Tuesday, June 22, 2021

A bit of Boola Boola at Huntington Harbour

Davenport Island, Huntington Harbour (Courtesy City of Huntington Beach)

Q: I notice that both Davenport Island and a number of streets near Trader Joe’s in Huntington Harbour -- Branford, Calhoun, Pierson, Silliman, Trumball, Saybrook, Morse and Stiles -- all have names relating to the residential colleges that serve as Yale's undergraduate dormitories. Why?

A: Lewis W. “Pete” Douglas. Jr. (1924-2014), president of Christiana Oil Corp. (which developed Huntington Harbour) was a 1948 Yale grad. 

Pete Douglas’ father was the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James (U.K.), a banker and an Arizona cattle rancher. Pete grew up both on the East Coast (New York) and the West (Arizona). He attended Groton Boarding School in Massachusetts and went to Yale (where he was in the Davenport residential college,) but paused his college career to serve as a Navigator-Bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. After the war, he returned to Yale.

In many ways, Pete Douglas had much in common with a fellow member of Yale’s class of 1948: George H. W. Bush.

Douglas at Huntington Harbor, 1961 (Los Angeles Times)

Unlike Bush, however, Douglas took a lax attitude toward education. “I majored in English and history but mostly in poker,” he later recalled. Even later in life, newspapers described him as “seemingly flippant” and “light-hearted.” After graduating, he had no real plan but ended up working (in another Bush parallel) in the Texas oil industry. But he would go on to show that one doesn't have to be serious to be serious.

In 1952, he formed the Christiana Oil Co. with the help of Eastern investors. The company stumbled for a few years but went public in 1956. The business didn’t start breaking even until he began to diversify – purchasing interests in companies that dealt in title insurance, broadcasting and real estate development.

Among those real estate developments was a project turning 860 acres of swamps and sloughs at the former Lomita Gun Club into a residential marina near Sunset Beach, California. Douglas started planning the project in 1960 and some of the initial areas were developed and sold by the mid-1960s. Considering the scope of the project, progress was surprisingly swift. With Huntington Harbour now under his belt, Douglas stepped down as president of the Christiana Oil Corporation in 1964. 

Official logo for Huntington Harbour.

According to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times, “In 1964, Pete formed privately held real estate development firm, Douglas Development, but reentered the energy business founding Stanley Energy in 1985. Unwilling to retire, both intellectually and physically, Pete remained active, involved and engaged until his death. He was a dedicated philanthropist and active member of his community, offering his time as a trustee to multiple schools, director of hospitals, and also serving on the Governing Board of HealthOne. Mr. Douglas served as a Commissioner of the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy in President George H.W. Bush's administration. Pete was especially committed to the First American Corporation where he acted as a director from 1961 to 2013. An avid lover of the arts, Pete received the Mary Belle Grant Award in 2006, an honor he cherished. However, his greatest passions were his family and friends with whom he built lasting connections, based on humility, compassion, and humor.”

Today Huntington Harbour is part of the City of Huntington Beach and is home to about 3,500 residents. Curiously, Davenport Island – the only one of Huntington Harbour’s five man-made Islands with a Yale-inspired name – includes none of the aforementioned Yale-inspired street names. However, Davenport Island does feature Kitten Circle and Sea Witch Lane -- neither of which sound  very Ivy League nor very serious.


[Thanks to Tirzah Lowe, Stephen Updegrove and Kathie Schey for their input on this article.]

Friday, June 18, 2021

O.C. pioneer Alfred Hawley: Free love cultist, socialist, gun dealer and baseball benefactor

Alfred & Elizabeth Hawley (From Spencer Olin's 1979 article)

Pioneers were hardly ever the "Ma and Pa Ingalls" stereotypes we all know from television. One example is colorful Santa Ana and Newport Beach pioneer Alfred E. Hawley, whose tale covers some unexpected ground. 

Hawley was born in Cambridge, Vermont in 1847. When his mother died, he moved with his father to Oneida, New York. While attending school there, he met Elizabeth Mallery who later became his wife. Soon after marriage, he went into manufacturing and became superintendent of the Wescot Chuck Co. in Oneida (making lathes and drill chucks).

In both Vermont and New York, “we heard glowing accounts of this land of promise" in Southern California, Alfred told the Santa Ana Register in 1923. "Eventually this was what brought me west. Originally, I came out on a visit. I liked it so well, I went back home, closed my affairs, and came west to stay. I have never regretted my decision. The fishing is good, the people are good, business is good, and Santa Ana is the best ever. What more could I ask?"

His account left out some interesting details. For instance, Alfred was among the “Townerites” – a dissident faction of the Oneida Perfectionists' "Bible communist," free-love, utopian community. This group had come west to Santa Ana under the leadership of J. W. Towner who became a key figure in the creation of Orange County and was the county's first Superior Court judge.

"Prior to their departure from New York, the Townerites had carefully formulated a plan for acquiring land in California," wrote Spencer Olin, Jr. in his article, "Bible Communism and the Origins of Orange County" (California History, Vol. LVIII, 1979). "Towner probably drafted the article of agreement dated September 1881, which made Julius Hawley, Roswell B. Hawley, Alfred E. Hawley, Frederick A. Marks, Martha J. Marks, Edwin S. Nash, Charlotte S. Reid, and William A. Hinds copartners for the purpose of purchasing land. . . . By combining their limited financial resources . . . [they] were able to raise $26,200 for purchasing a substantial block of land soon after their arrival in Santa Ana. The 458-acre Ross tract near the western boundary of the city was purchased and then divided among the copartners.”

Alfred Hawley also bought land for himself around Santa Ana as early as 1882, but did not move into the area until 1887. 

A later photo of A. E. Hawley.

In Santa Ana, Hawley experienced firsthand a bit of the old “Wild West” before it faded away. Jack rabbits and packs of coyotes could be on downtown streets. Election nights were marked by bonfires and street fights. "Fourth street, notorious for its saloons, was a dusty thoroughfare in summer [and] a veritable sea of mud in winter,” he later recalled. “In the block where I had my little shack, purchased in the '80s, there were at least five saloons. The grogshops, doing a flourishing business, got many a dollar of the hard-earned wages of the men who were struggling to put Santa Ana on the map."

Upon arrival in Santa Ana, Hawley bought a small stock of sporting goods from J. P. Hutchens (another former Oneida Perfectionist) and then opened his own gun and sporting goods shop on the north side of Fourth St., downtown. The shop moved to various locations around the business district over the years as new buildings or better rent became available. Most of the locations were on 4th Street, but its final location was at 305 N. Sycamore St. 

At some point, he built a baseball diamond on the back of his lot, which served as a home to the team he sponsored: the Santa Ana Yellow Sox. Notably, the team’s 1906-1908 lineup included Walter "Big Train" Johnson of Olinda, who went on to become the greatest pitcher who’d ever played the game. It’s said that another of Hawley’s Yellow Sox was Arnold "Chick" Gandil who is now best remembered as the ringleader of the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal.

Hawley also acted as the promoter of the West 9th Street Baseball Park -- another early baseball diamond in Orange County. Naturally, more interest in sports meant more customers buying sports equipment.

The vast majority of sales at Hawley’s sporting goods shop were innocuous enough. But sometimes guns ended up in the wrong hands, as in one incident he later described: “It was not unusual for a man to come in and ask for a weapon, and we thought nothing of this incident at the time. In a very short time, however, that man, using the same weapon, walked down Fourth Street and killed an inoffensive Mexican."

The Hawleys moved to Newport Beach in August 1888, during the town’s early development boom, and built about eight houses there – most of which they rented out. Meanwhile, they continued to maintain the sporting goods business in Santa Ana. 

Walter Johnson (center row, third from left) among his fellow Santa Ana Yellow Sox.  (Floyd H. Mitchell Collection) 

Hawley was a prominent member of the Socialist Party in Orange County and wrote a regular column for the Santa Ana Blade. He ran for the Fifth District seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisor in 1906. However, he received only 37 of the 849 votes cast and came in a distant third to winner George W. Angle.

Throughout the 1920s, Hawley was often consulted when people wanted to know what Santa Ana was like in the early years. He retired from his store in 1926, turning the business over to his son, Otto J. Hawley. Alfred  Hawley died after an extended period of illness, in 1930.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Do Utility Boxes Dream of Electric Sheep?

Author Philip K. Dick's last home was a Santa Ana condo at 408 E. Civic Center Dr. (between St. Joseph Church and the Ebell Club). As of this month, there's now an odd but colorful tribute to him just a couple blocks away at the corner of Civic Center Dr. and Main Street. The tribute comes in the form of a utility box, decorated as part of the city Arts & Culture Office's Utility Box Art Program. 

This piece of public art was created by Brennan Roach, who is a co-founder of the Santa Ana Literary Association.

Philip K. Dick's last home, at the French Park Plaza condos.
It features a portrait of Dick and is covered in reproductions of pages from his books. It also includes the words, "If you think this universe is bad, you should see some of the others," based on Dick's 1977 lecture, "If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others.”

The obverse of the utility box reads, "In 1972, Philip K Dick moved to Santa Ana where he spent the last 10 years of his life. During this time he wrote some of his most important works, 'A Scanner Darkly,' 'VALIS,' and 'The Transmigration of Timothy Archer."

The author died in 1982, just months away from the release of the film Blade Runner (and adaptation of one of his stories), which would eventually make his name known by the masses.

Dick's papers are held at CSU Fullerton's Special Collections. Click here to learn more. 

I would have liked to shoot a few more photos of the utility box, but my attempts were sidelined by a character who waked up and started agressively annoying me with nonsensical questions. She was probably just operating in one of those alternate universes.

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Haster Field, Bolsa Grande, Garden Grove Park & Atlantis Play Center

Aerial view of Haster Field, 1947. Current street names in blue. (Courtesy OC Survey)

The most interesting thing about farmland that became a Navy airfield should, by all rights, be the story of that airfield. But such is not the case with Garden Grove’s Haster Field -- wedged between Westminster Ave. and the 22 Freeway, east of Magnolia Ave. – which went on to a still more colorful existence. 

Richard P. "Dick" Haster was a born in Hillegom, Holland in 1890 and came to America with his family in 1907, finally settling in Orange County in 1915. He served in World War I and seems to have been naturalized around 1919. Once back from the war, Haster gradually became one of the more prominent ranchers in the Garden Grove/Anaheim area, growing citrus, lima beans, walnuts, and likely other crops as well. In October of 1929, he married Esther Magdalen Nausbaum, who worked at the First National Bank of Garden Grove.

Richard Haster, 1955

During the Great Depression, Haster leased some of his unused land to tomato growers. He also sold twenty acres of citrus groves along Lampson Ave. to E. D. White of Santa Ana. But it was not enough, and in March 1941, the Hasters went bankrupt. 

But somehow, they managed to hang onto some of their farmland. Two years later, on Aug 18, 1943, Dick Haster sold at least 230 acres to the Navy Dept. for $225 an acre, plus $175 an acre for crops then on the property. The government gave him no choice but to sell, but it was probably a blessing under the circumstances. 

Detail of 1943 chart showing NAS Los Alamitos and its outlying fields. Haster Farm Field is marked as 11005. (Image courtesy Abandoned & Little Known Airfields)

Like Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley, the new Naval Outlying Air Field (NOSF) Haster Farm Field (a.k.a. Haster Field) was to be an auxiliary base to Naval Air Station Los Alamitos. However, its official status as a flight training field only lasted for ninety days before the Navy abandoned it. No Navy aircraft ever landed there.  

Once the war was over, the federal government took many years to sort out the disposal or reuse of its many now-abandoned properties. In 1949, Haster (who then lived at 9222 Trask Ave.) repurchased ten acres of his old land from the government and leased another other 220 acres from them for agriculture. He also allowed civilian pilots to use the old Navy runway. The tiny “airport” was home to a handful of small private aircraft and about six Civil Air Patrol planes.

Garden Grove Park, 2021. (Photo by author)

Dick Haster served on the Orange County Planning Commission until mid-1955, when he seems to have made a number of life changes. Around the same time, he sold the ten acres of Haster Field he owned outright and moved to Santa Ana.

By September 1956, the Navy was looking to get rid of the 110 acres of Haster Field that Haster has been renting as farmland. Initially, they offered to sell it back to Haster. Having heard this news, Louis Lake (Garden Grove’s first mayor) came to Haster, hoping to negotiate a deal to buy twenty acres for a park should Haster reacquire the land.

But rather than selling to Haster, on January 19, 1957, the General Services Administration gave initial approval for the sale of “the forty-acre wartime auxiliary landing strip” directly to the newly minted City of Garden Grove. City Attorney Willard Pool had gone to Washington, D.C. and negotiated at length to get the land. deal. The agreement was not finalized until Garden Grove sorted out its contentious incorporation election in court and could then bargain as a municipality. After a long round of litigation, on May 29, 1957 the courts decided that the election was legitimate and that Garden Grove was, in fact, a city. 

Bolsa Grande High School, 2021 (Photo by author)

A deal with the GSA became effective in August. In addition to selling the land for a park, the government gave twenty acres to the Garden Grove High School District, twenty more to the elementary school district, and eighteen acres to the State for a right-of-way strip adjacent to the planned 22 Freeway. The elementary school district offered its twenty acres to the high school district so that there would be enough space for a new high school. 

The Soka Cherry Tree Grove was planted at Garden Grove Park in 2013.

A month later, two Beverly Hills general contractors, Guy Gadbois and Stanley Anderson, won an auction to purchase another 58.32 acres of the former Haster Field. They would build tract housing adjacent to the park and school properties.

1950s tract housing on the old Haster Field. This example on Linnert St.

In February 1959, development of Garden Grove Park began, starting with the grading and "conditioning" of the land and the installation of a sprinkler system. The city budgeted $98,000 for the first phases of the park's development. The whole project was slated to be spread out over five years. That same year, construction began on Bolsa Grande High School.

Sea serpent slide, Atlantis Play Center

In the early 1960s the Garden Grove Junior Women’s Civic Club forwarded an idea which was enthusiastically taken up by Garden Grove’s first director of parks, V.E. "Gene" Rotsch. The concept was an enclosed, single-entrance playground within the park, where “adults are not allowed without kids, and kids are not allowed without adults.” Its theme would be the Lost City of Atlantis, with the buildings and playgrounds featuring undersea motifs.  This park-within-a-park was made possible through the support of the city and donations from twenty-nine individuals and organizations. 

Entrance to Atlantis Play Center, 2021 (Photo by author)

Parks Superintendent Jack Wallin and his crews built out the park grounds and turned to Benjamin Dominguez (1894-1974), a folk artist and master of creative concrete work, to create custom concrete animals and play equipment. Dominguez had already created acclaimed zoo enclosure and playgrounds throughout Mexico and the American West. He turned Atlantis Play Park into one of his whimsical and unforgettable “make believe parks.” Here, Dominguez’ works were not merely part of the landscape, they WERE the landscape. His contributions included such unique elements as a long sea serpent slide that winds down a hill, giant starfish, coral reef waterfalls, and a large opened-mouth whale whose tongue is a slide for children. A few of Atlantis’ many other features include a pod of dolphins, a “sunken” Viking longship and a lost “Palace of Kronos” to explore.

Atlantis Play Center (Courtesy Friends of La Laguna)
A costumed man playing the role of King Neptune oversaw the dedication of Atlantis Play Park on July 4, 1963, saying, "Forthwith, this kingdom of joy and happiness will be ruled by the children of today. May the reign of childhood be long and happy."

Dick Haster died in 1979. By then his “field” had served the Navy, private pilots, the Civil Air Patrol, hundreds of housing tract residents, thousands of Bolsa Grande students, and the countless thousands who’d enjoyed Garden Grove Park and Atlantis Play Park. Today, the land continues to serve the community well.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Teaching certificate, 1911


Q: What can you tell me about this document recently up for sale on eBay?

A: First of all, this is a teaching certificate, allowing one to teach in Orange County. 

Mabel Elizabeth Brown was born in Fairfield, Illinois in 1888. She lived with her widowed mother, Ada C. Brown (816 West St.) and graduated from Santa Ana High School in 1906. From there, she went to school in Claremont/Pomona and then on to take graduate classes at Cal Berkeley in 1910. Once finished, she was hired to teach English and music at Huntington Beach High School in 1911. Within a year or two she married mining engineer Dana Winston Leeke (1885-1961) and his work took them to Hol-gol, Korea, where their daughter, Ada Ethel Leeke was born in 1914. By 1920 they were living in Ontario, California. They would spend the rest of their lives in Southern California. Mabel Brown died in San Diego County in 1972. 

Richard P. Mitchell, who signed this certificate, served as County Superintendent of Schools  for twenty-two years (1908-1931). He was born in Garden Grove in 1875, and graduated from the Los Angeles State Normal School (UCLA).