Wednesday, September 2, 2020

 The Infamous Modesta Avila

There are a lot of people expressing their opinion regarding what constitutes a peaceful protest, and how far people are willing to go to make their viewpoint known.  But did you know that the first female felon, indeed, first official felon and state prisoner from Orange County, was a woman named Modesta Avila.  Her crime: Protesting. In fact, Avila died in prison for her crime.

What did she do?  She hung up laundry. 

Avila was born in the late 1860's (exact year unknown) in San Juan Capistrano, and managed, in her short life, to earn herself quite a reputation.  She had prior arrests for "vagrancy," a general term that was very often leveled against women for prostitution.  She was often described as attractive, and upon her death her obituary even described her as "a well-known favorite of the Santa Ana boys."

So perhaps she was a bit passionate when she took to defending her property.  On her mother's death, she inherited a piece of property on the northern end of San Juan Capistrano, and raised chickens.  But when the Santa Fe Railroad built their tracks across her land just 15 feet from her house, Modesta Avila protested by hanging her laundry across the railroad tracks. 

Others say she went so far as to also lay a railroad tie across the track, and even erect a post between the rails with a sign that read "This land belongs to me.  And if the railroad wants to run here, they will have to pay me ten thousand dollars!"

Enter Max Mendelson, representative of the Santa Fe Railroad in San Juan Capistrano.  He removed the blockage, informed Avila that the Railroad was most certainly in their rights to run there, and warned her to not try it again.  

No arrest was made at the time, yet at one point, Avila somehow got the idea in her head that she had won, because she threw a large party in celebration of the impending collection of ten grand.  But instead of the money, the county sheriff came and arrested her -four months after her protest.  Single and now pregnant, the cards were stacked against Modesta Avila.  The railroad wanted Avila to be made an example and warning against anyone else protesting the mighty Santa Fe. 

It was also her misfortune to be tried by judge Edward Eugenes, who was anxious to seal his reputation as a law and order kind of guy.  He had just been elected to the state assembly, and used the opportunity to make certain the first criminal to be convicted was his. 

But there was a problem.  The trial ended in a hung jury, 6-6.  Eugenes set a retrial, and now it was becoming increasingly evident Avila was pregnant.  Avila's attorney, George Hayford, confirmed the pregancy to the public.  The reputation didn't help her case, and she was convicted and sentence to spend three years in San Quentin State.  Hayford appealed, but lost the appeal on a technicality.  

There is no record of what happened to Avila's child. One gentleman who called himself her boyfriend did so at his own peril.  He was fired from his job as the county pushed forward a reputation for clean living and a low tolerance for criminal elements Just short of three years, Avila caught pneumonia and died in San Quentin, at about the age of 24.  

That is pretty much the end of Modesta's story.  She nearly got away with her protest, until she overplayed her hand and crossed paths with some ambitious politicians. She was the first person in the county to be arrested, tried and convicted. But there was one final note in her obituary Published in The Santa Ana Standard, the last words were this: "Let those who are without sin throw the first stone."

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Back Bay Trail

As you drive down Jamboree Blvd, just past Bristol, the road takes a gentle descending turn to the left as you travel over a bridge where the Santiago Creek meets Newport Back Bay.  A sprawling delta that connects to Newport Harbor, Back Bay covers over 140 acres of waterways containing many bird and animal species. 
Newport Back Bay-Photograph by D Ramey Logan

Formed during the Pleistocene Epoch (2 million to 11,000 years ago), the area was home to many large mammals.  Fossil remains of mammoths, giant sloths and bison have been found here. As glacial masses receded, it carved out this shallow bed that led to the ocean.  In more recent history, Gabrielino Indians lived here, hunting and fishing, until they abandoned the area during the California mission years. 

Now owned by the Irvine Company, the Newport Back Bay has undergone many changes in the past 100 years.  For a time the area was used to make salt by cutting into the bed of the bay, creating drying beds, and letting captured water evaporate, leaving behind sea salt.  But in 1969 the bay was flooded by torrential rains, and the salt works was destroyed. The ecological impact on the bay was devastating, and for several years the bay was clogged and flooded often. 

Developers wanted to create a water-skiing attraction in the lower part of the bay, but preservation-minded citizens began to rally to restore Newport Back Bay. Preservationists won the day, and a massive dredging project was begun, removing the remnants of the salt flats, and restoring the original depth and natural water flow. 

Many species that had disappeared from the area began to return, and today the Newport Back Bay and surrounding bluffs serve as an ecological preserve. 

You can visit the bay easily by taking a right off of Jamboree on East Bluff Drive, just past the bridge. Park along the street, and descend down the drive on foot... or perhaps the better option is on bicycle, as the Back Bay trail is over ten miles long, terminating behind the Hyatt Newporter Hotel at Newport Dunes. While some do travel by car, we don't recommend it because there is so much to see up close.

It is hard to imagine, many large mammals frequent back bay, including coyotes, raccoons, skunks, and even an occasional bobcat. For Marine life, several species of algae serve to attract small fish, like anchovy and mullet.  Invertebrates are also here in the form of worms and various species of moluscs, like clams, mussels, and fiddler crabs.  The list is lengthy, but none of it should be eaten, as  the runoff that makes its way to Back Bay contains toxic bacteria.  Birds abound, and the plant species have recovered nicely, not without the good effort of volunteers. 

Newport's Back Bay is one of Orange County's largest treasures. Other activities that are open to the public include kayaking, canoeing, picnicking, horseback riding, and bird watching. The trails tend to be crowded with people on the weekends. Newport Back Bay is open from 7:00 a.m. to sunset, and the Ecological Information center is open 7:00 am to 4:00 pm every day of the week except Monday.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Brea's Art In Public Places

In 1975, California, like the rest of the country, was dealing with cultural shifts.  Like cities struggled to find their own identities as the adult population shifted from the Greatest Generation to their offspring, the Baby Boomers. Those boomers began putting down roots, but wanted to do it on their own terms.  
Jewel of the Nile by Marton Varo, Birch east of Randolph & Civic Center

Ascending Dancer by Robert Holmes, 
West side Brea Blvd. North of Central
Some cities began to see major shifts in the way they were growing, and sitting on the north edge of Orange County with neighbors La Habra and Fullerton, the little citrus and oil industry town was developing rapidly.  Housing developments were springing up, and with those homes the need for support was growing.  A large new indoor mall was planned at the edge of town next to the new 57 freeway that tied Pomona down to the Orange Crush, where Inerstate 5 intersected. 

Business was headed to Brea, but the city planners wanted to do something that set the little community apart from the neighboring cities.  So the city adopted an ordinance that for any new construction that would occur within city limits, developers had to include a work of art that could be done in any  variety of mediums: it just needed to stand up against the elements and be easily viewed by the public. 
Thus the Brea Art in Public Places program was begun, and over the years the collection has grown to over 170 sculptures and mosaics, many by world famous artists like Marton Varo and Nikki de St. Phalle.  All works are funded by the developer, maintained by the property owner, and wisely must go through an approval process prior to installation. They vary in style from iron sculptures, marble statues and water fountains.  

To give yourself a tour, first visit the city's Art In Public website and refer to the interactive map shown here: 
Map is copyright © Open Street Map

A complete list of works, artist, sponsor and location is also available.  

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Cook’s Corner

Photo from Wikipedia
One of the first articles we wrote here at the OCYDS was about the Bandit of Tomato Springs and the first law enforcement officer to be killed in service.  As it happens, that tale unfolded near the site of another Orange County Treasure, Cook’s Corner.

Often called simply “Cook’s” by the customers, the bar has been attracting customers ever since 1926, when the son of rancher Andrew Jackson Cook took a small cabin on the family ranch and converted it into a restaurant for local ranchers and farmhands.  Earl Jack “E.J." named the place in honor of his father, who owned the surrounding 180 acres from a land grant in 1884.

Shortly thereafter, Congress passed the Twenty-first amendment, effectively cancelling out the 18th amendment that had introduced Prohibition to the country.  Now the country was still trying to recover from the stock market crash of 1929, and that gave E.J. the opportunity to sell alcohol at his little establishment hidden in the Trabuco Hills. Cook’s became a fully functioning bar, and business began to boom.

It became so good that E.J. decided to expand. In 1946, WWII had come to an end, and the Santa Ana Army base sold E.J. their old mess hall.  E.J. moved it to the ranch, and the business grew.

Because of its remote location (a fairly hidden spot in the scenic hills that made for a good ride), Cook’s became a favorite spot for bike gangs.  The movie Easy Rider was making riding motorcycles cooler than ever for an alternative crowd, and Cook’s was regularly surrounded by rows of motorcycles.  Now an official roadhouse, E.J. sold his little tavern, the house, and a surrounding 40 acres to to Victor Villa and Volker Streicek, owners of a popular motorcycle parts shop in Santa Ana.

Villa and Streicek were proud that their establishment, away from the prying eyes of regular law enforcement, seldom encountered trouble even when rival bike gangs showed up at the same time.  They enforced a rule: no club was ever allowed to fly their club’s colors during their stay. Cook’s belonged to no gang, and so every gang was welcome. It became neutral ground, and peace prevailed.

As OC became more citified, Cook’s became less of a remote site as housing tracts encroached nearer to Santiago Canyon. Now baby boomers were arriving; husbands and wives with their pink leather and sparkling motorcycle helmets showing up… and then they began to bring their older kids.

Today, Cook’s remains somewhat removed from the beaten path, and many of the rough and tumble customers from the old days remain as the wise sages in residence.  Millennials come and listen to bands play at the well-equipped stage, Cook’s sponsors regular events, such as fundraisers for CHOC and even an annual “blessing of the bikes,” courtesy of nearby St. Michael’s Abbey.  There are hiking and riding trails for plenty of off-road adventure.

You can visit Cook’s at 19152 Santiago Canyon Rd, Trabuco Canyon, CA 92679. Be sure to check out their website for hours and upcoming events.

© 2019 Robert Clemmons

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

1000 Steps Beach

Whenever you check out any of the sites we tell you about at the OC You Don’t See, we want to stress the importance of taking good care to be safe.  Today’s adventure is one of those that we recommend you do some homework before you go and be certain you visit when tides are low.

One of the lesser known beaches in Laguna Beach is 1000 Steps Beach, and the local residents like it like that. In spite of their best efforts to keep it quiet, though, 1000 Steps has become a popular adventure for many visitors.

Park around 9th street in South Laguna near PCH, and head toward the beach. There is a very long set of stairs (about 200 steps) that will take you down to the beach. Why go?  First of all, the beach is beautiful and less populated simply because it isn’t the easiest place to get to. Second, there are some very interesting natural features, like caves, steep bluffs, and tidepools. Third, there are the concrete saltwater pools.

During the summer season you will find a lifeguard on duty along with other beach amenities, like a restroom and showers. But in order to access some of the unique features, you will need to ignore some signs telling you no trespassing and find your way through a cave.  The lifeguards often help but be certain to wear decent shoes. The cave is why you need to check tides, because once high tide comes in, you can find yourself in serious danger. When lifeguards are on duty, they will close the cave during high tide.

Once through the tunnel, climb over a couple of rocky points and you will find a smaller beach, and beyond that, the concrete pools. Keep heading south.

If at all possible, visit during the week, because weekends get crowded and often rowdy.  The pools are on private property, so please respect the owner’s wishes. If caught you could be fined. But the beach area is public, and you can enjoy the view and visit the tidepools as you wish. 
Photo via Google Earth

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The LAB Anti-Mall

In the 1980’s, the face of retail had drastically changed.  For decades, each little city in Southern California had at least one “downtown” area; the classic main street of the town where folks would go to fill a prescription, buy a pair of shoes, get a haircut and stop at the mom and pop grocery to pick up a few items. 

By the 80’s, all those little family run shops were slowly losing business to corporate stores.  Supermarkets made it tough for family groceries to compete. Little dress shops were now butting heads with giants like Wet Seal and Contempo Casuals.  Malls were being constructed next to freeways that offered shady walkways, or sometimes enclosed buildings with air conditioning.

The malls grew, becoming enormous shopping centers with anchor stores like Sears and J.C. Penny; corporate monsters that sold everything imaginable.  Clothing and shoe stores lost their uniqueness, trading instead on big box recognition and identity. Bookstores competed to have the most floorspace, not necessarily the most well-read cashiers.  And the little shops?  They began to close.

But even as Goliaths grow, there are always young shepherds to fight, and in 1993, one little mall sprung up that was unlike the rest.  For beginners, it looked more like a temporary festival cobbled together from recycled materials. Built in and around a closed goggle factory, The LAB identifies itself as the Anti-Mall; a shopping center unlike any other.

Photo from Panaramio
The LAB  (which stands for “Little American Business”) was created with uniqueness in mind. Squeezed in a little corner between the 73 and the 55 freeway on Bristol, you will find shops here unlike any other mall on earth. 

The LAB is a gathering of food, art, ideas and genius.  Dine at Bootleggers, or pick up some Good Time Donuts. Visit the Gypsy Den, lend an ear at Cream Tangerine Music, or check out the Little Penguin shop.  Each store is as unique as they can be, and they often share their space with special events, such as live entertainment or even Yoga with beer. For a complete listing of stores, visit their website at

The LAB is open Sunday thru Thursday from 10AM – 9PM and Friday/Saturday 10AM – 10PM.  Head south on Bristol from the 405 freeway to 2930 Bristol Street in Costa Mesa.  

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Grand Canyon of Orange County

Orange County has a wide diversity of terrain, and while many people may bemoan the development of what seems to be every corner, There is one open space area that has been set apart from development.  Thanks to the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, more than 30,000 acres of open space has been reserved to remain undeveloped in Orange County.  And one area is especially unique.

Known as “The Sinks,”within the Limestone Canyon Nature Preserve of 4000 acres, you can find a natural canyon that resembles Arizona’s Grand Canyon, as perhaps the canyon looked when it was in it’s early development.   

The Sinks require a little hiking to access, but by visiting the Irvine Conservancy’s website, ( you can join a guided tour of the area.   Access to Limestone Canyon Nature Preserve is granted only through the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. The easiest way to hike to the Sinks is to go on a “wilderness access day”, usually the first Saturday of each month from 7 am – 1 pm.  On these days, you have independent access to explore the park as you choose.

According to their site, “It is a moderate 7.6 mile round trip hike.  Once you reach the Sinks, there is a viewing platform that provides a great vantage point to explore the deep canyon carved in the sandstone bedrock.  Make sure to bring your camera!  The scenery is breathtaking!”

Along the way you will discover many plants unique to the area, and perhaps even encounter some wildlife: but be careful.  Some of that fauna is dangerous.  Our hills are home to rattlesnakes and even mountain lions.  That’s why group travel is the best option.

Photo by Jim Tarpo Photography
Close to civilization, but a world apart, visit Limestone Canyon for a taste of the old Orange County. 

To get to Limestone Canyon, Head North on Jamboree Blvd. to E. Santiago Canyon and turn right. Keep an eye on your odometer for .7 mile, and turn into the Limestone Canyon Park.  If you hit Silverado Canyon, you’ve gone too far. 

The Irvine Ranch Conservancy is a non-profit organization that welcomes donations and volunteers.

 The Infamous Modesta Avila There are a lot of people expressing their opinion regarding what constitutes a peaceful protest, and how far pe...