June 2015 Meeting – The One-Eyed Captain, Free Love, Free Pie & the Founding of Orange County – Speaker: Manny Escamilla

One might well wonder what to expect from an event called, “The One Eyed Captain, Free Love, Free Pie, and the Founding of Orange County.” Attend the Orange County Historical Society’s program at the Heritage Museum of Orange County on June 12, 2015 to find out! OCHS members may attend at no cost. Non-members are $5 at the door. Either way, please RSVP by June 8 to OrangeCountyHistory@gmail.com.

On second thought, it might not hurt to tell you a few more event details,…

Historian and archivist Manny Escamilla of Santa Ana Public Library will speak on the subject of Orange County’s first Superior Court judge, J. W. Towner. The eccentric Captain Towner lost an eye in the Civil War, was a socialist, and belonged to not one but two free love religious communes over the course of his life, including the Oneida Community – famous for its silverware manufacturing.

The evening will also include tours of the historic H. Clay Kellogg House (1898) and Maag House (1899). And silhouette artist Steve Thompson (peoplepapercuts.com) will be on hand to render your portrait in a manner befitting the Victorian theme.

The evening will conclude with pie and cold beverages for all.

The Heritage Museum of Orange County, located at 3101 W. Harvard St., in Santa Ana, is a cultural and natural history center and has been a popular school field trip destination for over 25 years. The centerpiece of the museum, which covers nearly 12 acres in all, is a plaza featuring several historic buildings set amid extensive floral gardens and citrus groves.

Our speaker, Manny Escamilla, is archivist at the Santa Ana History Room at Santa Ana Public Library.  Raised in Santa Ana, he’s always been fascinated by the history of Orange County, and has been successful in his coordination of the Teen History Program, of which many of its members have competed in National History Day, conducted oral histories, and helped digitize local historical material.  He received a BA in history in 2008 from UC Berkeley and, of this writing, is finishing the Archival Studies program at UCLA.

Tours will begin at 6:30 p.m. and the program at 7: 30 p.m. We hope to see you there!

May 2015 Meeting – The New Deal In Orange County – Speaker: Charles Epting

Huntington Beach Pavilion
Photo courtesy of the OC Archives

Charles Epting will discuss “WPA/PWA Architecture and Art in Orange County ” at the next meeting of the Orange County Historical Society, May 14, 2015, 7:30 p.m., at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange.

During the Great Depression, Southern California’s economic woes were compounded by local natural disasters. The 1933 Long Beach earthquake claimed 115 lives. The1938 Santa Ana River flood claimed more than 50 more and also washed out roads and buildings and caused enormous damage to the important citrus industry. And in 1939 our coast was ravaged by a chubasco (violent tropical storm).

Throughout this era, disaster relief and federal “make-work” programs helped transform the local landscape. Orange County’s 130,000 people received a greater density of federal public aid than Los Angeles County’s 2.2 million and San DiegoCounty’s 210,000. Join Charles Epting on this tour of the buildings, bridges, harbors, trails, libraries, highways and other infrastructure gains—many still in use—that were revitalized by the Works Progress Administration, Public Works Administraion, Civilian Conservation Corps and other agencies of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Charles Epting is a recent graduate of the University of Southern California, with a history degree specializing in the early 20th century United States. He is the author of four books as well as various newspaper and magazine articles. He is a research associate for U.C. Berkeley’s Living New Deal program and an American Philatelic Society fellow.

His second book, The New Deal In Orange County, was published in 2014 and focuses on the federal government’s aid to the county during the Great Depression. By chronicling every school and park, post office and government building, Epting shines a light on an important period in Orange County’s history while at the same time explaining the effects of President Roosevelt’s New Deal on both a local and national scale.

April 2015 Meeting – Discovering the History of the Vietnamese in Orange County – Speaker: Dr. Thuy Vo Dang

The Orange County Historical Society will mark the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the beginnings of our local Vietnamese-American community at their upcoming meeting, April 9, 2015, 7:00 p.m. (program begins at 7:30 p.m.) at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. Dr. Thuy Vo Dang, Archivist for the Southeast Asian Archive and Regional History at UCI’s Libraries, will discuss “Black April and the Vietnamese in Orange County.” This program is open to the public at no charge.

When Saigon tragically fell to the communists on April 30, 1975, it marked the end of the long and bloody Vietnam War and sparked a mass exodus by those who valued their lives and their freedom.

Although dispersed throughout the world, many came to central Orange County, where three cities—Westminster, Garden Grove, and Santa Ana— now have “Welcome to Little Saigon” signs. The people here constitute the largest population of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam. They have created flourishing residential neighborhoods and bustling commercial centers and have transformed the social, cultural, economic, and political life of the region.

Prior to 1975, there were a small number of Vietnamese in the United States, many of whom were international students, war brides or military personnel. But Vietnamese Americans today arrived as refugees and immigrants since the end of the war. Although they were lumped together as “refugees,” they were and are diverse in terms of their class, ethnic, regional, religious, linguistic, and ideological backgrounds. Their migration paths varied, and they often struggled with resettling in a new homeland and rebuilding their lives.

Thuy Vo Dang has a doctorate in ethnic studies from the U.C. San Diego. Before her appointment as archivist, Vo Dang served as the Project Director for the Vietnamese American Oral History Project at UCI. It was during this period that OC Weeklydubbed her “The Studs Terkel of Little Saigon.”

Her book, Vietnamese in Orange County, with co-authors Linda Trinh Vo and Tram Le, was published this year by Arcadia Publishing. Images in this book came from UCI’s archival collections and the authors’ personal collections, as well as from journalists, artists, students, and community leaders.

March 2015 Meeting – The Original Villages of Irvine – Speaker: Ellen Bell

Historian Ellen Bell will discuss “The Original Villages of Irvine, 1960-1980” at the next meeting of the Orange County Historical Society, March 12, 2015, 7:00 p.m. (program begins at 7:30 p.m.) at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. This program is open to the public at no charge.

The City of Irvine did not appear by accident. The modern day metropolis, with more than 200,000 residents, was the result of well-designed Master Plan. Citrus Groves and cattle grazing land became a collection of individual Villages, including the Village of Woodbridge, a model for urban planning nationwide. Ellen Bell will discuss the transition of Irvine, from a 100,000-acre blank slate to California’s 15th largest city.

Ellen is the author of Irvine: Images of America, and is a member of the Irvine Historical Society. She writes about local history for the Orange County Registerand Destination Irvine.com.  Her website, OC Day Tripper, is filled with field trip suggestions for exploring Orange County’s historic treasures. Currently, she is producing a series of videos for the City of Irvine, entitled “Hidden Histories.”

January 2015 Meeting – O.C.’s Late Modern Architecture 1970 – 1985 – Speaker: Daniel Paul

Flour Building, Irvine

Architectural historian Daniel Paul will discuss Orange County’s Late Modern architecture at the Jan. 8th, 2015 meeting of the Orange County Historical Society, starting at 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. This program is open to the public at no charge.

Los Angeles was largely built out by 1965, but Orange County certainly was not. This fact, combined with a fair amount of county-wide wealth in the 1970s and 1980s, led to a local building boom. Many of the more visible and most innovative commercial buildings of this recent-past era are Late-Modern in design, often clad in smooth grids of all-over reflecting glass. Daniel Paul will explain the early context of the Late-Modern glass skin design system, and present examples of Orange County’s distinctive Late-Modern architecture. The majority of the buildings to be presented date between 1970 and 1985. No longer new, yet not commonly perceived as “historic,” such buildings are perceived as out of vogue. The buildings are therefore particularly vulnerable to insensitive alterations, or even early demolition.

“Some years ago, Daniel took me on a tour of the Late Modern architecture around Irvine and Newport Beach,” said OCHS President Chris Jepsen. “Based on the subject matter, I didn’t start the trek with much excitement. But it turns out this era of architecture is as interesting as any other, and I learned to see these familiar surroundings with new eyes – which is one of my favorite aspects of discovering local history. I was also surprised to learn how much our local architects impacted national trends.”

Village Investments, Irvine

In 2004 Orange County native Daniel Paul earned a Master’s Degree in Art History from California State University, Northridge. His Master’s Thesis was an early attempt to properly contextualize Late-Modern glass skin architecture: a ubiquitous 1970s era corporate design system that he continues to research. Presently Daniel is a senior architectural historian with the global consulting firm of ICF International. Among his projects, Daniel has landmarked a variety of historic properties in Los Angeles including the Capitol Records building and the entirety of Griffith Park. Daniel is the former Acting Director of the folk art environment “Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village,” is the former Vice-Chairperson of the Los Angeles Conservancy Modern Committee, and is presently a board member of Docomomo SoCal: the regional chapter of a globally active post-war architecture preservation entity. Over the last 15 years, Daniel has given numerous presentations focused upon recent past architecture. His writings on the topic can be found in Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, and The Architect’s Newspaper.

December 2014 Meeting: Show & Tell! – Thursday December 13th, 7:30 p.m. – Trinity Episcopal Church

It’s time to search your attic, closets and garage for an artifact, photograph or object that helps tell us something about Orange County’s past. The Orange County Historical Society’s popular annual “Show & Tell” program will be held December 11, 7:30 p.m., at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange.

What about great-grandpa’s branding iron, or a piece of flatware with the name of an early local hotel stamped on the back?

Perhaps you have a roof tile from a long-gone adobe, or a radio from Leo Fender’s shop, or a prop from an early Disneyland attraction. Maybe you have a cup from Daniger’s Tearoom, a witch trophy from the 1935 Anaheim Halloween Parade, or a menu from a late lamented Orange County restaurant.

Or maybe you just have an outstanding photo of early Orange County that few have seen before. Whatever vintage Orange County curio you may have tucked away, now’s your chance to trot it out, show it off, and tell us something about it.

There will be a sign-up sheet when you arrive at the meeting. People will be called up in order of their position on the list. If we run out of time, we’ll save the list for another meeting, so you’ll still get your chance to share your “piece of history” and a bit of the story behind it.

We can’t wait to see what you bring!

November 2014 Meeting: Author’s Night 2014 – Thursday November 13th, 7:30 p.m. – Trinity Episcopal Church

The Orange County Historical Society’s annual Author’s Night event will be held Thursday, November 13th, at 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N Canal St., in the City of Orange. Topics this year include Huntington Beach, the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, a notable member of the Bixby family, the local impact of the New Deal, and more! After each author speaks briefly about their books, attendees will have an oppurtunity to purchase books, have them signed, and speak with the authors.

Author’s set to appear at OCHS Authors Night 2014 include:

Marcia Lee Harris
Chris Epting
Charles Epting
Zoot Velasco
and Phil Brigandi

This event is open to the public, free, and refreshments will be served.

For more information on this year’s authors, check out this month’s County Courier by
clicking here.

Fall 2014 History Hike: Crystal Cove – Guides: Rick Connella, Phil Brigandi

Join us for a hike to one of the last remaining World War II structures built as part of an elaborate defense system that stretched from just north of Laguna Beach to the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Completed in about 1943, the station–commanding a view of the coastline from Dana Point to Long Beach–was designed to house a crew of four to observe and take readings on enemy ships in conjunction with six other stations.

This four mile round trip hike will be led by Crystal Cove State Park’s interpretive naturalist Rick Connella who writes, “The beauty and panoramic views are magnificent and will entrance you.”

The elevation gain is about 800’ to the site and about 1000’ for the round-trip loop. The degree of difficulty is described as moderate, with a few very steep and rough portions.

When: Saturday, November 1, 2014*
Time: 9:00 a.m.
Length: about 3 hours.
Bring: plenty of water and snacks.

This hike is limited to 20 people.

Reservations are a MUST and should be made by following this link:


Confirmation will be by email and will include additional information regarding parking and where to meet.

*In case of rain, the hike will be rescheduled for Saturday, November 15, 2014.

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.

September 2014 Meeting – Museums in the 21st Century – Speakers: Mark Hall-Patton

Mark Hall-Patton

Mark Hall-Patton – Administrator of the Clark County museum system, and star of TV’s Pawn Stars – will speak on “The Importance of Museums in the 21st Century” at a special Orange County Historical Society program marking the county’s 125th birthday.

This event will be held Sept. 11, 2014, at the Sherman Library & Gardens, 2647 E. Coast Highway, in Corona del Mar. A social hour and optional potluck of appetizers and desserts will begin at 6:30 p.m., followed by the program at 7:30 p.m.

The event is open to the public, but space is limited, so please complete an online RSVP form at http://tinyurl.com/ochssept.

As Administrator for the Clark County, Nevada, museum system, Mark Hall-Patton oversees the Clark County Museum, the Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum, and the Searchlight History Museum. He has been with Clark County for twenty years, and was previously the Director of the San Luis Obispo County Historical Museum and was the first Director of the Anaheim Museum (now the Muzeo). He has worked for both public and private nonprofit museums, and has consulted with numerous start-up and established museums and museum boards.

He is the author of two books, over 400 published articles, and has written and produced 48 local history videos, and is regularly seen on the History Channel’s hit show Pawn Stars as a visiting expert. He has also appeared on American Restorations, The United Stuff of America, America, Facts and Fallacies, and Mysteries at the Museum.

He has been in the museum field for over 37 years, having also worked with museums in California and South Dakota.