October 2020 General Meeting: Millard Sheets and Home Savings

Author Adam Arenson will discuss Millard Sheets and Home Savings at the Orange County Historical Society’s October 8, 2020 meeting at 7:30 p.m. online via Zoom.

Register here to RSVP for this online presentation: https://tinyurl.com/OCHSsheets

For more than three decades, Millard Sheets (1907-1989) and his studio of artists designed Home Savings and Loan branches throughout California, studding their iconic projects with mosaics, murals, stained glass, and sculptures that celebrated both family life and the history of the Golden State. The collaboration between the Millard Sheets Studio and Howard Ahmanson (1906-1968), Home Savings’ executive, resulted in more than 40 branches designed and built between the completion of the first collaboration in 1955 and Ahmanson’s death. It set the course for more than 100 additional branches that bore the Home Savings name until the institution was sold to Washington Mutual in 1998.

Combining private investment and public art, and championing historical themes in a period of dramatic cultural and political change, the Home Savings and Loan buildings are signature structures of mid-century modern architecture, and their story deserves to be known before it is too late to save these remarkable works.

Adam Arenson has created a richly illustrated book, Banking on Beauty: Millard Sheets and Midcentury Modern Design in California (University of Texas Press, 2018), that shines a light on this distinctive style of architecture and art that graced sixty communities throughout Southern California. (To purchase the book at a 30% discount at www.utexaspress.com, OCHS members may use discount code BANK30.)

Arenson is a professor of history and the director of the urban studies program at Manhattan College in the Bronx, NY. Born and raised in San Diego, he holds degrees from Harvard and Yale and is the author of two award-winning books and is co-editor of two others. Professor Arenson has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post, and he has presented his research on Home Savings and Millard Sheets throughout California, including at Palm Springs Modernism Week. He has been awarded a Certificate of Merit for his book and its preservation advocacy by DOCOMOMO-US, which declared, “Arenson’s research has uncovered an extensive legacy of ‘every man modernism’ that was largely unknown and under-appreciated, and brings attention to main street architecture with real design value.”

May 9 Meeting: Women in O.C.’s Punk Rock Scene

Author Stacy Russo and two of the amazing women from her book We Were Going to Change the World: Interviews with Women from the 1970s and 1980s Southern California Punk Rock Scene.

The punk rock scene of the 1970s and 1980s in Southern California is widely acknowledged as one of the most vibrant and creative periods in all of rock and roll history. Orange County was a key focal point of that scene.

Russo’s book captures the stories of thirty-seven women who were active in the punk scene through interviews with musicians, journalists, photographers, and fans. She will begin the evening with an overview of her oral history project that resulted in the book, followed by a discussion of the experiences and influences of growing up in the early punk rock scene in Orange County and beyond. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing.

Panelist Bios:

Laura Beth Bachman lives in Los Angeles where she plays drums and sings in the all-girl, surf/punk trio, The Neptunas. She leverages her education, work ethic, and business experience to help provide healthcare to those in need.  Laura Beth is a liberty lover, truth seeker, and a beat keeper who believes it takes grit to be a woman in this world.

Angelita F. Salas is an Orange County native and has lived in London and Berkeley. She got hooked into punk rock back in the late 70s for its energy and acceptance of all the weird kids – regardless of race/ethnicity. She is now a counselor and faculty member at a community college in Southern California and still loves to go to the occasional punk show – albeit now sitting in the back.

Stacy Russo, a librarian and professor at Santa Ana College, is a poet, writer, and artist. She grew up in the punk rock scene of the 1980s, which was a major influence on her life, while living in Fullerton. Her books include A Better World Starts Here: Activists and Their Work (forthcoming, Sanctuary Publishers); Love Activism (Litwin Books), Life as Activism: June Jordan’s Writings from The Progressive (Litwin Books); and The Library as Place in California (McFarland).

Thursday, May 9
7:30 p.m.
Trinity Episcopal Church

This is a free event and open to the public.  

October 2014 Meeting – Bruce Gelker and the Saddleback Inn – Speakers: Chris Jepsen

Chris Jepsen with Bruce Gelker

Chris Jepsen will present the story of Santa Ana’s famed Saddleback Inn and its founder, Bruce Gelker, at the Oct. 9, 2014 meeting of the Orange County Historical Society, 7:30 p.m., at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange.

The path of Bruce Gelker’s life is completely intertwined with the very fabric of Orange County: From the adobe home he grew up in at Olive, to cowboys, Indians, citrus packing, Santa Ana College football, roadside attractions, the Marine Corps., the post-war development boom, the rise of the Disneyland resort area, the Nixon administration, El Viaje de Portola, and professional sports teams,… just for starters. But probably his most significant Orange County moment was in 1964 when he opened his $1.5 million Saddleback Inn. It had a distinctive style, was much more than just a hotel, and swiftly became a key local landmark and gathering place for businessmen, government officials, politicos, professional athletes, and Orange Countians in general. Celebrities and dignitaries often stayed there when visiting the area.

The Saddleback Inn was located at 1660 E. First St., near the Santa Ana Zoo. It featured an architectural look based loosely on Bernardo Yorba’s home, and was decorated in a style Gelker called “Orange County Americana.” In addition to the hotel, restaurant, lounge, and meeting and banquet rooms, the Inn also featured a variety of shops including The Coachman (men’s clothing), the Western Art Gallery (fine art and antiques), Joan Buck (ladies’ fashions), a wine cellar, a barber shop, a beauty salon, a travel agency, an investment company, the Gelker, Riffle & Rohrer Insurance Agency, and the radio station KYMS 106.3 FM.

The Western Art Gallery was a very high-profile feature of the Inn, drawing all the top Western artists of the day. Gelker’s love for art depicting the Old West continues today, and we will also see samples of some of his favorite works by artists once shown in his gallery.

In the 1980s, the movers and shakers moved and shook their way to newer digs in Newport Beach and Irvine. Meanwhile, the area around the Saddlback Inn was not faring well. In 1984, Gelker sold the Saddleback Inn to a group of investors that included former President Nixon’s Chief of Staff (and key Watergate figure) H.R. Haldeman. From then on, the Inn went into a steady decline, and a series of owners, culminating in a string of fires and the demolition of the majority of the buildings in 2013.

Lobby of the Saddleback Inn

But between its rise and its fall, the story of this landmark Orange County business was full of twists, turns, fascinating personalities, and historic moments.

Our speaker, Chris Jepsen is a local historian and the Assistant Archivist at the Orange County Archives, in addition to serving as president of the Orange County Historical Society. He also maintains The O.C. History Roundup blog and writes the “Ask the O.C. Answer Man” column for Orange Coast magazine.