Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Knott's, Modern architecture, Irvine, Bowers, etc.

So the good news is you're finally tall enough to go on the Sky Jump and the Corkscrew at Knott's Berry Farm. The bad news is the Corkscrew (the world's first inverting steel roller coaster) left the farm in 1989 and is now at Silverwood Theme Park in Idaho. Also, the parachutes of the Sky Jump ceased operation in 1999. Ah, well,... We like the Calico Mine Ride better anyway.

Architectural historian extraordinare Alan Hess has two upcoming speaking engagements you can attend. First, tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. at the Laguna Art Museum, Alan will discuss California Modern architecture. Next month, to celebrate the City of Irvine's 50th Anniversary, Alan will speak at the Great Park Gallery, Sept. 19, 1:00 p.m. You may still have trouble saying "Great Park" with a straight face, but this is a darn good reason to drive out there.

I noticed two more articles on the Bowers Museum Blog that I hadn't noticed before. One is about the amazing coffered ceiling in their Rancho Room. The other describes the background on a photo of a burst solar heater during the "Big Freeze" of 1937. Yes, that "technology" has been around since at least 1891.

And you thought Al Gore invented solar panels! He did not. That's the Internet you're thinking of.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Flogged like a beast" in Dana Point!

Book cover art appealing to a, um, ... niche audience. 
It's pulp non-fiction! I've never before seen a book related to Orange County history presented with a cover quite like this. Two Years Before the Mast is, of course, Richard Henry Dana, Jr.'s classic memoir of life as a sailor in the 1830s (published in 1840). It was a muckraking book, intended to shine a light on the terrible treatment of common sailors and to inspire reform. Locally, however, it is now sometimes misidentified as primarily being a romantic adventure tale.

The section of the book that's retold most often in O.C. is the part where Dana described his visit to the cove below San Juan Capistrano that we now call Dana Point. He arrived as a crew member aboard the Pilgrim, which had come to collect cow hides from the mission. He described the area and recounted the process of flinging hides down from the bluff-tops to the beach below, where they were gathered and taken by rowboat to the waiting ship. He famously called this cove "the only romantic spot on the coast."

Every year, the Dana Point Historical Society does a nonstop public reading of Dana's book. In Dana Point Harbor, there's a replica of the Pilgrim, which is visited by thousands of school children each year. The harbor also hosts an annual Tallship Festival. And a larger-than-life statue of Dana (which looks nothing like him) seems to gaze out toward the horizon. But seldom do you see the Chamber of Commerce using the sort of language you find on this book cover:
The back cover. Only slightly less lurid than the front..
This 1953 paperback edition from the Almat Publishing Corp. was "edited for modern reading" by Marshall McClintock. Almat's Pyramid Books imprint had a knack for churning out pulps with half-naked people on the covers. They featured titles like The Shame of Mary Quinn, The Heavenly Sinner, and The Divine Passion. It's sort of hilarious that they gave the same treatment to Dana.

My thanks to Mark for sending this copy along to the Orange County Archives. One never knows what amazing O.C.-related curiosities he's going to send our way. Just when I think I've seen every form of Orange Countiana, he or one of our other friends/patrons surprises me with something obscure. And that's a very good thing. It's a slow day when you don't learn something new.
Promotional slug from inside the book.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Who owned O.C.’s roads in 1918?

Motoring in Orange County, 1910s
The history of our roads is fascinating, and today I came across a curious 1918 newspaper article that sheds some light on that history.  But first, a bit of background…

Abel “Horse Face” Stearns (and his Stearns Rancho Company) was once the largest landholder in Southern California. He had vast holdings across today’s Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Orange Counties. Here in O.C., his lands included the following ranchos: La Habra, Los Coyotes, San Juan Cajón de Santa Ana, Las Bolsas and Bolsa Chica. But the drought of the 1860s devastated the cattle industry and Stearns was forced to throw in with a real estate partnership to get out from under crushing debt. The partnership, called the Robinson Trust, successfully brought Stearns back into the black by selling land. Stearns died in 1871, but his company went marching along.

The following article, from the May 13, 1918 Santa Ana Register, refers to a document in Orange County’s Book of Deeds 324, page 193:


The county has received an unusual, rather remarkable deed. It covers strips of property from Yorba to the sea, and it slides into deeds given as far back as 1868. The deed, presented to the Board of Supervisors today by the Stearns Rancho Company, is for all interest that the company has in strips of land reserved for road purposes.

As deeds were given by Alfred Robinson, trustee for the ranch company, from 1868 on down to the present day, there were reservations made for sixty-foot roads at township and section lines and for forty-foot roads at quarter-section lines. These reservations left title in the ranch company. Since then, whenever a new road was needed to which the county did not have a deed, the ranch company has been called upon to give deeds.

The matter has been of considerable annoyance to the ranch company as well as to others. The ranch company decided to give over to the county every right it has in the reservations, and to that end it has offered the county a deed. That deed is a blanket deed. It merely says that to the county it deeds all of its reservations for road, natural stream and ditch purposes.
Whittier Blvd. in the La Habra area, looking west, circa 1918

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Malls and shopping centers, 1977

Fashion Island, Newport Beach.
Today I stumbled across a copy of the Shopping Center Development Handbook, a 1977 book about the planning of malls and large shopping centers published by the Urban Land Institute. It's fascinating reading if you're interested in such things, and it uses examples from all over the country. I thought I'd share the book's few Orange County images here on the blog.

Westminster Mall sits on a 93-acre triangular site.
Nostalgia is to history what pine-tree-shaped air fresheners are to forests. But that doesn't mean I don't have something nostalgic hanging from my rearview mirror. Nostalgia has its place, and sometimes it makes us stop and think about the larger and deeper scope of history.

Little inspires more nostalgia in Orange Countians than the shopping malls and shopping centers they grew up with. For me, it's memories of The Broadway, B. Dalton Books, Big Boy Jr., and the fresh-squeezed lemonade stand at Huntington Center (before it became the mess that is "Bella Terra"). It's also Silverwood's, koi ponds, Modernist playgrounds, and tostadas in the Robinson's lunchroom at Fashion Island. For you, it may be fond memories of shopping with your parents or friends at the Mall of Orange, the Laguna Hills Mall, or Fashion Square.
La Paz Plaza, Mission Viejo

I hope at least a few of our local malls survive. It's hard to get nostalgic over cookie-cutter big box stores.