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.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Bunnyhenge and the Bad Dog

Lest you think Orange County has little to get upset about, consider Bunnyhenge. 

In 2015 the City of Newport Beach was putting the final touches on their newly designed, revamped, and really interesting Civic Center, located between MacArthur Blvd and Avocado Street. The Library got a facelift, the Administration has a wavy exterior to match the beach theme of the town… And a large circle of bunnies sit atop the hill playing the weirdest stare-out game you have ever seen. 

There are 14 of the critters, and a great deal of thought was given to their creation. Each sculpture stands about 3-1/2 feet tall, and the wascally wabbits have been creeping out many residents ever since they were revealed. 

Created by the designers at PWP Landscape architecture, the bunnies were selected over several other species considered, including lizards, quail, turtles, and seagulls, as they tried to get the right animal to “fit the vibe of Newport Beach.” Bunnies. Yes. Bunnies. 

The city was hoping to create an instantly recognizable landmark that would inspire children to play and imagine. But many of the residents questioned the price of the artwork, which came in at a whopping $221,000. 

Also for your viewing pleasure nearby: A two story black dog stands next to the Orange County Museum of Art, leg lifted. Occasionally vandals have been known to add yellow spray paint to the building, in case you had any doubt of the dog’s intent. The “Bad Dog” sculpture was created by artist Richard Jackson. 

Children do play at Bunnyhenge, as the sculpture has come to be known. But many curmudgeons have called the rabbits satanic or spaced out at the least. They continue to point to the bunnies as a tremendous waste of money. But the bunnies are unfazed by the negativity. They sit in a perfect circle, staring off with blank eyes at whatever you imagine.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Seal Beach Red Car Museum

It wasn’t all that long ago that Southern California had a comprehensive mode of public transportation system known as the Pacific Electric Streetcar, or more commonly, the Red Car. Running for 60 years from 1901 to 1961, the privately-held system connected Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties in one of the nation’s largest network of trolleys, railcars and busses.

Largely running on a standard gauge track powered by overhead electric cables, the sprawling network of tracks ran routes connecting Los Angeles to Covina, Redlands, Corona, Baldwin Park, Torrance, La Habra and Newport Beach. They were efficient and comfortable, giving riders easy access to downtown Los Angeles and neighboring communities.

Photo: The Seal Beach Red Car Museum
The Red Car partnered with another system, the downtown Los Angeles Yellow Car, and met with much success as developers began to construct new communities like Angeleno Heights and Huntington Beach.  Over 900 miles of track made up the network in its heyday in 1920, and everyone used the Red Car.  The history of expansion, ownership and partnering companies is complex, yet amazingly, it all worked.

As the Southern California population grew, officials began to realize the lumbering Red Cars (top speed 14.8 MPH) were not going to meet the demands of traffic generated by all these communities. The Automobile club came up with a proposal in 1930 for an “elevated motorway system” that would replace many of the major Red Car routes. As traffic mounted, the street-bound Red Cars were often delayed.

Sections of the line that were least travelled began to be closed.  The Whittier/Fullerton area lost their line in 1938; in 1940 more closures hit Redondo Beach, Newport Beach, Sawtelle, and Riverside. The freeway system began construction, and when the San Bernardino Freeway began construction to connect to the Santa Ana, the junction area near Union Station in Los Angeles became nearly impassable for the Red Car.

The Red Car’s fate was sealed, and the system steadily declined as it became obsolete. Under new ownership by the MTA, the last car ran the Long Beach run in 1961.

A truncated homage to the Red Car’s is paid at Disney’s California Adventure sporting a streetcar designed in a typical Red Car style.  But to see a real Red Car that actually ran on the tracks, take a visit to Seal Beach, where the Red Car Museum resides.
The museum is small and housed in what was once the Red Car system’s maintenance vehicle, the Tower Car, vehicle No. 1734.  You can find it on Electric Avenue near Main Street, next to the Library. You can watch a video that recreates a ride on the rails, see artifacts, and visit with docents who can show you signs, tickets, hats, pictures and other memorabilia.  It is open the second and fourth Saturdays from Noon to 3 p.m Donations are accepted. Call: (562) 683-1874.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Orange County Parrots

photo from

In the spring and summer, it is not uncommon for OC’ers to wake up to the call of wild parrots.

Okay. It’s more like a screeching.

In many cities of Orange County, from Garden Grove to Yorba Linda, you are likely to find the non-native birds chasing each other through the non-native eucalyptus trees.  The trees were brought and planted by ranchers hoping to make wind rows from the fast-growing Australian trees. The parrots’ origin is a little less traceable.

Most of the parrots here are red crowned parrots, originally from Mexico. Some speculate that since habitats in Mexico have been lost, the migratory birds headed north. Most people prefer to tell the story of an unnamed Orange County pet shop that caught fire one night in the 1980’s. The story says that the owner, in a panic to save the birds, released them into the streets, and off they flew to live and breed anew.

Others tell more disdainful stories, one blaming the corporate and now defunct Lion Country Safari for releasing the birds when they closed. Still others cite illegal bird smugglers dumping their inventory before being cornered by the law. And we are pretty certain they are not animatronic refugees from Disney’s Tiki room. 

Whatever the source, the birds are here en-masse, at least for the time being. Other species have been spotted, including the red lored parrot, the lilac-crowned, the yellow headed, and a couple of species of parakeets, the mitered and the rose-ringed.  In addition, there are rarer sightings of blue macaws, which are most certainly the descendants of an individual-owned bird that got loose.

We ourselves rescued a small budgie parakeet from starvation in the Orchard Hills Shopping center in Irvine.  We named him Chico, because that’s the store nearest him when we found him.  Winestyles was closer, but it didn’t seem to be a very bird-like a name.

Sometimes loved, sometimes hated, the birds are doing well here, which is good for the species. Many ornithologists consider the parrots to be endangered in other parts of the world.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Marconi Automotive Museum

If there was one lesson John Marconi wanted to pass on to his children, it was this: “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”  John began working in a steel mill in Ohio when he was just 17 years of age making $7.50 a week.  He married and raised a family of four children: two daughters, and two sons. John steadily rose in the company, eventually becoming supervisor over several hundred people, demonstrating his work ethic to his children.

It was a lesson son Dick Marconi never forgot.  When Dick got married in the 1950’s, he and his wife brought their daughter to California with just $500 in Dick’s pocket.  He immediately sent out hundreds of letters to various companies in search of work.  He eventually landed a sales position with a pharmaceutical company and began his quest to find his own fortune.

But Dick began to have some misgivings about his career.  “How come,” he pondered, “Do people wait until they are sick to seek health?”  Shortly after starting to work for another company, Dick ran into a young man who was very charismatic but had a troubled past. Mark Hughes was only 17 but had an idea that appealed to Marconi. He asked Dick if he would help him start a company that promoted healthy living. 

Dick was never one to put in half of an effort. He remembered well one of his mother’s sayings: “Coming in second means you are first in a long line of losers.” Dick threw all his energy into the young company, and that little company became Herbalife, the world’s largest manufacturer of vitamins, food supplements and weight-loss products.

With his success, Dick began indulging his love of cars.  His brother Ray had won the family car in a contest when he was young, and Dick developed a taste for muscle cars.  When he found a classic, Dick bought it. That led to an interest in open wheel racecars, and eventually Dick wanted to try racing for himself.  In 1994 he joined the SCCA and entered the Long Beach Grand Prix.  He came in 8th.  Dick was the oldest driver to ever qualify and finish in the top 10.

John Marconi had another philosophy he lived by: “Learn, Earn and Return,” and Dick felt it was time to do something to return to the world some of the benefit of his success.  Dick and wife Bo hit upon an idea of taking his car collection and creating a museum showcasing it.  They began the Marconi Automotive Museum and Foundation for Kids, and if you are an auto buff, prepare to be impressed. They say they hold the largest collection of Ferrari’s in the US.

Located in Tustin near the 55 Freeway, you can visit the Marconi Museum on most weekdays unless an event is being prepared (they are closed on most weekends) and browse through over 70 cars at your leisure (a $5 donation is suggested).  Money donated goes toward children’s charities, such as CHOC, Childhelp, Olive Crest and the Orange County Rescue Mission. 

The museum is available to hold special events (especially charitably oriented events), weddings, and hosts several events of their own, including a Fight Night Dinner (yes… real boxing), and their Open House Meet the Founder event, this year on August 11, 2019. 

Visit the Marconi Museum at 1302 Industrial Drive in Tustin. Call first to confirm if they are opened that day (714) 258-3001, or for more information regarding events.  
Photo by Brian Paradis

Monday, July 8, 2019

Mooning the Amtrak

This is it.  Saturday July 13.

For the past 40 years, people have been mooning the passing Amtrak train as it grinds past a little dive bar in Laguna Niguel named Mugs Away Saloon.  The bar sits across the street from the railroad tracks, and if you go on the second Saturday in July, everyone elbows for a spot along the chain link fence for the honor of dropping their drawers.
Photo Credit Chuck Coker, Flicker

While the story origin varies depending on who is talking, tradition say that on July 14, 1979 a crusty regular of the dive bar offered to buy a beer for anyone who dared bare their backside to the next passing train.  Ever since then, people have been flocking to Mugs Away for the annual event. So Steeped in tradition, the Amtrak actually slows down on that day as it passes by.

For a while, the spectacle was getting quite raunchy.  What started out as a little prank grew into a full-blown, frat party-like atmosphere.  People brought their RV’s to park in some of the nearby parking lots in order to reserve a spot, tailgate, and watch the fun.

Mugs Away Saloon is a small, stifling little room with insufficient air conditioning, and on the day of the event they hire a really bad nostalgia band.  No matter. No one comes for the music.  They barely come for the beer anymore.  They just want to watch the debauchery unfold.

A few years ago, the Laguna Niguel police department “cracked down” on the mooning, as too many people were showing much more than a brief flash of butt.  The following year, things were much more subdued, but as time has passed people continue the push the envelope.  Skimpy (but legal) attire is often on display, as passengers on the train cheer and give thumbs up to the crowd.

If you want to take part, plan to arrive early, and stay late: Planning on doing a drive-by isn’t suggested. Some years people are required to demonstrate they have business along the route in order to pass. These days, most of the local shops just shut down. 

The address for Mugs Away Saloon is 27324 Camino Capistrano, Laguna Niguel, CA 92677

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Pirates of Dana Point

When you think of pirates and Orange County, you probably start hearing a song in your head about “A pirate’s life for me.”  For the most part, a pirate’s life wasn’t very long.  Once they started a life of pillaging, plundering, and not giving a hoot, a pirate soon became known as a criminal, and was headed for either the gallows or Davy Jones’ locker within two or three years.
From The Bowers Museum
One such pirate managed to outlive the average, and as it would happen, Hippolyte Bouchard spent many days hoping to get a foothold along the California Coast in order to claim it for his home, Argentina.
More a privateer than a buccaneer (meaning he did pirate-like things on behalf of a country), Bouchard was one of the first people to circumnavigate the globe seeking adventure and riches.  He fought in scores of conflicts, each one bloodier and crueler than the previous.  He sailed to the Hawaiian Islands where Bouchard met with Kamehameha I.  Mutineers has seized control of one of Argentina’s ships named the Santa Rosa and tried to sell it to the Kamehameha. 
Bouchard recognized some of the mutineers during his investigation and realized their treachery.  Through complex negotiations with the Hawaiian Ruler, (Kamehameha expected to be repaid for the ship), Bouchard gave the king his sword and Commander’s hat in exchange for the now largely dismantled Santa Rosa.  He had it refitted, pursued the mutineers to Kauai, where he had them savagely whipped and executed.
Next stop: California, to exploit the Spanish trade.
They took their ship and the Santa Rosa and headed east toward the Monterey Peninsula. Bouchard seized control of Monterey, raised the Argentinian flag, and claimed the peninsula. They stormed the fort, raided the armory, stole the cattle and burned the Governor’s mansion and Spanish residences to the ground. The locals were left alone. The Spanish reclaimed what was left of the fort six days later as Bouchard headed south.  
More pillaging north of Santa Barbara, more hostage negotiations.  And then on December 16th, 1818, Bouchard sailed down into Dana Point Harbor.
The Argentinian Captain’s reputation preceded him.  Knowing the bloodthirsty pirate was on his way, the people of San Juan Capistrano hid what valuables they could, especially the artifacts made of gold in the mission chapel.
The Spanish soldiers based there went to meet the pirates as they arrived telling them a large garrison was about to descend on them. But you can’t bluff a pirate. Bouchard ordered his men to pillage the town and take what they could.  “But keep a weather eye especially for rum!”
As far as pirate raids go, it was not the best. What the crew mostly discovered was the local wine, which they carted off to the ship.  There they drank their fill until they were too drunk to fight.  Some even had to be carried back to the ship. When they sobered up, they travelled on to Mexico. The OC got off light.
Bouchard lived long after the OC raid. He served Argentina, Peru, and Chile, finally retiring in a fine residence given to him by the Governor of Chile.  He lived for 58 years and may have lived longer if he had not died at the hand of one of his servants. He never knew his daughter from a period before his world travels began. 
Legend has it that there is still treasure hidden in the nearby hills that the drunken pirates never found. The monks are long gone, and as they say, “Dead men tell no tales.”  But should you live in the hills off Oso parkway, and you come across treasure, you might want to give the Mission San Juan Capistrano a call. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Newport Harbor Buffalo Ranch

Photo by Google Earth

On the corner of MacArthur Blvd. and Bonita Canyon in Newport Beach stands a statue of an animal that looks out of place.  You might expect the sculpture of an American Bison… Buffalo… to be found in Wyoming, Kansas, or Montana, but no. There in the middle of some of the most valuable real estate on earth stands a lone bronze buffalo, contentedly looking out at the cars as they pass. But why here?  Because at one time, that very corner was the center of buffalo country, Orange County style.

As we have said here before, California history is rich with tales of dreams that hit it big, or fade into obscurity, and many entrepreneurs came up with attractions to garner tourist dollars.  Orange County seemed an especially appealing place to bring animals to roam the open spaces that once rolled for miles without a house in sight.  There were ostrich, deer, and alligator farms, bird sanctuaries and one very large development dedicated to a variety of African animals called Lion Country Safari.  More on that later.

In 1955, a different sanctuary sprang up, founded by Irvine Company’s Gene Clark and Chief Cuthle Geronimo III, great grandson of famous Apache warrior.  They secured a large 115-acre site in Newport Beach, California.  Clark wanted visitors to come to a wildlife park, drive among the live bison, and stop at the Porter Western Store to pick up souvenirs. There was a train and a fire engine for kids to ride. He named it the Newport Harbor Buffalo Ranch, “the West’s Largest Buffalo Ranch!”

Porter’s store was constructed to resemble a barn, and adjacent to the barn stood a tall, white silo where you could purchase a delicious buffalo burger… fresh off the farm made from one of the former residents.  In fact, for a while Knott’s Berry Farm would occasionally purchase one of the animals for their own Buffalo Burger nights.  

Several Native Americans relocated from Kansas for the park and would greet visitors to explain the fine points of native culture and buffalo hunting. They built a small, touristy Indian village, where you could watch live demonstrations of tribal dances. They ran a petting zoo with other farm animals like goats and sheep.

72 Buffalo were the first residents, arriving in November of 1955.  The population grew to around 100, but timing is everything.  There were other attractions opening across Southern California, and the Buffalo ranch had a hard time competing with Knotts, Disneyland (both of which also had Indian villages), and Marineland of the Pacific in Palos Verdes. The ranch couldn’t keep up. Though plans had been made to build a conference center, the expansion never materialized.  The herd dwindled, and the ranch closed just four years later.

Many of the bison remained for years, even as the neighborhood homes sprang up around.  Ford Motor Company built a facility across the street, bordered by MacArthur, Jamboree, and Ford Road.  The University of California, Irvine was sprouting up on nearby land, and campus designer William Pereira accepted a contract to also create the layout of the city of Irvine.  He needed a local office. Being a lover of barn buildings, Pereira converted the Porter building and dubbed it “Urbanus Square.” He kept four of the animals: Becky, Happy, Rainbow, and Lucky. 

But in five years, even Pereira had to move out.  The land was just too ripe for development.  A Huntington Beach man named John Cogorno took Happy, Rainbow, and Lucky to his ranch to live out their remaining days.  Becky was sold to the Orange County Fairgrounds, where she later gave birth to a calf, Tatonka. 

The bronze statue is the only remaining evidence, standing behind a plaque on the corner by the sidewalk. It marks the Ranch as follows:

“In 1954, Myford Irvine granted a 115-acre lease to the Newport Harbor Buffalo Ranch for a sightseeing attraction in this location. The Buffalo Ranch provided a glimpse of the colorful days of the Old West with buildings, cowboys, chuckwagons, and Native Americans. The ranch was home to over 100 bison that were overlooked by Chief Cuthle Geronimo III, grandson of the famous Apache chieftain. The original Buffalo Ranch buildings, designed in an authentic western style including a barn and silo, were located on this corner.”

Monday, June 10, 2019


Today’s OCYDS is a tale of an iconic Orange County attraction that has made a change of address.

The Walt Disney Company, under the direction of Michael Eisner, came up with the idea to open a second theme park located adjacent to Disneyland. Eisner wanted to create a somewhat educational park that featured the history and treasures to be found in California. Disney’s California Adventure opened on February 8, 2001. There was a farmer's market. A wine courtyard. And a boardwalk area complete with crashing waves underneath.   

The weather that opening day was wet and dreary and did not contribute to the overall impression made on awaiting fans.  In fact, the park was a dud. DCA, as it has come to be known, drew only minimal crowds.

Large cement letters spelled out CALIFORNIA a few yards in front of the entry, which was done in an aqua, art-deco style.  Inside on both sides of the entry were two enormous mosaic works of art depicting several California sights, such as the redwoods, Malibu, Avalon, windsurfers and playful sea creatures leaping from the waters offshore. 

Photo from
Connecting the two sides, Disney created a decoration to the existing monorail track that resembled the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. If you stood in the right spot looking from the esplanade between the two theme parks, you could pose family members among the letters of CALIFORNIA to create a photo that really looked like a postcard.   Extra points if you could time your photo to the exact moment the monorail crossed the bridge.  The letters themselves were popular picture spots. 

The Park was not.

The theme, design, and educational mission were lost on the superfans that overpopulated the internet.  Eisner had no idea how powerful an underwhelmed cyber-fan base could be. There were no lovable Disney characters to be found… at least very few.  There were not enough attractions to fill a day, and half of them were problematic.  A ride in a “SuperStar Limo” arriving at a film premiere? Yawn.  A movie with a very politically correct presentation of Californian history starring Eisner’s pal, Whoopie Goldberg? 


For ten years, the park struggled and faltered.  Eisner was booted out of Disney, and Imagineers set to restyle the park with less pedantic, more fun attractions.  They rethemed attractions to include Marvel Superheroes and Pixar stars.  The entry way was restyled to a theme of Hollywood when Uncle Walt first arrived, complete with Red Car Trolleys and a new statue of Walt and Mickey arriving in town.

A Sun Icon sculpture was replaced with a restaurant designed to look like the Carthay Circle theater (where Snow White premiered). The Sun Icon was reportedly sold to the city of Anaheim, but has yet to resurface.  And the mosaic, once the biggest mosaic to be found in the United States, was crushed into powder, providing builders material for terrazzo floors in other attractions.  

Photo by Phil Kampel Photography
As for those CALIFORNIA letters: there is good news. They were carefully removed and shipped to their new California home in Sacramento.  Gracing the entryway to the State of California’s State Fairgrounds at 1600 Exposition Blvd, Sacramento, the letters still stand tall and picture ready, just as they did in Anaheim.  The fair runs the last two weeks in July (the 12 th – 28 th ), so if you are up for a little nostalgic road trip this summer, be sure to drop by. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Castle of Kron Street

Back in the eighties, a man’s home was his castle. 
At least Haym Ganish thought so, as he began making modifications to his tract home in Irvine.  Haym wanted his home to be spacious and grand, and spent money and good labor turning the house into his own palace, more than twice the size of the original.
The Kron Castle, prior to demolition

But Haym forgot one thing.  Cities frown on people making their own modifications without first ensuring the plans meet all the necessary building codes, and secondly, that permission is granted by both the permitting process, and by local Homeowner Association CC&R’s (Covenant, Codes, and Restrictions).

That was where Haym and his wife Fern got in trouble, because, as luck would have it, Haym’s neighbors were less than enthused about the growing Ganish home.  The house was doubling in size, with turrets and stonework that made it appear intimidating and out of place. The neighbors complained to the city. The city sent inspectors. And citations were issued aplenty.

Not only was the place ugly to the neighbors: it was downright dangerous.  Electrical wiring and jerry-rigged scaffolding stretched across great expanses.  Walls were left unfinished, and some load bearing walls were compromised.  In all, Haym Ganish was ordered to bring the place within code in a few short months, or risk having the place demolished by the city.

Ganish protested, and took his plight to the public.  The Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register were fast to report the growing fracas.  The Castle on Kron street was quickly becoming a popular destination for drive-by Lookie Lou’s, further enraging the neighbors who just wanted to live on a quiet, family-friendly cul-de-sac. News vans from all the local television stations arrived.

Add to Haym’s woes; a shrinking money supply.  There was no way he could pay for such a fast turn-around from firetrap to chateau.

“Well,” said Mark Bailey, the owner of a nearby (but not in Irvine, goodness no) topless bar known as Captain Creame’s. ”Here is my chance to get a little good press, for a change.” So Bailey sent some of his regular contractor customers along with a couple of girls for the cameras to Hyam and Fern’s house with $65,000 and manpower to get to work on the eyesore.

It was a lovely media circus, but in the end, there wasn’t enough time to effect the changes.  By now, the city’s resolve to boot the Ganish’s out of their castle was weakening when it looked like they might actually have to send in Snidely Whiplash.  So over the next few years, they worked with a completely disgruntled Ganish, as the house was slowly and painfully brought to code.  Meanwhile, the neighborhood stewed in discontent.

An empty lot is all that remains

Today Haym’s castle is no more.  The Ganish’s moved to Los Angeles, Captain Creame’s (whom the Ganish’s actually sued) was closed once El Toro became the Great Park, and the Castle of Haym’s doomed kingdom was leveled early in May of 2019. Now it is just an empty "camel lot." 

The good news is that the neighborhood is once again happy, as they await whatever new construction will arise from the rubble. Let’s hope for a good one.

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