Sunday, March 29, 2020

The sinking of the Pilgrim

The Pilgrim, sinking. Photo taken 3-29-2020 by Eric Plunkett.
This morning I awoke to the sad news that the 1945 replica of the Brig Pilgrim, which has long graced Dana Point Harbor, is sinking.

Ocean Institute president Dr. Wendy Marshall wrote an open letter, which read, in part,...
"We are very sad to announce that Pilgrim, our beloved vessel that has served as an inspiring real-world classroom to hundreds of thousands of students and visitors, keeled overnight in her slip on our dock, rendering her useful life over.

"As part of our maintenance process, Pilgrim undergoes out-of-the water and underwater inspections. In 2016 she was hauled out for survey and repairs and in October 2019, we began a fund to support the haul out and repair scheduled to take place in January 2020. The haul out was postponed until June due to overload at the yard. Meanwhile, Ocean Institute maintained our certifications and the United States Coast Guard issued a Certificate of Inspection (COI) in December and again in February, allowing our dockside programs to continue. Unfortunately, Pilgrim keeled on March 29th and is incapacitated beyond repair."
The Pilgrim is a symbol of not just the Ocean Institute, but of Dana Point Harbor, and the City of Dana Point itself. Imagining a Dana Point without the Pilgrim is like imagining a Huntington Beach without a pier or Hollywood without its Hollywood sign. 

At one level, I'm glad this didn't happen until after the passing of Dana Point's primary cheerleader and local historian, Doris Walker. This would have been heartbreaking to her. On the other hand, if she were still with us, I know she'd ALREADY be out going door to door raising money to rebuild the ship.
1800s illustration of the original Brig Pilgrim.
For what it's worth, the original Brig Pilgrim, which brought Richard Henry Dana to California, was built in 1825 and did not survive nearly as long as the replica has.

"I read of her total loss at sea by fire off the coast of North Carolina," wrote Dana. 
In a later addendum to Dana's Two Years Before the Mast, the author's son wrote, "On the records of the United States Custom House at Boston is this epitaph, 'Brig Pilgrim, owner, R. Haley, surrender of transfer 30 June 1856, broken up at Key West.' Is it not romantic and appropriate that this vessel, so associated with the then Mexican-Spanish coast of California, should have left her bones on the coast of the once Spanish colony of Florida?"

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

"Dr. Ross' dog food is doggone good!"

In 1932 the old Los Alamitos sugar plant -- which had been closed since 1926 -- was leased to the Dr. Ross Dog Food Co. Before you ask,... NO, the Los Alamitos Race Track did not yet exist, and horse meat in the dog food came from wild horses, not from thoroughbreds who came in last.

However, Dr. Willard J. Ross was indeed creative when it came to sourcing cheap protein. Prior to going bankrupt in the Great Depression, Ross purchased boats to catch sea lions as a source of meat for his pet food. It's unclear exactly how far he got with that plan. It was rumored that he'd already been including whale meat in the pet food.

Perhaps even more distubing, Dr. Ross announced plans to process and sell whale meat for human consumption. Presumably the same boats, along with $150,000 worth of additional equipment, were to be part of the harvesting operations near San Clemente Island. Again, it's unclear how far this plan went before stalling.

Ross' tin suppliers in Asia (for canning) were occupied by the Japanese during World War II, which forced the closing of his business in 1943. 

In the mid-1950s, he sold the name "Dr. Ross" to the Lewis Food Co of Los Angeles, which already produced Skippy Dog Food. The new owners used more conventional contents in their products.

Ross invested in an Arizona mine that seems never to have paid off. In 1956, he was badly injured in the same car wreck that killed his wife. Then it seems he may have gone into the smelting business in Lomita, California for a time. By the early 1960s he was running a health food business in Hermosa Beach. 

But despite all his entrepreneurial efforts and the continued popularity of the "Dr. Ross Dog Food" brand, Dr. Ross himself was broke by the time he died on February 12, 1964 at the age of 81.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Willard Intermediate School, Santa Ana

Frances E. Willard Junior High School, Santa Ana, circa 1940s.
In discussing the recent passing of local history buff Ken Leavens with his friend, John Sorenson, the topic of Willard Intermediate School inevitably came up. Ken taught there for over 30 years.

“Ken collected information on Willard in the form of the student newsletter and other informational sources,” said John, who also related a number of historical facts Ken has mentioned. “In the early 1970s, Santa Ana began to replace its pre-1933 buildings to meet current earthquake standards,” John said. “[Ken] commented to me on the problems they had in bringing down the old bell tower.”
Willard's original location, in the old Santa Ana High School building on Main..
In 1985, Ken wrote a brief history of the school, which now appears on their Santa Ana Unified School District’s website and which I’ve reproduced below:

A Short History of Willard Intermediate School
By Kenneth Leavens
In 1912, Santa Ana’s first junior high school opened at Ninth and Main Streets. It was housed in the old high school building which had been built in 1900. This first junior high was known simply as Santa Ana Junior High School. In 1922, a new junior high school, Julia C. Lathrop, opened on south Main Street.

The old junior high school was renamed Frances E. Willard Junior High School after the popular abolitionist who spoke out against the evils of alcohol and also championed the rights of women, helping win them the right to vote. The first meeting of the faculty was held on September 8, 1923. Willard’s first principal was William S. Kellogg. Willard remained at Ninth and Main Streets until June of 1931, when the old building was condemned.

The new Willard Junior High School was designed by the architecture firm of Allison and Allison.  It was demolished in June/July 1971.

A new building of Spanish design opened on the present site in September, 1931. It contained a beautiful auditorium and cafeteria. The first principal of the new school was Lyle B. Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell was principal of Willard for 26 years (1929-1955), and the school had only seven principals in its first 62 years.

During the 1970-71 school year, the second Willard building was also condemned for not meeting earthquake safety codes. The school was closed suddenly on a Friday and re-opened on a Monday on a half-day session at Santa Ana High School. The following two years were spent in bungalows on the athletic field until the current building was opened in September, 1973 when the school re-opened on Ross Street it became an intermediate school with grades 6-7-8 (rather than 7-8-9).

The new Willard Intermediate School opened in September 1973.  It was designed by the Blu Rock Partnership; its sister school Lathrop Intermediate was built at the same time and is virtually identical.

In the spirit of continuing improvement of facilities and education at Willard, the current building and facilities are being renovated, with plans for a new two story structure to replace the bungalows, all new technology and science labs, and an all-weather track and artificial turf field.