Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ben Grabiel

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 12, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The First Europeans In Orange County

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

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

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

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