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.