Friday, December 27, 2019

Views from the heart of Santa Ana

A still-unpaved W. 4th St, in 1889 – the year Orange County was formed. The tracks down the middle of the street were for the Santa Ana, Orange & Tustin horse-drawn streetcar, which was later converted to steam power. (Photo by B. F. Conaway)
This year marked the 150th anniversary of the City of Santa Ana. What follows is based very loosely on a small tribute exhibit we put together earlier this year at the Archives, which looked at the city’s history through the lens of its historic core.

Fourth Street was the heart of Santa Ana from the moment William Spurgeon sketched out plans for his new town in 1869. Indeed, as the town developed, the intersection of Fourth St. and Main St. became the center of Santa Ana’s commercial and professional life. And in 1889, when Santa Ana became the seat of the new County of Orange, Fourth St. became the whole county’s primary hub of shopping and business, and the temporary home of our county government’s offices. Over the decades, a succession of horse-drawn, steam-driven and electric trolley services served this hive of activity.

For more than half a century, Fourth St. was where Orange County came to see their lawyer, doctor or dentist. It was where one bought linens, china, housewares or clothes, in department stores like Rankin’s. It was where the country folk came on Saturday night to dine, dance, or see a movie. And in wartime, at holidays, or when the circus came to town – Fourth St. was the place to hold parades. 
Woodcut image of 4th St. in 1887.
During the post-World War II boom, Downtown Santa Ana faced competition from countless suburban shopping centers, malls, and professional complexes. Trolley service ended and many long-standing businesses closed along Fourth St.. But new tenants moved in, and soon “Calle Cuatro” was a bustling hub of commerce again – This time serving the large population of migrants from Mexico and Central America. Business continued – just in another language. And aside from the newer Fiesta Marketplace (1980s) and Reagan Federal Building (1990s) much of Fourth Street’s historic charm remains.

The following images do not constitute a comprehensive history, nor are they particularly chronological. They are simply snapshots: A few sample moments in time from a place with a century-and-a-half of rich history.
This (above) was the Congdon Block, at 304 E. Fourth St. at Spurgeon St., in 1890. The new County of Orange rented much of this block as the first county government offices before constructing its own buildings. Grocer F. M. Goff, whose advertising can be seen here, was one of the founders of the Arch Beach community in South Laguna and later (1897) purchased and moved to a coffee plantation in Honduras.
East Fourth St., looking east, circa 1905. Santa Ana was rightly proud of its new Pacific Electric trolley line. These “Red Cars” were the backbone of transportation in Southern California until automobiles fully dominated the landscape.  The Santa Ana line operated until July 1950.
Interior of the John L. Martin Store, on the southwest corner of E. Fourth St. and Bush St., in 1900. Martin sold groceries, china and glassware for fifteen years before selling his store in 1908 and moving back to Indiana to be near his elderly father. Martin returned to Santa Ana to stay in 1912 and was pleasantly surprised at the town’s growth: "Fourth Street looks mighty good to me. New businesses new store fronts have gone in, and the business portion of the town looks thoroughly alive."
The Ringling Bros. Circus Parade marches along the 100 block of E. Fourth St. on Sept. 24, 1909. The Santa Ana Register reported that the parade “was more than two miles long” and “that none one of the thousands who saw it today will ever forget it." A roller-skating chimpanzee in a suit, dubbed “Darwin, the man-monkey,” headed the menagerie.
During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration’s surplus commodities program distributed such basics as clothing, bedding, staple foods and beer at the Karo Building, at 805-807 E. Fourth St. The building, shown here on a “distribution day” in 1937, also housed the KA-RO Hotel and an auto garage.
East Fourth St. in 1935, looking southeast. With the exception of the Alpha Beta grocery store, most of the buildings shown here on the south side of the street still stand today. The photographer stood on the site of the current Reagan Federal Building. (The theater building on the right is still a particular favorite of mine.)
The Santa Ana Hotel, at Main and Fourth St., circa 1880. The front of this hotel is where politicians generally gave speeches. In March 1879, one such speaker was Denis Kearney, a labor leader who advocated lynching, violence against his foes, and the eradication of Chinese from California. Kearney made scurrilous accusations against such popular locals as W. H. Spurgeon, J. H. Fruit, and especially James McFadden. McFadden employee T. W. Rule hit Kearney hard, “spoiling his nose.” Kearny ran into a drugstore and was followed by Rule and Bob McFadden, who took turns pummeling him. A badly beaten Kearny hopped the next stagecoach to San Diego.
The Montgomery Ward department store's dramatic art deco-styled store at Main and Fourth St. was designed by local architect Horace Austin, and opened in 1933. It was demolished in 1974 as the first step in a downtown redevelopment plan. Part of it's decorative ironwork was incorporated into the walls that currently surround the parking lot where "Monkey Wards" once stood. This photo was taken in 1945, as evidenced by the banner promoting a bond measure to build a new Santa Ana College campus.
Like most downtown businesses, the Parke S. Roper Book Store at 210 W. Fourth St. decorated their store for the large Civil War veterans’ convention held in Santa Ana in April 1908. Note the Grand Army of the Republic (Union veterans organization) ribbons in the window.
This photo shows repairs underway on buildings along W. Fourth St., between Sycamore and Main, after the earthquake of March 10, 1933. The magnitude 6.4 quake caused 120 fatalities and widespread property damage throughout the Long Beach and Orange County areas.
A Pacific Electric trolley rolls past the William H. Spurgeon Building on W. Fourth St. at Sycamore in the 1930s. This was the third “Spurgeon Building” to grace the street and was built in 1913 to replace the 1882 iteration on the same site. Today, its clock tower is an iconic symbol of Santa Ana.
Santa Ana's National Guard Company L marches off to World War I in 1917. Here they march past the Rossmoor Hotel on W. Fourth St.
Many still remember Fourth St. as it appeared in the 1950s. This photo was taken at Fourth St. and Broadway, around 1956. 
Today, a broad array of Orange Countians are rediscovering Fourth Street’s charms. Quinceanera dress shops and international money transfer services have been joined by coffee houses, banks, and hip restaurants. New life has been breathed into old theaters, large festivals are occasionally held in the street, and even trolley service is set for a comeback.
W. 4th St. torn up for redevelopment, circa 1982-1983.

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