Friday, September 09, 2016

The Royal Order of Optimistic Donuts

Ad from 1930s Civic Repertory Theatre of Los Angeles program courtesy J. Eric Lynxwiler.
In naming their brand of toroid  treats “Optimistic Donuts,” the Davis Perfection Bakery, located near Los Angeles City Hall, referenced the old saying, “The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist sees the hole.” It was an odd enough name to draw attention.

To draw even more attention, they also sponsored "The Royal Order of Optimistic Donuts" radio show on KNX radio on Friday nights from 1925 to 1934. This vaudeville-like variety revue was hosted by ad man Bert Butterworth and featured a wide variety of guests, from Morey Amsterdam to Willie Best to Minnie Pearl. The show was unusual for its time in featuring a largely black cast, including talents like Hattie McDaniel, who went on to bigger and better things.

The house band was "The Optimistic Do-Nuts,” a creole jazz band led by piano player Sam McVea. In the early 1910s, McVea’s live performances had provided the soundtrack for seemingly every big party in town.

KNX’s strong broadcast signal and the limited interference of the 1920s airwaves meant that the show was often heard all across the western half of the United States. And beginning in 1928, the show was also broadcast by KYA in San Francisco.

That same year, the L.A. Times wrote, "Bert Butterworth at 8 p.m. will hold his weekly frolic over KNX. The studio-free-for-all affair has been going on as a Friday night feature almost since the station opened four years ago. It has its ups and downs, of course. Sometimes it is good and at other time it is mediocre. But on the whole, the various performances average up to an hour of wholesome entertainment."

In the late 1930s, Davis Perfection Bakery also fielded a good women's softball team, which also called the Optimistic Donuts. They were based in Hollywood and often faced off against such powerhouses as the Orange Lionettes.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Los Alamitos, Dana Point and wine

Larry Strawther writes, "August 21 marked the 75th anniversary of the groundbreaking for the Los Alamitos Navy Air Station – the first major military base in O.C. (despite what the fans of the Santa Ana Army Air Base say.)  I haven’t seen anything marking such an august occasion, so I thought you might be interested in sharing the below linked article with your blog..."

Speaking of anniversaries, I'm still catching my breath from the big ceremony and time capsule opening/exhibit at Dana Point, marking the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking of the harbor there. I've posted some of my photos from the event to a Flickr album, for those interested. Also, as of yesterday, I've installed an exhibit of many of the time capsule contents (and the capsule itself) at the Dana Point Historical Society. See their website for hours.

I hope to see some of you tonight at the Orange County Historical Society's season kick-off event at Sherman Gardens in Corona del Mar. (See the OCHS website for details.) Sue McIntire and Don Dobmeier will speak on the subject of "Wine in Orange County."

Friday, August 05, 2016

Santa Ana's wishlist, 1881

Fourth St., Santa Ana, circa 1887.
On Dec. 14, 1881, the Santa Ana correspondent to the new Los Angeles Times newspaper shared some of the pros and cons of her growing town and set forth a sort of community wishlist:

"Santa Ana is certainly coming to the front. We are bound to be and will be something yet. We have already enough and to spare of some  things. For instance, if you want a few preachers, or school teachers, we can supply you., and as for doctors we could supply the whole county. [Ed - Orange County was still part of Los Angeles County then.] We have all sorts: the old, the young, the half-breed Indian, the street corner loafer, the aristocrat, the little pill, the big pill, yes any kind of a pill. Every second man on the streets of Santa Ana is a doctor.

"...Mechanics of all kinds are very busy, [and] more could find employment if here, as there is much improvement going on and much more to be done both in town and country.

"...Wild geese are very plentiful just now. Come down, some of you city sportsmen, and take a few. We don't want them all.

"...Santa Ana wants:
A first-class hotel.
A first-class public hall.
A few less doctors, preachers and lawyers.
A stop to building more churches at present.
A much larger school house.
A few good servant girls.
A few more marriageable gentlemen.
A few less street corner loafers.
A good heavy rain."

So, 135 years later, how's Santa Ana coming along with its wish list? Let's take a look:
  • There seem to be plenty of mechanics now. (Check)
  • The doctors have mostly moved to places like Newport Beach. (Check)
  • The lawyers also mostly have their homes and offices elsewhere now, although the courts are still in Santa Ana. (Check)
  • Santa Ana still has plenty of "pills" -- But probably no more than most places. (No change)
  • The churches are mostly drying up and fading away. Only the Catholics seem to be thriving these days, and their cathedral is in Orange, not the county seat. (Check)
  • We've definitely thinned out the wild geese, although I still see a few hanging around Centennial Park. (Check)
  • Santa Ana has some pretty nice hotels, especially down by the airport (e.g. the Doubletree), although it lacks the kind of iconic hotel it had when the Saddleback Inn was at its peak. (Check)
  • The city may still not have a great "public hall," but for large public gatherings and performances there's the Santa Ana Bowl and the Yost Theatre. (Maybe half a check)
  • Schools continue to be a top priority for Santa Ana, and scads of teachers have been hired and schools have been built. But the district's academic rankings generally leave something to be desired. (Work in progress)
  • Santa Ana undoubtedly has an outsized number of "servant girls," although most commute out of Santa Ana to work. (Check?)
  • Does Santa Ana now have more "marriageable gentlemen?" I will live that for the ladies to decide. Single doesn't mean marriageable. (Unknown)
  • As for "street corner loafers:" At last check we had about 500 homeless people living among the landscaping at the Santa Ana Civic Center alone. And who knows how many folks in any given community are home watching TV (the modern street corner) during the work week. (Fail)
  • And all of Southern California is once again anxiously awaiting a "good heavy rain." (Status quo)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Fiesta de Luz, Sam Stein, and the Almazzadeluzoresquibo

From "High Lights In Civic Parade & Carnival", Popular Mechanics, Jan. 1917
Short, 353 pounds, bald, and wearing a pink cheesecloth gown, costume jewelry and a woman’s wig, businessman Simon Samuel “Sam” Stein hoisted himself into the gold carriage which traditionally carried Santa Ana’s petite parade queens. The carriage creaked and groaned, but held together – much to the relief of Stein’s retinue: A group of “Zulu” warriors and that rarest of animals, an Almazzadeluzoresquibo. 

It was June 15, 1916, and the City of Santa Ana was celebrating its fancy new street lights with a “Fiesta de Luz.” This nighttime event included a band concert at Birch Park, vaudeville performances, a fundraiser dance (or “Jitney Ball”), streets lined with sundry amusements and community group booths, and a parade with dozens of units.

At the start of the parade, on a reviewing stand at City Hall, Mayor Augustus J. Visel welcomed Stein eloquently and, with great ceremony, presented him with a crown and scepter, naming him the queen of the Fiesta. “Subjects, behold your queen" he called to the crowd as Stein powdered his nose dramatically and assessed himself in a hand mirror. Then Visel pressed a button, turning on the city’s new electric street lights to the accompaniment of cheers and applause.
Stein's dress was displayed in the window of Rankin's Dry Goods prior to parade. (L.A. Times, 6-16-1916)
The Queen’s parade unit was led by the “Queen’s Band.” The “Zulu” warriors – walking alongside the carriage – were actually Santa Ana High School boys wearing black tights, raffia skirts, and burnt cork on their faces. A unique imaginary animal known as the Almazzadeluzoresquibo was somehow brought to life and brought up the rear of the Queen’s entourage.

As the carriage rolled through the streets, Stein got big laughs as he primped and preened before some 25,000 onlookers. In fact, he was so popular that he and his "Zulus" were invited to take part Long Beach’s “Carnival of States” parade the following month.

(One wonders, in today's climate, which would generate more outrage: White kids in blackface, or a whole crowd laughing at a man in women's clothes.)

Stein had been part of the planning committee for the Fiesta de Luz and had volunteered to be a figure of fun. But despite the gales of laughter directed at him along the parade route, he was a beloved local personality.
Pin-back badge promoting attendance at the Fiesta de Luz.
Sam Stein was born in Russia on Sept. 5, 1884, the second of five children born to Samuel H. and Lena Stein. The family immigrated to New York when he was very young. In 1902, while still in his teens, Sam came to California and went to work for the Lazarus Stationary Co. in Los Angeles. He worked for this company for twelve years, including as a traveling salesman. One day, while going door to door in Santa Ana, he recognized the town’s need for a local stationary store.

He moved to Santa Ana with his wife Celia; children, Arthur and Helen; and his younger brother, Ivie. And in 1914, he opened Sam Stein Stationery in the Spurgeon Building. The shop, which was also a book store, began with one employee, but the business grew rapidly.

The Santa Ana Register called Stein “a thorough businessman of congenial and happy disposition… keenly interested in civic affairs,” and described him as “one of the best known and most popular men in Santa Ana."

He was the founding secretary of Congregation B'nai B’rith of Santa Ana and was involved in the Masons, Shrine, Elks and other local fraternal organizations. He was also active in the Los Angeles Young Zion's association.

Rev. F.T. Porter, pastor of Santa Ana’s First Christian Church, later remembered, “Mr. Stein was a man of activity, a man who massed his forces, his thought, his energies on a point and made the point, which accounts for his success in business life in Santa Ana... As a citizen he had the welfare of the city at heart and was active in civic affairs, throwing his great personality and force to those things that were for the best interests of the city. He was an honest man, honest with his business associates, his friends and his family. His interest in school athletics and other of the various activities of the school evidenced that he was delighted to do such thing and that they were done because of his interest in delight in helping in the schools and not purely from a business and selfish motive."
Unfortunately, the portly Stein had diabetes and in early 1922 developed a carbuncle (usually caused by a bacterial infection) on his neck. He had just finished moving his business into a larger space at 307 W. Fourth St. (now with about fifteen employees) when he had to check into Santa Ana Community Hospital. His condition worsened and he was sent to St. Vincent's Hospital in Los Angeles for further treatment. He died there in March 1922.

Jewish tradition dictates that a person’s body be buried as soon as possible after death. There was no time to distribute notices or print announcements in the newspapers for Stein’s funeral. But word of his death got out and spread like wildfire through town. Ultimately, a very large crowd attended the memorial at Santa Ana’s Smith & Tuthill Mortuary, including many public officials, local business leaders, students and faculty from the local schools, B'nai B’rith members and many other friends and family. Masses of floral arrangements were on display.

Sam Stein was buried at Beth Israel Cemetery in Los Angeles.

However, the final disposition of Stein’s faithful Almazzadeluzoresquibo remains unknown. I will pay a dollar to the first person to find me a photo of the creature. I will double that if you bring in the creature itself -- dead or alive.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Red Car anniversary

On June 17, 1904, the Pacific Electric Railway opened a "Red Car" line from Long Beach to Huntington Beach. It was an important moment that really breathed life into the new little beach town.

Henry Huntington owned the Pacific Electric. He also owned Huntington Beach. These things were not coincidental. Anyway, today is the 112th anniversary of the Red Car's arrival in Huntington Beach.

I have no time for a full-fledged post today, but I thought I'd share these two photos. The photo above shows the current "Red Car Museum" which sits on a remaining section of track along the Long Beach to Huntington Beach line in Seal Beach. The image below shows an early Pacific Electric excursion car at the foot of the pier in Huntington Beach. The large brick building stood roughly where Huntington Surf & Sport stands today.

Monday, June 06, 2016

O.C. in the British Library

Here are a couple images of old Orange County from the Flickr feed of the British Library. It just goes to show you haven't done all your research until you've looked EVERYWHERE.

Both images are taken in 1893 and used in an early issue of Land of Sunshine magazine. The image one above is a scene from Tustin, and the one below depicts what was probably Atherton's Ostrich Farm in Fullerton.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Counterculture in Orange County

Handbill promoting Yippie Day at Disneyland, Aug. 6, 1970.
While the monolithic notion of Orange County as an ultra-conservative bedroom community has long been laid to rest, little has yet been said about the small but active counterculture that flourished here for generations. O.C. has seen quasi-utopian colonies, Timothy Leary’s Laguna adventures, bohemian artists' colonies, Aldous Huxley’s visit to Trabuco Canyon’s Ramakrishna Monastery, the Yippies’ “liberation” of Disney’s Tom Sawyer’s Island, "Happenings," the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, subversive bookstores, and many more examples of local free-thinkers, beatniks, non-conformists, cultists, Communists, iconoclasts, and unclassifiable wingnuts. 

 Curious to learn more about this part of our past? Register for the annual dinner of the Orange County Historical Society, June 10th, 2016. There, journalist/author/commentator Jim Washburn will “discuss the leftish side of the county, in a manner that shows just how entertaining history can be when the speaker has no regard for facts.” (Ed: Don't tell Jim I said this, but he's really quite good about getting his facts straight.)
Gerald Heard, Christopher Isherwood, Julian Huxley, Aldous Huxley and Linus Pauling at the Ramakrishna Monastery, Trabuco Canyon, 1960.
Washburn has written about music, popular culture and politics for the L.A. Times, O.C. Register, O.C. Weekly and publications from Rolling Stone to Reader’s Digest. He co-authored the book Martin Guitars, an Illustrated Celebration and the John Crean autobiography, The Wheel and I. He has curated four exhibits at the Fullerton Museum Center, on such topics as O.C.’s rock music history and O.C. in the disco era. (If you attended his earlier OCHS talk on the history of rock music in Orange County, you know why you need to hear him speak again!)
Timothy Leary: "Rec'd from Orange County 3-18-70."
This year's OCHS annual dinner will be held in the Historic Friends Church (1888), which is now part of Moreno’s Restaurant in El Modena. For more information or to sign up, see the OCHS website. As of this writing, there's about a week left in which to register. There will be no walk-ins allowed.(Yes, I know,... all these rules are a real drag, man. Just another example of "the man" trying to keep you down.)
Tim Morgon performs at Balboa beatnik hangout The Prison of Socrates.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A couple events this weekend...

...and if you can't make it to this event in Costa Mesa on Sunday (or even if you can), also consider the big Vintage Postcard and Paper Show and the Glendale Civic Auditorium, which runs BOTH days this weekend!