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.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Plaza in Orange

The first thing you need to know is to not call it “The Circle.”

The city of Orange covers a wide area, and there is a little something for everyone.  From the fancy Orange Hill restaurant on a hill looking west to Signal Hill, to one of the finest Children’s Hospitals (CHOC) found anywhere. It is an eclectic mix of architecture, culture, dining experiences, education and citizenry. 

Photo by Robert A. Estremo
The multi-cultural city has been celebrating its diversity long before multiculturalism became a thing, with shops and a celebration that belongs uniquely to Orange, all centered around a highway round-about.  It lies where Chapman Avenue and Glassell meet in Old Town Orange, just blocks away from Chapman University and right in the heart of the county.

In fact, Old Town Orange comprises the largest National Register District in California. Approximately a square mile in size, it is made up of the Plaza, antique stores, homes and a railroad station… nearly 1200 buildings in all.    

People from out of Orange call it “The Circle,” and if you do, the locals will know right away that you are not from Orange because it is properly called “The Orange Plaza.” In its center is a green park with a fountain and 75 foot flagpole that is open 24/7, 365 days a year.  At Christmas it is decorated with a large tree and a classic Nativity scene: During other parts of the year you will find it seasonally decorated as well. 

The biggest affair takes place over Labor Day Weekend, where all four spokes coming off the hub of the plaza (Chapman East, West, Glassell North and South) hold the International Street Fair.  Each wing is equipped with a stage featuring acts celebrating each street theme by country.  The Plaza is lined with booths offering crafts and art.  The festival began in 1978. 

Along with the entertainment, food booths feature mouth watering treats from all over the world, including Germany, France, the Netherlands, Mexico, Asia… the choices are too many for a single day, so the Festival lasts From Friday through Sunday  (This year August 30 – September 1, 2019).  The theme this year is… wait for it… “Circle the World.”  Yes. Even Orange occasionally slips and calls it the Circle.

The Plaza itself goes all the way back to 1886 when Orange was one of the first cities to incorporate in Orange County. City founders thought the circular access would give the town a pleasing character, and they were right. The Plaza has been featured in many movies, including “Fallen Angel,” “Gumball Rally,” and “Monster in the Closet.”

And just to add one more event: Twice yearly the students of Chapman college hold an unofficial “Undie Run,” where about 2000 students tear off their outerwear down to their skivvies and run from the campus to the Plaza fountain. 

Check out the plaza and the wonderful stores that surround it. The Orange Plaza area is an Orange County “Must See.”

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Goat Hill Junction Railroad

Photo from the Orange County Model Engineers

When Newport Harbor High opened in 1930, a cross-town rivalry developed between the Newport Beach teens and those who lived in Costa Mesa.  Costa Mesa kids referred to the high school on the hill over Newport Beach as “Mackerel Flats,” while the NHH students called Costa Mesa “Goat Hill.”

There are a couple of references that remain today recalling the moniker. On Newport Blvd. near 19th street there is a dive bar called “the Goat Hill Tavern.” The other notable reference is the Goat Hill Junction Railroad, located on Placentia Avenue in Costa Mesa.

In 1977, a spin-off group from Long Beach founded the Orange County Model Engineers (originally the Orange County Live Steamers), and began looking for an appropriate place to be able to permanently develop and display a miniature railroad.  They first considered Mile Square Park, but developers balked at the idea of allowing a large swath of land for what seemed to be something of limited interest.

Undaunted, the OCME took their search elsewhere, including Huntington Beach and Heritage Park in Irvine.  But none of the proposals took root. Finally, they were approached by the city of Costa Mesa, and in 1989, they broke ground on what was to become their permanent home just off of Placentia along the edge of Fairview Park. They opened in 1991.

Today the Goat Hill Railroad operates regularly on the third weekend of each month, offering free rides to families fascinated with the tiny railroad. Originally a simple loop, the train track has grown to over five miles of track, including a bridge over Placentia.   You can also arrange to hold special events with the railroad on closed weekends.

Goat Hill Junction has one of the largest miniature train layouts on the west coast, enjoyed by young and old alike.  They are a non-profit organization and welcome your donations. They not only offer free rides, but lately many of the older engineers have begun apprenticing young “at risk” youth to help them learn valuable skills in steam machinery operation. 

The volunteer staff are all very friendly and are happy to answer any questions you may have.

There is free parking, and you can ride as often as you like.  Lines can get long midday, so plan to arrive early.

Goat Hill Junction Railroad operates from 10 am to 3 pm. Telephone: (949)548-7246 in Fairview Park on Placentia Ave. and Swan Drive in Costa Mesa. 2480 Placentia Costa Mesa, CA 92626.

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 ...