dinners together in L.A.’s Chinatown were always a highlight of the holidays for Phil.) Dydia went on to publish the definitive book on the topic and – true to his nature -- Phil was absolutely thrilled.

In the last few years, school teacher Eric Plunkett joined the merry band of serious local historians and Phil began collaborating with him on a number of projects. Their shared interest in the Spanish, Mexican and Early American eras of California, in particular, brought them together to work on articles, on a special Orange County Historical Society tour following the trail of Portola, and other projects. In recent weeks, they were jointly approached to work on a new book about the Portola Expedition for a major university press, and were just beginning that process.
Phil and I in Calico, 2014.
With no history of health problems, Phil was hit by a massive heart attack while crossing Lemon Street on his way to the Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the Plaza in Downtown Orange on December 8, 2019. A good Samaritan found him lying in the middle of Lemon Street, administered CPR, and called an ambulance. He was in a coma for four days at St. Joseph’s Hospital before passing away at 10:40 p.m. on Dec. 12. Stephanie George, Eric Plunkett and I were the last ones to see him and talk to him, just minutes before. I cannot, frankly, imagine what the landscape of local history will be like with his passing, but it is immeasurably diminished. And on a personal level, I can’t yet fathom what my own life will be like in a post-Phil world. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Phil always predicted that he would die relatively young, as had so many men in his family. Although, one wonders if ignoring medical check-ups and eating a bachelor dude diet didn’t help make this a self-fulfilling prophecy. But we will never know.

At least we won’t have to wonder what his wishes were in the event of his untimely demise. Phil’s brother, Chris Brigandi, visited his apartment on the 13th. It was not difficult to find Phil’s recently-updated will. It began, “Grieve for yourself, but not for me, I truly believe Jesus Christ will see my soul safely in Heaven.”

We do grieve for ourselves, Phil. We grieve for all the work you would have accomplished in the coming decades – including projects already in progress. We grieve for all the great schemes yet to be hatched over late night tacos. We grieve for all the times our own work will suffer because we won’t have the benefit of your insights before going to press. We grieve all our future adventures together, exploring historic corners of California’s backcountry. We grieve never again seeing the excitement in your eyes when you encountered a new discovery or “aha” moment. We grieve the times we’d laugh so hard that we feared passing out. We will even miss the stories we’d already heard a dozen times – because they were part of you.

Phil was the best of Orange County. I will always miss him.
Phil Brigandi atop Tomato Springs, 2019. (Photo by author)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Linbrook Bowling Center, Anaheim (1958)

A trip to Anaheim’s popular Linbrook Bowling Center (a.k.a. Linbrook Bowl) at 201 S. Brookhurst St., is like a time-warp back to 1958. It may not be the most architecturally dramatic of the great Googie bowling palaces, and it’s had a couple remodels (1967 and 1979), but it has not only survived and thrived but also retained many of its original features. These include the beautiful and enormous animated sign out front, the vintage Kopa Room cocktail lounge, a mid-century zig-zaggy lobby, and a coffee shop with both excellent food and orange Naugahyde booths.
Dick Stoeffler, Jim Hogan (manager of Wonderbowl, Anaheim), and Ray Randall (manager of the Anaheim Bowl) with 5-year-old Steve Jenkins of Anaheim at Linbrook Bowl during a polio fundraiser, Dec. 27, 1960.
The 40-lane Linbrook Bowl opened on Saturday, August 16, 1958. It was built by Garden Grove residents Stuart A. “Stu” Bartleson and Larkin Donald “L.D.” Minor of the Atlantic and Pacific Building Corp. In fact, Bartleson and Minor owned Linbrook Bowl jointly with Automated Sports Centers president Henry Enrico ‘Hank” Catalano of Fullerton. (Catalano was also manager of the new Friendly Hills Bowl in Whittier.) By the time Linbrook opened, Automated Sports Centers already owned five other bowling centers in Southern California: Norwalk Bowl, La Habra 300 Bowl, La Puente Lanes, Red Fox Lanes (Long Beach), Dutch Village Bowling Center (Lakewood), Futurama Lanes (Garden Grove) and Del Rio Lanes (Downey).
A few of Linbrook's 40 lanes, as seen in 2008.
Bartleson and Minor eventually built residential and commercial projects throughout California, but were especially notable for their developments south of Santa Maria, California. Other Orange County projects included Royal Stuart Arms apartments and the Minor-Built Homes tract – both in Garden Grove.
Linbrook Bowling Center advertisement from 1970.
Automated Sports Centers incorporated in late 1961and title to Linbrook was transferred to the company in July 1962. For a number of reasons, including overly-rapid expansion, the chain went bankrupt in the winter of 1965. But Bartleson, Minor and Catalano somehow maintained a controlling interest in the business together though at least the late 1970s.
Well-known and award-winning local bowler, bowling columnist and KTLA-TV bowling host G. Richard "Dick" Stoeffler (a.k.a. “Ol’ Steff”) was manager at Linbrook from 1958 until 1963. He left to manage bowling’s World Open Classic tournament, and then – soon after— became manager of Kona Lanes in Costa Mesa. He remained at Kona Lanes for fifteen years and under his management the place became a tremendous success.
Comic strip drawn from photos of Linbrook taken by Chris Jepsen. May 19, 2000.
I have reason to suspect that Linbrook Bowl, like so many Southern California bowling centers, was designed by the architectural firm of Powers, Daly & DeRosa. However, it does not appear on list of such projects created by Gordon Powers (assembled with the help of historian Chris Nichols) in more recent years. Nor did the Linbrook Bowl appear among Pat B. DeRosa’s color slides of bowling alleys under construction, which I was able to review a couple decades ago. Articles about Linbrook’s construction and opening in the Anaheim, Los Angeles and Long Beach newspapers also provide no clues about the architect’s identity. It will have to remain a mystery for now.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Weird Huntington Beach postcard, 1936

I love old Orange County postcards for the glimpses they can provide of obscure locations and events. But this may be the weirdest local postcard I’ve seen yet. It was brought to my attention by Orange County postcard collector extraordinaire Tom Pulley, who’s still disappointed that he lost the auction for it on eBay. Of course, that doesn’t mean I can’t "borrow" the images from the auction page.

Once you get past the chicanery of the bold words, “SUMMONED,””POLICE DEPT,” and “TRAFFIC” on one side, a second reading of the card almost makes it sound like you’re invited to an informative lecture raising awareness about a serious social ill. Was it sponsored by a religious group or law enforcement agency?
Hardly.

In fact, the film Fighting the White Slave Traffic was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency and was one of a whole category of exploitation films masquerading as educational films. These shows roamed the American countryside like vaudeville acts.

"Dr. Kiss" on Nitrateville.com explains: “As with most of the 'sex exploitation' features at that time, considerable ballyhoo surrounded showings, with separate screenings for men and women in many localities, and with some screenings preceded by a 'sex education lecture' by a(n almost certainly bogus) doctor (another standard sex exploitation gimmick of the era).”
German movie poster
This particular sexploitation film began as the 1927 German film Mädchenhandel, produced by Bertard Pictures. It was in circulation on the U.S. exploitation roadshow circuit by late 1928. The film was originally silent, but later reissues featured music and narration tracks.

Here’s a summary of Mädchenhandel from James C. Robertson's book on British film censorship, The Hidden Cinema:

“...The plot centres upon the activities of a white-slave gang led by Akkunian (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) in Athens, Budapest and Istanbul, with contacts in Berlin. Ida Stevens (Mary Kid) is passed on by a Berlin night-club owner to a bogus variety agent working for the gang, who offers her a night-club job in Budapest where she is abducted by the white slavers through a female accomplice. Ida and another young girl captive are rescued from the Athens brothel where they are held, but Akkunian recaptures them in Turkey and then sells them to another white-slave dealer before they ultimately undergo a last-minute rescue.”
Poster for the film's U.S. release
Parroting a 1928 press release, the Hartford Courant helped promote a showing of the film at Hartford, Connecticut’s Majestic Theater:

"Investigators of the League of Nations some months ago made the astounding report that there actually still exists traffic in women and children. These authentic scenes show the workings of the international gang and their great centers in Tijuana, Berlin, Paris and other continental cities. The picture was produced with the aid of the international police and forms one of the most striking pictures of the present day. Record attendances have been usual for this picture wherever shown, and the picture is now being booked through the country's leading theater chains from coast to coast. Passed by the National Board of Review and endorsed by the tireless investigators for the League of Nations, this film is an authentic exposure of these human wolves who prey upon the society of today.”
The Huntington Beach Auditorium, newly constructed in 1928.
It seems that the only actual connection between the film and the oft-cited League of Nations and International Police (INTERPOL) was the fact that these global organizations had identified human trafficking and prostitution (the subjects of this fictional film) as serious problems to be addressed.

It’s curious that the postcard promoting the movie’s three-night mid-January 1936 stint at the Huntington Beach City Auditorium claims free admission/“collection only.” They lied about almost everything else in the ad, so why not that too? I’m sure they somehow collected more than enough dough to pay for the hall rental.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Dr. Sammy Lee

Local stories about Olympic gold medalist diver Dr. Samuel "Sammy" Lee abound, (including seemingly having taught half of Orange County how to swim). But here's a particularly interesting article from the Associated Press, dated Aug. 20, 1955:
Add caption

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

John Waite (1929-2019)

John and I at the Orange County Historical Society annual dinner, 2012.
John Wesley Waite passed away on Oct. 14, 2019, leaving many grieving friends, fans, and family – but also leaving a lasting legacy of happiness. John Waite was the Forrest Gump of the theme park business. Kind, friendly and enthusiastic, he was never the top man on any corporate totem pole. But he was integrally involved in an amazing number of historic moments in his field, from the era of unthemed amusement parks, to the early development of Disneyland, to working with innovator Bud Hurlbut at Knott’s Berry Farm, to helping build the foundation for today’s enormous “haunt industry,” and more.
John with family members, November 1971.
John was born in Ohio on Feb. 5, 1929 to Nelson and Bertha Waite. He also had an older sister, Helen. The family lived in the West Cleveland community of Lakewood. From an early age, John was interested in entertainment and theater and he especially loved Cleveland’s famous Euclid Beach Park. His family also visited Cedar Point amusement park at least once each summer. While earning his degree in theater at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, John worked summers (from 1947 to 1951) at Euclid Beach Park. There, he mainly worked “on the high rides,” including the famous Flying Turns coaster. He was also fascinated with the workings of the park’s large fun house and dark ride.
Allegheny College senior John Waite, 1951
When John graduated from college with a degree in Theater in 1951 he immediately found himself in boot camp for the U.S. Air Force. It was the Korean War era, and the Texas training base didn’t have enough housing, so trainees had to live in tents. One day, when the heat was especially oppressive, a friend suggested going into the office to apply for Officers Training School. They figured they had no chance of being accepted, but at least they’d get into an air-conditioned office for a little while.

But John was accepted. His service involved classified intelligence activities, and he has always refused to talk about it – even to family.
Lt. John Waite at USAF Officers Training School, 1952.
As Walt Disney’s innovative plans for Disneyland took shape in the early 1950s, Lt. Waite was fascinated. He mailed a concept for a Fantasia-themed ride to Disney for consideration as a Disneyland attraction. His packet was returned unopened with a note stating that Disney did not accept unsolicited proposals.

Once John’s military service came to an end, he drafted a resume, had some professional photos made of himself, drove to Southern California (in an old car his family gave him and dubbed “The Black Mariah,”) and applied for every job he could in the Disney organization.

Someone in Disney’s human resources department saw John’s photo, mistakenly thought they knew him, and gave him a job in the mail room at Walt Disney Studios.
Caricature of John Waite on a coffee mug, hand-painted by Disney animator "E.C.," circa 1956
“I started at Disney Studios in January 1956 and was there for maybe two and a half years,” John told me. “I was in the Traffic Department for the Animation Department, on the second floor of the Animation Building at Disney Studios. So I delivered mail to Walt, Roy, the animators, and all the legends. ‘1E’ – a corridor on the first floor – was on my route, and that’s where WED [the company Walt Disney formed to create Disneyland] was located.

“On my first day, I was told never to talk to Walt unless he spoke to me first. Later that day, while making my rounds with my new mail bag, I saw Walt coming toward me from way down the hall. I was headed for the offices behind him. He was scowling, with one eyebrow raised. I tried to get over to the right as much as I could, to stay out of his way. Boy, was I nervous! We had just come even with each other when he spun on his heel, turned toward me, and with a big smile said, ‘Hello! Who are you?’ Fresh out of the military, I stood at attention with my back against the wall. I answered him, but it was all I could do to keep from saluting.  That was the only time I ever exchanged words with Walt Disney. I saw him around, but we never actually spoke again.”

Once inside the company, John continued to submit ideas for new attractions. He later learned that his plan for an alpine Swiss bobsled ride had caused a good deal of consternation, as Disney planners were already secretly at work on the similar Matterhorn ride and couldn’t figure out who’d “leaked” their idea.
John and his work (like the ghost behind him) was one of the stars of Knott's Haunt Museum.
“Studio life was so informal,” John said. “We had an hour for lunch. For all that time, I thought [animator and Imagineer] Rolly Crump was a film editor. They’d be out playing football with other employees. A lot of the guys were in really good shape, including Rolly. The Firehouse Five [Dixieland jazz band] – which later became the Firehouse Five Plus Two – would play in a room upstairs. We’d sit there eating our lunch, listening to them. We didn’t realize what a good deal we had.

“Then they started offering classes. Someone would teach Shakespeare or some skill. We formed a theater group and did a show. I was in charge of publicity for the show. We put in on in a film editing room. There were lots of secretaries and execs in the show. I don’t remember it being very good. I don’t know if we only performed it once, or if we did it a couple nights in a row.

“I was the first college grad they hired into the Traffic Department. The mail room was downstairs, but my desk was on the second floor. Stuff to be delivered would be sent up to me by dumbwaiter. Later, they brought me downstairs. The idea of bringing in college grads was that we could learn about all parts of the organization, get to know everyone, and then gradually figure out where we might fit when it came time for promotions.

“Eventually, I ended up in publicity. I had to organize and record the production books and would also send out photo stills for various productions when requested. [Future Disney president] Card Walker was the head of publicity. Hazel Garner was his secretary and we got along really well. It was also during this time that I met wonderful Van France. I just loved that guy. He knew everybody.”
Just part of the crowd at John's 80th birthday surprise party.
Van Arsdale France, was an industrial relations guru hired by Disney, who ultimately served in a number of key Disney management positions and who created the company’s employee training program. He made a huge impression on a young John Waite.

“Van’s tie was never straight and his suit always looked like he’d slept in it,” said John. “The execs like Dick Nunis came to Van partly because he knew everyone – Police, fire, city, and so forth – and could solve any problem. When Nunis got a speeding ticket while racing to the hospital for the birth of his child, Van fixed the ticket for him.”

Ultimately, John’s interest in the amusement park business led him to a job working directly for France at Disneyland. John worked in various capacities around Disney, including helping organize the park’s guided tour program and serving as manager of the Holidayland special/corporate events area. These were the formative years, when the Disneyland we know today was still taking shape.

France’s team, said John, “was me and two girls: Ruth Bartelign and Evelyn Huple. Sometimes we’d count state license plates in the parking lots. Or we’d take surveys of guests and offer them gifts of jam or whatever for thank-you gifts.
Van France in 1964.
“In the early days of Disneyland there were no costumed characters regularly out socializing with the guests. If people wanted pictures taken with a Disney character, we’d get the call. Many’s the time I’d have to wear that awful Mickey costume from the Ice Capades. All three of us played the characters.”

John did this both inside the park and occasionally at outside events. One of these was the first Disney Night at the Hollywood Bowl in 1958. He said he was essentially blind inside the costume, which was more than a little frightening.

In fact, John’s most significant contribution to Disneyland was probably developing the use of walk-around costumed characters within the park. Walt had wanted to do this from the start, but it had only been done occasionally and haphazardly until John was tasked with the job of figuring out how such a program would work and then developing a training program for those who act the part of various Disney characters. Initially, the area used for training was backstage, between Walt Disney’s apartment and the Jungle Cruise. Today, Disneyland is famous for its well-oiled program of costumed characters meeting and greeting guests – a success that began with John Waite.

Eventually, Van France left for the East Coast to work on a new theme park – Freedomland – for “exiled” Disneyland developer C.V. Wood.

Although sad at the thought of leaving Disneyland, "John wasn't happy when Van left, so he also left and went to work for UCLA's Central Stage Management group, where they handled all the public events on campus," wrote Mark Eades in a 2014 article for the Disneyland Alumni Club. "John worked at UCLA for ten years, but during that time he also worked summers at Disneyland on attractions like the Jungle Cruise, Matterhorn, and even a short stint on the People Mover. He did this until 1969."

John would still return to Disneyland occasionally for odd jobs like helping conduct one day “whole park” surveys. And he remained fascinated with all aspects of the amusement park industry.
Plush Mickey Mouse given to John as a going-away present by fellow Disneyland employees.
During the 1960s, John heard about the first flume rides and learned all he could about them.

“As soon as I could, I got myself to Texas to have a look at the first flume ride [“El Aserradero” at Six Flags Over Texas] in person,” John said. “Arrow Development had built several flume rides and I thought that would be a great attraction for Knott’s Berry Farm,”

Still working at USC, John spent weekends and evenings planning his own Old West-themed version of a flume ride and building a large and elaborate model in the basement of a theater on campus. The flume rides built by Arrow had been largely unthemed and were not particularly immersive experiences. John had something better in mind: A “Calico Flume and Mine Ride,” with the ride vehicles traveling up and down rugged hills, through mine buildings, and past scenes of hydraulic mining in early California.

A photographer who often did work at the theater shot photos of the model for John, who included a series of eight-by-ten images in a project presentation binder, along with a description and specifications for the attraction. In 1967, he brought the binder to the Knott family.
Waite's model of his Calico Flume & Mine Ride. Numbers indicate as follows: 1, Waiting area; 2, Loading area; 3, Lift #1; 4, Ore crusher (Lift #2); 5, Revolving barrel; 6, Process mill; 7, Lift #3; 8, Slag pile; 9, Service area.
“They told me they were in the food business – jams, jellies and fried chicken,” said John. “They said I should go up the street to talk to the guy who did all the rides for Knott’s Berry Farm.”

So John went less than a mile north to visit Bud Hurlbut at his shop. Hurlbut, it turned out, had actually invented the log flume ride concept and licensed it to Arrow Development for use throughout the country. He needed the licensing money to help fund a new plan of his own.

“Bud said he wanted to show me something, and he took me back and showed me his plans for the Log Ride we know today at Knott’s Berry Farm,” said John.

Hurlbut’s Log Ride actually went through the interior of a mountain and was themed to early logging and lumber operations in early California. But the Old West theme, rugged terrain, scenes of heavy equipment, and even the two-tiered loading area were much like John’s version of the ride.
Log Ride under construction at Knott's Berry Farm, April 1969.
Two men had created extremely similar attractions, independent of one another. But it was Bud who already had the flume ride patent and a long-standing business relationship (on a handshake) with Walter Knott. But Hurlbut was impressed with John’s plans and enthusiasm, and he asked him to come to work for him. Initially, the only position Bud had open was that of part-time ride operator on the Cordelia K steamboat at Knott’s Lagoon. But as the opening of the Log Ride drew closer, John was given a full-time job that more suited his needs. After ten years at UCLA, John quit and began working full time for Hurlbut Amusement Co.

“Bud hired me as one of the three supervisors on his Log Ride which opened July 11, 1969,” John said. “He let me work with the scenery, effects, and lighting in both the Log and [Calico] Mine Rides when he realized I had a theater background.”

As part of the Hurlbut Amusement team, John was also deeply involved in the beginnings of Knott’s Halloween Haunt – an annual event that became a key element of the Knott’s income stream and which has been repeatedly copied throughout the theme park industry.
John building ghouls for Knott's Halloween Haunt, 1977.
“In 1973, Bud asked me to attend a meeting at [Knott’s replica of] Independence Hall as the representative for the Hurlbut Company,” John recalled in an interview with MiceChat.com. “People from the various concessions, food, and merchandise were there. We were told by George Condos of Marketing and Promotions that the Farm was going to do a Halloween Haunt event and they wanted all the departments to come up with ways to support this theme.  …[Bud] asked me if I could make the Log and Mine Rides spooky for the event. I told him I was sure we could, but… there was not enough time to build scenery, so I went to all the prop shops in … Hollywood and reserved any spooky props that I could find.  …I managed to find two truck loads of figures and props... We hired four to six people to be in the rides [jumping out in costumes and scaring people]. 

"Of course opening night surprised everyone with the huge crowd that came to this new event.  After about two hours on opening night, Bud called a meeting of all the officials that were there that night.  He told them that this wouldn’t work unless he had more live people in the rides.  When asked how many, Bud said, “thirty-five by tomorrow night.”  About six of us went out and bought all the thrift store jackets we could get our hands on and any masks that were still available so we could dress the talent that night.  The second year we used a few rented props, but darkened the rides more and added some special effects.  Each year Bud and I would discuss my ideas and he would approve or add to the plans for that year.  …I had wonderfully talented mechanics and artists that did an amazing job of bringing to life some of the crazy things I would come up with.”
Haunters in 1980, (L to R) Bill Cook, Hal Lafferty, Jim Beatty, Jon Jolly, and John Waite
The Haunt now provides Knott’s with much of its income for the year, and its many imitators have been the financial savior of much of the amusement park industry nationwide. In fact, because parental paranoia has greatly stifled trick-or-treating since the 1980s, the haunt trend may also have helped save the very concept of Halloween.

In late 1982, Hurlbut sold his rides at Knott’s to the Knott family and refocused his attention on his own Castle Park in Riverside. John stayed on at Knott’s for two more years as a ride mechanic.
An exhausted John Waite, leads an orientation and dress rehearsal at the Calico Mine Ride before the 1980 Haunt.
“Knott’s asked me to do the 1983 Halloween Haunt for the Mine and Log rides,” said John. But soon he had a new job with his old friend Bud. “After retiring from Knott’s, Bud wanted me to sell glow-in-the-dark items at his Castle Park in Riverside.  For the next five years I became the “Glowman” at Castle Park on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights.”

John also “kept busy over the years volunteering for many groups and causes.” He was, among other things, involved in the Orange County Puppetry Guild and efforts to save and restore the 1925 Fox Fullerton Theatre. 
Castle Park's Glow-Man, John Waite
In retirement, John moved from his apartment on 9th St. in Buena Park to the Dorado Senior Apartments on Stanton Ave., within easy walking distance of Knott’s Berry Farm. He upgraded his annual Season Pass for Knott’s so that it included free or deeply discounted dining, and he regularly walked over for his meals and to spend time enjoying the park. He attended theme park fan events and, of course, was a regular at Halloween Haunt.

“Spending a Haunt or two with him was definitely a joy,” said historian Eric Lynxwiler, “and getting him on the Mine and Log Ride were adventures in storytelling.”
At John's 80th birthday surprise party: (L to R): Jim Mayfield, Bud Hurlbut, and unknown
In retirement, John could also often be found visiting his friends up the street at Hurlbut Amusement.

“The picture I'll always have in my head [of John] is when I'd drop by Bud's shop back in the day and find Bud, John and Lonnie sitting at that big table having lunch and telling tales,” said Ken Stack of Stack’s Liberty Ranch. “They shared such camaraderie and joy.”

In the early 2010s, as interest in the history of Knott’s Berry Farm began to grow, and as the Calico Mine Ride and Log Ride underwent well-publicized rehabilitation, John Waite suddenly found himself in the role of celebrity within the world of theme park fans and professionals. He was called upon for interviews and panel discussions, for special events and social functions.
John waits to have a book signed by his friends Eric Lynxwiler, Tony Baxter, Steve Knott and Chris Merritt, 2010.
I met John in April 2010, at the day-long “Knott’s Preserved” historical event, coinciding with the publication of a book of the same title by Chris Merritt and Eric Lynxwiler. Chris and Eric put together the lectures and panels for the day and Phil Brigandi and I did the tours. John was there not only as a font of knowledge and living history, but also – quite clearly – as a fan. When he wasn’t on stage or being interviewed for podcasts, John was going on tours, getting books signed, and joining his fellow theme park enthusiasts on the rides and at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant.  He was everywhere that day.

We met again in 2011 at Hurlbut Amusement, about a month after Bud’s death. I was there to begin the process of bringing Bud’s papers to the County Archives, when Chris Merritt and John stopped by. We walked through Bud’s offices together that morning and John shared some memories.

From then on, I started to see John pretty frequently. He came to the Orange County Historical Society’s annual dinner, we hung out together at the official re-opening of the Timber Mountain Log Ride, we occasionally met at Knott’s just to visit and go on rides, we even ended up with a big group at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto (at Disneyland) a couple times.
Reopening of the Log Ride, 2013: (L to R) Phil Brigandi, Chris Jepsen, John Waite, Eric Lynxwiler, Ken Stack, Lonnie Loyd.
But I got to know John a lot better in 2014 when he decided that his own papers and theme park collection should join the Knott’s Berry Farm Collection and the Bud Hurlbut Papers at the Orange County Archives. In a process that went on, sporadically, for over a year, I’d come over to John’s place, we’d go through boxes from his packed walk-in closet, and he’d tell me about each item. It was a much, much longer process than normal for a new accession, but it was, for John, the only way to let go of these materials. A plan for a couple hours of digging and boxing would end up taking all afternoon and evening, and we’d end up finally stopping so we could have a late dinner at John’s favorite coffee shop, Keno’s. There was no way the County was going to pay me for all this time, but I was greatly enjoying the time with John, his stories, and watching him rediscover his own history. (Anyone who works in Archives for any reason other than a passion for history is nuts. If you’re only looking for a paycheck, you'd far better financially elsewhere.) We took lots of breaks, sitting out on his balcony with cold drinks – with me taking notes while he reminisced. I’m so glad we got to spend that time together.
Historians (L to R) Ken Stack, Phil Brigandi, Stephanie George and Chris Jepsen at the Ghost Town Grill with John Waite, 2014. (Photo by Dave DeCaro)
As for the John Waite Collection at the Archives, it is a rich trove of information for future generations of historians or anyone else who wants to delve into this history of amusement and theme parks, the specific projects he worked on, or John Waite himself. Unlike many in the industry, John never became blasé or jaded about his field. Despite being a respected and seasoned professional, he never stopped being the enthusiastic fan who once submitted his own ride ideas to Disney and Knott. As such, he built an impressive collection of theme-park-related publications, which is now well-represented in both the John Waite Collection and in the Archives’ reference library. He also had a selection of internal documents from Disneyland’s early years, which he assumed the Archives wouldn’t be interested in until I convinced him otherwise. (“That doesn’t have anything to do with Knott’s or Bud.”)

But perhaps the greatest jewels of the collection are John’s elaborate plans for the Calico Flume & Mine Ride, and his scrapbooks of behind-the-scenes photos from the early Halloween Haunts. Both show his creativity and passion operating at full-throttle.
John and I with friends on Knott's Calico Mine Ride, 2014.
Sadly, I’ve seen less of John in the past few years, although we spoke a couple times on the phone. Finally, attempts to reach him in early 2019 proved fruitless.  It turns out his niece had moved him up to Ventura County to live near her.

This month, I learned that John has some pretty serious health problems and that the prognosis isn’t good. Two mutual friends posted this news on Facebook and within minutes John’s niece (whose phone number hadn’t even been posted) was inundated with calls from John’s many friends, inquiring after him. The messages were pulled from Facebook just so the poor woman could get some sleep.

Last night, the word came down that John had passed away the day before. This was followed by a massive outpouring of both grief and warm memories all across social media. John’s kind and generous soul directly impacted the lives of a truly shocking number of people. And in his professional life, the foundations he built will continue to bring joy to countless millions who will never even know his name.
Bud Hurlbut and John Waite talk shop in front of Hurlbut Amusement Co.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Balboa Pirate Days

Balboa Pirate Days, circa late 1940s.
It’s International Talk Like A Pirate Day today! But talking like a pirate is nothing new in Orange County. Balboa Pirate Days was a tradition started by the local Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1935. The dredging of Newport Bay to become Newport Harbor was well underway, the Great Depression was in full-swing, and local businesses wanted to bring potential customers to town.

The annual festival was held over three or four days in the summer, usually in early September.(Pretty close to today’s Talk Like A Pirate Day).  Festivities included a pirate boat landing and invasion, a kiddie parade, costume contests, musical performances, a street dance for Balboa residents, aquatic sports competitions, a treasure hunt near the pier, a musical boat parade at the Fun Zone, a beard-growing contest, tall ships holding mock battles, and a ball at the Rendezvous Ballroom at which the "Pirate Queen" and her court were crowned. In the early years, those in town who refused to dress like pirates were put on trial in a kangaroo court and were then subject to a dunking in Newport Bay, being put in a "brig" at the base of the pier, or paying a “fine” that went to charity.

Balboa Pirate Days (sometimes called Newport-Balboa Pirate Days) went on hiatus during World War II. But it returned immediately afterward, in 1946, under the auspices of the Balboa Improvement Association. It lasted until at least 1948. The event, writes author Jeff Delaney, “became a headache for police when participants got a bit carried away in their pirate roles.”

By the early 1950s, the new and nearby Orange Coast College (team name: Pirates) took up the mantle and began holding its own Pirate Days festivities for students. It was certainly a much smaller event, but it continued in one form or another until at least the mid-1990s.

Also hanging on to some semblance of the tradition was the Orange County Fair, which incorporated the Pirate Queen beauty contest into its roster of events from at least 1951 – when the fair’s theme was “Ports o’ Plenty” – until the early 1960s. (The contestants were usually brought down to Newport Harbor for photo ops.) And throughout much of the 1950s, the Fair also featured “The Return of Bouchard the Pirate" outdoor musical play – a rather fanciful tale of about a real privateer who once raided San Juan Capistrano.

Monday, August 26, 2019

First American in Downtown Santa Ana

Orange County Title Co., 1953 (Photo courtesy CSUF Special Collections)
Same scene in 2019. (Photo by C. Jepsen)
It's hard to think of a business that's had a broader and more sustained roll in the growth and development of Orange County than First American Corp. It’s clearly and indisputably one of Orange County's oldest and most historically significant businesses.  They've been good for O.C. and O.C. has been good for them.

Joshua D. Parker, brought his family to the town of Orange around 1872. His four boys – Millard, Josh, Charles Edward (“C.E.”), and Clarence all have interesting biographies worthy of more depth than I can give them here.

C.E. Parker started a nursery that was an early source for Orange County's walnut and citrus groves. He moved to Santa Ana in the 1880s, became a partner in a local granary, and was behind the push for Santa Ana to bring adopt the new technologies of electric street lights and telephones.
Three generations of leadership (L to R): C.E. Parker, George A. Parker, and D.P. Kennedy. (Courtesy First American)
Back in 1889, when rural Orange County split from Los Angeles, it was often still murky as to exactly how "clear" the title was on many properties. To make sure everything was legitimate, land buyers needed detailed documentation of all transactions in which their property had changed hands in the past. It was a complicated task requiring not only access to County records (including L.A. County records prior to Aug. 1889), but also Mexican land grants, U.S. land patents, and more. It also required an ability to accurately interpret legal descriptions of property that often included impermanent landmarks like trees, riverbeds and tidelines. There was a need for specialists to do this work.

Two companies sprang up to fill this need: Santa Ana Abstract Co. and the Orange County Abstract Co. In 1892, C.E. Parker bought part of Santa Ana Abstract Co. and, with his partners, merged it with their rival company in 1894.

Thus began the Orange County Title Co. (later renamed First American Title). In 1924, the company became one of the first in California to issue title insurance.
O.C. Title board and staff in 1904. L to R, standing: C.E. Parker, president; D.M. Dorman, Santa Ana businessman who with Moses Abbot built Newport Landing in 1872; Thomas L. McKeever, Santa Ana insurance executive; Frank Ey, member of pioneer Anaheim family and one-time mayor of Santa Ana; and A.J. Visel, one of the first realtors and subdividers in the county. Seated: George A. Edgar, whose Santa Ana grocery store was the informal town meeting hall; Charles A. Riggs, vice president; Frederick Stephens, secretary; Mrs. L.C. Green, title searcher; and Adelaide Cochrane, typist. (Courtesy First American)
Their central asset was their own set of property records (“abstracts”), which they’d hand-copied with great care from the records of Los Angeles and Orange counties. It took a staff of six, working six days a week, to create the highly accurate transcription that would serve as the foundation of the business. The company then compiled and indexed these records using their own system which allowed them to access the material much more efficiently than the county’s own system at the time.

“…The complete story of land titles in Orange County is told in the vast archives of the Orange County Title Company,” explained First American’s book, Orange County: Indians to Industry, in 1963. “Glimpses of the... gracious mode of life in the early days of the county may be had by perusal of the volumes in which recorded documents affecting the title to property were laboriously copied by hand. Deeds stipulating payment of the purchase price of a piece of land with tallow at $1.20 per ‘arroba’ and hides at $2.00 each often paint vivid word pictures of the county’s pioneer past. Marriage ‘contracts,’ wills and other documents offer exciting insight into the sacrifices, hopes and efforts that went into the making of the county.”
This was O.C. Title's third location in Downtown Santa Ana (circa 1900). The 1931 building now sits on this and surrounding properties. (Courtesy First American)
Parker remained president from 1889 until his death in 1930, after which the company continued to be steered by his family. First his son George A. Parker took over as president. Then C.E.'s grandson, Donald Parker Kennedy, became president, expanding the company's reach beyond Orange County in the late 1950s and changing their name in 1960 to First American Title Insurance. Don’s son, Parker S. Kennedy, would later take over.

George’s son, attorney Ted Parker, began collecting photos of early Orange County from the scrapbooks of pioneer families, from the studios of photographer Ed Cochems, and from anywhere else he could find them. Today, the First American Historical Collection includes over 12,500 images – many of them iconic.
Architectural rendering from the Los Angeles Times, Jan. 19, 1930.
For many decades, the O.C. Title/First American headquarters was a beautiful art deco building, with cast stone columns at the southeast corner of Main St. and 5th in Santa Ana.

"Allen Ruoff, Los Angeles and Santa Ana architect, is preparing plans for a two-story brick and concrete office and archives vault building at the southeast corner of Fifth and Main streets, Santa Ana” announced the Los Angeles Times on Jan. 19, 1930. “...Ruoff has [also] just completed plans for a $250,000 mausoleum, chapel and crematory to be built at Santa Ana for Fairhaven Cemetery."
O.C. Title Co., 1930s. Color adjusted for emphasis. (Photo courtesy Mark Hall-Patton.)
O.C. Title Co. building, 2019. (Photo by Chris Jepsen)
Contractor P.J. Walker Co. of Los Angeles began construction on the headquarters in July 1930 and finished in early February 1931. It was built in such a way that additional stories could be added later, should there be a need.

Indeed, there was a need. But rather than building upward, First American spread out. They began in 1954 by adding a new wing featuring a modern/Jeffersonian neo-classical façade by architect Thomas F. Shoemaker. This was followed by a larger expansion in 1967 that filled the entire block and also re-clad much of their 1931 art deco building to match the neo-classical look. Some additional renovations occurred in 1977. But the original façade is probably still sitting underneath all the “frosting” even today.
The First American complex circa 1963 – between the 1954 and 1967 expansions.
A little birdie in a window tells me that the farthest wing of the complex – at 4th and Bush streets – may have been modified into a J.C. Penney department store in 1949 (rather than entirely rebuilt as advertised) from part of an earlier historic building. In 1976, the Penney's was re-reclad neo-classical style and became First American's east wing. If part of the older 1890s facade facing 4th Street still hides under all that (see photo below) falderal, then it has its own interesting pre-Penney's story to tell -- as a tin and hardware store downstairs and the public library and public hall upstairs. Could there be remnants of this old façade beneath the First American cladding? It would be fascinating to know.
E. 4th St. at Bush St., looking west, circa 1910. Image color adjusted for emphasis. (Courtesy Tom Pulley)
E. Fourth St. at Bush St., looking west, 2019. (Photo by Chris Jepsen)

In any case, the campus served First American well for decades. But the entire complex was largely abandoned when First American moved into their new corporate headquarters at MacArthur Blvd. and the 55 Freeway around 2000.  (They were determined to stay in Santa Ana, even if they had to go to the outskirts to find a parcel large enough.)
Around the same time, the company was renamed again to become the First American Corporation, reflecting the wider array of financial, insurance, data services and other business services they provided. In 2010, the enormous (and by now international) company was split into First American Financial Corp. and CoreLogic Inc. The latter encompassed the property information and analytics aspects of their business. In 2017, First American's total revenue was $5.8 billion. 
Planned new development by Toll Brothers. (Courtesy City of Santa Ana)
Recently, the old O.C. Title/First American block was purchased by Toll Brothers, who plan to build a large mixed-use development on the site. Few would refute the idea that this long-empty block needs some redevelopment -- preferably into something iconic, unforgettable, and worthy of anchoring the heart of the heart of the heart of our county seat. It would be the perfect crossroads for an architect to celebrate our past while also pointing Santa Ana toward a brighter future.

Check out the project page on the City's website, with particular attention to the Cultural Resources section of the Environmental Impact Report Technical Appendices and share your thoughts.