Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Evan Krewson (1926-2014)

Evan Krewson leads O.C. Historical Commission on a tour of Old Courthouse restoration work, 1985
All of us who care about Orange County history should be thankful for Evan Krewson, a Costa Mesa resident who passed away on  Jan. 13, 2014. Although not the best known name in historical circles today, it was Krewson who so lovingly and meticulously orchestrated the restoration and revival of the Old Orange County Courthouse in the 1980s.

Krewson grew up in Wheaton, Illinois where he excelled in sports. He joined the Merchant Marines and later served in the Army during WWII. In the 1950s, he was an officer in the Pasadena Police Department. He later worked for the Southern California Gas Co., learned heating and air conditioning and at one point taught classes in contracting.

But it was his work as Senior Project Manager for the Orange County General Services Agency -- overseeing the restoration of the traditional seat of local government -- which is best remembered by our historical community.

The Old Courthouse (as we now call it) was built in 1901 and it originally held all the offices of Orange County's government, not counting the jail (which stood immediately behind it). Although the building proved unable to serve all the needs of an ever-growing county, it continued to serve the public, remained the constant home of the county marriage office, and became burned in the minds of over a century of locals as the symbol and heart of Orange County itself. The last regular court session was held there in 1969, and within ten years the place was considered unsafe and was vacated. After a period during which the landmark's very existence was in peril, a plan for seismically retrofitting and restoring the Old Courthouse got underway in 1983.
Don Dobmeier, who served on the Orange County Historical Commission then (as now), remembers when the work began: "Evan Krewson wasn't our first project manager. Rick Garza was originally assigned, but was soon pulled off the job to build the new fire station at the airport. The two got along fine, but they had totally different styles. Krewson was very detail-oriented, went out of his way to get things correct to the era, and asked lots of good questions. He was very good at what he did."

In his book, Old Orange County Courthouse: A Centennial History (2001), historian Phil Brigandi wrote,
"[He] insisted on only the highest quality work from all the contractors on the job. 'The opportunity wasn't going to come around again,' [Krewson said], 'so that anything I was going to do would have to last for the next hundred years.

"The structural work was completed early in 1985, and the reconstruction of the interior began. ...By December 1985 the work was far enough along that the county's historical programs staff was able to begin moving into their new third floor offices. ...Original details were carefully restored or recreated from photographs and memories (the troublesome old chimney for the basement boiler - though no longer needed - was even reconstructed to keep the building's original exterior appearance intact). Temecula granite and Arizona sandstone were again imported for a few spots that needed repairs. "
Today, Brigandi (who was also a Historical Commissioner in the 1980s) says, "Evan was just the right person to supervise the restoration of the Old Courthouse. His attention to detail and devotion to the project is still obvious today, 25 years later. He even researched old construction techniques so they could follow the original specs on the building -- like a "broom finish" on the plaster. And he loved to show off the little details as well -- like the little hole in the sandstone on the east side of the building were the first phone line was run in."
Krewson lifted a 1901 time capsule from the Courthouse wall at a 1988 ceremony. Here, he and Historical Commissioner Jane Gerber install a new time capsule later that same year.
When it became clear that an elevator (not original to the building) must be added to the plan, Krewson made sure its appearance "fit the ambiance, yet let people know it's not historically part of the building." To this day, the elevator blends in so well that people often walk right by without seeing it -- Yet nobody would mistake it for anything but a modern piece of equipment.

Seismically, the courthouse reinforcements were "overdesigned by 50%," Krewson told the Los Angeles Times, "Which means if there's a building you want to be in during an earthquake, that's it."

One of Krewson's key sources of information about the original details of the Old Courthouse was Lecil Slaback - then in his 70s - who practically grew up in the building. Lecil's father, Lester Slaback, was the longtime Court Reporter there, and Lecil followed in his dad's professional footsteps. Old photos might help Krewson determine the shape of a missing light fixture, but Lecil could remember the color of the lamp as well. Of Krewson's work, Lecil would ultimately say, "He did a masterful job."

Rob Selway, the head of the County's Historical Programs Office, described the restoration project as it neared completion:
"Tons of steel and gunite now tie floors together and reinforce the brick and sandstone walls. Restoration is nearly complete for the exterior facades, the entry floor lobby and corridors, the grand staircase, and the third floor. Restored details include carefully researched and designed light fixtures, extensive tilework, oak wainscoting and other wood features such as doors and windows, marble and wrought iron stairway, polished concrete floors, plaster cornices and skylight basketweave surrounds, and original and period furniture and hardware."
L to R: Brigandi, Marshall Duell and Krewson in the Orange County Archives, 2004.
When the project was completed in 1988, Krewson told the Times, "We've taken care to make sure the museum is a showplace... We wanted to make it a window to the world, a place to enjoy, a walk into the past. This is a living museum, a working building. [It's] significant for children to see the origins of the county,... To sit in the judge's chair and get a sense of the history."

Indeed, not just children but thousands of Orange Countians of all ages get that sense of history and enjoy the simple beauty of this important landmark each year. I have been lucky enough to work in that wonderful building for the past 11 years and it continues to be an honor and a privilege. It's a special place in many ways. The work of Evan Krewson, along with the work of the preservationists, historians, elected officials, engineers, county workers and subcontractors who contributed to saving and restoring the Old Courthouse, deserves the whole county's appreciation.

I only met Evan Krewson briefly on a couple occasions, both well after his retirement. In each case, he had returned to the Old Courthouse to give the building a good going-over, look for any problems that might have cropped up, and make suggestions for any needed adjustments. Clearly, the Old Courthouse was always a part of him. Because of his care and attention to detail, his legacy to our community will continue to bring joy, beauty and an understanding of history to untold generations to come.

Evan Krewson is survived by his wife, Margaret Krewson; his daughters, Betty Lou Sasena, Cynthia Davis and Katherine Arceneaux; and by eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dizzyland, Santa Ana, 50 shades of Earl Grey, etc.

"When you wish upon a Schlitz..." Here's another 1974 photo (above) from the Werner Weiss Collection at the Orange County Archives. The building that housed Dizzyland, at 718 E. 4th St. at Lacy, in Santa Ana (as well as the building seen across the street) is long gone. I wonder if they got a visit from Disney's lawyers. It appears the building was The Imperial Cafe in 1941, El Charro Cafe in the 1950s, and Brick's Tavern in 1960, before serving as Dizzyland from at least 1966 until at least 1975. I'll bet there wasn't enough alcohol in the world to make this dive seem like "the happiest place on earth."

Charles Epting (son of Chris Epting) has his own book of Orange County history on the way: The New Deal in Orange County California. Charlie's been visiting us at the Archives since he was a kid, so it's pretty cool to see him diving in and writing his own books. (And the 1930s in O.C. is certainly a topic that could use more attention.) I'm looking forward to reading the book. In the meantime, here's the cover:
The Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society are holding another open house at the new Santa Ana Fire Museum, at 120 W. Walnut St., March 8, noon to 4pm. You may (or may not) remember my posts about this museum back in August. For more information, see the SAHPS website.

The Heritage Museum of Orange County (home of the Kellogg House in South Santa Ana) is taking another valiant stab at raising funds to restore the beautiful and historic Maag House and turn the first floor into space for rotating exhibits The inaugural exhibition, Journey Stories (on loan from the Smithsonian), is set to open in October, so the pressure is on!

Also coming up at the Heritage Museum of O.C., the Victorian Tea Society is holding what they're calling the “Shades of Earl Grey Tea" on March 15. I think I'm too young to be told what that's all about.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Natalie Kotsch

According to the O.C. Register, Natalie Kotsch, founder of Huntington Beach's International Surfing Museum, died Thursday night after a long bout with cancer. Kotsch launched the museum in 1987 and it has remained one of those rare downtown spots where folks can still go to get a glimpse of old (pre-redevelopment) Huntington Beach. Here's an interesting item from her museum's website:
"[The] International Surfing Museum was founded several decades ago by a woman who's never surfed. In fact, Natalie Kotsch (pictured with a rare electric surfboard) came from a spot in Canada where there really wasn't any surfing. She recognized this incredible beach vibe and a welcoming spirit that made her feel happy in Huntington Beach, and she got caught in a fever that snags many who live in beach areas around the globe. 'You don't have to surf to love watching the sport,' said Kotsch. ...Thanks to her efforts, many of the great surfboards and local history have an opportunity to be preserved in a huge, cataloged collection that rotates in the museum."
Memorial plans have not yet been announced. To leave a card for the family, stop by the museum or send to Family of Natalie Kotsch, 218 7th St., Huntington Beach, 92648. The family is asking for donations to the museum in lieu of flowers.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Photography, Scene Painting, Wintersburg, Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach, etc.

My friend Werner Weiss donated digital rights to a good portion of his collection of 1970s Orange County (non-Disney) slides to the Orange County Archives (where I'm the Assistant Archivist). There are hundreds of wonderful images in this collection, and I'm gradually cleaning up the dust, correcting cockeyed scans, etc, as time allows. I recently posted the first batch of these images on the Archives' Flickr account, but I thought I'd also post one of my (many) favorites here. The image above shows the old Edwards Cinema on Adams Ave. near Harbor Blvd in Costa Mesa in 1974. (Somewhere, I have my own photo of the wonderful freestanding sign that stood nearby.) As you can see, this was a lovely building before it was remodeled beyond recognition. The only time I ever snuck into a movie was here. As kids, my friends and I saw a Disney movie on one screen and afterward scrambled across to the other screen to see the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Werner's old slides also reminded me of a day he and I spent at Disney's California Adventure in 2007. Disney had just announced that DCA would soon be heavily altered/remodeled, and we decided to spend a day photo-documenting pretty much everything in the park before it disappeared. I just posted a batch of photos from that day on my personal Flickr account. Fans of Disney or extremely-recent history might also want to check that out.
Detail from "Near Modesto" (1940) by Emil Kosa Jr.
The Irvine Museum has a wonderful exhibit called "California Scene Paintings: 1920s-1970s" on display through May 8th. Guest curator (and all-round good guy) Gordon T. McClelland has made sure to include a bit more Orange County content in the Irvine appearance of this exhibit, which previously appeared in Pasadena. Artists represented include Millard Sheets, Phil Dike, Emil Kosa Jr., Milford Zornes, Rex Brandt, Ben Norris, John Bohnenberger, Art Riley and Preston Blair (husband of Mary Blair). I can't wait to go see this!
Mary Adams Urashima will hold her first book signing for the long-awaited Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach at 2pm, March 9, on the second floor of Barnes & Noble, 7881 Edinger Ave #110, in Huntington Beach. She'll be giving a talk and selling and signing books. Mary, who's working hard to save the remains of the historic Japanese community at Wintersburg, says "It's a great book to give to your local elected official or congressman, with a note about the importance of preservation."

Speaking of the fight to save Wintersburg, there's an article about it in the Huffington Post (featuring one of my photos), and another one on KCET's website.
"Women by Car, Laguna Beach, California," circa 1950, by Paul Outerbridge
The Old Orange County Courthouse is featuring an exhibit entitled "Paul Outerbridge: New Color Photographs from Mexico and California, 1948–1955," through March 21. The exhibit features "recently discovered, dynamic, vibrant color images the the late visionary photographer Paul Outerbridge, who was considered a master of color photography.” A good number of the photos depict scenes from Laguna Beach. A press release with more information is available on the OC Parks website.
Joe Dunn, author of Pocket of Paradise: The Story of Beach Road, will speak at the Dana Point Historical Society on Feb. 26, 7pm, at the City Hall Chambers. Dunn's book traces "the story of Capistrano Beach’s Beach Road from the days of Junipero Serra to the early development by the Doheny family and to the creation of the Hobie Cat sailboat right there on the beach. He introduces the locals, tells the stories, and brings to life the small Southern California beach community that has had a big impact on the country’s surf-and-beach lifestyle culture." Also appearing will be local sailing legend Wayne Schafer.
You may have noticed the recent article in the O.C. Register about the former home of artists Jo and Esther Dendel. (Photo of an interior wall/clock shown above.) The Costa Mesa Historical Society's Museum at 1870 Anaheim Ave. is now featuring an exhibit about the Dendel's arts and crafts, including work produced by their Denwar studios. I can't rely on Register stories to remain linkable these days, but I did find an interesting (and well-illustrated) article about their amazing Costa Mesa home on The CMHS Museum is open Thursdays and Fridays, 10am to 3pm.

And on a final note, the Orange County Historical Society's upcoming field trip to the ghost town of Calico is now completely booked up. But if you're still determined, email to be put on a waiting list in case of cancellations. If there's enough demand, they may even do the trip again someday.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Presidents and Orange County

President Harrison in Santa Ana, 1891. (Photo courtesy Orange County Archives)
Presidents Day is coming soon, so I thought a look at presidential visits to Orange County might be in order. A couple years ago, I wrote about the various presidential visits to Disneyland over the years, and I've certainly written about O.C. native Richard Nixon many times. Today's post includes a few more fun images. Take, for instance, the photo above, showing President Benjamin Harrison at the Santa Ana depot on Apr. 23, 1891. (C.E. French stands behind him in his Civil War uniform.) Harrison was on a whistle-stop tour, and a brief but elaborate reception was held for him.
FDR in Laguna Beach, 1938. (Photo courtesy Orange County Archives)
The photo above shows President Franklin D. Roosevelt riding past The White House Cafe on Coast Highway in Downtown Laguna Beach on July 16, 1938. He was trying to zip down the coast from L.A. to San Diego with minimal interruptions, but Laguna police and nervous Secret Service agents couldn't hold back the crowds surging toward his car. Mayor Howard Heisler took the opportunity to greet the President and local artist Frank Cuprien presented him with a seascape painting. After several minutes the motorcade proceeded again toward its destination.
Hoover visits O.C. in the late 1930s. (Photo courtesy Fullerton Public Library)
In the photo above, former president Herbert Hoover meets with local newspapermen. From left to right: Anaheim Bulletin publisher Lotus Loudon, Santa Ana Register publisher R. C. Hoiles, President Hoover, Orange Daily News editor W. O. Hart, and another (as yet unidentified) newspaper publisher. With little fanfare, Hoover also came to Orange County in 1932, consulting community leaders about his re-election bid. One night, he visited the Hart home in Orange. “The Hart family for years preserved the ‘president's chair,’ where he sat,” said historian Phil Brigandi. “David Hart, then about six, always remembered being brought downstairs in his pajamas to meet the president.”

The image below shows Senator Richard Nixon, running for Vice President, speaking at the Old Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana during a whirlwind campaign tour of his old Southern California haunts. Pat Nixon sits at the lower right of the image. Nixon was born in what is now Yorba Linda but was then an unincorporated part of the Fullerton Township. Other communities strongly associated with Nixon include La Habra, where he opened his first law office; and San Clemente, the location of his “Western White House,” which he called “Casa Pacifica.”
Nixon on the steps of the Old Courthouse in Santa Ana. (Photo courtesy OC Parks)
All this month the Orange County Archives is hosting an exhibit entitled "The Presidents and Orange County," highlighting photographer Patrick B. O'Donnell's images of U.S. presidents visiting O.C. or being visited by Orange Countians. (No, the photos in this blog post are not part of the exhibit -- they are definitely by photographers of earlier generations.)

As a photographer for the Daily Pilot, Cal State Fullerton, and the Whittier Daily News, Pat O’Donnell has captured countless historic moments including Orange County’s encounters with every U.S. president from Lyndon B. Johnson to George W. Bush.

O’Donnell’s career was launched in the late 1950s when he won the Kodak High School Photographer’s Contest while he was a senior at Whittier High School. In addition to a long career as a photojournalist and time as Cal State Fullerton’s Public Affairs Office photographer, O’Donnell has taught photography for more than 20 years at Cal State Fullerton and Orange Coast College. He is a past president of the California Press Photographers Association, the Greater Los Angeles Press Photographers Association, and the Orange County Press Club. Pat O’Donnell and his wife Peggy have lived in Fountain Valley since 1972. Together, they served for years as the official photographers for the Orange County Fair.
A panel from the exhibit. For fun, I added campaign badges from my own collection.
Strangely enough, I featured a few of the photos in this exhibit on my blog back in 2008 -- Long before I even knew who the photographer was. O'Donnell had some of his work up at the Orange County Fair, but I couldn't find a credit line anywhere. I'm glad I not only found out who the photographer was, but also got to meet the guy and spend some time admiring and displaying his work.

The Orange County Archives is open Monday through Friday, 9am to 4:30pm, on the first floor of the Old Orange County Courthouse, 211 W. Santa Ana Blvd., in Santa Ana. (If you visit, stick your head into the office and say hello!) The Archives will also be open for special Saturday hours on Feb. 8,  10am-3pm. And yes, we will be closed on Presidents Day.