Friday, May 29, 2020

A bit of perspective...

Today I saw a comment on Facebook from one of our Westminster history buffs, which read, "I've been going through issues of The Anaheim Gazette from 1870-1880.. It was the only paper in what would be OC at the time. People are going to find out the paper was decidedly anti-capitalist at the time. They were overtly sympathetic to Socialism. The popularity of The Grange testifies to this sentiment being widespread at the time, especially in Westminster. Local historians will not like this, guaranteed."

My reply: 

It's not really relevant whether today's historians like or dislike what happened in the past. We like finding out "the rest of the story," regardless. The past was what it was, and the point is to dig out, contextualize, and TELL the stories. Considering all the stories you've dug out and shared, you yourself are a local historian, and I suspect you're not upset by any of this. (The past was no less complicated and contradictory than the present.)

I'd also point out that local historians already KNOW this stuff. The original city council of my own hometown of Huntington Beach was *entirely* composed of socialists. It was rather in vogue at the time. (Later, there was a Klan majority. H.B. didn't recall them the way Anaheim did.)

There are indeed folks who might highlight this sort of thing entirely out of context, purely for the shock value (a disingenuous/easy way to get attention), but I don't know any actual historians doing that.

Conversely, there are folks who also *use* history as a Chamber of Commerce P.R. tool and will try to squelch anything that doesn't fit their brochure copy. That's also pretty pathetic and I don't see many local historians doing that either.

One final point about early newspapers: Yes, most of them had strong biases toward one political bent or another and they admitted those biases up front. Folks subscribed to one paper over another based on their political views. I'm not sure the modern B.S. conceit of media being "unbiased" has done the media or the public any favors.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Virtual Avocado Festival at SCREC

Want to know more about avocados and their history in Southern California? Of course you do! So check out the UC South Coast Research & Extension Center's virtual Avocado Festival, June 22 -27, 2020. For information about the week's festivities, contests, and giveaways, visit

Of particular interest to me us a presentation by Homestead Museum Director Paul Spitzzeri entitled "The Hanging Gardens of Babylon in Southern California: Edwin G. Hart and the Avocado Tracts of Hacienda Heights and La Habra Heights, 1910-1930," which will be presented online on Wednesday, June 10th from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm.

As greater Los Angeles experienced waves of growth and development booms in the first few decades of 1900s, a figure, little known today, played a pivotal role in developing the “avocado subdivision.”  Edwin G. Hart, a real estate developer and avocado pioneer and promoter, created the communities of North Whittier Heights, renamed Hacienda Heights in the early 1960s, and La Habra Heights, with avocado growing as a major element of both.  Paul R. Spitzzeri, director of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum in the City of Industry, will give a PowerPoint-illustrated presentation on Hart and these subdivisions during a twenty-year period when the avocado began to become a household name in the region.

Paul has worked at the Homestead Museum since 1988. He has a B. A. and M. A. in History from California State University, Fullerton and has written on California history for such journals as California History, Southern California Quarterly, California Legal History and Journal of the West, and in the anthologies Law in the Western United States, Encyclopedia of Immigration and Migration in the American West, and Icons of the American West. His biography on the Workman and Temple families is an Award of Merit winner from the American Association for State and Local History.

Please register at:

Friday, May 22, 2020

Head hunting

Henry William Head
For some strange reason, I've been contacted in the last week by three separate people from three separate places who are all researching the pioneer Head family of the Santa Ana/Garden Grove area. It seems that at least some of the interest is driven by 1896 state senate candidate Henry William (H.W.) Head's early involvement in the Ku Klux Klan rather than anything else the family may have accomplished after establishing themselves in Orange County. Sadly, H.W. Head's Klan membership in the years after the Civil War isn't much of a surprise, considering he was an old Confederate and of course a Democrat.

Head and some of his fellow Confederate vets were indeed among the rather broad coalition of many citizens (including Republicans and Democrats, Northerners and Southerners) who worked together over many years to win Orange County's independence from Los Angeles.

His son, Horace Caldwell (H. C.) Head, became one of Orange County's leading lawyers and served for a time as District Attorney. There's more than a little information about the family to be found. And for whatever reason, the Heads are suddenly a hot topic.

Before even more people ask, I figure I'll just post some of my advice on tracking down the Heads right here on my blog. But first, here's what H. C. wrote about his father in Dr. C.D. Ball's Orange County Medical History in 1926:

"HEAD, HENRY WILLIAM, was one of the pioneer physicians of the territory that is now known as Orange County. He was born in Obion County, Tennessee, on the first day of January, 1840. His father was a country doctor of the old school, his grandfather was a pioneer of the new territory of Tennessee, and his great-grandfather was a Virginian and a lieutenant in Washington's army of patriots during the War of Revolution.

"Dr. Head had just finished his academic training and had started to study law when the Civil War interrupted his studies. He at once enlisted and served four years in the Confederate Army, and was captain of his company at the end of the war. When he returned to his home his father asked him when he was going to resume his study of law. His reply was that for four years he had seen so much of human misery and suffering that he had determined to study medicine and do what he could to alleviate the ills of humanity. Accordingly, he entered Nashville Medical College, then one of the leading medical schools of the country, and which afterwards became and now is the medical department of Vanderbilt University at Nashville. He was graduated in 1868 and at once commenced the practice of medicine in his native county of Obion in Tennessee. There he was married and two of his children were born. His practice was extensive and laborious and the climate severe and unhealthful, so that in a few years his health was impaired, and in 1876, he moved with his wife and two children to California, locating on a farm about four miles northwest of Santa Ana. It was his intention to retire from practice and follow farming, but at that time there were very few doctors in the country and he could not ignore the call of affliction. His credentials were presented and he was duly licensed to practice his profession in this State (Certificate 478). For a number of years his chief occupation was the practice of medicine, with farming and activity in political and public affairs as side lines. There are grandparents now living in Orange County whose advent into this world was assisted by Dr. Head. There were no hospitals here in those early days, and like all the pioneer practitioners he had to be a combination of doctor, surgeon, oculist and dentist.

"Dr. Head retired from practice a number of years ago, and moved to Santa Ana, where he spent the last years of his life busy in peaceful contentment. He was blessed with a family of seven children and a number of grandchildren. On December 5, 1919, he passed to his reward. He was laid to rest in the old Santa Ana cemetery, beside the grave of his father, Dr. Horace Head, who was known to the early settlers as "the old Doctor," though he did not engage in practice after coming to California. 

"Dr. Head was a Democrat -- served one term (the 26th Session) in the State Assembly."

Anyway, what follows are some additional suggestions on where to look for more information about the Heads. Writing about them isn't in my top ten "things to do," but it seems to be so for other folks. And even if you don't give two hoots about the Heads, you may spot a few general resources that may be useful in your own projects. Here's a small smattering of potential resources for Head hunters,...

1)     Check the “mug books” for the area, including the two Orange County history volumes by Samuel Armor (1911 and 1921) and J. M. Guinn (1901), and the three-volume set by Adalina Pleasants.

2)      H. C. Head wrote a little pamphlet in 1939 entitled “The History of Garden Grove.” I’m not sure if it includes any info you’re looking for, but I believe they have copies at for sale at the Garden Grove Historical Society.

3)      Which brings me to my next point,… the Garden Grove Historical Society. The Head family was fairly significant to the town’s early history, so they may have something in their impressive archives.

4)      Local historian Dr. Leroy Doig also wrote a trilogy of books about the history of Garden Grove that may be working taking a look at. I’m not sure how/if he deals with the Head family.

5)      Horace Caldwell Head also wrote a 1942 booklet, About Some of the Heads. It seems the Orange County Historical Society has a copy (although it will be a while before those records are accessible again), as does the Sherman Library and the History Room at the Santa Ana Public Library.

6)      Writer Gustavo Arellano points out that a 1916 pamphlet entitled The Ku Klux Klan is also available to researchers in the Santa Ana History Room. In it, the pamphlet's author, Annie Cooper Burton, wrote, “...I have been most fortunate in having Captain H. W. Head . . . now a popular physician of Santa Ana, California, a former Grand Cyclops of one of the Nashville dens, to draw upon for material.” The pamphlet includes information about the Klan from Head ad a photo of him in his robes.

7)      Of course, the contemporary newspapers are usually one of the best resources. The Los Angeles Times is available on from their first issue on, and covers a good deal of Orange County-area news. also features the Santa Ana Register from 1906 through the beginning of WWII which might yield something. For earlier Orange County papers, I suggest the Santa Ana Evening Blade, which is available on microfilm at the Santa Ana Public Library. Many of the early Anaheim papers are also available at the Anaheim Heritage Center and shed light on some very early local history. Some of the early Anaheim papers are also digitized by an amazing volunteer at It'd also be worth checking Chronicling America and

8)     Historian Stephanie George rightly suggests contacting the Sherman Library, which "just accepted a huge personal research collection from our friend, the late Phil Brigandi, who may have kept a file on Head. Although the collection isn't processed yet, Phil kept immaculate files and Paul may be able to see what Phil may have kept, if anything. And, who knows, maybe the Sherman has something."

9)      Steph, who's also an amazing genealogist, additionally suggested checking the files at the Orange County California Genealogical Society's library in Huntington Beach.

10)     Also check in with the Civil War Roundtable of Orange County and see what they have in their files.

If you have more suggestions, dear readers, feel free to post them in the comments below.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Glenn L. Martin

James Irvine II (left) and Glenn L Martin, circa 1913
Locals who remember the last half of the 20th century know Orange County was a major hub for America’s aerospace design and manufacturing industry. Fewer know that the father of that industry built and flew his first planes here.
Born in Iowa in 1886 to Clarence and Arminta “Minta” Martin, Glenn Luther Martin was raised in rural Kansas and showed an early mechanical aptitude with farm equipment. He later became fascinated with constructing box kites, which taught him about aerodynamics, precision craftsmanship, and – by selling kites to other kids – business. He later worked in a bicycle shop, gaining still more mechanical skills, before attending Kansas Wesleyan University for a couple years.  When he was still a young man, his mother developed health problems that inspired her to move to warm and sunny California. Her family, including noted mama’s boy Glenn, followed her to Santa Ana.

Working with auto mechanics in a vacant Santa Ana church building, Martin was only the third American to design, construct, and fly his own airplane. Around 1909 he built his first plane but destroyed it during an attempted flight from the top of Red Hill in Tustin. His second plane soon followed, in which he managed to make a more successful short flight.

In 1912, he completed the construction of a seaplane and flew it from Newport Bay (now Newport Harbor) to Catalina Island and back. It was the first water-to-water flight and broke the record for over-water flight.
GlennMartin's 1912 water-to-water flight
That same year, he founded the Glenn L. Martin Co. and moved his plane-building operations to Los Angeles. There, here he had a brief partnership with the Wright brothers before successfully continuing on his own. 

Martin even had a brief film career, starring in A Girl of Yesterday (1915) with Mary Pickford. He was more than prepared for his scenes as an accomplished young pilot, but he had to be arm-twisted into kissing a girl on camera.

Over the years, he employed many future innovators, entrepreneurs and stars of the aerospace industry, including William Boeing, James S. McDonnell and Donald Douglas. His company also built more than 80 kinds of aircraft, from the MB-1 bomber of World War I, to the B-10 bomber of the 1930s, to the iconic China Clipper flying boats. Martin later helped lead the country into the Space Age, building missiles, spacecraft and cutting-edge electronics. 

Glenn Martin died in Baltimore in 1955, but his company kept marching along. In 1961, the Glenn L. Martin Co. merged with American-Marietta Corp., becoming Martin Marietta. After another merger with Lockheed in 1995, it became the Lockheed Martin Corp. As of 2014, this global company, based in Maryland, was the world's largest defense contractor.

And to think it all started in an abandoned Santa Ana church!

Thursday, May 07, 2020

United Presbyterian Church of Santa Ana burns

113 E. Santa Ana Blvd., as it appeared in 2011. (Photo by author)
I'm very sad to report that the historic United Presbyterian Church (built 1911, dedicated 1912) on Santa Ana Boulevard and Bush St. in Santa Ana burned down early this morning.

The original congregation moved out in the late 1960s and moved to Prospect Ave. at 17th St. The old building served for many years as the practice hall for the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. Over a decade ago, there was an attempt to turn it into the O.C. Natural History Museum -- but that group lost the building for taxes. More recently, writes Santa Ana preservationist Tim Rush, "it was purchased by an architect and his wife in Irvine. They fought for some years a losing battle to the homeless who broke into the building and trashed it on a very regular basis. And now this final insult to the building."

This is what happens when historic buildings are neglected.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

James H. Cox (1847-1934) of Fountain Valley

James H. Cox Elementary School, Fountain Valley
Fountain Valley local historian Dann Gibb is looking for photos of the namesake of James H. Cox Elementary School. No photos of Mr. Cox have yet come to light, but perhaps you can help.

James Hubert Cox and his twin brother, Samuel, were born in 1847 in Nailsea, Somerset, England to Isaac and Hannah Cox. The family arrived in the U.S. in 1856 or 1861, and farmed near Fremont, Iowa. Hannah died in 1897, and Isaac followed a year later. By 1900, James had moved to Orange County, California, and in 1903 he married Sara Laurina “Lennie” Christ in the town of Talbert (now Fountain Valley). James was a farmer, growing alfalfa and sugar beets. By 1917, he’d also planted some of the first lima bean fields in the area -- a crop that later became key to the local economy. In 1907, he banded together with his neighbors to petition for the inclusion of their farmlands in the Talbert Drainage District.

In early 1923, Cox got into the dairy business, purchasing twelve cows. It was a bit ironic, as he'd had trouble in the past with neighbors' cows breaking onto his property and damaging his alfalfa fields. As the saying goes, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

His house, west of the village of Talbert and near Talbert Ave., was finally wired for electricity in December 1925.

According to James H. Cox Elementary School’s website, Cox “played a critical role in creating jobs and connecting community members through his ten-acre agricultural farm and mail delivery service.”

James and Lennie had eight children over 39 years. James died in Orange County after a prolonged illness on Sept. 8, 1934, at the age of 87 and is buried at Westminster Memorial Park.

Construction of the James H. Cox Elementary School at 17615 Los Jardines East began January 13, 1969, with plans to open in September of that same year. But progress was slowed significantly by one of the rainiest seasons Orange County had seen in decades, followed by labor strikes. Ultimately, the school was dedicated in March 1970.

The school was designed for an enrollment of 780 students and featured the then-popular but ultimately disastrous "open classroom" plan. As in many Fountain Valley schools, interior walls were soon added to make actual education possible.

Many Fountain Valley schools are named for local farmers and many feature portraits of those farmers in their office. Cox, for some reason, does not, and the search is on for any kind of images of James Hubert Cox. If you have any leads or if you know more about Mr. Cox's life story please leave a comment or send me an email.