Friday, April 09, 2021

Orange County’s Last Train Robbery

Wanted poster for Orange County’s last train robber. (Courtesy UCI)
Although cattle and cowboys still roamed the hills of Orange County in the 1920s, the days of the “Wild West” were largely over. Covered wagons, Indian villages and shootouts in the streets were by then the stuff of Tom Mix movies. And certainly it was assumed that the era of train robbery was over.

But on Aug. 24, 1925, sometime between a 7:40 p.m. departure from Oceanside and an 8:42 p.m. arrival in Santa Ana, the baggage and mail car of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway’s Number 75 train became the scene of a robbery and murder. 

The bandit first climbed on top of the already-rolling car and pried open a ventilator. Express agent Elmer Ellsworth Campbell, 62, was inside. As Campbell looked up to see what the noise was, he was shot through the head from above. As the train rattled swiftly down the tracks, the criminal attached a rope ladder to the ventilator with army picket pins and climbed down next to the car’s door. While Campbell lay unconscious in a spreading pool of blood, the robber used a hatchet to break a window in the door and force entry. 

Although ruthless, the criminal had clearly never robbed a train before. Had he known his “business,” he would have been aware of which kinds of mail bags held items of potential value and which did not. Instead, he went through a lot of bags of worthless mail and never disturbed any bags of registered mail. He also came unprepared to blow open the car’s safe. 

Authorities later said the criminal probably expected to find a large shipment of gold from the San Diego back country headed for the San Francisco mint. Instead, he seems to have come away with $27 from an express company strong box. After taking the cash, he escaped through the far door of the car, either immediately upon arrival in Santa Ana or while still en route.
The Santa Fe (ATSF) depot in Oceanside, 1931. (Courtesy Kansas Historical Society)
As the train pulled into Santa Ana, the baggage master, Tim Hill, pointed out the rope ladder and broken window to telegrapher Frank Claypool. The two entered the car and discovered Campbell, unconscious but still alive. Soon the depot was awash in policemen and railroad detectives. Campbell was sent to Santa Ana Valley Hospital where he died several days later without ever having regained consciousness. 

Some stories indicate that more than $2,000 was taken from the mail sacks, but contemporary accounts indicate that the postmaster had no idea what was in the mail on the #75. He wasn’t even able to say with certainty that any mail had been taken.

Some speculated that two robbers had worked in tandem on the train and that at least one or two others had assisted in the planning and getaway stages of the crime. 

The Santa Fe Railroad and the American Railway Express Co. each offered thousand dollar rewards for the arrest and conviction of the assailants. Reward posters and embellished stories spread across the Southwest, with some newspapers even claiming that a $10,000 reward had been offered for the criminals, dead or alive. 

The public was understandably eager to provide “tips.” It began with reports from Riverside, Lake Elsinore, Santa Ana and San Onofre of a large dark-colored car racing through their respective towns late on the night of the robbery. Another tip led to the arrest of two known Los Angeles criminals and Santa Ana hairdresser Pearl Anderson, who were all later released.
The Santa Fe depot in Santa Ana, 1925. (Courtesy Rob Richardson)
Later, a supply sergeant at the Monterey Presidio – freshly arrested for trying to rob a theater safe – claimed his commanding officer, First Lieutenant Clarence Kennedy Aikin, was really the brains behind the Santa Fe robbery. The authorities in Monterey County were greatly excited about this breakthrough. The San Diego grand jury was looking forward to investigating as well. The press waited anxiously for a sensational trial. But the story fell apart almost immediately under the first attempts at investigation. Aikin was released from suspicion but resigned his commission, his reputation unjustly sullied by poor journalism.

Orange County’s last train robber was never found. 


[This article originally appeared in the Orange County Historical Society's County Courier in early 2019, and another version appeared later in the April 2019 edition of County Connection.]

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Historic Wintersburg update

The Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church in 1910.

In the April 1 edition of Rafu Shimpo, former Assemblyman Warren Furutani wrote about some of those opposing the preservation of Historic Wintersburg – an important Japanese American historical site in Huntington Beach. While many of the pro-bulldozer crowd are driven by the usual greed or banal ignorance, some of the opposition to preservation is, he says, “based on a simmering and festering hate against Asians, specifically Japanese.”

He writes that because of Mary Urashima’s work to save Wintersburg, “she has become a ‘proxy’ target for the haters and racists that have come out from … the shadows to attack Mary. But in actuality the attacks are on the Japanese and Asian community. …Mary has received graphics and pictures depicting anti-Asian attitudes, old World War II-type anti-Japanese ads and one superimposing Mary’s face on a woman bound and placed on the railroad tracks... In other words, a death threat couched in an old-time graphic.”

Furutani calls on civic leaders and the general public to “…Shine a bright light on these cowardly actions by anonymous haters and racists. We can stand with Mary and the Wintersburg Project. The bright, warm light of the truth and exposing the festering hate that lingers just below the surface and right under our noses will drive these cowards back under the rocks from whence they came.”

I do not believe that there's a large number of people in Huntington Beach (despite recent smears against this city) who are racist. But after watching the Wintersburg battle for many years, I know that at least some of that kind of evil exists in our midst. And I know that even a relative handful of dregs can do a lot of harm and deserve to be called out for their egregious behavior. 

Yes, world history is full of racism (and other unfortunate isms) at every turn -- but it's most disheartening to see the study and preservation of local history subverted to serve modern racist purposes (or any other stupid social agenda). Local history is a search for the truth and can be a lot of fun, too. Seeing it bastardized and used as a tool to spread ignorance and grind axes is infuriating. And seeing Mary threatened is sad and extremely upsetting.

See https://www.rafu.com/2021/04/og-san-just-below-the-surface

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Review: Stack’s Liberty Ranch Collection, Vol. II


Ken Stack asked me to give him my thoughts on Volume II of his Stack’s Liberty Ranch Collection book series, published last year. I thought it might be more useful to share my thoughts with my readers also. (Full disclosure: Ken is a friend of mine. But I don't think that's swayed my opinion of his work.)

In 2020, Knott's Berry Farm (barely) celebrated it's 100th year amid the COVID-19 lockdowns. As far as I can tell, the best Knott's souvenir one could have acquired during the centennial was Ken's beautiful new book. And if you have anything more than a faint interest in the history of Knott’s, you need this book. 

Ken has one of the most amazing collections of theme park material anywhere, and he makes the most of it here, showing off highlights of his photo, ephemera and artifact collections. There’s enough explanatory text to keep the newbies from getting confused, along with a sprinkling of newly unearthed facts, but it’s largely a *visual* feast. 

If you want to read a history of Knott’s, Ken points out, you should find a copy of Merritt and Lynxwiler’s Knott’s Preserved. (An observation with which I concur.) But if you want to take it the next step and are particularly fond of theme park eye candy, you need to check out Stack’s Liberty Ranch Collection.

The bulk of Volume II is about Knott’s Berry Farm, but there are also smaller sections of the California Alligator Farm (which stood across La Palma Ave. from Knott’s) and Movieland Wax Museum (which was just down the street), and Ken has drummed the best photos I’ve ever seen of these two lesser roadside attractions.  

But back to Knott’s,…

I’ve been working with the entire Knott’s Berry Farm and Bud Hurlbut Collections at the County Archives for well over a decade now, and I sometimes get to thinking I’ve seen everything there is to see on the subject. I clearly have not. Or at least I hadn’t until I picked up this book. There are detailed colored images showing previously seldom seen or completely unseen views of favorite attractions. Everything from a color(!) photo of the little devil who ran Knott’s “volcano,” to colorful hand-painted signs from the 1940s, to a montage of tourist snapshots that reminded me just how amazing Boot Hill was when I was a kid. But better still (from my perspective) are features that were new to me. For example: The lifelike miner working inside the gold mine (near today’s GhostRider), the interior view of the “peek-ins” in the long-gone Indian Village, and the patriotic “My Credo” cards handed out by Walter Knott at the opening of his replica of Independence Hall. 

There are some gems in this book that are worth the price of admission all by themselves, including the full transcript of the Covered Wagon Show (1941) and before-during-and-after photos of Ken’s restoration of artist Paul Von Klieben’s giant portrait of Geronimo (which once hung in the Knott’s Steakhouse). 

The book also cleared up some hazy areas of my Knott’s knowledge, even after all these years. The book includes, for instance, an early 1950s map of the “farm” that shows how pedestrian traffic flowed through the property in that era. Likewise, a photo spread on the short-lived buffalo corrals finally helped me pinpoint their location in my mind’s eye. In fact, I think any Knott’s fan will find a lot of “aha” moments in this book.

There were parts of the book that made me laugh – like the over-the-top 1940s promotional piece (on page six) by Ghost Town News publisher and ex-con Nichols Field Wilson, stumping for Knott’s Berry Place (pre-1947) with all the subtlety of a carnival barker.

And there were parts that I found rather touching, including Ken’s acknowledgement of the contributions of the late Phil Brigandi and John Waite. 

Every page of the book is full color. The printing is crisp and color-correct and the paper was clearly selected to show it all off. There’s a slight sheen to the black areas when held under bright light – but that’s an observation from someone who’s curious about print processes rather than a complaint. This is a quality product in more ways than one.

And curiously, the day after reading this book, I'm left with the feeling that I've actually just *been* to (an earlier incarnation of) Knott's Berry Farm. 

If I have any complaint about the book, it’s that I want more. (For example, I’d like the map of Jungle Island to be larger, so I can see more detail.) But more is, with any luck, coming in the form of Volume III someday. 

Both volumes I and II can be purchased through Ken’s website: https://stackslibertyranch.com



Sunday, April 04, 2021

Father O’Sullivan and the Spanish Flu in Capistrano

Socially distanced on Camino Capistrano, circa 1918. (Photo courtesy O.C. Archives)

San Juan Capistrano, famous for capitalizing on the romance of all things Spanish, found nothing romantic about the Spanish Influenza of 1918. The journals of Monsignor St. John O’Sullivan of Mission San Juan Capistrano provide a unique snapshot of the way the dreaded virus impacted this small Orange County community and other contemporary sources help flesh out the tale.

Even as the Great War raged across Europe, the “Spanish Influenza” (a.k.a. the grip, la grippe, or the 1918 Flu) ultimately infected about a third of the world’s population and killed at least fifty million people. (Keep in mind, the world population then was about 1.8 billion, compared to today’s 7.8 billion.) Cases of the Spanish flu began showing up in Southern California in mid-September 1918 and by mid-October the epidemic had a strong foothold in Orange County. By then, the County Hospital was closed to visitors, public gatherings were sparsely attended, and churches suspended services. Meanwhile, the County Jail acted like something of an incubator.

Each city was largely left to decide for themselves how best to combat the virus. Many promoted the use of gauze masks. Most closed their schools at least for a time, often continuing education via correspondence. Various schemes for quarantine were instituted.

The disease came through the region in three main waves – spring, fall and winter – and wreaked havoc each time. No area of the county was spared, but largely Hispanic communities like Delhi and San Juan Capistrano were particularly hard hit. 

Father St. John O’Sullivan (1874-1933) was directed to San Juan Capistrano from Arizona by Father Alfred Quetu in 1910. O’Sullivan suffered from tuberculosis, and a parish in a small sleepy town with a good climate seemed like something he might be able to manage in the time he had left. Hopes for his survival and his ability to accomplish anything were low. But O’Sullivan fell in love with the town, regained much of his strength, lived another 23 years, and profoundly changed San Juan Capistrano, its historic mission, and California forever.

Starting in a tent amid the ruins of the Old Mission (which hadn’t had a priest in residence since 1886), he gradually brought the place back to life – both as a church and as an important historic site. He restored the Serra Chapel, replaced weeds with gardens, rebuilt walls with his own hands, added a parish school, and methodically turned the old ruins back into Mission San Juan Capistrano.  He also wrote books about Capistrano and popularized the local legend of the swallows. Throughout the state, his work served as the model for how to preserve and restore the old California Missions.

O’Sullivan was also beloved locally as an excellent parish priest, a good citizen and a fine man. One part of that reputation, no doubt, came from his time assisting the community during the difficult months of the Spanish flu epidemic. 

Every day during the pandemic, Dr. Ruggles Allerton Cushman (1856-1954) – who lived in and had a busy practice in Santa Ana – would come down to San Juan Capistrano to tend to the ill. He would arrive at or before 10 o'clock each morning and meet O’Sullivan at the Mission. Together, they went from house to house, visiting the afflicted.

Newspapers gave daily death counts and case counts, although they were wildly inaccurate, leaving out many unreported cases, including quite a few of those living in the country between incorporated cities. Likewise, County death records fail to fully paint the picture, as the causes of death listed for many are listed as afflictions likely caused by a preceding case of influenza. For instance, while the causes of death for many during 1918 are listed clearly as “Influenza,” “Spanish Influenza,” ‘Pneumonia ‘Influenza,’” or “Lobar Pneumonia ‘Influenza,’” others are simply listed as “Pneumonia” or “Lobar Pneumonia,” leaving the underlying cause of the pneumonia in question. Sometimes, however, it's possible to make educated guesses, as in the case of Jennie Lopez, age 22, who died of “Lobar Pneumonia” on October 24, 1918, just a week after two members of her family died of “Pneumonia ‘Influenza’.”

Father St. John O'Sullivan

The whereabouts of O’Sullivan’s original journals are unknown, but luckily, famed ethnologist John Peabody Harrington transcribed his entries for 1918 and 1919 into his own notes. Notice that for each entry, O’Sullivan kept a running tally of cases in Capistrano and even went back to correct his own math at one point. A transcription of these entries follows in bold type, interspersed with other information (in italics) to provide context. By the time of the first of these entries, Santa Ana was the only large city in Orange County still “open.” Appropriately, the first entry tells how “la grippe” came to San Juan Capistrano:

Oct. 23, 1918 - Wednesday - The influenza appeared among walnut pickers in the orchard attended by Barns. A young man, Mexican, came on the stage from El Toro on Sunday afternoon last. The same night he was taken sick. Tuesday morning, Dr. Cushman was called from Santa Ana and found two others, a man and a woman also sick. This morning (Wednesday) two other men were sick in a neighboring tent. 

Have warned all to stay at home as much as possible. Saw trustees Woodward and Rosenbaum and they closed the school yesterday afternoon. Got them to close last Wednesday but they opened up again Monday. Asked Dan Salazar and he closed his pool room. No public mass Sunday or Sunday week, but about ten came anyway last Sunday.

By October. 26, two hundred and seventy-six cases of the Spanish Influenza had been reported to the County Health Officer, with most of those coming from "south" Orange County. (South Orange County was then considered anything south of about Katella Ave. in Anaheim) were in short supply at the County Hospital (now the site of UCI Medical Center) and patients sometimes had to be cared for by relatives or other volunteers. Doctors were also in shorter supply than usual, with several of them serving in the military during the war.

Oct. 29 - Tuesday - No public mass last Sunday - 1 at mass, except household. So far, the following had the influenza, all of them developed since last Friday, and as well as I can remember in the order named: Reginaldo Yorba, Librada Yorba, Fidel Yorba, Ernesto Salazar, John and George Hunn, Adela Ricardes, Cristin Garcia, Dan Garcia, Clemencia and Ventura Garcia, Dan Salazar, Mrs. [Magdalena] Salazar, Eduardo Salazar, Pete Rios. [Pete Rios] was brought to county hospital last night, and I learn by phone that [he] is in a dangerous condition this afternoon, 4 p.m.  Milo Stevens and family up the Trabuco are reported all down with the influenza. 

Miguel Aguilar is down with it. All the walnut house help are now sick with it except apparently Mr. Van der Leck. They are Miguel Aguilar, Fidel Yorba, Cristina Garcia (Mrs. "Slats" Watenburg), and Ventura and Clemencia Garcia [?], Adela [?].

By late October, the practice of quarantining flu-infected individuals and households was becoming significantly more common in Southern California. On October 29, the Santa Ana Register reported that 113 homes in Santa Ana were quarantined, public gatherings were prohibited, numerous local doctors were down ill, and there was little chance of the schools being reopened the following week. "Every bed in the County Hospital was filled. Nearly all of the new patients were Mexicans. The hospital has been going ahead heroically under heavy odds. With illness on the staff and the work very heavy, the hospital has been doing excellent work. Just at present there is a decided shortage in nurses... The most serious phase of the situation so far as getting the flu under control is the indifference and ignorance of a large share of the Mexican population. Many of the Mexicans resent quarantine keenly and use diverse means of breaking it. ...It is almost impossible to keep the Mexicans from visiting the sick. There is little question but that there are a good many more cases of influenza among the Mexicans than the doctors or health authorities know about. A large proportion of the deaths that have occurred have been among the Mexicans. Failure to take care of themselves, crowded and insanitary conditions in their homes ... makes the disease more deadly among them."

Oct. 30 - Dr. Cushman here last night. We visited nine houses: Salazar, 4 sick with the influenza. Yorbas, 3 sick. Andres Garcia 3, Filipe Garcia 2, Mike Aguilar 2, Hunn 2, Angel Caperon 1, Joe Ricardes 3, Santos Yorba 1 (doubtful), Vicente Oliveras 2, Salazars 1. 

Tonight, the doctor came again. At Mike Aguilar's, two more sick. At Caperons, one more. At Andres Garcia's, one more. Found John Lobo, wife and three children sick. This [makes] 37 cases among our people. Simmons and wife and one or two children sick.

Pete Rios taken to County hospital night before last from Milo Stevens up the Trabuco with [pneumonia] from the flu.

Vida Van der Leck returned from L.A. last Thursday just recovering from it. All the Olivares family of [Gasa?] seem to have had it and recovered.

Dr. R. A. Cushman

On Halloween the Santa Ana Register reported on a different kind of mask than those usually associated with the holiday: "Masks are rapidly disappearing in business houses. They have not been worn very extensively in this city, and some doctors maintain that there is more danger in their use by inexperienced people than without them. Proper sterilization is necessary to make the masks safe, and it is said that very few people take the proper precaution. Some are known to have taken a mask after boiling it and placed it in a bag in which soiled masks had been carried." The epidemic did nothing, however, to curtail trick-or-treating and other Halloween shenanigans.

Nov. 1 - Apparently no new cases yesterday, but today Dr. Cushman came in the afternoon to see Ubaldo Manriquez. I did not know the doctor was here until after he left. Immediately phoned for him. Vicente Olivares’ "Bill" down with it. Gracia Olivares, Clotilde Garcia, Beatriz Garcia, Tula de Rios, Delfina Rios, Florencia Rios, John Agular are those who fell sick today -- and Ubaldo Manriquez. Nine new cases. 37+9=46

Nov. 2 - Six new cases today. Jesus and Gabriel Caperon, Dona Balbineda and little David Yorba. Lillie is better. Two cases near Serra. Paul Bucheim and [the wife of one of the section house men got it.] 

The section house was where the men who ran the local railroad operations lived. Serra was the name for the old rail stop at Capistrano Beach.

Nov 3 - Sunday - New cases, Lenora, Juanita and Daniel Rios, and Beatrix Garcia. Joe Lopez, Rosa Aguilar and her two children Crescencia and the baby. 8=51=59

Nov. 4 - No new cases today that I know of.

Nov. 5 - Fe Ramos, Octavia Ochoa, Sara de Belasquez, Andres Garcia, Virginia Watenburg (age 4) - 5 new cases today. Baby of Pedro Harday died today but not of the influenza. Also Marcos, Rosa's little baby sick. 6+59=65

Nov. 6 - New cases: Joe Yorba, Josephine Rios, Grace Combs, Teodoro Olivares. 4+65=69

Nov. 7 - New cases: Joe Olivares and two children, Hortensia and baby. Rosenda de Ramos and Esperanza, Ramon Rios. Nieves de Sepulveda and baby. Lorenza de Manriquez. 11+65=76

Gave John Aguilar, who has developed pneumonia, all the sacraments. The war ended today and the bells were run to announce it by Albert Watenburg, Julian Aguilar and one other (false alarm).

"I can't see that the epidemic is letting up," Dr. C. D. Ball told the Register. "There are about twelve burials a day in the nearby cemetery. The south end of the county from Huntington Beach to San Juan Capistrano is rotten with it. I should say one-third of the houses have it." Dr. Cushman added, "I think it is wrong to quarantine heads of families. Families have been shut up, and no way to get food. There should be an inspector go to every quarantined family every day, and money appropriated to meet their wants. If it was cholera or smallpox, people would be wild. They are indifferent to this, it seems, yet it is a terrible disease--a terrible disease. I am not in favor of keeping the schools closed."

Federal health warning, Santa Ana Register, 10-17-1918

On November 7, the Orange County Board of Supervisors passed Ordinance No. 159. This emergency measure prohibited "the assembling and congregating of persons in public places, and public gatherings, without permission of the County Health Officer..." It called out such examples as "any public school, church, theater, pool or billiard room, dance hall, lodge room, club room or [public gatherings in] private homes out of incorporated municipalities." Violators could be fined up to $50 or jailed for up to 10 days.

Nov. 8 - New cases: Baby of Joe Olivares (Two others beside those recorded had it and recovered without doctor.) Francisco Ramos, Manuel Manriquez, Myrtle Combs. 6+76=82

False alarm about the end of the war.

Nov. 9 - New cases: Tom Ramos Sr., Tom Ramos Jr., Consuelo Stanfield, Margarita (Lopez), baby of Anita, Antonio. Mother and Anita had it and recovered without doctor. 82+8=90

Mrs. McHenry and oldest girl. 90+2=92

Nov. 10 - New cases: Clarence Mendelson, Aurilio Lopez. Newly found being sick some days. Delfina Sepulveda, Leguarda de Sepulveda, and eight at Jimenez. 12+92=104

Lillie Yorba had relapse - pneumonia. Mike Aguilar has bad interior left ear. Little Girl and wife of McHenry sick Friday 2+104=106.

Nov. 11 - War ended at 11 today French time. Brought Lilly to hospital today. Went with her in ambulance to County Hospital. Gave her sacraments. Did not visit all today. Only new cases I know of are Earl Stanfield and the grandmother, Refugio de Rios. 2+106=108. 

Found Candido Jimenez with pneumonia, fever 104°. Brought him and rest of family pills.

Nov. 12 - New cases: Jesus Maria Lopez, Jesusita. Baby boy at Lopez. Voila Keller de Aguilar, Gussie Mendelson, Willie Forbes, Jr., Guadalupe de Perez, Adela Lopez. Newly found, Francisca and Erolinda Jimenez. 10+108=118

Lilly reported better this evening. Lorenza de Manriquez and Candido Jimenez very sick. Mrs. McHenry had bad nose bleed this evening. Candido Jimenez had 104 2/5° this afternoon. Ten of them are sick.

By now there was a clear pattern throughout the county in which predominantly Mexican neighborhoods – which often held more family members and more generations per household – were being hit much harder by influenza than were predominately white neighborhoods. By mid-November, white parents in Santa Ana were requesting that any reopened schools be segregated with specific schools for the Mexicans. “This is a temporary adjustment,” reported the Register. “It is proposed to leave to the next school board the problem of a permanent adjustment.”

Fr. O'Sullivan in the Mission's Sacred Garden

Nov. 13 - New cases: Baby of Edonardo Perez, and he himself newly found, Eugene Arce. 3+118=121

Nov. 14 - New cases: William Forbes, Sr., and Francisca de Lopez. 2+121=123

Nov. 15 - Martin, Basilio and Theofila Perez, children. 3+123=126

Nov. 16 - Tiby Marquez, Mrs. William Forbes, Ysidro. 3+126=129. 

Gave Candida Jimenez all the sacraments this afternoon. Guadalupe de Perez had 105° fever at 3 P.M. Tom Jimenez came down from Camp Fremont this morning in answer to night letter I sent him. Took Richard Mendelson - only one in his house not sick - over to Juan Yorba's. Error in numbers, McHenrys recorded twice. 129-2=127

Nov. 17 - Sunday - Found no new cases today. Dr. Cushman here in evening to see Candido who is very low. Heart good, temperature 102°, but lungs almost filled up. Guadalupe de Perez very bad, 104°. Doctor advises taking her to the hospital. Lilly Yorba to leave hospital tomorrow and go to her brother Rudolph's house near Tustin. Candido died at 10:30 P.M.

Nov. 18 - Guadalupe de Perez went to the hospital today with pneumonia. Tiby was worse this morning and Joe Avila's little boy sick. Doctor came but could not get up to Avila's, 5 miles toward the [San Juan] Hot Springs on account of muddy roads and rain. He left medicine and I wrote out instructions and sent them up by Damien Rios, who went on horseback.

New cases: Mrs. Staffel, Pilar Lobo, and presumably Jose Avila's little boy. 3+127=130 cases to date.

By now, the incidence of new cases was beginning to diminish throughout the county.

Nov. 19 - No new cases. Joe Avila's baby has not flu. 130-1=129

Nov. 20 - No new cases. Guadalupe de Perez died.

Nov. 21 - No new cases. Tiby better 99.3°. Viola de Aguilar 99.3°. Yisidro Villa better. Buried Guadalupe de Perez who died at County Farm yesterday. 

The County Farm was the Orange County Hospital and Poor Farm. The Poor Farm provided housing and work for those who were unable to otherwise care for themselves. The adjacent County Hospital – at that time housed in a purpose-built 1914 neo-classical building -- cared for those who could not afford medical help elsewhere.

White Cross Drug Store ad, Santa Ana Register, 10-22-1918

Dec. 12 - Since recording the preceding the following [have] taken the influenza: Joe Avila, his wife Amelia, Henry Jose, Jr., Julian and the baby, Clarence James, Glenn Cook, his cousin about the same age (15), Mrs. Roy Cook. 9+129=138

Mrs. Roy Cook took sick this morning. Julian Aguilar had it and recovered without the doctor. 1+138=139

Dec. 22 - Sunday - Pedrito Oyharzabal sick with flu last Sunday, had pneumonia about four days. Yesterday at 5 P.M. Temp. 103 4/5°. Resp 40. Pulse 128. Better today. 

Bennie Forster, three in section house. Polly Lopera (Wilson), Mrs. Congdon and Jack Congdon 8+138=146

By the middle of December, many of Southern California’s bans on public gathering were lifted – just in time for the holidays. At Mission San Juan Capistrano’s heavily attended 8:00 a.m. Christmas morning Mass, the congregation presented O'Sullivan with a generous gift "in gratitude for his faithful work during the influenza epidemic." (Santa Ana Register, 12-27-1918)

Jan. 8 - Since last, the following have had the flu -- Walter Congdon, Antonio Saragosa, Dominga Saragosa and the mother (in section) 146+4=150. 

Teodoro Belardes very low with pneumonia.

Jan. 10 -- Teodosio Belardes died today.

Jan. 15 -- Marcos Forster, sick on the 13th. Modesta Rios and Filomena de Ricardes same day. Frank Rios yesterday. 4+150=154. Today Frank Rios 104°.

Here the transcription ends. It would be fascinating to know what else O’Sullivan may have noted in his journals in the waning days of the epidemic and, indeed, throughout the rest of his time in San Juan Capistrano. 

New infections decreased significantly throughout Southern California by February 1919 and gradually fizzled out during that spring. Some believe a smaller fourth wave also swept through in the winter and spring of 1920, although that is not well documented. 

The task remains for some historian to spend the countless days of research needed to develop a full accounting of those who died of Spanish Influenza in Orange County. Finding those who died of “influenza” in the death rolls is straightforward enough, albeit time consuming. However, it is much harder – if not impossible – to sort through the deaths caused by potentially related conditions, like pneumonia, and determine which cases were brought about by the flu. In truth, the local death count may never be fully known. Even less knowable is the scope of the devastation brought to the family and friends of those who died. 

But thanks to Fr. St. John O’Sullivan, we have a much better idea of how one small town coped during one of its darkest hours.


[Author’s note: Special thanks to Eric Plunkett for finding historical needles in historical haystacks and to Stephanie George for her helpful editing and suggestions. This article was originally written for the Orange County Historical Society and first appeared on a page relating to OCHS on the website of the Heritage Museum of Orange County.]

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Hermann’s Slug Farm, Midway City

An early incarnation of Sidney Slug joins (L to R) Roger Hermann, Mrs. Hermann, and members of the Midway City Chamber of Commerce for the farm’s grand opening in 1953. (Photo from Midway City Times)

What’s the key to a successful tourist attraction? If you said, “gobs of mucus” or “tiny critters that barely move,” you would be wrong. That is, you’d be wrong if Midway City’s late, not-so-lamented Hermann’s Slug Farm was any indicator. 

Opening in October 1953 and closing in November 1955, the “farm” featured not only dozens of species of slugs, but also smaller numbers of snails and worms. It was located on the east side of Highway 39 (Beach Blvd), south of at Hazard Ave. Billboards along the highway read “See the World’s Most Playful Slugs!” and featured smiling cartoon gastropods frolicking on the beach, playing volleyball, building sandcastles, and so forth. Unsurprisingly, the actual slugs participated in none of these activities. 

The slug farm was the brainchild of Roger S. Hermann, a limacologist who’d retired from teaching at UCLA and wanted to share his passion for shell-less gastropod mollusks with a wider audience. 

If nothing else, Hermann picked a good location. Highway 39 had been a key route from Los Angeles County to Orange County’s beaches for decades and had spawned numerous other popular roadside attractions. Land in Midway City was affordable and had a naturally high water table and rich moist soil conducive to a healthy slug population. 

Visitors entered Hermann’s Slug Farm through “The World’s Largest Slug” – a slug-shaped building designed and built by artist Claude Bell, whose studio was just up the road at Knott’s Berry Farm. This giant gunite slug also housed a small gift shop featuring a variety of items – from cigarette lighters to bottle openers – emblazoned with the images of real slugs or the farm’s cartoon mascot, Sidney Slug. Among the most memorable items in the store were colorful ceramic banks shaped like Sidney, which sell for over $150 on eBay today. The gift shop also sold worms for gardening and fishing, as well as slugs that hadn’t “made the cut” in the farm’s exhibits.

From the entrance building, a silver trail, painted on the concrete walkways, led visitors from one exhibit to the next. Slug-shaped signs described each exhibit, as did the “Fun Map” booklet handed out at the farm’s entrance.

A silver lapel pin, as sold in the gift shop.
“Be sure to visit again at feeding time!” read a large sign over the main slug enclosure. But it took half a day to watch the slugs devour even one good-sized leaf. 

“Some of the slugs and snails were trained to perform tricks, but they did so very slowly,” said Terry McGee who worked summers at the farm as a teenager, spraying the gastropods to keep them moist. “Most people didn’t have the patience for that.”

Twice-daily slug races also failed to draw large crowds. 

Perhaps the Slug Farm’s most well-remembered attraction was a small terrarium where a trained slug would play a tiny piano each time a guest placed a nickel into a coin slot. A series of hidden electrodes herded the slug back and forth across the keyboard. It took the slug half an hour to play a small snippet of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag.”

But some just came to admire the surprisingly wide array of slug species. “The bright yellow banana slugs were probably our biggest hit,” said McGee.

The farm’s on-site snack shop, Gastropod Gastronomy, featured fried escargot on a stick and an assortment of hot dogs, hamburgers, and ice cream treats. As a safety precaution, no salt was available to customers.
Midway City briefly considered capitalizing on the Slug Farm by hosting a proposed annual Slug Fest and a Slug Parade before realizing the roadside attraction was a flop.

Indeed, Hermann’s Slug Farm never became popular. And business only got worse as new freeways pulled traffic off Highway 39 and as competition from other tourist attractions edged out “the little guy.” The slug farm closed for good on November 17, 1955, just four months after Disneyland opened its doors. 
Posted 4/1/2021

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Stephen Gould (1947-2020)

The byline from Gould’s Tustin News column, “Tustin Remembrances.”
 Stephen Louis “Steven” Gould passed away August 22, 2020, at age 73. He was a member of a pioneer Tustin family, a prolific self-published author of local history, and the founder of One-by-One Ministries. He was also perhaps the most persistent student in CSUF’s History Department. He began taking classes there sometime in the 1960s and continued well into the 2010s – eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in history. Indeed, Gould seemed a permanent fixture on campus, haunting the History Dept. and the Center for Oral and Public History and giving out free hamburgers to hungry students in the quad every Friday through his ministry’s “Hamburger Fellowship” program. 

Gould and his ministry also worked to help those overcoming addiction to drugs and alcohol and made regular trips to Mexico to feed the hungry and spread the gospel.

From one of Gould's articles in the Tustin News.

Most, if not all, of Gould’s books were printed and bound either at copy shops or by Professor Gary Shumway’s genealogical vanity press. Most of them covered ground already well-trod by historians rather than expanding significantly on the topic at hand. But Gould did go back and dig out the original sources himself. It seems to me that most of his books were artifacts of his ongoing personal learning process rather than an attempt to be the first to break new ground.

This pattern changed somewhat in the 1990s, when he began to write more about the history of his own family, which came to Orange County in 1888. His father, Jack, had farmed on the Irvine Ranch and the Goulds attended the little Irvine Community Church on Sand Canyon Ave. His family stories and personal anecdotes provided snapshots of life in Orange County not recorded elsewhere.  

Books written by Stephen Gould include…

  • The Economic Religious History of Tustin from 1868 to 1894 (1988)
  • An Annotated Bibliography of Orange County Sources (1988)
  • The Effect of the Railroads on the Development of Santa Ana and Tustin (1988)
  • Chinese in Tustin (1989)
  • Orange County Before it was a County (1989)
  • Orange County, its Towns and Cities: an Annotated Bibliography (1989)
  • Fourteen Eras in Orange County History: an Illustrated Catalog of the Centennial Exhibition, September 1 - October 31, 1989, University Library Gallery, California State University Fullerton (1989)
  • 1990 Directory of Orange County Historical Agencies, Historical Societies, Museums and Historical Libraries (1990)
  • Californiana: A Bibliography of California Bibliographies (1990)
  • An Illustrated History of Modjeska, Sienkiewicz and Salvator: the Polish and German Speaking Writers of Los Angeles and Orange County from 1870 to 1910 (1994)
  • The Burning of Santa Ana's Chinatown (1994)
  • Politics, Government, Labor, Racism and Segregation: California, Southern California, and Orange County Sources (1995)
  • Growing Up on a California Mini Farm (1995)
  • California, Southern California, and Orange County an Illustrated and Annotated Bibliography (1995)
  • Tales of California: True Stories from Three Generations of Californians (1996)
  • Life in Southern California: An Illustrated History of the Pre-1930's Era (1996)
  • Walter Knott and His Knott's Berry Farm (1998)

Rather than working through a publisher or distributor, Gould would periodically go on road trips, driving up and down the coast of California, peddling his books (and those of other organizations) to libraries, museums and universities.  This echoed his approach to researching his bibliographies – by driving up and down the coast visiting libraries and archives rather than tapping into the usual library resources. It was, said one of his professors, an “expensive and rather unorthodox way to proceed.”

I never actually met Stephen Gould, but many in our local historical community were well-acquainted with him. Certainly, if you were involved in history at CSUF, he was a constant presence. In earlier decades he was also very involved in the Orange County Historical Society and even served on the board in the early 1970s. But with the whole world focused on COVID-19, his death seems to have gone somewhat under the radar. Although I'm probably not the best one to do it, it seems only right that someone in our community mark his passing and highlight some of his efforts.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Bob's Men's Shop, Knott's Berry Farm

Bob's Men's Shop, December 1966

Bob and Patty Anderson opened Bob’s Men’s Shop on Grand Ave. at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park on November 1, 1956. Bob was the brother-in-law of Marion Knott. Over time, the Andersons doubled their floorspace and brought their three children into the business. Their longtime store manager, Max Moore, had been friends with Bob Anderson since childhood in Iowa.

Bob Anderson (left) and Max Moore, 1986. (Photo: Los Angeles Times)

Bob’s Men’s Shop was one of the last survivors among the once numerous individually-owned businesses located at Knott’s. The transition to the current situation – where Knott’s Berry Farm itself operates most of the on-site shops and concessions – arguably began when the Knott family put up a fence around the property in 1968 and started charging admission. The process really ramped up in the 1980s, when Knotts brought in a general manager from outside the family who really began to purge the little mom-and-pop businesses from the “farm.” Perhaps because it was outside the gate, Bob’s somehow managed to survive the purge. 

In 1997, several important changes happened at Knott’s Berry Farm that would impact Bob’s Men’s Shop. First, construction began on the huge, wooden Ghost Rider rollercoaster, which required a reconfiguration of the fence around Knott’s and changes to the unfenced California Marketplace area in which Bob’s was located. At that time, Bob’s moved a couple doors down within the same building. 

Also in 1997, the Knott family sold Knott’s Berry Farm to Ohio-based Cedar Fair. This set the stage for many additional changes on the farm. Over time, almost all of the remaining small businesses on Knott’s property would close.

Bob's Men's Shop, shortly after opening, in 1956.

The Anderson family closed Bob’s on May 2004. It did not reopen elsewhere or under another name, although a few product lines (notably some of the Pendleton products and a selection of hats and footwear) were picked up by the World Market shop, across the street.

Bob’s carried some great brands, like Pendleton, Reyn Spooner and London Fog, as well as quality western wear. I was sad to see them go.

Bob Anderson retired to Newport Beach. He is in the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame for swimming. (He recieved a B.A. in economics from Stanford University, where he also played football.)

Monday, March 08, 2021

Orange County in 1849

C. C. Parry

Here's an excerpt from the journals/notebooks of naturalist Charles Christopher Parry (1823-1890), written as he traveled south-to-north through Orange County along the El Camino Real in 1849. This leg of his travels ultimately took him from San Diego to Monterey, and he documented what he saw along the way. The following narrative picks up near the southernmost point of Orange County, near today’s border of Camp Pendleton and San Clemente:


March 15 -- …The best road follows the beach, but as the tide was up, we were obliged to take to the plain following along the base of the hills. The road occasionally cut up into steep gullies. About three miles on, we descend on the beach and follow under the high beetling cliffs, some 80 ft. of layers of hard clay when the tide is down. The beach where the waves roll in is hard and affords a smooth wagon road. We next follow along the beach four miles to the mouth of the San Juan River, and following up the valley three miles come to the Mission San Juan Capistrano. The bottom of this river is very rich soil, and [there are] several ranches with fenced fields about them and peach trees in blossom. The road to the Mission passes over some spurs of hills on the south side of the stream and comes down upon the Mission which lies between two forks of the stream. 

The Mission buildings are in the usual style, a façade of 16 arched pillars enclosing a court and passing into the usual variety of rooms. The out-buildings are mostly dilapidated. The large and spacious church built of sandstone and cement was destroyed by an earthquake… its roof fallen in, and when I arrived its altar was being used as a pen for cattle. The Mission’s grounds are quite extensive [with] a large fine grove of olives. The grape vines have been entirely destroyed. There is a fine orchard of pear trees, also peaches, a few apple trees, pomegranates, a few scattering palm trees, and the tuna cactus complete the present assortment.

The Mission building is now occupied and owned by Mr. [John] Forster, an Englishman, twenty year resident in the country. I partook of a sumptuous dinner with his family consisting of five or six courses of different dishes. He apologized for the lack of meat on account of it being Lent. I thought it was unnecessary. We had salmon from the upper Sacramento and shell fish. Mr. Forster is an extensive landholder, his wife a Mexican or Californian. Camp in an outside court attached to the Mission. Distance 9 miles.

John Forster

March 16 – Leave San Juan at 9 a.m. after a clear evening. A sprinkling of rain fell in the night and the morning [was] cloudy, clearing by noon, which has been the usual character of weather for some time. 

We pass up the valley of San Juan, the stream beautifully bordered with Platanus mexicanus and quite sizable trees of Sambucus, the bottom-ground bedded luxuriant pasturage. Continue up the valley following its left branch till it ascends over rolling ground, soil continuing of a fine loamy character. About nine miles come upon “Rancho Alisos” (Sycamore) [a.k.a. Rancho Cañada de los Alisos] on the left bank of a small stream. From this we continue on our course and soon emerge on a continuous plain stretching out as far as the eye can reach, shut out from the sea by hills and bounded on the east by the mountain ranges. Its entire surface was dotted with herds of cattle and horses luxuriating in the rank pasturage of Erodium, Medicago, etc. This continues with a slight descent about ten miles, when we come to an edge of scattered sycamores and alder. Passing a small branch of [the] Santa Ana River, we encamp at the ranch near the main stream. High peaks of snow-covered mountain are on our right hand, which set off with the verdant hills at its base and flowering plain make a picturesque view. Distance 27 miles.

March 17 (Sunday) – Remain camped to rest and recruit the animals. The ranch is owned by Don Jose Yorba.

March 18, 1850 – We leave the ranch of Don Jose Yorba and cross the Santa Ana River, about 200 ft. wide. Its channel is bedded with quicksand through which our mules flounder, the water reaching to the saddle skirts. The wagon followed close after, the passage of a drove of mules settling the sand. The bottom is a little depressed below the surrounding plain. First after crossing the soil is sandy and the plain mostly covered with wild sage and other arid-loving plants. Passing this the depressed plain is composed of a stiff clay and our proximity to the ocean is evidenced by a saline efflorescence. [We] pass several muddy gullies, sometimes with a running stream of clear water in which a succulent plant is floating. The edge of the plain is swampy and the road then rises to a rolling ground of hard gravelly soil and good road. Here some ranches are situated. The plain continues pretty much of this character till we reach the San Gabriel River, marked by a line of trees.


If you’re interested in reading more about Parry’s trek through California, find a copy of Parry’s California Notebooks, 1849-1851 with Letters to John Torrey, edited and annotated by James Lightner and published by San Diego Flora in 2014.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

The naming of MacArthur Boulevard

General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), U.S. Army

On February 6, 1942, disabled war veteran and former Santa Ana Valley Hospital manager Martin Bernard Alexander Noren (1898–1955) suggested that the “South Main Extension” (a.k.a. California State Route 73) – which had officially opened to the public the previous day -- be renamed in honor of the commander of the U.S. armed forces in the Philippines: General Douglas MacArthur

Sgt. Noren himself had served in the Medical Detachment of the 254 Aero Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Service during World War I. At some point during his service, he ended up with a “crippled spine.” He spent a while at the base hospital at Camp Merritt, New Jersey and later lived at the Sawtelle Veterans Home in Los Angeles before making a new life for himself in Santa Ana.

On March 10, 1942, County Supervisor N. E. West of Laguna Beach took up the cause of Noren’s suggested street name change, moving that the name MacArthur Boulevard be adopted for the new southern leg of Main Street. The resolution read, in part,…

"WHEREAS, the national crisis calls for maximum intelligence, courage and sacrifice and these qualities should be recognized and appreciated wherever found, and that

"WHEREAS, General Douglas MacArthur has exhibited a degree of intelligence, courage and sacrifice as to inspire all Americans, and that

"WHEREAS, it is deemed by this Board that the least that may be done as a lasting recognition of his courageous effort, be to name a permanent monument for and on his behalf so that full remembrance may be had as an inspiration.

"NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Board of Supervisors of the County of Orange respectfully request the State Highway Commission to give and designate the name of "MacArthur" to South Main Street Extension, as a small but lasting remembrance and deserved tribute to General MacArthur, that those that may travel this highway be forever reminded of his courageous performance as a soldier."

Unofficially, West also suggested that other roads intersecting the boulevard could be named after Orange Countians serving in the Philippines. But this idea never caught on.

The Board passed the MacArthur resolution unanimously. But soon their plans melted, like sweet green icing in the rain. The State Highway Commission turned down the request on March 23, saying that only the state legislature could change the name of a state highway.

Undaunted, the Board of Supervisors decided that the name MacArthur Boulevard would be used locally, regardless of the state’s decision. By late August, the name MacArthur Boulevard was already in regular use.

Around the beginning of 1968 the segment of the road from Pacific View Drive to Palisades Road (now Bristol), was designated “Veterans Memorial Freeway,” while simultaneously retaining the name MacArthur Boulevard. (It was noted that General MacArthur was among the veterans honored by the additional designation.)

At about the same time, the City of Santa Ana changed the name of their portion of Talbert Ave. to MacArthur Boulevard to make the freeway exit less confusing. The idea being that far more drivers would be headed east/south to Santa Ana, Irvine, Newport, and the airport – where the MacArthur Boulevard name was in use – rather than west to sleepy Fountain Valley/Talbert.

Today, MacArthur Blvd. runs through portions of the cities of Santa Ana, Irvine and Newport Beach.

Office park at MacArthur Blvd and Fairview St., Santa Ana, 2021

[Thanks to the staff at the City of Santa Ana and to Phil Bacerra for providing additional information.]

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Don Dobmeier retires from O.C. Historical Commission

At the 75th anniversary of Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant, Don Dobmeier holds up a photo of himself from a 1977 Knott's historical plaque unveiling. Steve Adamson and Marion Knott in background. (Photo by author) 
The retirement of Don Dobmeier from the Orange County Historical Commission in late January 2021 marks the end of an era. He was appointed in 1974, missing being a charter member by only a few months. He stayed for 47 years. Don also served as the Commission’s chairman for numerous terms including throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. As a Commissioner, he was deeply involved in the battle to save and restore the Old Courthouse as well as Key Ranch, the Peralta Adobe, Modjeska’s Arden, and the oaks in Irvine Park. He was also involved in the publication of A Hundred Years of Yesterdays (both editions), Visiting Orange County’s Past, the O.C. Centennial Map (1989), and AAA’s O.C. 125th Anniversary Map of historical sites (2014).

Never one to blow his own horn, Don calls himself an “avocational historian” and “a collector of Orange County material, especially postcards.” Actually, he has served as the institutional memory and the connective tissue of the local history community for more than four decades. When a “new” idea is raised, Don’s the one to say, “We tried that 25 years ago, and let me tell you how that went.” Or when someone sets about writing an article, Don will remember otherwise long-forgotten sources of relevant information.

“Don has a deep and abiding interest in the history of Orange County, and a rich connection to the place he calls home,” said historian Phil Brigandi. “His decades-long service on the Orange County Historical Commission shows a level of commitment few people can match. During those years he had doggedly advocated some of the Commission's most important projects -- sometimes despite real opposition. While not an author himself (though he has published a few brief articles) he has been a great help to other authors and historians. He is always eager to share what he knows and encourage the work of others.”

Don is probably thanked in the acknowledgements of more Orange County history books than anyone else. He has also provided historical and photo research for publications like Steve Emmons’ now-ubiquitous book, Orange County, A History and Celebration (1988).

Born in Orange on July 5, 1944, Donald Joseph Dobmeier attended both parochial and public elementary schools in Westminster and Garden Grove. He graduated from Garden Grove High School in 1963 and then went to Orange Coast College for a couple years, followed by California State College, Fullerton (now CSUF). 

Don’s friends will appreciate knowing that his unique style has been “a thing” since an early age. Morris Walker, who attended Garden Grove High School at the same time as both Don Dobmeier and famed comedian Steve Martin, wrote, “There was a particular fellow named Donald Dobmeier who was such a distinct individual that Steve really admired him. Despite social attitudes toward clothes and styles, Donald would wear a vested wool suit with a neat watch and chain draped carefully from one vest pocket to the other. He also sported spats occasionally.”

Don at Peters Canyon, 1964 (Courtesy Don Dobmeier)

Martin, later noted for his thoroughly original approach to comedy (and banjo music), learned a thing or two from Don about successfully marching to the beat of your own drum.  

Today, Don only disputes one part of Walker’s anecdote. “I never wore spats,” he says. “I tried a pair on once, but the price was kinda high.”

Don married Sue Anne Stoecker of Tustin in 1967 and they would have five children and eventually eight grandchildren. Don and Sue live in the historic heart of Garden Grove.

Don joined the Orange County Historical Society in 1968 and became a member of the Society’s board of directors in 1971. He served on the board with only a few breaks until retiring in 2016. His work for the Society has been extensive. He was Vice President and Curator of the Society in 1977 and was still V.P. in 1981. Beginning in 1992, he took an “at large” position on the board and served as the Society’s “History Advisor.” He served as OCHS’ Historian in 1994 and 1995, and in the late 1990s served the Society’s Membership chair. He also helped create the Society’s booths for the Orange County Fair in the 1990s.

Over the decades, Don has also spoken occasionally (often as part of a panel) before the Society on topics ranging Orange County’s wine industry to postcard images of the Old Orange County Courthouse.

Although Don’s historical interests encompass all of Orange County, no local historian can help but have a warm spot in their heart for their own hometown. He was already active with the Garden Grove Historical Society by 1970 and shortly thereafter served a term as that organization’s vice president. More recently, he served on a City committee to identify historic sites in town.

I initially met Don during my first week of work at the Orange County Archives in 2003. Over the years he’s remained a regular at the Archives, visiting every Tuesday morning before heading upstairs to work on Orange County Historical Commission projects, and again on his way back out to his truck in the afternoon. With his soft-spoken thoughtful manner, distinguished appearance, corduroy sport coat, and memory for all things historical, I was under the impression for months that he was a college professor or perhaps a professional researcher (the kind who has his own reader’s card at the Huntington Library). I was later surprised to learn that he was none of those things but had both a bartending business (Don the Bartender) and a gardening business – both catering primarily to doctors, business leaders and other well-to-do folk around Orange County and particularly in the North Tustin area. He’s a man of many skills, but his heart is in local history.

Jim Sleeper, Don Dobmeier, Lecil Slaback and (unknown) at Blue Light Mine ruins, Silverado, circa 1983. (Courtesy Don Dobmeier)

His gardening work helped put him in touch with some of that history, as he met and worked for various pioneer families (like the Grahams of Huntington Beach) and other local notables (like Mr. Carbon C. Dubbs of Easter Hill).

Don also combined his gardening and history interests in helping propagate and tend a number of Mission grape arbors around Orange County – the same variety of grape grown by the padres at the California Missions and by the pioneers of Anaheim. 

“In January 1978 a grape arbor was dedicated behind the Mother Colony House,” said Jane Newell, the City of Anaheim’s Heritage Services Manager. “Presented by the Ebell Club of Anaheim in honor of Sarah Fay Pearson, the arbor featured Mission grapevines provided by the University of California, Davis. I’m not sure of the details of how or when Don Dobmeier became the caretaker for these grapevines [Anaheim’s Opal Kissinger and Elizabeth Schultz both served on the O.C. Historical Commission], but when I became Heritage Services Manager in 1993, Don had held that unofficial position for several years. He certainly deserves the credit for the vines continued health and annual crop of grapes through the development of Founders’ Park.  And during that time, he never accepted any payment or public credit for his work.”

Although he’s now retired from boards and commissions, Don still plans to keep a hand in the world of Orange County history. I’m very glad. It wouldn’t be the same without him.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

How Santa Ana's Lyon Street got its name

It seems like Lyon St., being near the Santa Ana Zoo, might have something to do with lions.

Instead, it appears to be named for local pioneer George B. Lyon (1806-1890), who owned most of the land through which the street now runs. His land was east of Santa Ana in an area which was, in the early 1880s, often considered part of Tustin. 

Lyon arrived to make his home "in the Tustin district" around 1871 or 1872, according to pioneer C.E. Utt who spoke about Tustin's history at a 1931 Orange County Historical Society meeting. A mention of Lyon building a two-story home in Tustin appears in the newspapers in 1882. 

Like many landowners, he took it on the chin when the big railroad boom of the 1880s went bust. All his carefully subdivided land went back to farm acreage which is how it remained for many decades.

Today, an impressive monument marks Lyon’s grave at Fairhaven Memorial Park.

By the way, another zoo-adjacent street, Elk Lane, has nothing to do with animals either. It's a reference to the fact that the Santa Ana Elk's Lodge was located there.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Kilson Drive and Kilson Square, Santa Ana

Ad for Kilson Square, Santa Ana Register, June 28, 1923

The Kilson Square subdivision in Santa Ana (Tract 466) is named for its owner/developer, George Elmer Kilson. He came into the world in Iowa in 1857, fifth of the seven children of Lewis Kelson (born Lars Kjellson Bøe) and Caroline “Carrie” Kilson (born Milvey Erickson) who had emigrated to America from Norway in 1838 and eventually homesteaded a farm in Butler County. George was educated in Bristow, Iowa and worked on his father’s farm until the age of 21.

“At that time he came to California to carve his own destiny in the land that offers so many inducements to the worthy citizen, arriving in the Golden State February 7, 1882,” wrote Yda Addis Storke in her 1891 Memorial and Biographical History of the Counties of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura Counties. “He had already obtained some knowledge of telegraphy, and his first move was to finish learning that business, at Pino, Placer County. He was afterward sent to Arizona and at different times had charge of several stations: was three months at Yuma, one year at Dragoon Summit, the highest point on the Southern Pacific Railroad, and was two years at Nelson” in Butte County, California.

The Kilsons’ home in Kilson Square, 1923. 

George married native Californian Laura F. Williams on December 17, 1886. While still in Nelson, their first son, Lewis, was born. The left Nelson for Saticoy, in Ventura County in November 1887. 

George worked for over thirty years as the local ticket agent and operator for the Southern Pacific Railroad in Saticoy. Their second son, Elmer, was also born there. 

Original tract map for Kilson Square.

George retired in 1916. By late 1919 they still had an address in Saticoy, but also had a home at 402 McFadden Ave in Santa Ana and were in the process of building a six-room bungalow at 425 McFadden. They were settled into this second McFadden address by 1920. Orange County’s real estate market was booming and the Kilsons would stay and make the most of it. 

1923: Supposedly a view of both John L. & Ida Rudolph’s home at 921 Hickey St. and Michael P. & Elizabeth Lynch's home at 926 Halladay St. in Kilson Square. Both John and Michael worked for the City Water Dept.

By 1923, George had purchased a walnut grove bounded by McFadden on the south, Halladay St on the east, Oak St on the west, and approximately the line of E. Wisteria Place on the north. They built a home for themselves there and (in conjunction with the Guaranty Finance Co.) they subdivided the land as “Kilson Square.” Sales began in 1924 and went well. The new tract including at least eighteen houses built “on spec,” including ten homes built by local contractor Verne E. Maynard. It was prime real estate, being close Spurgeon Elementary School and the new (still under construction) Lathrop Intermediate School. The sales pitch also promoted the fact that most of the lots included four mature walnut trees, which might produce enough nuts to pay for the interest and taxes on the property.

In 1925 the Kilsons moved to another house they’d built for themselves the year before on the 820 block of S. Broadway. They were still living there as of 1926, but by 1928 they were living at 2438 N. Park Blvd. It was at this address where George E. Kilson died on November 16, 1932.

Kilson Drive during the development of Kilson Square, 1923.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Downtown Santa Ana's disappearing historic churches

First Methodist Episcopal Church of Santa Ana

The number of old church buildings in Downtown Santa Ana continues to dwindle. Last year, the long-vacant United Presbyterian Church burned (arson). And in recent weeks the (also long-vacant) Santa Ana United Methodist Church was torn down to make way for new development. 

Founded in 1873 as the First Methodist Episcopal (M.E.) Church of Santa Ana, the church’s first location was at the southwest corner of 2nd and Main Streets. In 1902 they built a larger church on the corner of Sixth and Spurgeon Streets which was, in turn, demolished in the mid-1960s and replaced with a more modern church building on the same site. The church’s Education Building (1928), however, continued to stand at French St. and Santa Ana Blvd. for many years. The church’s name eventually was changed to the First United Methodist Church of Santa Ana and then to Santa Ana United Methodist Church, which moved to 2121 N. Grand Ave.

The move was just one piece of the post-World War II trend of churches moving out of downtown and relocating to the edge of the city. Land was less expensive and more readily available than it was downtown, allowing churches with swiftly growing congregations to build larger sanctuaries and campuses and to provide plenty of parking.

At first, some of the vacated downtown church buildings were used as overflow space for the Superior Court. (Jokes were made that some churches ended up the site of more divorces than marriages.) Another example of adaptive reuse was United Presbyterian Church, which (before it fell into disrepair) was used as the practice hall for the Pacific Symphony Orchestra for many years.

But many of the downtown old church buildings disappeared long ago. For instance, the First Christian Church was torn down to make way for the current County Hall of Administration. And the old Spurgeon Methodist was replaced with a segment of Civic Center Drive, but their fellowship hall remains as the headquarters of the nonprofit Taller San Jose.

Despite the losses of recent years, a few historic churches still remain near the heart of old Downtown Santa Ana, including the Episcopal Church of the Messiah at 614 N. Bush St.; First Presbyterian Church of Santa Ana at 600 N. Main St.; and St. Joseph Catholic Church at 727 N Minter St.


(This article first appeared in the Feb. 2021 issue of the Orange County Historical Society's County Courier newsletter.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The naming of Anaheim

Seal of the Los Angeles Vineyard Society.

How and why did the Los Angeles Vineyard Society name their wine colony Anaheim? “Heim” is the German word for “home.” And “Ana” was a reference to the town’s main water source and the area’s key geographic feature: The Santa Ana River. As historian Don Meadows put it, Anaheim was “a name suggesting a home on the Santa Ana River.” 

The river had been named “Santa Ana” by the Portola Expedition in 1769 because it seemed to emanate from the Santa Ana Mountains. The same expedition had, only days earlier, named those mountains in honor of St. Ann.) Thus, the name Anaheim was a blending of Spanish and German influences, which seems especially appropriate for such a diverse community.

In his book, Campo Aleman, Anaheim historian Leo J. Friis wrote about the meeting of the Los Angeles Vineyard Society at Leutgen’s Hotel on Montgomery St. in San Francisco during which its members – mostly German immigrants – selected the town’s name:

“At a general meeting of members on January 15 [or perhaps 13], 1858, the most important item on the agenda was to give a name to the new town. Three names were suggested: Annaheim, Annagau and Weinheim. On the first ballot Annaheim received 18 votes; Annagau, 17; and Weinheim, one. ‘There being no deciding majority a second ballot was taken, the count showing 20 for Anaheim and 18 for Annagau. [There seems to be an error here as only 36 shares were present.] The name, Annaheim was then declared the name of the colony and to be henceforth always spoken of as Annaheim.’

“…Theodore E Schmidt is generally credited with suggesting Annaheim. A short time [several months] later an “n” was omitted from the name. 
Theodore Edward Schmidt, circa 1900. (Courtesy Anaheim Heritage Center)

The Los Angeles Star reported on the meeting in its January 23, 1858 edition: “They resolved to give the name Annaheim (heim is the German for home) to their vineyard in the Santa Anna Valley..." 

The Star covered the same meeting again on January 30, reporting that the Society members "named their estate at Santa Ana... Annaheim. This name is not only euphonious, but expressive. It is suggestive of the most pleasant associations, reminding one of the wide-spreading and highly cultivated vineyards of Fatherland. The termination ‘heim’ means ‘home,’ but in a broad and expressive sense, suggesting rather the comforts of a homestead, with its well-cultivated fields, substantial fences and teeming granaries – rather than a mere domicile. Hence the name, ‘Annaheim,’ is peculiarly fit and appropriate for the extensive vineyard about to be laid out at Santa Ana.”

The modern city of Santa Ana had not yet been founded and the old town of Santa Ana (now the community of Olive in Orange) was farther east. So the Anna/Ana portion of the name Anaheim undoubtedly referred to either the Santa Ana River or to the Santa Ana Valley (which takes its name from the river which runs through it). Aside from the Star’s January 23 article, most contemporary sources point to the river itself as the source of the “Ana” prefix, rather than the valley.

On October 14, 1909, the Anaheim Gazette recalled that Theodore Schmidt “selected the name ‘Anaheim’ as meaning the home of Anna, or the river of the saint of that name, from whose life-giving waters the prosperity of the original colony enterprise was and continues to be due.” There were still founding members of the Vineyard Society in town in 1909 – including Schmidt himself – and none of them refuted this statement.
Notice to shareholders, published in the Los Angeles Star, 11-21-1857.
Numerous false theories (“folk etymology") about the origins of the name Anaheim have surfaced over the decades and are hard to quash. For instance, some claim, without evidence, that the Anna/Ana portion of the name honors the daughter of one of the colonists or, alternately, honors Queen Anna of Bavaria (which is not where Anaheim’s colonists originated). It is curious how certain parts of our history develop folklore around them and that those false narratives seem impervious to the hard light of facts and solid evidence. 

Phil Brigandi often said, “I expect to go to my grave still trying to debunk the myth that Orange got its name in a card game.” And indeed he did. I fear the familiar bunk about the naming of Anaheim won't disappear any time soon, either.