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