Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Dr. Coy and historical Orange County trivia

Owen Coy rolls out a great idea.
In 1928, Dr. Owen C. Coy, professor of history at USC and director of the California State Historical Association, began a crusade to start "an active, incorporated historical society" in Orange County. He outlined his plans in a lecture before the State Board of Education, which seemed enamored of his noble goal. Coy, not being a local, was unaware that the Orange County Historical Society had been incorporated and holding well-publicized meetings since 1919. But thanks anyway, Owen!

And speaking of the Orange County Historical Society,... You're welcome to attend their next meeting, which will be held in the VERY near future: Thurs., April 14, at 7:30pm at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St. This will be an ORANGE COUNTY HISTORY TRIVIA CONTEST, so bring ALL your brain cells along to this event. Quoth the OCHS website,...
"Back by popular demand, you’re invited to an evening at the Orange County History Trivia Contest! 
   
"Members and non-members alike, round up your friends and come as a team (matching t-shirts, hats, or team names always encouraged) or as individuals (and we’ll match you up once you arrive)!  
   
"Test your familiarity with Orange County history and challenge others in areas such as geography, literature, food, art, music, politics, sports, personalities, and general knowledge, in varying formats.  Meanwhile, enjoy the banter by our entertaining trivia game hosts! 
    
"It’s free to play!  Prizes given to the winning team.   If you’re new to the area or you’ve lived here forever, you’ll have fun, so come on down!  It’s a perfect opportunity to meet people who are interested in Orange County history."

Friday, April 08, 2016

Andrew Deneau (1949-2016)

Andy Deneau,1977. Photo courtesy Anaheim Heritage Center.
Andrew Leo "Andy" Deneau, who co-founded and served as the first president of the Anaheim Historical Society in 1976, passed away on Easter Sunday (March 27, 2016). This native son of Anaheim will be especially missed by the city's local history and historic preservation communities.

Andy was born on April 5, 1949 to Harold Leo Deneau and Rose (nee Hargrove) Deneau.  He attended George Washington Elementary School, John C. Fremont Junior High School and Anaheim Union High School (Class of 1967).  He worked his way through college as a dispatcher for the Anaheim Fire Department, and used his California State Teaching Credential to teach arts programs in the public schools.  Most recently Andy, a trained musician and performing arts professional, served as Director of Marketing and Community Relations for the Long Beach Opera and was the founding director of Dance In Schools, a supplementary arts education program in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Andy’s life was defined by his substantive community service, including (in part): chairman, Heritage Committee of the original Cultural Arts Commission, City of Anaheim; chairman, Ad Hoc Museum Committee, City of Anaheim; member, Heritage Committee, Anaheim Bicentennial Committee; member, Citizens’ Capitol Improvement Committee, City of Anaheim; co-founder and first president, Anaheim Historical Society; founding board member, Anaheim Foundation for Culture and the Arts [aka Anaheim Cultural Arts Center]; founding member and treasurer, Anaheim Museum Inc.; founding member, Central City Neighborhood Council, City of Anaheim.  Most recently, he served two terms on the Anaheim Cultural & Heritage Commission (2007-2013).  Andy also co-authored, with Diann Marsh, most of the National Register applications for Anaheim landmarks [including the Carnegie Library and the Kraemer Building] submitted through the 1980s.

(Ed - My thanks to Jane Newell of the Anaheim Heritage Center for putting this obituary together.)

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Opal Kissinger (1924-2016)

Opal Kissinger portrays Helena Modjeska at OCHS history conference, 1988.
I wish this were some terrible April Fools Day joke, but it apparently is not. I just received word that Opal Kissinger has died. The obituary being forwarded around the Anaheim Library staff  follows below:
Opal Kissinger, 91, passed away on March 29, 2016 at St. Joseph’s Hospital after struggling for several months with numerous health issues.  She was born on July 27, 1924 in Iowa, where she was raised on a farm.  After graduating from Central Michigan University, Opal taught school in Iowa and Michigan for twenty years, following in the footsteps of her family.  She received her Masters’ Degree in education, with a minor in library science, from the State University of Iowa in the early 1960s. 

Following her marriage to Richard Kissinger, the couple moved to Orange County in 1963.  After teaching one year at Sycamore Junior High School, she became the librarian at Fremont Junior High School.  The 1967 Fremont yearbook was dedicated to her.  In 1970 she joined the Anaheim Public Library as an Adult Services librarian, becoming Local History Curator in 1974, a position she held until her retirement in 1987.

In the Anaheim History Room, Opal was responsible for collecting, cataloging, preserving and making available to the public materials related to Anaheim’s history.  Opal also administered the Mother Colony House, Anaheim’s oldest structure and museum.  During her 14 years, Opal introduced nearly 25,000 students to the Mother Colony House and Anaheim history.  She also contributed weekly articles and historic photographs to the Anaheim Bulletin, for which she was recognized as “Citizen of the Day” in 1984.  Opal was active in many clubs and organizations, including the Anaheim Historical Society, Mother Colony Household, Ebell Club and the Women’s Division of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.  In 2006 Opal was presented with the Anaheim Historical Society’s “Margaret Atkins Award” for her work in preserving Anaheim’s history.

Opal’s most unique contribution in the preservation and dissemination of Anaheim’s history were her first-person portrayals of women from Anaheim’s past, including Madame Helena Modjeska and Vicenta Sepulveda Yorba Carrillo.

After nine years of retirement, filled with a stint on the Orange County Grand Jury (1988-1989) and conducting tours of the Anaheim Stadium, Opal returned to the History Room in 1996 as a part-time librarian to assist with the organization of the huge collection of materials accumulated by Elizabeth Schultz.  She compiled the definitive chronology for the Anaheim Public Library, which was essential to the library’s Centennial Celebration in 2002. 

In 2008 Opal made a significant donation to Heritage Services, funding exhibit space at Founders’ Park for the many Anaheim artifacts [including a mail delivery carriage and wine press] collected by her during her tenure as Local History Curator.  Her legacy endures every time a student on a field trip, a resident or a visitor is introduced to Anaheim’s rich heritage by following the “OK Trail” at Founders’ Park.
Opal, Jane Newell and I at the Anaheim Historical Society 2007 Annual Dinner.
Local historian and former OCTA chief Stan Oftelie further points out that "Opal was a very big deal in local history and before her illnesses was the guiding light/chief organizer/lifelong officer of the Association of Retired Orange County Grand Jurors."

Opal was not just a great asset to the community, she was also extremely kind and a delight to be around. Happily, much of what she helped build and grow -- including the Anaheim Heritage Center -- will remain and will continue to benefit future generations. But Opal will be missed.

Update: The following obituary for Opal appeared in the Orange County Register on April 24, 2016:

Opal Leone "Lea" Kissinger, born on July 27, 1924 in Dayton Township, Iowa, to Carl Dewitt Wilson and Emma C. (Voelgel) Wilson, passed away peacefully March 29, 2016 at St. Joseph's Hospital after struggling for several months with numerous health issues. She was raised on a farm and attended public schools in Millersburg, Iowa. She received her teaching credential from Coe College, Iowa, attended several universities in Iowa and Michigan, earning her Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in education. She received her Master's in library science from San Jose State University, California.

Opal taught school in Iowa and Michigan for many years, as well as in California after she and her husband Dick moved to Orange County in 1963. In 1970 she joined the Anaheim Public Library as an Adult Services librarian, becoming Local History Curator in 1974 in the Anaheim History Room, a position she held until her retirement in 1987.

Opal was preceded in death by her beloved husband, Richard "Dick" Kissinger; and siblings, Ward Rossel Wilson, Eva Irene Marie (Wilson) Underwood, Jessie "Judy" Mable (Wilson) Ross and Anita Anne (Wilson) Wilson. She is survived by nieces, Joan Wilson, Susan Wilson Kirchner, Anne Wilson Dowling, Victoria Beck, Mary Underwood, Christine M. Miller; nephews, Robert Ross, John Wilson, David Wilson, Steven Wilson, David Casper, Steven Casper, Robert Feller; cousins Charles Johnson, Jolene Johnson, and Craig Johnson.

Special condolences go to Opal's caregiver Yenni Maruanaya who cherished her until the end. Interment is private at Fairhaven Memorial Park, Santa Ana. At her request there will not be a memorial service. The family suggests that any contributions in Opal's memory be made to the charity or organization of your choice.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Polynesians were first to settle Orange County

It’s just like Thor Heyerdahl told us. Except in reverse. Sort of.

No one has known the identity of the so-called “Oak Grove people” (or “Milling Stone Horizon peoples”) who inhabited Southern California 6,000 years ago. They disappeared long before the arrival of the Shoshonean people who were here to meet the Portola Expedition and the Spanish Missionaries.
Orange County historian Chris Jepsen holds a cogged stone or cogstone.
It was previously believed that the Oak Grove people had left few archaeological clues about their identities and their lives. Among those clues were the mysterious cogged stones which have been dug up by local farmers, gardeners, pot hunters and archaeologists for generations.

But new facts have come to light, and it appears that those earliest residents were Polynesians. How do we know? Check out these artifacts, uncovered within the last 15 years:
The ancient, ruined Tiki idol above was excavated in Sunset Beach, in front of Sam's Seafood restaurant in 2006. In the image below, a similar pagan idol is exposed after a heavy rain in the backyard of a home in Floral Park, Santa Ana.
Indeed, carved effigies typical of the South Seas seem to be widely distributed throughout the Orange County area.
Shown above is another Tiki found in the yard of a private residence -- This time on a hill overlooking San Juan Capistrano. Below are two earthen drinking vessels uncovered in Laguna Beach. It's believed they were used for religious ceremonies.

The "Garden Grove Place of Refuge" (shown above) was excavated in front of a suburban apartment complex. Caches of tiny fetish carvings may sometimes be found at such sites, like the Tikis seen below, which were found on the site of the Garden Grove Elk's Lodge in 2015.
Perhaps most spectacularly, an entire Polynesian temple has been uncovered in south Anaheim. (See photo below.) Structurally, it is in remarkably good condition. Unfortunately, it's infested with birds.
To prove the theory of Polynesian colonization, amateur anthropologists built a replica of an ancient Polynesian raft (shown below) and used the prevailing currents to float from Papeete, Tahiti all the way to the docks in front of Pizza Pete’s in Newport Beach.
On their journey across the Pacific, the anthropologists experienced thrilling adventures and terrifying scenarios, including spotty mobile phone coverage, rationing of hair conditioner, and an uneven ratio of hot dogs to buns. The story of their voyage is expected to be turned into a documentary, a lengthy book, an action movie, a children’s picture book, a Broadway musical, a chain of restaurants and a new flavor of chewing gum.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Pioneer William D. Lamb

Plans are underway to develop the sites of the defunct Lamb, Arevalos, and Wardlow Elementary Schools in Huntington Beach. The city wants to turn some of the surrounding green space at each site into parks. In all three cases, this is a formality, as locals have been using the land as defacto parks for generations. Some want to see the parks retain the names of the schools. Others want to see new names for the “new” parks. It seems like it might be helpful if more people knew the local historical significance of the  Lamb, Arevalos and Wardlow families. Let's start with William Lamb, for whom the school was named…

William D. Lamb began with very little, but through hard work and determination he became a major rancher and leading citizen in the pioneer days of Orange County. 

William Lamb was born to Anson and Caroline Bartholomew Lamb in Onondaga County, New York on July 1, 1849. His mother died when he was four and he was sent to live with his uncle near Grand Rapids, Michigan. He went to work at an early age, which left no time for a formal education.

At the age of 11, William left Michigan and moved to Chicago, and then to Iowa. There, he worked on grading crews – first as a water carrier and later driving a team of horses. Eventually, he found better wages making bricks in a Mormon town near Omaha.

When William was 14, his father came “up from the south” to meet him, and the two crossed the plains in a freight wagon train to Salt Lake City. Once in Utah, William took a job running a threshing machine and took it upon himself to learn the basics of reading and writing. Soon he and his father went into the lumber and saw-mill business together – a venture which proved quite profitable.
At age 19, William married Elizabeth Holt, the daughter of a Mormon preacher from England. Because of their religious differences, neither family attended the civil ceremony. In 1869, their first daughter, Mary, was born. Later that year, the young family loaded their possessions in a covered wagon and made the arduous journey to California, arriving in October.

Once in the Golden State, William took a job chopping and hauling wood at what later became Lucky Baldwin’s ranch in Arcadia. His work sometimes took him to other parts of Southern California, and it was at this point that he first saw the Santa Ana Valley and decided he wanted to own land there someday.

But for the time being, the Lambs were still living out of their covered wagon. They tried to better their lot by farming in El Monte, but the same drought that famously decimated the Ranchos’ cattle also killed the Lamb’s corn crops.

The family next moved to a canyon near Azuza (once called Lamb’s Canyon), but that proved unsatisfactory as well.

In 1875, they bought a squatter’s claim of 160 acres in Gospel Swamp – about four miles from what would become Huntington Beach. William was one of the men who helped clear Gospel Swamp and develop it into a rich farming area. He initially raised hogs and corn but later became one of the first sugar beet growers of the county. (Orange County's sugar beet industry would eventually grow large enough to support five large sugar factories.)

In 1879, the Lambs and a bunch of their neighbors were thrown off the land after a federal court determined that the land was not legally theirs.

Undeterred, Lamb bought 160 acres in the Newhope area (on today’s Santa Ana/Fountain Valley border) for cultivation, followed by 200 acres near Garden Grove for raising cattle (branded with a simple "L"). In 1892 he added another 720 acres of the Rancho Las Bolsas to his holdings. His land within today’s Huntington Beach included the entire section from Magnolia Ave. to Brookhurst St. between Adams Ave. and Garfield, as well as land east of Brookhurst between Yorktown Ave. and Garfield.

William Lamb was employed as the general custodian of the enormous ranch of Colonel Northam of the Stearns Rancho Co. Lamb employed fourteen men to do much of the work. Lamb also served as manager of the Rancho Los Coyotes and as special manager for Rancho Las Bolsas and Bolsa Chica. This took in a large portion of western Orange County. Initially, Lamb leased out this ranch land for the grazing of livestock, but he later also leased it for cultivation. Meanwhile, on his own land, Lamb raised grain, beets, and “every product except fruit.”

Even after his time working for Northam ended, Lamb continued to be one of the most significant figures in the western part of the county. He was involved in many local civic matters, including fights over taxation pertaining to the area’s earliest flood control districts. His ranch was well known, the street we now know as Magnolia Ave. was called Lamb Road, and there was even a “Lambs’” stop on the Pacific Electric Railway’s Talbert line at the corner of Bushard and Garfield.
Modern photo showing portion of Lamb School yard to be saved as a park.
Around 1905, William fell ill and soon Elizabeth assumed the management of the family ranch. All their land was put in her name in 1909. 

William D. Lamb died of pneumonia at his home on March 13, 1911 and was buried in the old Santa Ana Cemetery. His obituary in the Santa Ana Register called him “one of the substantial farmers of the West section." Another characterized him as "a pioneer of the lowlands section," and yet another called him a "wealthy Orange County land owner." He left two daughters and three sons: Mrs. Mary Levingood, Mrs. Laura Harper, Walter D. Lamb, Hugo Lamb, and Earl D. Lamb.

Elizabeth fell seriously ill in 1916 and spent two months at San Juan Hot Springs for her health. She recovered and continued to manage the ranch, with help from her daughter and son-in-law, Laura and Gregory Harper. She finally left the ranch and moved to a house at 521 S. Broadway, in Santa Ana in October 1925. She died there at age 85 on August 27, 1935 and her death was mourned on the front page of the Register. She was survived by five of her children, eleven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

The Lambs’ name once appeared on a large ranch, a major road, a railway stop, a canyon, and a school. Today, all that remains is a fraction of an old school yard unofficially called “Lamb Park.” And even that may not last for much longer. 

The fact that “most folks don’t know local history” is too often used as “proof” that such history is unimportant and unworthy of consideration or preservation. (“If nobody remembers it, then it can’t be important!”) But as the teachers at Lamb, Arevalos or Wardlow schools would have told you, ignorance is a curable condition. And the cure is for all of us to be curious and to read, research, uncover and share the history in our own backyards.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

More crate labels

In response to my last post, attentive reader Randall Bliss sent me some images from his collection of citrus crate labels. I thought I'd share a few of them here, beginning with this beautiful 1920s Cal-Oro butterfly label from Santa Ana-Tustin Mutual Citrus Association. I'll keep my comments to a minimum and just thank Randall for sharing.
I've seen Carnival Brand before, but never noticed that the carnival in question was likely the big annual California Valencia Orange Show, which was held where La Palma Park now sits in Anaheim from 1921 to 1931.
You don't see a lot of California Indians on crate labels. And here's another one who isn't. Even the Pala Brave brand label depicted a guy in a plains Indian headdress. Colorful, but wildly inaccurate. Knowing little about the Mohawk, I don't know how inaccurate this 1930s label art is.
Just a nice 1930s lemon crate label I hadn't seen before. Thing I had to Google: "Albion" is an ancient name for the island of Great Britain.
Orange County farmers always hated seeing thistle plants popping up, since they're damn difficult to eradicate. But on this 1930s label they're used as a symbol of Scotland for the Caledonia brand from Placentia Mutual Orange Association.
There are at least three versions of the Searchlight label, each showing a warship from its respective era: the 1920s, the 1930s, and this one from the 1940s. What struck me about this particular version is the yin/yang "Orange County Quality" label, which I wasn't previously familiar with. I think I need to have that little emblem turned into stickers. You could slap those suckers on all kinds of stuff.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Orange County citrus crate labels

Crate label of Charles C. Chapman of Fullerton, who popularized the Valencia orange. (Image courtesy Orange County Archives)
The Orange County Archives just opened a small exhibit about local orange crate labels on the first floor of the Old Orange County Courthouse, 211 W. Santa Ana Blvd., in Santa Ana. This was made possible by the recent donation to the Archives of hundreds of Orange County fruit crate label images by collector Tom Pulley.

For over half a century, the citrus industry –led by the Valencia orange – drove the economy of Orange County and covered our landscape with over 75,000 acres of sweet-smelling citrus groves.

Among the most enduring symbols of that era is the orange crate label – a functional and promotional bit of ephemera that now holds a warm spot in the hearts of collectors, historians, art enthusiasts and the nostalgic.
This 1949 photo shows packers at the Yorba Linda Citrus Association’s packing house, including Judy Ledford who was looking directly into the camera. (Photo courtesy Orange County Archives)
More than simply identifying the type and source of the fruit inside each crate, the labels were a key branding and marketing tool.

The railroads brought boxed California citrus to big cities “back east,” where sample crates were put on display at fruit auctions. This was the moment the fruit crate label was created for. As hundreds of wholesale buyers perused countless samples, the colorful labels made each brand and grade easily identifiable, even across an enormous, crowded auction house. Most labels were seldom seen by the public, but were meant for these buyers, who bought anywhere from 30 boxes to multiple boxcars of oranges in a single transaction.
Arnold C. "Pete" Counts loads crates of oranges onto a railroad car at the Yorba Linda Packing House, circa 1949. (Photo courtesy Orange County Archives)
The sun began to set on citrus crate labels in 1956 when packing houses switched from wooden crates to cardboard boxes. And over the next ten years – as property values rose, the population boomed, “quick decline” disease struck groves, and property tax rates changed – the citrus industry fizzled out in Orange County.

The central portion of this new Orange County Archives exhibit shows the “life-cycle” of a crate label, from design and printing, to crate assembly, to the fruit-packing process, to the railroad cars, to the eastern fruit auctions, to neighborhood retail outlets, and finally finding new life in the creative reuse of old crates.
Earl Nickles, who grew up on the Tuffree citrus ranch in Placentia, loaned a “Shamrock” packing crate from Placentia Mutual Orange Association for the exhibit. (O.C. Register photo by Jebb Harris)
Also examined are the three styles or eras of label art seen between 1885 and 1955.

Another section of the exhibit highlights the ways labels were used to delineate qualities and sizes of fruit – visual cues that were clear to middlemen, but not to the general public. For instance, the Goldenwest Citrus Association of Tustin depicted its various qualities of fruit via naval ranks, from Admiral at the highest quality down to the lowly Sailor brand.

Also discussed are the many portraits of pianist Dorothy Ferguson painted for Anaheim Orange & Lemon Association labels by artist Joe Duncan Gleason in 1919. (There’s a story there, folks!) The packing house that used these labels was recently converted to an upscale food court called, naturally, The Packing House.
Fruit on display at Prescott Ranch Market, Highway 101 at 5th St, Tustin, 1940s. (Photo courtesy Orange County Archives)
Finally, the exhibit provides examples of Orange County itself providing the inspiration for local fruit crate label illustrations. Local spots depicted on citrus crate labels include Three Arch Bay and Bird Rocks in Laguna Beach, Hewes Park in El Modena, Lemon Heights and Red Hill in North Tustin, Old Saddleback, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and rural Anaheim.

After the exhibit whets your appetite for more box art, feel free to visit the Archives and ask to see the rest of the collection.
Laguna Beach on a Villa Park label. (Image courtesy Orange County Archives)
Long ago, some detractor called me “a crate label historian,” meaning that I only write about a falsely sunny and cheerful Orange County, as depicted on citrus labels. Certainly, there’s plenty of non-bile-laden history to be found in these parts, and I’ve written about a lot of it. But I’m not sure, for instance, how the stuff I’ve written about floods, earthquakes, arson, racism, murder, crime, and the demolition of historic sites would translate as crate label art. It’s just not Sunkist’s style.

Frankly, there is much to be learned from old crate labels. They tell us something about the history of agriculture, art and advertising, and about the locations depicted in their illustrations. Crate labels also provide a fine springboard for talking about the people, places and ideas that Americans once found important or appealing. But as much as I’d like to accept the mantle of “Crate Label Historian,” that title more appropriately belongs to Gordon McClelland and Jay Last, who wrote the defining books on this subject. Without their work, exhibits like this (and far more elaborate past crate label exhibits) would just be collections of pretty pictures.

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.