Thursday, December 21, 2023

O.C. Q&A: Disneyland Edition

The Dairy Bar in Tomorrowland, 1957 (Courtesy Dave DeCaro,

Q:  Which Disneyland attraction was the biggest flop?

A:  The short-lived, twenty-million-dollar Light Magic parade (1997), with step-dancing, child-frightening pixies is a contender for this. But does a parade count as an attraction? 

Some of the worst attractions were the “filler” stuffed into the still-incomplete Tomorrowland during the first few years Disneyland was open. At least the Color Gallery, sponsored by Dutch Boy Paint, let kids mix and match colors and kept its doors open into the early 1960s. 

But the Dairy Bar, sponsored by the American Dairy Association, was a (milk) dud which disappeared in less than three years.  It featured static models of futuristic cows watching color TVs and of milkmen making deliveries in helicopter jetpacks. At the spine-tingling conclusion, guests received a glass of milk. Lactose-intolerant guests undoubtedly appreciated the Bathroom of Tomorrow exhibit next door.

You can read much more about the Dairy Bar and view lots of photos on my pal Dave DeCaro's wonderful Daveland website. 

Q:.  What else, other than "it's a small world," came to Anaheim from the 1964 New York World's Fair?

A:  Disney ended up adopting numerous attractions they'd developed for the Fair, including Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, from the Illinois Pavilion; General Electric's Carousel of Progress; and animatronic dinosaurs from Ford's Magic Skyway. 

The Dancing Waters, a German water and light show, operated like a pipe organ, was featured at the Fair and was a fixture at the Disneyland Hotel from 1970 into the 2000s. 

Another European import to the Fair, The Wide World In Wax, spent 1966 and 1967 at 1850 S. Harbor Blvd. Its columned facade now graces the Hotel Lulu. The museum featured "religious, fictional and historical scenes with over 100 wax figures." Their figure of Moses looked exactly like his driver's license photo.

Q:  What’s the strangest-ever Disneyland attraction?

A:  There have been some pips, from the aforementioned Bathroom of Tomorrow to a cow with Mickey Mouse-shaped spots. But it’s hard to top the high weirdness of The Wizard of Bras. 

When Disneyland opened, the Hollywood-Maxwell Brassiere Co. had an Intimate Apparel Shop on Main Street. In addition to racks of unmentionables, the store had a show. The Wizard of Bras -- a  talking figure that predated “audio animatronics” -- served as MC for an 1890s fashion show. As the show’s revolving stage turned, “3D” images of models did a nap-inducing strip tease, from turn-of-the-century outerwear to just corsets and pantaloons. The shop closed six months after opening. The storefront, with a porch and a couple chairs out front, can still be found on the east side of Main Street.

See photos and read more about the Wizard it at my friend Werner Weiss' wonderful Yesterland website.

Q:  Where does the slang term "E ticket" come from?

A:  Orange Countians of a certain age will remember when Disneyland, rather than including all attractions with general admission, sold ticket books. From 1959 until ticket books were completely phased out in 1982, the most popular attractions required an "E ticket." The least popular were A tickets. B, C, and D ticket attractions fell between. Internally at least, Disney still refers to their snazziest rides as "E tickets." Today, this O.C.-born phrase is used nationwide to describe any major adrenaline-producing experience. Examples of real-life E ticket experiences include skating down slopes of Laguna's Third Street, bodysurfing at the Wedge, and making the steep ascent out of John Wayne Airport.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

O.C. Q&A: Christmas Edition

Newport Beach City Hall, decked out of "40 Miles of Christmas Smiles," 1950.
Q:  Did O.C. have any special Christmas traditions that have now been forgotten?

A:  Yes, lots! But the biggest was "Forty Miles of Christmas Smiles," a town-versus-town decorating contest. All along the Orange County coast, piers, city halls, businesses, homes, boats, churches and schools featured elaborate exhibits. Once, Huntington Beach even turned an oil derrick into a giant Christmas tree and topped a row of oil pumps with Santa's Sleigh and reindeer, so they appeared to fly as the pumps worked. Started during the Depression, the contest was sponsored by local chambers of commerce and the Orange County Coast Association. World War II temporarily halted the event, but it didn't actually end until the mid-1970s, when energy conservation efforts took the fun out of it.

Q:  How did Christmas Cove, in South Laguna, get its name?

A.  Certain weather and ocean conditions – which often appear around Christmas – sometimes create a temporary sand bar and surfing break at this small beach near Blue Lagoon and the Montage Resort. According to Laguna Beach Marine Safety Captain Tom Trager, it all began over the holidays during the El Niño years of 1982 and 1983. A few local kids, with two weeks of vacation and a great new surf spot, began calling the beach “Christmas Cove.” Over a decade ago, a lifeguard tower was placed there, and the name became official. The break still reappears from time to time, like Brigadoon.

Q:  How did land-locked Villa Park end up with a holiday boat parade?

A:  In 1981, five teens launched the tongue-in-cheek Villa Park High School Yacht Club.  At a 1982 holiday party, one member's father, Chuck Beesley, expanded the idea by proposing "The First Annual Unofficial Non-Sanctioned Villa Park Dry-Land Holiday Lighted Boat Parade," poking fun at Newport's famous traditional Christmas boat parade. Some of Villa Park’s hastily decorated entries were pretty motley. But thousands came to watch 38 festooned boats towed through the streets. The event returned in 1983 but then fell apart. However, people remembered the parade fondly, and in 1998 it was revived in a community effort led by City Councilman Richard Freschi. Today, a lampoon of a tradition has become its own tradition.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

A Kellogg House blast from the past

The H. Clay Kellogg House, Santa Ana, in 2019.
I just stumbled across this old Los Angeles Times article (below) from January 1, 1994. I apologize for drifting into nostalgia, but A) At least it relates directly to local history, and B) It's my blog, so I can wander off course a bit if I want to. 

Yes, I was briefly focused on history as an area of study at Orange Coast College -- at least until I realized that it paid about as well as my original major: art. I went on to get a degree in communications from CSU Fullerton. That said, working as a "site interpreter" at what's now called the Heritage Museum of Orange County was not my first job in the local history field. But it was another step in the right direction for me. 

(Click to embiggen)

Monday, December 11, 2023

O.C. Q&A: Santa Ana Edition

4th St. at Main, Santa Ana, circa 1940s (Santa Ana Public Library)

Q:  Is the City of Santa Ana named for General Santa Anna of Alamo fame?

A:  No relation. O.C.’s Santa Ana moniker began when our local mountains were “discovered” by the Portolá Expedition on the Feast Day of St. Anne in 1769. The friars in the party named them the Santa Ana Mountains. Days later, the expedition named the Santa Ana River after the mountains it seemed to flow from. Later, the river’s name was applied to Santa Ana Canyon and Santa Ana Valley, through which it flowed. In California’s Mexican era, three local ranchos incorporated the name:  Cañón de Santa Ana, San Juan Cajón de Santa Ana, and Santiago de Santa Ana. The name was applied to a couple communities before town founder William Spurgeon attached it to the place we now know as the City of Santa Ana. Aren’t you glad Portolá didn’t come across those mountains on the Feast Day of St. Chrysogonus?

Q:  How did Santa Ana get its own zoo?

A:  In 1949 local old-timer J. E. Prentice gave the City of Santa Ana sixteen acres adjacent to his home for a park. There were two provisos: 1) The park had to be named Prentice Park, and, 2) The park had to include a zoo containing no fewer than fifty monkeys. Prentice was fond of monkeys and let four or five of them have the run of his mansion, infuriating his housekeepers.

During the zoo's construction, the eccentric Prentice harangued construction workers from his porch, shouting, waving his arms, and contradicting the foreman's orders. 

The Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park opened in 1952 at 1801 E. Chestnut Ave. Today it includes animals from all over the world. 

In 2008, Prentice's great-nephew threatened to take the land back when the zoo's monkey count dropped to forty-eight. The birth of twin golden lion tamarins saved the day.

Q:  When and where did Orange County get its first traffic signal?

A:  The earliest I can find is a simple flashing light atop a directional sign at the center of the intersection at First St. and Main in Santa Ana. This “lighthouse flash signal” proved a road hazard and lasted only a few days. The next attempt occurred a few blocks away, when “automatic traffic signals” were installed at the intersections where Fourth St. crosses Main and Broadway (then the county’s commercial hub). Instead of lights, these signals had arms marked “Stop” and “Go” which swung into view on alternating cycles, accompanied by a bell. By 1939, when Fourth and Main got the town’s first modern red-yellow-green lights, people were sick of the bells. 

Friday, December 08, 2023

O.C. Q&A: Sports Edition

Los Alamitos Race Course concept art by Ken Nichols, circa 1951.

Q: Why isn’t the Los Alamitos Race Course in Los Alamitos?

A:  It almost was. The racetrack opened in 1951 and two petitions for the annexation of the racetrack were filed on Oct. 17, 1955: One from the City of Los Alamitos and the other from Cypress. According to author Larry Strawther, Cypress offered to forestall a turnstile tax for years and to connect the track to city sewer and water immediately. Los Alamitos made no such offers. Track owner Frank Vessels may also have been annoyed with Los Alamitos blocking his effort to sell 77 acres for a mortuary and cemetery earlier that year. Vessels signed both petitions but found a way to delay Los Alamitos' petition, making it arrive at the County Recorder an hour and two minutes later than the Cypress petition. The loss of the track is a sore point in Los Alamitos to this day. 

Q:  Where were the Orange County venues for the 1984 Olympics?

A:  I smell a driving tour! Venues included CSUF's gym (handball), the Anaheim Convention Center (wrestling), Irvine's Heritage Park Aquatic Center (pentathlon - swimming), and the Coto Valley Country Club and Coto de Caza Equestrian Center (more pentathlon). Olympic cyclists' route through Mission Viejo began eastbound at Olympiad Rd. near Lake Mission Viejo, then turned right on Marguerite, left on Los Alisos, left on Mustang Run, right on Crucero, left on Hidalgo, left on Vista del Lago, right on Marguerite, left on La Paz, and left on Olympiad, back to the beginning.  

Q:  Was skimboarding actually invented in Orange County?

A:  Laguna Beach lifeguards originated the sport in the late 1920′s, using round pieces of plywood to slide down the sand on the shallow wash of receding waves. Skimboarders at Victoria Beach in the 1960s popularized the sport. Eventually, skimboarding spread around the world and now boasts professional competitions. Most of the top pros still come from Laguna. Interestingly, you can skimboard anywhere there's water: From beaches that are too dangerous to surf, to lakes, to wet grass. If grandpa spills his bourbon, the grandkids can skim the resulting puddle.