Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Walnuts: The Mother of Invention

Drying walnuts on the Katella Ranch, near Anaheim, circa 1905.
Oranges get all the press. Even though they drove our economy for over half a century, they were hardly Orange County's only successful crop. The walnut, for instance, was big business here for decades. The walnut also fueled some impressive horticultural and mechanical creativity in these parts. 

It’s said the first walnut trees in Orange County were planted in the orchard at Mission San Juan Capistrano in the late 1770s. In 1858 a few more walnut trees were planted between the vineyards in Anaheim. Usually the English walnut was grafted onto the rootstock of the hearty local native black walnut species.

J. R. Congdon of Santa Ana planted the first English walnuts (18 acres) in Orange County for commercial purposes in 1870 at San Juan Capistrano. His friends and neighbors thought he was,… well,… nuts. But in 1877 he harvested his first crop, which yielded 6,000 pounds of walnuts. It was the beginning of a major local industry.

Throughout the 1870s more farmers across Orange County began to experiment with the growing of walnuts. And in the wake of Pierce’s Disease, in the late 1880s, many dead vineyards in Anaheim and elsewhere were replaced with walnut groves. Among those who moved to the area and jumped on the walnut-growing bandwagon were John and Margaret Rea, whose Katella Ranch was named for their daughters, Kate and Ella.
Fertilizing the Thornburg walnut orchard, Orange County, 1938.
The English walnut (Juglans Regia), and variants thereof, remained the variety of choice in Orange County until the development of the Placentia Perfection walnut. This new hybrid of four species, often called the Placentia walnut or a “budded” walnut, was developed by George Hind of Placentia around 1890. Based on its success, Orange County became one of the biggest walnut producing regions in America.

Other varieties of walnuts were also developed here but generally did not prove as popular. For instance, Henry F. Gardner of Orange developed a variant he called the Klondike walnut which grew “as large as lemons.” But who wants lemon-sized walnuts? (No one.)

In 1898, the first cooperative walnut marketing organization in Orange County was formed: The Santa Ana Valley Walnut Growers Association. Soon, more growers associations and walnut packing houses would spring up throughout the area.  To improve the reliability of price and product quality, fifteen Southern California walnut grower associations banded together in 1912 to form the California Walnut Growers Association.

Ultimately the once-popular Placentia walnut proved susceptible to blight (which struck in the 1910s), and husk fly and navel orange worm, (which struck in the 1920s).

By the mid-1930s, the costs of maintaining a walnut grove in Orange County were about 10 times higher than in Northern California, where heartier varieties thrived. Our local farmers began moving toward more profitable citrus and truck crops. By the late 1950s, only about 800 acres of walnut groves remained in Orange County. The last of our commercial groves, like so much of post-war Southern California agriculture, was pushed out by suburban development in the 1960s.
Migrant walnut pickers camp at Miraflores (near today's Anaheim Stadium).
During its heyday, our thriving walnut industry also led to success for one of Orange County’s early inventors.

Walnuts are harvested by knocking or shaking the nuts off the trees. In an article in the Orange County Historical Society’s 1932 Orange County History Series journal, Santa Ana rancher Harry W. Lewis wrote,
“No machine has been developed that will shake the trees as well as a Mexican with a long pole having a hook on the end. Then grandmother, mother, big sisters and all the children, except the last baby, filled the cans with nuts picked from the nice smooth ground.”
Those gathering the nuts ended up with aching backs and with fingers stained black by the walnut husks.
Shucking walnuts in Santa Ana, 1911. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.
Once the nuts were gathered, they were spread out and dried in three-foot by six-foot trays, arranged on racks. In later years, the nuts were dried with heaters or dehydrators. Once cured, they were sent to the packing house for bleaching, polishing, sorting, grading and bagging for market.

Parts of this process could be turned into assemblyline-type productions. But the job of actually stooping and picking up the nuts in the groves remained stubbornly labor-intensive. There had to be a better way.
Johan Franke. Photo from Santa Ana Register, Oct. 25, 1918.
Johan Friedrich Franke, a native of Nordhausen, Germany living in Santa Ana, found that better way.

Here’s an excerpt from the 1918 patent application for what Franke called his Boss Walnut Picker:
“With the use of my walnut picker an operator may pick walnuts from the ground among the grass and weeds and leaves and at the same time stand practically erect so as to move freely over the ground.”
The picker consisted of a long pole with a metal cone on the lower end. On the bottom of the cone was a walnut–sized hole with thin metal prongs on four sides. A little applied pressure would allow a walnut to be pushed up past the prongs into the cone above, but the prongs were just sturdy enough to keep the nuts from falling out once collected. It was then a snap to lift the pole and tip the cone full of walnuts into a larger container.
Illustrations from Franke's walnut picker patent, 1918.
Ads for Franke’s walnut picker in the Santa Ana Register asked, “Why break your back?”

Franke had first moved from Germany to Austin, Texas and then moved with his family to Santa Ana in 1887. He’d once been a farmer, but in Santa Ana he worked for 13 years as a glazier for the Griffith Lumber Co. In retirement, he developed a good reputation in Orange County as a piano tuner and he also tinkered with inventions.

Johan Franke manufactured his walnut pickers at his son Rudolph Franke’s nursery, at the northeast corner of Bush St. and 3rd St., beginning in the Summer of 1918. Initially, that was the only place one could buy the pickers. They cost $1.25. But word traveled fast and within a couple months they were being sold at most local hardware stores.
Phil Brigandi with walnut picker at La Habra Historical Museum.
In April 1919 Franke was issued a patent for the picker, and by that summer there was enough demand that he stepped up production considerably. Soon, the manufacture and sale of walnut pickers became his primary source of income. Sadly, he died in a gas heater explosion in Jan. 1922, but his sons continued to make and sell his invention.

Our local walnut industry is now long gone. But occasionally one of Franke's walnut pickers will drift out of an attic or a basement somewhere to puzzle today's non-agricultural Orange Countians. Once identified, they serve as an important reminder not only of pre-urban Orange County, but also of the fact that our agricultural past was hardly limited to citrus.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Happy New Year everybuddy

Friday, December 25, 2015

Wiwish you a Merry Christmas

...and a happy new year!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Los Pastores in Orange County

The photo above shows residents of La Habra’s Campo Colorado in 1934 dressed in their costumes for Los Pastores (“The Shepherds’ Play”) – a Christmas-season Mexican folk drama about the shepherds' pilgrimage to Bethlehem to see baby Jesus. (Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.)

If you grew up in California, you already know about La Posada, Christmas tamales, and the beauty of flickering luminarias. But I must admit that this gringo had to do a little digging to figure out what Los Pastores was about and its origins. Here's some of what I've come across thus far...

In medieval Europe, “miracle plays” were acted out by clergy as a way of teaching Bible stories to the illiterate masses. Eventually, those same masses began performing the plays themselves. But the storylines, characters and details of these folk dramas changed and became cheekier and racier over time. The Church banned these plays in the 15th Century.

In Spain, such plays were called autos del Nacimiento, and despite the ban, they were pressed into service again in the 16th Century to teach Bible stories to the illiterate natives of the New World. What was probably a relatively unadulterated version of Los Pastores (from the Church’s point of view) was used by Spanish missionaries in Mexico to relate the story of the Nativity.

Again, Los Pastores – sometimes called La Pastorela – was adopted by the public, and performances were moved to the town square. And again, the storylines, characters, and details of these folk dramas changed and gradually became more comical and entertaining. What had been a straightforward story of shepherds traveling to Bethlehem became a comedy. It was sort of the “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” version of the Nativity.

Although many versions exist, Los Pastores generally involves lazy, dim-witted, bumbling shepherds who can barely be talked into getting off their butts to go see the new Savior. As they travel, they are alternately protected by angels and tempted by the Devil and his minions with various distractions. An irascible hermit encountered along the way helps the shepherds stay the course. The story ends with the shepherds delivering gifts at the manger and the Devil admitting defeat.

Los Pastores was first brought to Alta California by the Franciscan missionaries. One version of the play was written in 1803 by Fr. Florencio Ibanez of Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad. Some have cited this as the first play written and performed in our state. And it certainly made its way to our own mission town of San Juan Capistrano.  At a 1922 meeting of the Orange County Historical Society, member Bessie Carrillo shared José Juan Olivares’ stories of 1850s Capistrano, including a mention of the Los Pastores players visiting "some of the houses," where they "always found a good dinner prepared for them."

A number of communities in Orange County still performed Los Pastores in the 1920s and 1930s. Many who had fled the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) came to California, bringing their traditions with them. The biggest and perhaps most popular local Los Pastores production was put on by the residents of the Santa Fe barrio in Placentia. But the play was performed by various groups in many local communities, including Anaheim, Buena Park, La Habra, El Modena, Delhi, and Placentia’s La Jolla barrio.
Shepherds urging Bartolo to rise. San Antonio, Texas, 1893. Photo courtesy American Folklore Society.
“In La Habra, the players went from ‘home to home where the Nacimiento altars [had] been arranged,’” writes Gilbert Gonzalez in his book, Labor and Community. “In La Jolla the Pastorela was given in the main street at a designated hour by the nearby Placentia group. … Traditional foods and singing capped all performances.”

In a 2008 Orange County Register article and again in a 2013 article for Somos Primos, O.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick Aguirre recalled the involvement of his grandfather, Jose Aguirre, who led the annual rehearsals and performances in Placentia from 1920 until his death in 1934. The Aguirres had already performed in the play for decades in Michoacán, Mexico before coming to the United States in 1918.

“For several weeks, nineteen men and two young boys, who played the female parts a la Shakespeare, practiced and memorized their lines at Jose's barbershop,” said Judge Aguirre. “Jesus Ortega, a fellow from Corona, California had memorized the entire “cuaderno” (script of the play). He would sit in the barbershop with one leg crossed over, slightly bent over with one hand on his forehead, smoking a cigarette and patiently reciting the lines whenever an actor forgot his cue or his lines…”

“Bedecked in colorful gowns, grotesque, brightly painted, hand-carved wooden masks, swords and staffs, the entourage would perform at a predetermined home,” said Judge Aguirre. Each performance lasted about two hours.

“…The play was presented at pre-arranged homes several times during the Nativity season,” he said. “After the performance the actors were treated to a Christmas feast of tamales, menudo, beans, rice, greens, fruit, cakes, bunuelos, sweet bread, hot chocolate and spirits. The troupe performed all over Orange County and even Los Angeles County. In 1933 they presented in a home in the Simon’s brickyard neighborhood in Montebello. My Dad who was 13 years old played the part of Gila, a female Angel… My great uncles Cistos Raya and Marcial Aguirre played shepherds. My uncle Sydney Aguirre and great uncle Luz Guerrero portrayed devils. My grandfather acted the role of Lucifer. He hand-carved and painted the elaborate wooden mask which had a serpent protruding from the mouth.”

Aguirre also outlined the first portion of the Placentia version of the play, beginning with a chorus singing about the joyous arrival of the Savior. The hymn’s lyrics are fairly universal except for the last bit in which tamales are offered to the Holy Family.

“Suddenly Lucifer appears resplendent in a flowing gown with a grotesque, brightly painted wooden mask,” said Aguirre. “He curses his fall from grace, asserts his control over man, then hides when he sees seven shepherds approaching. They are plainly dressed but carry elaborately decorated seven-foot crooks and beaded satchels.”

Tebano, one of the shepherds, enters and proclaims that an Angel appeared to him, announcing the birth of Christ, and telling them all to travel to Bethlehem. The rest of the story unfolded from there.

The performances of Los Pastores in La Habra were so popular that even the rehersals were crowded with the actors family members, who seemed pleased to hear the story again and again. The presentations themselves drew people from all over north Orange County, according to Gonzales: “The group added a procession and singing, ‘led by men [in brilliant costumes] carrying staffs with beautiful colors and adorned with bells.’”

For the 1928-1929 holiday season, two performances of the play were given by a group from Delhi under the direction of adult education teacher Mrs. Jessie Hayden. The group performed one night at the Logan barrio night school and another at the Fairyland Dance Hall, 2701 S. Main St., in Delhi.
Devils with shepherd boy. San Antonio, Texas, 1893. Photo courtesy American Folklore Society.

“…Most of the cast has been familiar with the various roles for years,” reported the Santa Ana Register. “Members of the cast planned and made their costumes and stage settings,… The Spanish orchestra with Miss Ruth Frotheringham at the piano, presented several Spanish selections between the acts and Miss Henrietta Armendares sang two Spanish songs.”

(In 1934, Hayden would complete her master’s thesis at Claremont College: The La Habra Experiment in Mexican Social Education, which would cite her experiences with productions of Los Pastores in Orange County.)

In their coverage of the 1931 Delhi production, the Register noted that at least 20 different versions of the play were performed in various parts of Mexico at the time, and that the version director Pablo Lopez had selected came from Zacatecas. It was called “The Coming of the Messiah,” and it included roles for more players than most versions, but it sounds like the storyline was a bit of a train wreck.

It began with Lucifer calling together his vices: Sin, Avarice, Pride, Anger, Envy, etc., and sending them out into the world to wreak havoc in the world. The Register article continues,…

“The next scene shows the shepherds awakening in the cold dawn, calling to one another, joking, complaining of the climate and the scarcity of food. The all pray that God will bless their labors and increase their flocks. Then the shepherdesses go to care for their hens and doves and the shepherds depart.

“The second act opens with a little dove scene between the shepherds and shepherdesses. There is a song, “I Shall Die, I Shall Die, Unless You Comfort Me.” Then Lucindo comes from Bethlehem and all ask news of the Messiah. A present brought for one of the shepherdesses proves to be a rat to frighten her; notwithstanding, there is soon a double wedding and a wedding feast. “Let us go to Bethlehem,” cry the shepherds, but the devil comes and opens a box of snuff to confuse them. The only one he can deceive is poor Bato, who is tempted by food and wine. Bato eats so much that his stomach begins to ache. He sings, “I Am Dying,” but the other shepherds cure him. An angel appears announcing the nativity. The final scene shows the shepherds kneeling in adoration before the manger, singing their glorias.”

Both the 1929 and 1931 Delhi productions were held in January rather than the usual pre-Christmas timeframe. More interestingly, it seems that these particular productions involved, or may have been instigated by, those teaching English and “Americanization” to new immigrants from Mexico. Once again, it was being used as a teaching tool.

But clearly, the schools were not always involved. In her book, Conquests and Historical Identities in California, 1769-1936, Lisbeth Haas described an incident in another Delhi production of the play:

"...A resident related his version of the play to the neighborhood priest orally; the priest then wrote it out into the script, but eliminated those parts he considered irreverent or satirical. Los Pastores was rehearsed in a pool hall donated by a community member... When performing the piece, the actors reinserted all the omitted passages and performed it the way they had in Mexico. The actors even sent to a pueblo in central Mexico for the masks used in the play.”

In a faint echo of the 15th Century, clergy once again tried and failed to reign in the popular folk tradition.

But it was the changing times, not censorship, which brought the local performances to an end in the late 1930s. The play’s undertaking required a great deal of “time, effort and expense,” writes Gonzalez, and the tradition was put on indefinite hold by the deepening Depression, as well as “by the 1936 pickers strike, by the 1938 flood, and finally by the war. The coming of age of the second generation in the 1940s did not include the oral and visual tradition known as the Pastorela.” 

I’m unaware of anyone performing the play in Orange County today, but the tradition lives on in several more professionally staged productions in New Mexico and Texas. A movie version, “La Pastorela,” with Linda Ronstadt, Cheech Marin and Paul Rodriguez was released in 1993. (Yes, I've ordered a DVD. But no, it hasn't arrived yet.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Watson's home in the crosshairs

Katie Schroeder of the Orange Community Historical Society writes, "You might want to... get the word out. The home of Keller Watson (Watson's Drug Store) is on the chopping block to be demo'd! There is a Design Review Committee meeting tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. [at the City of Orange City Hall] for those opposed of this plan. They want to construct a 22-bedroom apartment complex on the property. Here are the details from Old Towne Preservation Association's website.

Longtime researcher of historic Orange properties Andrea Donahue adds, "One of their arguments is: 'No evidence was found that Watson Jr. used his residence for work or important social affairs.' Is that an actual necessary criteria? The agenda item also mentions 'striking interior architecture.' Staff considers 1942 construction to be correct..."

And as usual, city guesstimates prove to be just that: guesstimates.

For those who don't read the comments section below, historian Phil Brigandi passes along the following: "The correct date is 1941. Kellar drew the rough sketches and his builder created the finished plans. 'I just hit on a good style,' Kellar later said. It is a landmark house and one of the few from that era in downtown Orange."

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Halloween in the Santa Ana Register, 1910-1920

Halloween spot art from the Santa Ana Register, 1911.
As a local historian, I spend a lot of time rummaging through the old Santa Ana Register (now known as the Orange County Register) and other newspapers of yore. In the process of looking for specific things, I always end up running across other cool stuff that seems worth copying and saving for future reference. Some of latter is related to Halloween because,... well,... because I love the holiday!  Here are a few glimpses of Orange County Halloweens past...
Green Dragon Confectionery ad, S.A. Register, Oct. 11, 1912.
The Green Dragon Confectionery had a great name -- One that was especially well suited to a holiday full of scary imaginary creatures. As of 1912 this stalwart Downtown Santa Ana business was offering a wide array of holiday-specific goodies and decorations. Most of the advertised goods above are familiar, but I had to turn to Merriam-Webster to discover that Jack Horner Pies are "an ornamental pie-shaped container from which favors or toys are extracted often by pulling a ribbon at a party." So that would go nice with the party favors, baskets for salted almonds and assorted Halloween candies, pies and cakes. I want to go to a party like this on Halloween!

Balboa Pavilion ad, Santa Ana Register, Oct. 28, 1910.
The Balboa Pavilion isn't the first place I think of at Halloween. Today, it's the folks across the water on Balboa Island who get all the attention with their elaborate holiday "yard" displays. (Sans yards.) But in 1910, and for a number of years before and after, the Pavilion was host to a big annual Halloween Dance. Sounds like fun! 
Party decorations ad, Santa Ana Register, Oct. 25, 1920.
Halloween and book stores are both pretty high on the list of things I'm fond of, and here they are together in the same place! In fact, the Santa Ana Book Store was long a major local supplier of Halloween decorations and party favors in the early Twentieth Century.

By the way, this year's Anaheim Halloween Parade  -- a local tradition since the 1920s -- was a real corker. (Photos here.) Hope you didn't miss it. If you did, see it next year!

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

O.C. narrowly averted counter-culture uprising

Crazed beatniks Lera Chapman and Bobby Schaal stick it to the man!
How did Orange County survive the tumultuous youth movement and violent social upheaval of the 1960s? It wasn't easy, as this Oct. 1, 1965 Los Angeles Times article by Jack Boettner starkly illustrates...

The wide tie fad has been stopped before it could get rolling in the Orange Unified School District’s junior high schools.

Students in the 9th grades at Yorba and McPherson junior high schools began showing up in dad’s old four-in-hands of the mid-1940s with the opening of the fall term. But it did not set well with the administration.

Thursday was the last day the broad and bold neck wear could be worn at Yorba.

Homer Jurgens, Yorba vice principal, said the ties “just don’t fit in with the school’s dress code. We feel they are inappropriate for school wear. They are apt to be disturbing in the classroom situation. We know fads do exist, but we have to be careful with certain ones. The dress code was established by a combination of parents, faculty and students last year.”

Jurgens said there has been no formal announcement that the ties must be discontinued, but that the administrators had made the decision after conferring with several teachers. He said he has been breaking the word to the students individually.

George Osborn, principal and McPherson, said the wearing of the wide tie was brought to a halt because they are unacceptable and might cause a “commotion” in class. He said they did not meet the criteria of a dress code drawn up by staff and students.

 “We try to keep the dress within reason,” he said, “yet leave the individual his freedom. If we allowed the  ties, pith helmets might be next.”

Portola Junior High School reported none of its students had joined the wide-tie trend.

Bobby Schaal, 13, one of the Yorba students who has taken to the ties, said one student brought 84 ties to school and was selling them at 10 cents apiece.

Why does he wear them?

“It’s something different,” Bobby said. “I guess you could say it’s a way to chop the old timers.”

He said he was not disappointed that the school had put an end to the mounting fad.

Thus was chaos and rioting averted in Orange County. And indeed, pith helmets never got a chance to wreak their special brand of counter-cultual mayhem. But the kids in Orange were ahead of their time. The following year, British fashion designer Michael Fish would bring back wide, loud neckties. By the late 1960s and early 1970s much of the Western world was wearing them. Even (or perhaps especially) junior high school vice principals! Along with avocado-colored appliances, brutalist architecture and bad men's hairstyles, it was part of what historians now call the "Uglification of America."

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Knott's Halloween history event at OCHS

Boot Hill, Knott's Berry Farm, 1990. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.
Love Halloween? Love theme park history? Boy, have I got the event for you! Join the Orange County Historical Society and authors Ted Dougherty and Eric Lynxwiler for some Halloween fun and holiday history on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. This event is open to the public at no cost.

Halloween is now a multi-billion dollar industry. Yet long before costume-shop chains and Halloween stores cropped up every October, the Halloween season was far more innocent and simple. Many remember when the season entailed trick-or-treating in home-made costumes among a few illuminated porch decorations. That all changed in the 1970s when Halloween's popularity began to explode. One of the pioneers of the now-global Halloween industry was Orange County's own Knott's Berry Farm. Take a trip back in time with authors and historians, Ted Dougherty and Eric Lynxwiler as they share how the family-friendly Knott's Berry Farm theme park was at the forefront in creating a spooky form of entertainment that has been emulated at theme parks around the world.
Ted Dougherty is a historian and author of the award-winning book, Knott's Halloween Haunt: A Picture History. In addition to scaring thousands of guests for ten seasons as a "werewolf" at Knott's, Ted has also consulted, provided historical tours and trained characters for the longest running Halloween theme park in the world, Knott's Scary Farm's Halloween Haunt. Due to his expertise of things that go bump in the night, Ted has worked as an Associate Producer for the documentary, Season of Screams, and featured in numerous media outlets, including Newsweek, the History Channel and CNN. 

Urban anthropologist J. Eric Lynxwiler is the co-author of Knott's Preserved:  From Boysenberry to Theme Park, The History of Knott's Berry Farm, and Wilshire Boulevard:  Grand Concourse of Los Angeles.  Neon enthusiasts may know Eric as the affable host of the Museum of Neon Art's Neon Cruise. Downtown L.A. preservationists know him as an L.A. Conservancy docent for the Broadway Theater district.  While attending UCLA, he spent one school year behind the counter of Knott's shooting gallery and, more recently, worked as theme park's graphic designer on signage, brochures, and its new series of Berry-Market-labeled preserves.