Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Another cautionary tale...

We recently lost Prof. Walter E. Williams, who, like any great economist, had an excellent grasp of the patterns, details and mechanics of history:

"A tyrant's first battlefield is to rewrite history. Most notable were the political purges of Joseph Stalin. The Soviet government erased figures from Soviet history by renaming cities – such as the Imperial capital of St. Petersburg to Petrograd and Leningrad and Stalingrad – and eradicating memories of czarist rule. Stalin's historical revisions also included changing photographs and history books, thereby distorting children's learning within educational establishments.

"...Most of the effort to rewrite American history has its roots among the intellectual elite on our college campuses whose message has been sold to predominantly white college students who have little understanding of how they are being used."

-Walter E. Williams (1936-2020)

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Rob Richardson in railroad heaven

Tim Rush just sent me an email I felt I had to share, since so many of you knew (and therefore liked) railfan, local historian, and Santa Ana booster Rob Richardson. Although Rob passed away in July 2020, his family -- with help from Tim -- took him on one last adventure that I know he would have greatly appreciated. I'll let Tim tell the story,...

"As many of you know among Rob’s final wishes was to have some of his remains scattered about the train tracks at the Cajon Pass where he loved to go and observe the huge trains come and go along the mountain pass.    This past Saturday Bella and the three youngest of the children, Cameron, Ian and Lia and I left my house after a suitable snack of donuts and chocolate milk at 6:45 a.m. for The Cajon Pass.  We went to a spot that had been recommended by several folks 'in the know' about where to do this.  Along the way we stopped at Rob’s favorite fast food spot, Del Taco for breakfast then we were off to Cleghorn Road tracks.  We parked and the family went down to the tracks.   I stayed with our rented Jeep Wrangler (Bella was certain we would need a four wheel drive vehicle, and she was so correct) to look out for Railroad Police.    

"Along came a train 'foamer' to watch and he was  about 25’ ahead of us.    Bella took the initiative to ask him about a spot she and Rob used to go to “a hill with a couple of trees and benches, a promontory that you can watch all three tracks with trains coming and going….”  As serendipity would have it this fellow knew exactly where she was talking about.   That morning on the drive up she for the first time mentioned this spot and I thought, 'our chance of finding that out in the middle of BFE was about zero' but I kept my thoughts to myself.   Much to my surprise this fellow led us right to the entrance.  We had a rollicking, Mr. Toad’s wild ride up to the summit of what we discovered is known in the train fanatic world as Hill 582*.  It even shows up on Google Maps……..Cameron found it.  After you have white knuckled up the mountain, and you are seated on one of the benches one can sense why it was a favored spot for Rob to visit several times a year.   Bella said he nearly always went on his birthday.  To see those massive trains 125-150 cars long plus 3-4 engines traversing that grade (a 3% grade, quite steep in the train world) is a marvel of modern machinery.   We were told by a retired trainman who arrived after us on Hill 582 that the train cannot exceed 20MPH going down the grade or they will lose control and likely crash.   And in the train world 20MPH means no more, zero tolerance, an Engineer will lose his job at 21MPH.

(*Retired Trainmen/women and train lovers have donated tens of thousands of hours creating this viewing spot, with landscaping, benches, a couple of eucalyptus trees and a reasonably maintained road.  They truck 480 gallons of water up there each week to slake the thirst of the vegetation as it only gets 4-5” of rain a year.  It is quite the little oasis and a testimonial to the love of train fans and all things trains.)

"We wrote our names in the journal that is there for visitors to sign……..watched some trains, buried more of his remains, said a prayer and enjoyed the view. It was a bit nippy, at 39 degrees with the wind blowing, we were above the fog that was like pea soup going up the I-15.  We stopped at Cabella’s Outdoor World ………they had never been there and arrived back in SNA at 12;30pm.  Rob’s remains have been placed at the SNA Train Station (our secret), Cajon Pass (two spots) and we will make a trek to Tehachapi soon and our work will be done.
"In case you are wondering about the school naming issue for Rob…….it is a slow process filled with much political intrigue.  Not quite at the Agatha Christie level……..but for Santa Ana it is our version.   I will keep you all posted. By the way, the City is in process of having  a new bronze memorial plaque with much more detail created to recognize Rob at the receiving platform at SNA Train Station.  You may recall it was dedicated to Rob in 1999. Every time  I hear a train whistle I think of Rob, or see a train on a TV show……….he lives on in our memories of this remarkable human being. As Jane Russo opined at his memorial service, 'his heart didn’t give out, he gave US his heart.'"
UPDATE: I received the following follow-up email from Tim on Christmas Eve:

“…Last week I shared [that] we planned to visit Tehachapi to make a deposit of our friend RR.  No great surprise that a little town that for years was known as “Old Town,” founded by the Southern Pacific Railroad in the 1860s, would be a draw for our friend Rob. Bella (Rob’s widow and three of the four children, Cameron, Ian and Lia) and I trundled off to the Tehachapi Valley this past Saturday at 0700.   Everyone promptly fell asleep and I was travelling the 2.5 hours to this historic town that is State Historic Landmark No. 673. …Our first stop was Rob’s favorite, Kohnen’s German Bakery. We gorged ourselves on all manner of sweet treats and then had to order sandwiches for lunch of course.   When you make your way up here, this place is absolutely a destination.  The food is terrific and right next to the Railroad Museum and Depot, and tracks…how perfect is that? 
Of course, everything except for the fact that so many of the attractions were closed due to COVID.  We could peek into the windows of the Tehachapi RR Museum and Depot (rebuilt in 2008 due to a fire that burned the original one to the ground).  They have a “signal garden” next to the Depot.  It has a cool collection of old, retired RR signals and equipment which is rather unique.   Their downtown has quite a number of shops and places to spend your dollars.
Tehachapi Depot (Photo courtesy Bella Richardson)

“Whilst we visited the depot……we wandered out to the tracks and made a deposit of Rob’s ashes…just like Cajon Pass the wind was blowing and it was cold, but very clear.   A perfect day for train watching.   This place gets lots of action, seemed there was a train coming thru about every thirty minutes.
“My nephew and his wife and family live in Tehachapi, he is a plumbing contractor, and she runs a second hand shop.   Knowing how Rob loved to paw thru old crap……we of course stopped and purchased a number of items that we couldn’t live without.  In memory of Rob of course!  We finally loaded back into my car and headed for The Golden City. I had suggested to Bella and the kids that we stop for a tour of the Tehachapi State Prison, but they felt we were tight on time………so perhaps next visit.

“All in all it was a fun outing, and gave us an opportunity to honor our friend and his deep love of trains.”
San Clemente -- another of Rob's favorite spots -- was also on the agenda. (Photo by Bella Richardson)

Saturday, December 12, 2020

A year without Phil

One year ago today, on Dec. 12, 2019, historian Phil Brigandi passed away in his beloved hometown or Orange. His last breath was taken only a stone’s throw from the very spot where, sixty years earlier, he took his first breath --  a fact Phil would no doubt have appreciated. He would have a clever way of phrasing it, which all his friends would have heard several times by now. 

He was my mentor, friend and colleague. The article I wrote immediately upon learning of Phil’s death, and my follow-up article about his time as our County Archivist, captured most of what I wanted to say about him at the time, and I won’t rehash it all here. Today's post is more of mile marker.

Once the innumerable public and private tributes to Phil finally started to wind down, we all found ourselves faced with COVID-19. But before and during various stages of lockdown, much has been accomplished to keep Phil’s work and memory alive. A few examples follow:

1) Phil’s last book, a new edition of his history of Scouting in Orange County, On My Honor, was published.

2) Phil’s vast historical files – per his wishes – were given to the Sherman Library in Corona del Mar, where (once processed) they will be available as an invaluable research source for current and future generations of historians.

3) A good share of Phil’s massive historical library (separate of his papers) and other historical materials went to the publicly accessible Orange County Archives.

4) Another large portion of Phil’s personal library went to the newly-dubbed Phil Brigandi History Room at the Orange County Historical Society. OCHS also established a Phil Brigandi Fund to help with this project. In the months before his death, Phil did a tremendous amount of work to assist OCHS in getting their collections whipped into shape and easily accessible to the public. 

5) Stephanie George rescued Phil’s website ( and kept it operating this year. Starting in January, the Orange County Historical Society will take over maintenance.

6) Knowing that the local Boy Scout Council has no interest in having a museum or archives of their own, Phil’s extensive collection of scouting materials went to some of his scouting friends, in whom he had instilled a strong interest in the history of the Boy Scouts in Orange County. Thanks to David Daniels ome of that material has also been sold off to collectors raise money for the Phil Brigandi Campership Fund for scouts.

7) Phil’s collection of Ramona/Helen Hunt Jackson material went to his friend, Dydia Delyser, who’s the only other historian doing serious work on the Ramona myth.

8) COVID-19 lockdowns provided a perfect opportunity to share Phil’s work with new audiences (who suddently had a little time on their hands). I’ve been regularly posting links to his articles in the Orange County History group on Facebook. 

9) Remaining local historians are closer knit in the wake of our loss and are working (jointly and severally) to do our best to fill in some of the tasks Phil would have handled in the past. Some stepped up to lecture more often; others write and edit what Phil cannot; and historical society volunteers have stepped up their game—hauling, organizing, and doing whatever needs to be done. It’s a LITTLE weird to answer questions from the press that would have been directed at Phil a year ago. But it’s a LOT weird to answer questions on topics like the history of Orange – topics none of us ever bothered with until now because Phil had them down cold. 

In reference to Phil’s papers and library, I suppose it seems weird to outline the distribution of someone’s estate in a blog post. But Phil would have wanted local historians to know where all his great stuff went, so they could access it and learn from it in the future. He was a sharer, never a hoarder.

The local historical community will never be the same without Phil, but it’s dramatically better off for all the knowledge, energy and friendship he shared with us. 

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Connections between Calico and Orange County

Phil Brigandi in Calico, 2009. (Photo by C. Jepsen)
When the Orange County Historical Society held a historical of the mining town of Calico (near Yermo) in March 2014, Phil Brigandi told us historical tales on the bus trip out. I just stumbled across some of his notes from that day, and thought I'd share them here...

By Phil Brigandi

Margaret Kincaid Olivier was the last schoolteacher at Calico, for the 1898-99 term. Her husband [Remi T. Olivier] and her brother James Kincaid operated a store at Calico in the early 1880s. It was said that in later years she taught private pupils in English and Spanish in Huntington Beach, which was where she passed away in 1932. She was buried at the Calico Cemetery alongside her husband and oldest son.

Walter Knott in Calico, circa 1960.

Walter Knott, son of Elgin Knott and Virginia Dougherty, explored Calico during the time he was homesteading (1915-1917) in Newberry Springs (about 20 miles to the southeast). He purchased the townsite of Calico and seventy-five surrounding acres in 1951 from the Zenda Gold Mining Co. and donated it a little over ten years later to the County of San Bernardino. Knott had grown up hearing stories of Calico 's mining days from his uncle, John C. King who had married [Walter’s] mother's older sister, Martha. King had been Sheriff of San Bernardino County from 1879 until 1882, and he had invested in the Silver King Mine as well as a hotel at Calico.

David M. Harwood was listed as a farmer and fruit grower in Orange County in 1880 Census. His wife (Elizabeth French Harwood) had written letters about her experiences including living at Calico, which had been published in the Santa Ana Standard in 1882. Harwood owned more than one mine in the district in the early 1880s, and news of his progress with it was published in the Anaheim Gazette. Their daughter Rose or Rosabell married a man who had been a miner at Calico.

Calico Schoolhouse in 1885. (Courtesy O.C. Archives)

Richard F. Stanton had been a barber at Calico in the late 1890s and his children attended the Calico School. The family moved to Barstow, and then lived in Fullerton from about 1910-1920. He died in 1921 and his wife Emma in 1947, and they were both buried at Loma Vista Memorial Park in Fullerton (where Walter Knott was also buried). 

Halsey Dunning had been a miner at Calico in the 1880s. He and his second wife had twins at Calico in 1889. His daughter from his previous marriage named Aurelia married Osgood Catland, and they raised their family in Santa Ana, Orange County.

Artist Paul von Kleiben, who designed Knott's Berry Farm's Ghost Town, also designed much of the "restoration" of Calico, as seen in this sketch from 1951.

Samuel L. King (no relation to John C. King) was reportedly a miner at Calico, who had died there in 1882. His remains were moved to a cemetery in Norwalk or Downey, and from there they were moved to Fairhaven Cemetery in Santa Ana.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Street car construction reveals street car remnants

Pacific Electric tracks uncovered. (Photo Bob Walker)
Bob Walker just sent me these great photos of the old Pacific Electric Railway ties and railbed being uncovered on Santa Ana Blvd. near Bristol Street as the road is chopped up for the new Santa Ana/Garden Grove street car project. This neatly cut cross-section is a peek back into a time when Orange County was very different.  

When the Pacific Electric's "Red Cars" were at their peak, each city or town was its own little population cluster, had a business hub or downtown at it's core, and there were miles of fields or orchards between the edge of town and the edge of the next town. 
Pacific Electric tracks uncovered. (Photo Bob Walker)
The notion of urban/suburban sprawl wasn't even on our radar. Southern California was somewhat sparsely populated, there were relatively few roads (many of them bad), and a large portion of the population did not have regular access to an automobile. The Red Cars filled a real need and new development often popped up on the open land along their tracks.
Early rail lines through Santa Ana (by Steve Donaldson and Bill Myers)

By comparison, today almost every inch of Central Orange County is built out. Nearly everyone has a car. Roads are good and ubiquitous. And nothing is centralized. The businesses you patronize, the points of interest, the places you and our friends and family work and live are sprawled out will-nilly over a vast manmade environment that stretches from somewhere in Ventura County down to Camp Pendleton and all the way inland to the desert. And with the death of even our shopping malls, there really are no truly functional downtown or town square-like environments. Everyone needs access to everywhere.

Pacific Electric "Red Car" on W. 4th St., Santa Ana, circa 1920

After World War II, the already waning Pacific Electric Railway system slowly declined and was dismantled, with busses (which could be re-routed as needed and were were not reliant on tracks) and freeways helping take their place. The demise of the "Red Cars" was not a conspiracy, as some (including the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit) suggest. It was primarily a matter of the unavoidable market forces of supply and demand, combined with the march of time and technology.

Map of the new Street Car system, under construction, 2020.

At this point, it's hard not to see trolleys as somewhat romantic and colorful rather than strictly utilitarian. So it's hard not to smile when you see a long-hidden piece of track uncovered after all these decades.

Monday, December 07, 2020

Modjeska, Pleasants and "Arden"

Helena Modjeska at Arden

We often hear about stage actress Madame Helena Modjeska’s home, “Arden” in what’s now called Modjeska Canyon. In fact, it's now a County historic park. But it wasn’t always called Arden, even by Modjeska herself.

Originally, Joseph Edward "Judge" Pleasants (1839-1934) and his first wife, Mary Refugio Carpenter Pleasants (1845-1888), lived at that idyllic spot in a little pioneer cabin which they cleverly named “Pleasant Refuge.” 

After Mary’s death, Judge Pleasants sold the land to family friend Helena Modjeska and her husband, Count Bozenta. The new owners hired architect Stanford White to design a new and larger home, built around the existing Pleasants homestead cabin. (This juxtaposition of rustic and fancy still makes for some of the most interesting features in the house.)

The Los Angeles Evening Express, July 19, 1888, described the house-warming party Modjeska's new canyon home saying, "The Madame has named her mountain home "El Refugio" -- a place of rest--after her dear departed friend, Mrs. Pleasants, and in the grandeur of its mountain seclusion it would seem to have reached the goal which she desired of it. The house is not quite completed, but it will be a marvel of beauty and convenience when finished."

Mary Refugio Carpenter Pleasants, 1868 (Courtesy UCI)

Apparently, she gave her home the name Arden only later, inspired by the Forest of Arden in Shakespeare's As You Like It. It retains that name today.

Modjeska would go on to be not just Orange County’s first celebrity resident, but also a beloved local figure for her kindness, hospitality, and community spirit.

The Judge (already a well-known figure in the region) went on to be the elder pioneer everyone turned to when they needed stories about Orange County’s Wild West years. He also became a founding member of the Orange County Historical Society. And in 1892, he married Mary Adelina "Addie" Brown (1859-1943) -- a local school teacher with her own keen interest in history. In 1931, Adelina would publish the three-volume set --History of Orange County, California -- which most local historians simply refer to as “Pleasants.”

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Applicable to historical work...

“What are the facts? Again and again and again – what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what 'the stars foretell,' avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable 'verdict of history' – what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!”

― Robert A. Heinlein

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Orange’s Plaza: What’s in a Name?

Postcard of the Plaza in Orange, circa 1910.

Is the intersection of Chapman Ave. and Glassell St. called “the Plaza” or “the Circle?” That controversy, regarding the center of historic Downtown Orange, has been a sore point in recent decades. The short answer is this: It’s been the Plaza since 1871 and remains so. But the use of the nickname “Circle” or “Orange Circle” ramped up sometime around the 1960s and is now heard frequently. Not satisfied with that answer? Then buckle up for the long version,…

Detail of 1883 Richland Farm Lots map, showing empty plaza.

The Plaza or Plaza Square has been at the heart of Orange since Captain William T. Glassell laid out the townsite (originally called Richland) on paper in 1871. In the book, Orange: The City ‘Round the Plaza, historian and proud Orange native Phil Brigandi wrote, “Despite its Spanish name, , the original Plaza Square was envisioned more like an Eastern ‘common’ or ‘green,’ with all the businesses facing in toward the center.”

January 1885 Sanborn map shows Chapman and Glassell crossing in a large open area.

Why a “plaza” rather than a town square or some other more conventionally middle-American-sounding label? Because all the way back to the Mission Era, it had been the tradition for Southern California communities – like Los Angeles and San Juan Capistrano -- to have a plaza at the heart of town. It came from our Spanish and Mexican roots. Keep in mind that Alfred B. Chapman and Andrew Glassell (William’s brother) had acquired the land on which they created Richland/Orange directly from the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. Using the word plaza was not an affectation – it was part of the local culture at the time.

A plaque at the fountain in Plaza Park. Placed in 1976.

In the early years, the two streets intersected directly in the middle of the Plaza – a poorly tended, weed-choked square of public land. Pioneer Alice Armor recalled, “Some of the earliest settlers planted pepper trees in the four corners and water was piped from a reservoir on East Chapman avenue to the center of the square. There was always a miry puddle about the hydrant, where travelers stopped to water their teams. The pepper trees were used as hitching posts and in their shade, wood was piled and packing boxes were stacked. Castoff boots and shoes, old hats, broken crockery and dead hens were scattered here and there. Such was the Orange plaza in the good old days.”

In 1886, two proposals were made to improve the Plaza. One plan kept the intersection as it was but created four parks – one on each corner of the Plaza. Another plan substituted a Plaza Park in the middle of the square, surrounded by an oval (not circular) traffic roundabout. Obviously, the roundabout plan won.

Survey map of the Plaza, 1893, by H. Clay Kellogg (courtesy County of Orange)."The Plaza” is literally in the shape of an oval. Go measure it," notes local Larry Hockensmith. "If you want to misname The Plaza, at least misname it correctly as 'The Oval.'"

Among the many community efforts to raise funds for these improvements – in particular the expensive fountain -- was the writing and performance of a play, fittingly titled, “The Plaza.” Some time after the park, fountain, roundabout and other improvements were completed, an official survey map of “the Plaza in Orange” was filed with the county. (The streets weren’t actually paved until 1912.)

In a 1970 interview, early Orange resident Florence Smiley remembered "the Plaza was used, and people walked,... It was a pretty little place -- and there was no traffic and no trouble getting across into the plaza."

The Plaza, looking northeast, 1892

From the very beginning, each official reference or designation to the square and its park and roundabout used the term “Plaza.” Newspapers consistently referred to “the plaza.” Businesses facing onto the plaza had (and still have) “Plaza Square” as their address. And in 1973, when the 1910 Street Fair was revived and made an annual event, it too was held “at the Orange Plaza.”

1922 Sanborn map shows part of Plaza Square.

Even proposals to change the fabric of Downtown still gave a nod to the historic name. In 1965, the city commissioned a study to determine the feasibility of turning the area into a pedestrian shopping area called “Plaza Mall.” Another 1967 concept proposed redeveloping the area into a “Super Plaza.” Happily, the city leaned more toward adaptive reuse than redevelopment, and instead of soon-to-be-obsolete malls the area became the Plaza Historic District – recognized as a State Historic Landmark in 1981 and on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Plaza Historic District marker on South Glassell.

So where and when did the nickname “Orange Circle” arise? 

The first reference I can find is in a May 1, 1940 classified ad in the Santa Ana Register, hawking a "6 rm home" on "E. Chapman Ave., 2 mi. east of Orange Circle." But the term wasn’t in widespread use at that point. 

Eventually the term "Orange Circle" appeared in the newspapers again – this time in an ad in the Jan. 6, 1963 L.A. Times promoting Vista del Playa Estates. It offered the following directions: "From City of Orange Circle, take Glassell north to Taft. Then east to Shaffer, then north to Vista del Playa St." (How one could have a view of the beach from there is beyond me. Perhaps the developers were a little hazy on geography to begin with.)

Rare example of the term "Orange Circle" used in print downtown.

“Orange Circle” appeared again in a Sept. 20, 1972, Tustin News article about a meeting "in Happening Hall at the Teen Challenge Center, 78 Plaza Square, where Chapman and Glassell intersect in the Orange Circle." 

Indeed, it was during those years between the 1963 ad and the 1972 article that the "Orange Circle” nickname gained momentum. The city had grown exponentially in the post-World War II years and new arrivals living in freshly constructed tract homes and apartments now vastly outnumbered longtime residents and their offspring. The newbies appreciated many of Orange’s charms but weren’t familiar with its history.

Thus, the rise of the phrase “Orange Circle” began “somewhere in between the first episode of ‘My Three Sons,’ and the last episode of ‘Bewitched” according to Roger Fitschen, longtime Orange fireman and member of an Orange pioneer family. Or to put it another way, “If you remember the Lionettes it was ‘Plaza’ and if you don’t it [might be] the other thing.”

Indeed, to those with deep roots in town, use of the term “Circle” was an easy-to-spot indicator that the speaker had “just fallen off the turnip truck.”  

View from the Plaza, circa 1910s.

When the Orange Community Historical Society held a program discussing the Orange Daily News building (44 Plaza Square), they invited not only historians and past owners but also the manager of Dietrich’s Coffee, which was then housed in the building. “She got up to speak and said how happy she was to be on ‘the circle,’” remembers Judy Schroeder. “A low grumble passed through the whole room.”

“I didn’t arrive here until 1967 from Los Angeles County,” says Lisa Baldwin of the Society, “so I was part of those newbies who called it the circle growing up. I think the shape of the roadway is so descriptive that it became popular. … It wasn’t until I started working at A & P [Antiques], met Adrienne [Gladson] and then the folks of the Orange Community Historical Society that I learned, ‘them FIGHTin’ words!’  … Once appropriately schooled, I have adapted to correctly referring to it as The Plaza. It is out of respect to Misters Glassell and Mr. Chapman I call it the place they named it.”

The famous bumper sticker -- Designed by Orange High alumni over bacon and eggs at Watson's.

Adding fuel to the fire, a few local businesses began using the word "Circle" in their name, just as many others used "Plaza" in theirs. "Circle" establishments included Orange Circle Antique Mall and the Circle City Club. (This nightclub's name ignored the fact that "the Circle City" was already the well-established nickname of the nearby city of Corona.)

Some felt education was the answer to the controversy. Around 2002, the remaining members of the Orange High School Class of 1943 (who still met regularly for breakfast at Watson’s Drug Store) printed and distributed 1,500 bumper stickers declaring “It’s the Plaza, not the circle!” The old timers even twisted arms to get the stickers placed on city trucks and police cars. 

But by then, the original term, Plaza, was already regaining some of the traction it had lost to Circle. 

“I think the [Orange Community Historical] Society’s influence was felt politically at City Hall certainly in the 1990s, with staff seemingly instructed to use Plaza when referring to downtown,” said Lisa Baldwin. “Did Joanne Coontz have anything to do with that as a past President of the Society? Perhaps. The Old Towne Preservation Association certainly embraced the Plaza moniker too and as their influence began to be felt more and more in the ‘90s this educated a whole bunch of new-to-Orange folk who were sensitive to history...”

Notable in the Plaza/Circle battle was the great City of Orange Historian, Orange native, Orange County Archivist, and E. Clampus Vitus member Phil Brigandi, who made his case with wry faux-earnestness and humor.

"Among true old timers of Orange there are few sins worse than calling the Plaza park ‘the circle,’” wrote Brigandi in 1997, “Only a few newcomers (and some Santa Ana people) persist in calling it by that awful name.”

Huell Howser interviews Phil Brigandi at Plaza Park, 2007

Phil also sent form letters to errant newspaper reporters on joke letterhead from the “Society for the Prevention of the Term ‘Circle.’” One line read, “Surely you noticed more than just its shape.”

Later, he admitted, “The tongue-in-cheek battle between the locals and newcomers is simply a way for the hometown folks to say, ‘This is my town, and I care about its past.’ Try saying ‘Frisco’ to a true San Franciscan and you’ll get the idea.”

The original Orange Street Fair, at the Plaza, 1910.

Personally, I have no dog in this fight. I like Orange, but have never lived or worked there. As far as I’m concerned, you’re welcome to call the Plaza by any pet name you want, (e.g. Hub of Happiness, Stonehenge II, Big Jim, Snookie, etc). I know that despite facts and nearly 150 years of tradition, some folks just can’t bring themselves to say “Plaza.” As L.A. Times columnist Jerry Hicks once wrote, “I do care about honoring history. But doggone it, I just love the name Circle.”

But now, at least, you know the story. 

Two t-shirt designs from the weirdly-named Team Swollen. 

Monday, October 26, 2020


Thanks to endless spam, I'm shutting down the "Comments" here for the first time since I launched this blog, over fourteen years ago. The blog will continue, but (maddeningly) it will be more difficult for you to share your observations and insights. Your comments were my favorite part of this blog.

Luckily, most of my posts are linked from Facebook, so you can comment there. Or you can email me. (If you're not a bot from Pakistan, you'll be able to find my FB account or email address without much effort.)

Blogger's paper-thin defenses were constantly breached by spammers, and the comments had turned into a playground for scams and crap adverising. Your REAL comments simply got lost among the mountains of garbage. Some posts were loaded down with over 600 spam messages. I don't have time to moderate them all. Worse yet, the only way to remove spam from a post is a six-step process that must be repeated separately for each individual spam comment.

If Blogger ever gets its act together, or if I find some other workaround, rest assured that comments will be return ASAP. But until then, find other ways to drop me a line. I really DO want to hear from you!

John Williams demonstrates the CORRECT way to spam.

Friday, September 25, 2020

A bit of housekeeping...

I finally cleaned up some of the links (at right) and added new separate sections for historical preservation, state/regional history, and historical local newspaper resources. The list of links had just gotten way too long and unwieldy, and I hope these revisions will make navigation a little easier.

Of  course, it was also time to add and remove links as needed. 

I was sad to finally remove the link to the Orange County Agricultural and Nikkei Heritage Museum at Cal State Fullerton. A lot of people worked their butts off to make that museum a reality and many people donated a lot of money to get that place off the ground. But the fact that the website is (still) devoid of information and the complete lack of buzz in the community tells me it's probably not really a thing anymore. But as hope springs eternal, I *do* still provide a link to the Fullerton Arboretum, where the museum is located.

Similarly, I was sorry to take the Orange County Heritage Coordinating Council off the list of links. I haven't heard about any activity in the group in at least five years. HCC was a nice networking tool for those working in the local history and heritage services field. A lot of cross-pollination of ideas and mutual assistance and problem-solving went on among the members. But when one generation of leadership stepped down, nobody stepped in to take over. The idea behind HCC seems to be reborn at least once a decade under another name, although it may have to wait until this COVID mess is over.

Meanwhile, I also noticed  that one of our friends at the Buena Park Historical Society must have goofed. For many years, they've had THE best domain name imaginable: I've never known how they managed to snag that plum before any other historical society in the world got their hands on it! But for a long time the site has been down, and now it seems they didn't renew the domain, since their new site is at

I've also added a few new links that somehow slipped through the cracks in the past. I'm particularly sorry for having NOT provided a link to the Olinda Oil Museum and Trail until now. It's a fascinating place to visit and is run by some good people.

Anyway, if you see anything else I've missed, let me know. Thanks for your continued readership!

The Heine House (1902), Santa Ana

Photo of the Heine House (Courtesy Louise Hoffman)

The Heine House, at 820 W. 4th St. in Santa Ana, is long gone now – but it was something of a landmark for over 70 years. Louise Hoffman of the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society is related to the Heines and asked what was known about the house. The answer is “not enough.” But here’s what I found,…

On July 21, 1902, C. M. and Ollie Nash sold an empty residential lot on the southeast corner of W. 4th St. (now W. Santa Ana Blvd.) and N. Flower St. in Santa Ana to Mrs. Mary S. Parker. She, in turn, had a house built for herself on that lot (820 W. 4th St.) during the last half of 1902. 

Mary was born in Maine around 1850. Her maiden name is unknown. She was living in Massachusetts in 1879, when she gave birth to her son, Charles E. Smith. They moved from the East Coast to Santa Ana in 1884. Later that year, her daughter, May O. Parker (later May Heard), was born. Mary did not arrive in Santa Ana with a husband, suggesting that she had either been widowed or separated from Mr. Parker very shortly before her move west and the birth of their daughter, May. 

Ultimately, Mary would live forty-seven years of her life in Santa Ana, where she would establish her own business as a dressmaker and become active in the First Baptist Church. 

She must have had some money put away, because building such a large new home would have been difficult if not impossible to afford on a dressmaker’s income.

On November 11, 1908, Mary -- now going by Mrs. Mary S. Chilson (and listed as "divorced" in the census) – sold the house to Electa Phillips Perry and her son, Elma H. Davis.

In 1909, Charles, who was by then farming in Valley Center (San Diego County), got married. Mary went to live with Charles and his wife for a while, but soon moved back to Santa Ana. From at least 1920 until her death in 1931, Mary lived at 821 N. Van Ness Ave.    

Meanwhile, the story of the house at 820 W. 4th St. continued, with the Davis family using it as a rental property. Some of the tenants there included C. A. Riggs (1909), Rev. Amos Fowler Roadhouse (1910), Maurine E. Baker (1912), John Rhea Baker (1913), C. A. Bowers (1917), H. M. Penn (1918), and Ada C. Walters (1919).

On February 6, 1920 Elma H. Davis sold the house to Frank H. and Ora Kennedy Heine. (It appears they swapped land, with Davis receiving Lot 344, Block 13 of Irvine's Subdivision from Heine.) Rather than renting out the whole house, as Davis had, the Heines moved in around late 1921 and stayed through at least 1960. They did, however, lease out a room or two to boarders in the early 1920s. Frank worked at a local fruit packing house, where he was in charge of manufacturing crates. 

Frank H. Heine died in 1963, with his estate going to Ora. She remained in the house until 1971, when she moved to a smaller house at 1121 N. Flower St. In early 1972, she deeded the old house at 820 W. 4th St. to John N. and Max K. Heine. John and Max, in turn, sold the lot to the City of Santa Ana in March 1975. The house was torn down around that same time. Ora K. Heine died on March 28, 1980.

There is now a rather boring office building called the "888 Building" where the house once stood.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Birch Street

South Birch St., Santa Ana, circa 1910
Someone recently asked if any of Orange County's many Birch Streets are named after the anti-communist John Birch Society. 

Actually, the Birch streets, lanes, roads, etc, located in the cities of Orange, Brea, Fullerton, Anaheim, Newport Beach and Santa Ana all predate the 1958 founding of the John Birch Society. 

Specifically, Birch Street in Brea is named for Albert Otis Birch of the Birch Oil Company, and Santa Ana's Birch Street and Birch Park are named for his family.
Promotional flier for the John Birch Society, 1960s
Orange County's other Birch streets -- located in Irvine, Yorba Linda, Mission Viejo, Fountain Valley, Cypress, Aliso Viejo and Westminster -- are in areas where all or most of the streets are named for trees.

In other words, no. There's no connection.

But all the above-named cities DO have fluoride in their water supply, so don't let your guard down, patriots!

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Nita Carman of Laguna Beach

Nita Carman (right) reprises her role as suffragette in Anaheim, 1969 (Pomona Progress Bulletin)
Suffragette and civic dynamo Nita Carman – the namesake of Nita Carmen Park in Laguna Beach -- was born Juanita Howland Day to Frank and Lucia A. Day in Martin, Minnesota on June 19, 1885. Frank A. Day was editor of the Fairmont Sentinel and had served as Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota and as secretary to Governor John A. Johnson. The well-connected family’s activities made frequent appearances on the society pages of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Nita graduated from Fairmont High School in Fairmont, Minnesota in 1903, attended Grinnell College in Iowa, and went on to graduate from the University of Minnesota in 1908 – an era when few women attended college. She later took additional summer school courses at the University of California.

According to the plaque in Nita Carman Park (located directly across from her longtime home), Nita "traveled and taught [English and grade] school in Puerto Rico, Hawaii and China" in the years before World War I, and "she championed women's right to vote.”
Sign and plaque at Nita Carman Park, Laguna Beach. (Photo by author)
It's unclear precisely what Nita's personal involvement was in the fight for women's voting rights, but growing up in a political family certainly prepared her for a life of civic involvement. It’s also known that in the late 1910s she was a member of the College Women's Club in Minneapolis -- a group that strongly supported the suffrage movement. The club sponsored speakers and lobbied elected officials. When Minnesota became 15th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, on Sept 8, 1919, the club marched in caps and gowns as part of a large parade through St. Paul. Their celebratory march was undeterred by the driving rain.

On June 25, 1921 Nita married Ernest Clark Carman, Assistant Attorney General of Minnesota. A year later, their son, Ernest Day Carman was born in Minneapolis.
Nita Carman in the Sept. 13, 1908 Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Nita’s introduction to Laguna Beach came through Miriam Hedges Smith, a friend she’d made while traveling. In a 1968 interview conducted by Donna Demetriades of the Laguna Beach Community Historical Society, Nita remembered that Smith “came here in about 1923 or '24, I think. She had a little office down on Broadway. ...She did real estate. She's the reason I'm here because she and I went to the Orient together in 1916. We started out from Honolulu. We didn't know each other but we just happened to get the same ship. And we were on this ship forty days. . . . I went on to China and Peking for a year, and she stayed on a as a secretary to a businessman in Yokohama. I came home in 1917 -- the year the war broke out. [But first Miriam] came to Peking for a month and we came home together."

Around July of 1927, Ernest and Nita moved to Los Angeles. Ernest’s twin brother, Earle, had already practiced law there for a number of years. Ernest soon accepted a good position with the law firm of Goudge, Robinson & Hughes, where he specialized in Federal court receivership and reorganization work. Nita began making occasional trips down to Orange County, visiting her friend Miriam and staying on the beach at Laguna’s “Tent City.” She fell in love with the town.
In front of American Legation, Peking, L to R: Unnamed rickshaw “cabbie,” Juanita Day, Mrs. Paul Renisch, Miss Stearns, Zona Hill. Photo from The Arrow of Pi Beta Phi, June 1917. Nita was a lifelong active member of the Pi Beta Phi Alumnae Club.
Recalling a later visit to Laguna, Nita said, "My sister came out from Minnesota. She'd been very ill and she had her three children with her. I'd say we were the original 'Easter Weekers.' Because in 1930 . . .or ‘31... I wrote to Miriam Smith and said 'We want to come down for Easter Vacation.' And she got us one of those little tents down near the corner of Broadway and Coast Highway. And they had those cots where the sides fold down. My sister had her three children and I had my one child, and we came down Easter week. It was gloomy [weather] part of the time, but we had a lot of time and we went different places and the children played on the beach."

No longer satisfied with beach camping, in 1933, the Carmans purchased Lots 47 and 48 of Tract 746 at the corner of St. Ann’s Dr. and Wilson St. for a summer vacation home. There was nothing on the land when they bought it. Some of the roads already existed, but the nearest paved one was Coast Highway. It was "all an open canyon" around them with no houses nearby, Nita said, “until they put the fill through and the high school… It was just like the bare hills. We bought it from Gigi Parrish Wells. She was then married to Timmy Parrish.”
Assistant Attorney General Ernest C. Carman, Minnesota, 1923.  (Courtesy Hennepin County Library)
Gigi Parrish was a movie actress best known for several star turns in the 1930s. Her husband, George Dillwyn "Timmy" Parrish was a painter, novelist, restauranteur, and occasional playwright. While married to Gigi, Timmy fell in love with his neighbor's wife, Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, and later married her. M.F.K. Fisher later became a famed food and wine writer.

It appears that construction of the Carmans’ Laguna house was completed by November 1933, although local directories don’t indicate them residing there until 1934. The combined parcel was large enough that they were able to plant a small forest of eucalyptus and acacia trees and still have room to build numerous residential structures. In fact, Lot 47 alone eventually included the following addresses: 584 St. Ann’s Dr., 590 St. Ann's Dr., and 761 Wilson St. The Carmans seemed to use these addresses somewhat interchangeably.
Nita Carman’s home, 560 St. Anne's St. - View from Wilson St. (Photo by author)
Their primary residence, however, remained in Los Angeles, closer to Ernest’s law office. They lived in several neighborhoods over the years, including Wilshire Park and Westwood. They were living in today’s Koreatown in 1939 when Ernest suddenly died of a heart attack. At that point, Nita left Los Angeles with her son and turned their Laguna summer home into their full-time permanent residence.

Getting “right back on the horse” after Ernest’s death, Nita ran for a seat on the Laguna School Board in 1940. She also continued to make improvements to the Laguna Beach property, including an additional duplex in 1941.
Nita Carman’s home, 560 St. Anne’s Dr. (Photo by author)
According to the plaque at Nita Carmen Park, she became "a respected community leader... Her hospitality was legend. Possessed of wit, humor, intelligence and an insatiable curiosity, she contributed immeasurably to the charm of this community."

Nita threw wonderful garden parties, had many friends, and continued to travel all her life. She was active in the Woman's Club, the Laguna Beach Garden Club, the League of Women Voters, the local chapter of AAUW, the Laguna Art Association, the Festival of the Arts Association, the Club Español, the Pi Beta Phi Alumnae Club, and the Civic League.
Entrance to 761 Wilson St., Laguna Beach - Leading down into a canyon.
During World War II, Nita became known for her tireless volunteer work for the Red Cross and the USO. She invited military families to stay at her home and, she later said, “USO people stayed with me Saturday nights. Oh, I really had about a thousand people stay at my house during the war.”

The large brick barbeque she’d had local mason Len Watkins build in her yard (just above the badminton court) became the backdrop of countless evenings of hospitality. “I've had thousands at that barbecue,” she remembered, as well as innumerable outdoor “pancake breakfasts.”
Nita Carman at League of Women Voters state convention, Anaheim, 1969  (Santa Maria Times)
Nita Carmen also volunteered as a poll inspector during elections and was known for her involvement in campaigns to beautify Laguna. But perhaps the civic work closest to her heart was for the Laguna Beach Public Library. She was one of the original members of the Laguna Beach Library Association and her work led directly to the founding of the Laguna Beach Friends of the Library.

In 1969, Nita Carman was among a handful of surviving suffragettes honored in Anaheim at the California state convention of the League of Women Voters. She posed for photos in 1919 attire (provided by Disneyland) and placards promoting women’s suffrage. “We may be octogenarians, but we're not antiquarians,” she told the audience at the ceremony.
Nita Carman Park as seen in 2020. (Photo by author)
When Nita died at a Laguna Beach nursing home on August 29, 1972, it was front page news. “Laguna activist Nita Day,” said the Laguna News Post, “was interested in everything civic.”

Only four months earlier, on May 1st, a smiling but mostly quiet Nita Carman had attended the dedication of the Laguna Beach park named in her honor. Nita Carmen Park was located on land donated by Laguna Beach High School, behind its Guyer Field baseball diamond. Nita’s son, Day, (by then an attorney himself) donated money and trees for the development of the park.
Dedication of Nita Carmen Park, 1972. In 1983, Day Carman and his wife, Laguna artist Debby Carman, also helped pay for the addition of Leonard Glasser's "Two Figures/Sunbathers" modern sculpture to the park. (Laguna News-Post)
She was pleased to see the land turned into another attractive park for her beloved community. But seemed less certain about the name.

"I'd like to see many more little parks like this throughout Laguna," Nita said at the dedication. "They should be named after those who have done so much more than I."
Nita Carman at the dedication of Nita Carman Park, 1972. (Laguna News-Post)
(Many, many thanks to the lovely and brilliant Stephanie George, whose encouragement, amazing genealogical and historical research skills, detailed editing, and tremendous patience elevated this article from "short and sweet" to a project with more depth and value.)