Sunday, May 17, 2015

A visit to the Fountain Valley Historical Society

New officers sworn in at Fountain Valley Historical Society.
 I spoke today at the Fountain Valley Historical Society (17641 Los Alamos St.). They were a fun audience and very gracious hosts. I must admit that I've never been over there when the clubhouse was open, so I was very pleased to find some interesting artifacts and collections. But naturally, my eye always goes to the "fun stuff " first, like this (possibly circa 1950s?) hand-lettered poster, donated by the Courreges family:
Talbert Whiskerino Contest /P.T.A. fundraiser poster
Like all historical societies, they have some items that they can't identify. Perhaps you can help by identifying one or both of the people in the following pastel portraits:
These are believed to be Fountain Valley residents, and both portraits are dated 1970.
The image below -- which hangs in a frame on the clubhouse wall -- depicts the "world's champion draft stallion 1902-1906." I can't quite make out the rest of the faint pencil notes written on the upper left of the photo. But on the lower right, the following is written in what appears to be Thomas B. Talbert's scrawl: "Owners Fred H. Bixby, W. J. Newland, S. E. Talbert, T. B. Talbert." Of course, these are all familiar pioneer names, but what's the story on this fat, bob-tailed horse?
 I'm pretty sure he's related to the horse (shown below) in "What's Opera, Doc?"
"Oh Bwunhilda, you're so wuv-wee..."
In his memoir, My Sixty Years In California, Tom Talbert wrote about various horses he owned, traded, sold and even raced. But I can't find a mention of this Rubenesque equine.

Speaking of horses, the exhibit shown below is a rather unique approach to displaying a historic saddle.
The panel attached to the plywood horse reads, "History from Eddie Booth. Story of the Silver Saddle. This famous saddle was owned by the Gisler  family. It was shown and enjoyed in many parades. The family donated it to the Fountain Valley Historical Society. It was displayed in the old barber shop building. Next, it was moved to Knott's Berry Farm for a few years. I was retiring from the Farm and the President of the Historical Society requested [that it] be returned. In the meantime, the Knott family sold the farm. I was told by the new owners that they purchased everything. A secretary discovered a letter stating the saddle was on loan. The owners honored the letter and I was able to return [it] back to Fountain Valley. It was placed on display in the lobby of the City Hall. It [has] now found its home in the Historical Society Building. Enjoy!!!!  Ed Booth"

Yet another Knott connection! (They're everywhere!)

Anyway, my thanks again to FVHS for having me over for lunch, conversation and a tour!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Abe Lincoln, Steve Martin and Knott's Berry Farm

Steve Martin as Asa Trenchard in Our American Cousin, 1965.
A couple days ago, Janet Whitcomb, who usually writes about South O.C. history, emailed me a great North O.C. story taken from her own childhood memories. It was so interesting, in fact, that I asked if she'd let me share it here. So without further ado,...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015
From: Janet Whitcomb:
Subject: With apologies to Sgt. Pepper: It was 150 years ago today...

This morning I suddenly realized, while listening to my car's radio on my way to work, that I knew exactly where I was 50 years ago.

Knott's Berry Farm!

More specifically, my mother and grandmother took me to see an abridged production of Our American Cousin at Knott's Berry Farm's Birdcage Theater. And it may well have been that we attended on April 14th instead of the 15th . . . but read on, and I’ll go into that issue a bit later.

Our American Cousin was the play President and Mrs. Lincoln attended the evening of April 14, 1865. And as anyone who has studied American history knows, during the play's performance—halfway through Act III, Scene 2, to be a bit more exact—John Wilkes Booth gained access to the theater box where the Lincolns and their guests were seated and assassinated President Lincoln.
Martin's rustic character proves out-of-place in Victorian England.
As for our presence at Knott's Berry Farm's Birdcage Theater . . . We arrived in the afternoon (it was a school day, after all) with the express purpose of attending the play. (These were the days when both entrance to and parking at Knott's were free of charge.) Soon we'd found seats in the theater and, once the lights went down, saw to our immediate right—where a "box seat" would've been located—the silhouetted figure of Lincoln. This silhouette remained lit until the third act, when immediately after the following line:
"Don't know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdologizing old man-trap."
—a single shot rang out and the entire theater went dark. Then the lights came up, one of the play's actors rushed out and very nervously announced: "On this day, one hundred years ago, the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was shot."[Or died, depending on which day we were there, as Lincoln was shot on April 14th and died April 15th. I simply remember my mom made sure I was aware that we were attending on a Very Important Anniversary.] The actor then added a few other words to the effect that Lincoln would live forever in the hearts of Americans, and that the play would now resume.

Which it did . . . minus the illuminated silhouette.

Obviously all of this made an impression on me, for as I was driving to school this morning I heard about commemoration ceremonies at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. At which point I recalled that my mother and grandmother were thoughtful enough to give me a Lincoln memory of my own.

And here’s a postscript to this “memory play”: Upon looking up the Birdcage Theater’s production of Our American Cousin online, I found information  indicating that actor/comedian Steve Martin may well have been in the production we saw. This link takes you to [Dave DeCaro's website], Daveland, which displays a very young Steve Martin, in photos from the production dated June 1965. So perhaps Steve was on stage in April as well.  I certainly remember the barn backdrop with the exaggerated perspective. At the time, however, I was far more interested in animals and drawing than I was in actors!

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Discovering Bunnyhenge

In early 2013, while grading land for the new Newport Beach Civic Center Park, backhoe operator Greg Oswald uncovered an amazing relic of Orange County’s prehistoric past. “The side of the area I was digging caved in a little, and suddenly I was looking at a huge pair of bunny ears!”

Those ears turned out to be part of the first of two ancient eight-foot-tall stone figures on the site depicting Desert Cottontail Rabbits (Sylvilagus audubonii). Then, something even more astonishing was found: A large circle of sixteen, four-foot-tall stone rabbits on top of a hill.

“We were shocked,” said Jack O’Hare of the project’s landscape architecture firm, Peter Walter Partners. “But the archaeologist monitoring the dig, Hazel Lepus, told us that native rock art is often found near water, and this is right next to a small wetland habitat.”

Archaeologists estimated that this “Bunnyhenge” was built anywhere from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. “Radiocarbon dating suggests that the bunnies were carved between 2400 and 2200 BC,” said Lepus. “Based on protein residue sampling, it appears the rabbits were originally brightly colored with ochre pigment. A variety of other natural colors were used to highlight the eyes.”
These sorts of monolithic stone animal effigies are extremely rare, but not unheard of. Similar sites have been discovered from the Conejo Valley to Caerbannog, Wales. In fact, at roughly the same time as the Newport Bunnyhenge discovery, a large figure of a dog relieving himself was found only a mile away, near the Orange County Museum of Art.

“These ‘rabbit rings’ had ceremonial or religious significance, and were probably used in puberty or fertility rights,” said Dr. Peter Binkenstein, who teaches anthropology and Native American Folklore at South Dakota State University. “But bunnyhenges were also used as calendars. By observing the alignment of the stars, sun, moon and planets in relationship to their floppy ears, one could mark the passing of the seasons.”

Further excavation showed that the center of the Bunnyhenge circle was used as some sort of fire pit. This led the City Council to briefly propose a ban on the site.
Local Juaneño and Gabrieleno Indian leaders are baffled by the stone rabbits. But the site is drawing people with neopagan and new age beliefs. In the wee small hours of Feb. 20th, reports of strange goings-on and possible fire at the park brought the Newport Beach Police to investigate. All they found was a smoldering bunch of white sage and a bag of Purina Rabbit Chow (Garden Recipe) – its contents scattered across the circle.

“Something was definitely going on up there,” said NBPD Lieutenant Frank Harvey. “This is one of the most culturally sensitive places in our city and as a resident myself, it makes me hopping mad to think of someone messing it up.”

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Mystery of the Sunshine Lodge

The Dana Point Historical Society was recently given fragments of an old sign (or two) from the "Sunshine Lodge." (See photo above.) The fragments were incorporated into the walls of the "Doheny House" (1928) in Capistrano Beach. That doesn’t mean the sign is from 1928, of course. It could have been added later, during repairs or renovations. In fact, based on the look of the sign, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was from the 1930s or 1940s.

So, what and where was the Sunshine Lodge?

Wherever it was, it had an “unequaled ocean view.” That lets out the old Sunshine Hotel in Orange, which is the only place with a similar name I can find in the South Orange County directories between 1899 and 1953. (Yes, I said "south." For most of our history, everything below Katella Ave. was considered "South Orange County.")

There was a Sunshine Lodge at 215 Wavecrest Ave. in Venice/Santa Monica from about 1903 through at least 1959. It was the headquarters for the local branch of the International Sunshine Society. But the sign in Dana Point seems to go with a hotel of some kind – not with the clubhouse of a social/charitable organization.

There was a hotel called the Sunshine Lodge at Coney Island in New York City around 1920. But that seems a little far to haul scrap lumber.

Do you have any thoughts on the origins of this sign? The Dana Point Historical Society and I would both appreciate any light you can shed in the comments section for this post.

[Note: Due to conflicting information from multiple sources, I initially cited the Dolph House as the source of this artifact. That information has now been corrected. My apologies for the confusion.]

Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Original Villages of Irvine

A preview brochure for Woodbridge Village, 1970s.
Historian Ellen Bell will discuss “The Original Villages of Irvine, 1960-1980” at the next meeting of the Orange County Historical Society, on March 12th, 2015, 7:00 p.m. (program begins at 7:30 p.m.) at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. This program is open to the public at no charge.

The City of Irvine did not appear by accident. The modern day metropolis, with more than 200,000 residents, was the result of well-designed Master Plan. Citrus groves and cattle grazing land became a collection of individual Villages, including the Village of Woodbridge, a model for urban planning nationwide. Ellen Bell will discuss the transition of Irvine, from a 100,000-acre blank slate to California's 15th largest city.

Orange groves are cleared at Jeffrey Rd. and Irvine Center Dr. during the construction of Woodbridge Village, 1975.
Ellen Bell’s father was a history teacher and she spent her childhood summer vacations riding in the back of the family’s Country Squire Station wagon, stopping at every historical marker or Civil War battlefield that they passed along the way. Her father had a great ability to make history come alive by making it vibrant and compelling. She grew up with a hunger for history and a passion for sharing what she learned.

30 years later, she moved to Irvine, traded the station wagon for a minivan, and began taking her own two kids on fun field trips all over her adopted home of Orange County. California provided a whole new landscape to explore and a whole new history to learn.

Ellen is the author of Irvine: Images of America, and is a member of the Irvine Historical Society. She writes about local history for the Orange County Register and Destination  Her website, OC Day Tripper, is filled with field trip suggestions for exploring Orange County’s historic treasures. Currently, she is producing a series of videos for the City of Irvine, entitled “Hidden Histories.”
The Irvine Dream, 1972: Cycling from home to office through a greenbelt.
I apologize for not consistently posting OCHS programs on this blog over the past six months or so. I'll try to get back to a regular schedule of doing that.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ben Grabiel

"Long time preservation supporter and Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society Associate Director Ben Grabiel has passed away," writes SAHPS president Alison Young. "I communicated with him recently by email and knew of his two strokes, but he indicated that he was doing well and recovering.  This is sad news.

"Ben was an SAHPS Board Director from 2002 through 2007.  In 2013 when we implemented the Associate program, he came back as an Associate Director.  Ben was part of the Friends of Lacy group that successfully worked to save a number of vintage homes from demolition in the Lacy Neighborhood.  His enthusiasm and sense of humor will be missed."

A memorial is planned for March 14th (details to follow).
SAHPS member Jeff Dickman adds, "Ben was a long-time friend and dedicated preservationist. I came to know Ben during the fight against One Broadway Plaza and later against the City's Station District project and its destruction of historic houses in the Lacy neighborhood."

Ben -- standing behind the SAHPS booth at a Floral Park home tour in the early 2000s (well before I started working in Santa Ana) -- was the first person to introduce me and welcome me to Santa Ana's historical community. At the time, I'd never given much thought to Santa Ana at all. But that friendly and informative welcome was the first in a series of events that led to becoming a SAHPS Associate Director myself. Thanks for making the new kid feel at home, Ben.

Thursday, February 12, 2015


Irvine Park in the early 1900s. (Photo courtesy Orange County Archives)
Q: Where was Camptonville? There’s a paragraph mentioning this old campsite on the OC Parks website, but I can't find anything more about it. Can you help?

A: References to Camptonville in the Santa Ana Register, in the early 1900s, referred to it as “above Orange County Park” (now called Irvine Regional Park) and “across the creek” from the main portion of the park. The description of Camptonville you found on OC Parks website is drawn largely from Don Meadows’ book, Historic Place Names in Orange County:
“…A favorite camping spot in Orange County Park… was on the left side of the road soon after it crossed the Santiago Creek for the first time. There was always water in the creek, and the sycamores and oaks were festooned with wild grapevines, and the road meandered through a shady tunnel of vegetation. The camping place, dubbed Camptonville, was as well known in the county as any town or village. Camping there was prohibited after 1917.”
Historian Jim Sleeper, who wrote the definitive book on Irvine Park, Bears to Briquets, wrote about the campsite as it was around 1903: “A settlement of squatters, (known as ‘Camptonville’) had sprung up on the north side of the creek.”

If this makes the place sound a little sketchier than the average family campground, you’d be right. It seems Camptonville’s reputation vacillated wildly over the years and the various shifts in the economy.

By 1910 the spot had gained favor as a legitimate place for families to camp.  In the 1911 edition of his History of Orange County, California, Sam Armor wrote that these “camping grounds are generally occupied by a few families or congenial friends in vacation time only.”

But by 1917 the problem with “permanent campers” had reached the point where camping at Camptonville was banned. That seemed to turn things around, for a while.

In the Summer of 1919, when twelve concrete and rock fireplaces were installed for picnickers at the park, two were built at Camptonville, which was again a popular place to spend a relaxing day.

When the Great Depression hit, the north shore of the creek again filled with squatters. Sleeper notes that, “Unlike the canvas palaces of the old Camptonville days, these makeshift tar paper shacks were not for recreation, but shelters for the truly dispossessed. Spawned by the Depression, they ended with it. Henceforth, ‘permanent camping’ was no longer permitted” anywhere within the park.

Today, the north side of the creek still holds a special appeal to those who enjoy the back country.  Less developed and framed by rugged bluffs, it retains an air of adventure that has been somewhat diminished in the more combed-and-curried parts of the park.

The old Camptonville site has most assuredly been heavily eroded by the many floods that have scoured the banks of Santiago Creek over the past century. So don’t expect to find any remains if you visit.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The First Europeans In Orange County

Caption contest winner, Jim Washburn: "We'll put the Hooters over there." (Image courtesy Irvine Co.)
The story of the 1769 Portolà Expedition, "The First Europeans In Orange County," is the latest in my regular series of "O.C. History 101" articles for the County Connection (the County of Orange employee newsletter). It's now available online in two parts. It begins...

"Imagine landing on an unknown earth-like planet with no prior information about the kinds of terrain, animals, people, plants, or water sources you’d encounter. That’s the kind of challenge Spain’s appointed governor of California,Gaspar de Portolà, faced in 1769, when he traveled from Loreto, Mexico to San Francisco."

The article deals mainly with the experiences of Portolà's party in Orange County. The expeditionary force consisted of 63 men, including soldiers, mule skinners, Indians from Baja California, servants, Fransican friars, a mapmaker, and a scout. Their impact on Orange County can still be plainly seen today.

The article begins in the Jan. 2015 County Connection, on page 7, and the second half appears in the Feb. 2015 County Connection, on page 5.