Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Land You Couldn’t Give Away

Nellie stepped off the train at the El Toro station and looked at her surroundings.  It was hot and dry that day in 1903, and she knew already she was going to miss Washington.  Nellie gathered her things to load into the wagon. Again she looked at the brown hills, and kicked at the dry grass at her feet.  This was definitely not coastal Washington, where she had spent years as a teacher surrounded by green. “You couldn’t even give me this land!” she muttered, and got into the wagon.

John Gail, Nellie’s father, had served in the Civil War and had come west.  He was a respected shopkeeper and sold supplies to many of the local ranch owners.  He was amused by his daughter’s disgust.  John knew Nellie was accustomed to less-than-tropical areas.  Nellie had been born in Irving, Kansas, and spent her youth in Nebraska.  It wasn’t until she landed a job in Washington that Nellie found herself in more verdant surroundings. Besides. Nellie had visited him several times before.  This was no new visit to a remote desert. The grand Pacific Ocean was just a few miles southwest.

But on this trip, the striking Miss Gail drew the attention of one bachelor, some 24 years older than she.  Lewis Moulton was from a family of doctors and lawyers in Chicago, but Lewis was more attracted to “outside pursuits” rather than spending his daylight hours in hospitals and courtrooms.  He hit the road, to catch a ship from Boston to Panama.

He crossed the isthmus by train (the canal was not yet finished) and boarded another ship to San Francisco. He then embarked on yet a third ship heading south, and landed near Los Angeles.  From there he took a stage to Santa Ana, and it was in Orange County that Lewis Moulton decided to plant some roots. 

Lewis landed a job tending sheep for Charles French, and it wasn’t too long until he was able to buy French’s business for himself. By the time Nellie came to town, Lewis had built a substantial livestock business, gone through one marriage, and had earned quite a reputation for recounting stories about his travels, how his family had been important players in the revolutionary war, and of his father’s friendship with Abraham Lincoln.

So it happened one day that Lewis was in need of supplies, visited John Gail’s shop, and met Miss Nellie Gail, who’s charm the area’s most eligible bachelor could not resist.  They courted for five years and were married in 1908. They settled down at Lewis’s Rancho Niguel home, known by the indigenous folks as Rancho “nee-well.”  It wasn’t long that “Niguel” became “Nellie Gail.”

The land Lewis used was rented, but with financing from his family, he and his partner, Jean Pierre Daguerre bought land that spread all the way to Big Bear.  Daguerre died in a carriage accident in 1911, and the business changed several times as Orange County became attractive to settlers. They switched from sheep to cattle, and the business lingered until Lewis died in 1938.  Nellie, who was more of an artist than a rancher, left the business of running to ranch to her daughters and the daughters of Daguerre.

Much of the Moulton/Daguerre story is sad. Both sides went through losses, and eventually the future of Orange County was to be found in houses and tech businesses, not cattle and farms.  They dissolved the business and divided the property between the two families in the 50’s.  Gradually tracts of land were sold to developers, but Nellie held on to a relatively small piece of about 350 acres.  Postwar homes and shopping centers sprang up on the old land of Rancho Niguel, now called Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo, Lake Forest, and Mission Viejo.

In her retirement, Nellie Gail Moulton was an avid supporter of the arts. She was a founding member of Laguna's College of Art and Design.  She served as president of the Laguna Art gallery.  She gave generously as well to the Laguna Playhouse, now called the Laguna Moulton Playhouse. When she passed away in 1972, she left her remaining land to Chapman College. 

Chapman College did well with the land.  They sold it for $18,350,000 to developers, and the area is still referred to as Nellie Gail. Nellie Gail is today one of Orange County’s highest sought and continually valuable real estate locations.

The land she didn’t want turned out to be quite good for the strong young teacher and artist who came from Washington, met her husband, and married him. The Moulton’s shaped that land into the face of Orange County, and they will long be honored.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Pope House

In 1929, Owen Pope met his future wife, Dolly, when he was 16 years old. The two met in Fort Worth, Texas and were married five years later. The couple loved horses, so they developed their equestrian interest into a little show featuring Shetland ponies.

They hit the road in a trailer Owen had fashioned himself and lived the travelling show-cowboy life for several years. Their Shetlands were frequent prize winners, and as Owen and Dolly Pope’s reputation grew, so did their horse show. They toured the country, eventually doing a show at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA.

It was there that a gentleman named Harper Goff caught the Pope’s act, and he just knew his boss had to come see it too.

Goff had been a painter in civilian life, and he wanted to create ways for everyone to be able to paint pictures. But before his “paint-by-numbers” business took off, he was called to service during World War II.

Working in the painting services department in Fort Belvoir, VA, Goff came up with special camouflage designs and pigments to add to the machines of war. Employing his own paint-by-number technique, Goff’s designs became standard. He even developed several pigments that could be washed off easily, once the camouflage was deemed unnecessary.

After the War, Goff went to work for Warner Brothers, and designing and painting sets for movies. He developed a passion for model trains, and on one trip to London in 1951, Goff ran into another hobbyist who wanted to buy the same item Goff desired. The two men hit it off, and that was how Harper Goff came to work for Walt Disney. 

Now, Goff had learned his new boss had an idea to build a little park in Glendale based on his popular character, a little mouse in red pants. Walt’s park went through several plans, each one growing larger as Walt added a little western town, a stagecoach ride, and even a riding trail through a pine forest and desert area. Goff recognized that Walt was going to need someone to wrangle all those horses, and he felt Owen and Dolly would be perfect for the job.

Disney did meet the Popes, and offered them a job, carving out a section of the Disney Studio lot for the Popes to raise horses. Walt’s plans had now grown quite large, with a Main Street complete with horse-drawn carriages and trollies. The little lot where Walt originally planned to build Mickey Mouse Land was too small to hold it all, and you know how Disneyland came to life in Anaheim.

The pony ranch was moved to Anaheim too. The property had a few houses on it when Walt bought it, so he offered one to the Popes so they could live on property, tending the animals. They took 10 acres and created the Circle D Corral behind the park. Later, in 1971, Owen and Dolly moved to Orlando Florida to create a corral for Disney World.

The Popes not only raised the smaller horses needed for the parks, but Owen designed a small surrey, a buckboard wagon and a stagecoach. All three were used in Disneyland, and when their usefulness waned as bucolic pony and stagecoach rides lost favor to the thrills of rollercoasters, they continued to be used as display items at Thunder Ranch. Even today along the pathway that will lead from Fantasyland’s back gate to Galaxy’s edge, the stagecoach still stands, suffering the decay of neglect and time.

Finally, you might have heard that the horse property was removed in order to make room for Galaxy’s Edge, but the Pope house was saved, refurbished, and moved to the back corner of the cast member parking lot, just off of Ball Road. Now sporting restored paint and wheelchair access, Disneyland uses the house for meetings and planning sessions. We mere mortals may not have access to look behind the fence, but you can still see it… thanks to Google Earth.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A Museum of Oil

Today starts with a little departure from the normal OCYDS. It begins with a personal story.

Back in the 1950’s there was a small boy who drove his mother crazy every once in a while, so she did what every mother would do; she plopped him down in the back seat of her green Pontiac (pre-seat belt era) and drop him off at her husband’s construction shop for the workers to watch.

Actually, I wasn’t that awful a child (at least from my viewpoint). But I did always look for an opportunity to drop a punchline, and that was before I learned the importance of social filters. Okay, maybe I still need to work on that aspect, but the point is, Mom had a nice option. Daycare was rare and in its infancy (pun intended) during the 50’s, so Moms who stayed at home… and there were many more back then… had to come up with creative daycare solutions.

Enter a very good man named Sid Mitchell, a skilled machinist who worked for my Dad and had a kind demeanor. My dad had a few petroleum industry businesses. One was a shop that packaged together gas compressor units to handle natural gas. Another was a little business with a catchy name: Oil and Gas Testing Associates. Today it might have been named something like OGTA Enterprises, but my Dad had little imagination.

OGTA contracted with the local oil companies surrounding Whittier, CA to go out to their wells, draw off samples of the crude coming out of the hole, and test them for their chemical properties. It was an important step, because each oil well’s production would change as the crude was pulled out, and the refineries needed to know what was in each barrel to better refine the product. Too much sulfur in the mix and the equipment would quickly corrode.

It fell to Sid to hop in his 1956 Ford Truck (kept in immaculate perfection) and visit each well. It was a great way to entertain a kid back then, as we drove into the orange and avocado groves of Orange County to collect samples. We frequented the hills of Whittier, Fullerton, Yorba Linda and Brea, where Union Oil had “Old Number One,” their first venture tapping the great oil reserve beneath those fragrant fruit trees. On the way back we would stop at the A and W root beer shack on Imperial Highway for a float.

As the tar leaked from cracks in the Southern California ground, the local natives and early pioneers used hunks of oil infused earth for heating and waterproofing the roofs of their homes. Brea shares its name with a famous tar pit in Los Angeles for good reason. The Spanish word “brea” means tar, which used to ooze out of the hills unabated until the oil industry stepped in. You can thank the oil industry for cleaning up lots of ugly sites in California. Tar regularly bled out of rifts along the Santa Barbara coastline. Off-shore drilling relieved a lot of the pressure and captured the black stuff.

When the oil industry came, “wildcatters” (oil field workers) began building homes, and the little town of Brea was born. Oil production waned after WWII, and during the era of my trips with Sid, it became increasingly costly to suck crude out of the ground. Gradually Brea changed. During the 60’s Brea Mall brought shoppers to the town, and today downtown Brea is a thriving, classic California downtown area, with entertainment venues, coffee shops and wonderful restaurants.

Today you can capture the sights and smells I enjoyed as a child at the Olinda Oil Museum and Trail, located in the Olinda Ranch neighborhood at 4025 Santa Fe Road, Brea, CA 92823. You can still see Old #1, walk the trail, and visit a field house and museum featuring equipment and photos of those early, oily days of Brea’s past. Be sure to call first at (714) 671-4447 for hours and tours.

Friday, March 8, 2019

A New Port

Were you to see the steamer ship Vaquero, you might not imagine that flat-bottom cargo hauler to be an important exploratory ship. Its captain, Samuel Sumner Dunnells, was trying to find a place to drop his cargo a bit closer to the designated recipients and pick a new manifest. Together with his parther William Abbot, Dunnels guided his 105-ton ship gently easing the way into the swampy bay, hoping to skim over the sand bars and mud below.

It was September 10, 1870, as the steamer made its way farther up San Joaquin harbor, which had remained virtually unexplored until that day. But the nearby residents on the shoreline watched in excited anticipation with every yard the Vaquero gained. Loaded with 5000 shingles and 5000 feet of lumber from San Diego, Dunnells saw his target ahead; a small wharf built in hopes the flat-bottomed ship would be able to do what no other ship had done before.

When the Vaquero docked at the wharf, a cheer rose up from the locals. It was a banner day. Ten years earlier, the US Coastal survey schooner Humbolt had identified the mouth of the San Joaquin harbor, but issued a warning to all vessels that the harbor seemed inaccessible with its narrow bar and a “frightful swell” at all stages of the tide. Ships were warned to stay away from San Joaquin.

Dunnells had been serving the California coastline for years as captain of the Vaquero, and was familiar with the dangers the waters along the seemingly peaceful California coastline could hide. More than once the Vaquero had come to the rescue of larger ships who had underestimated the mighty Pacific, be it storms, doldrums, or miscalculating the amount of fuel needed to get to the next port.

But Dunnells was pretty sure he could do it. He pressed forward, and finally reached the makeshift wharf as the waning summer day shone brightly on the sandbar that locals called the peninsula. Once docked, Dunnells declared the site a New Port Landing, and the name stuck. Today near that original landing spot a bronze plaque commemorates the event.

Over the next few years, Dunnells build a good business bringing goods to Newport Landing. As Robert and James McFadden developed land into lots along the coastline, Dunnells brought in the materials local settlers would need to build their new homes. Dunnells had a warehouse built not far from the Landing that stood just about where the Newport Bay Bridge stands today.

In 1875 Dunnells sold his business to the McFadden Brothers, who continued operations for the next decade. The McFadden boys were enjoying so much success those settler’s homes were beginning to become a town and they determined they needed to build a larger pier that could be accessed from the ocean side. As luck would have it, a natural submarine rift off the coast made it possible for larger ships to navigate close to the land, and so the Newport Pier was established in 1888. In addition, they added a small rail line to connect to the Santa Fe Railroad. Business was good.

Another decade later it all came to a halt. The Federal government decided a large, world-class port was needed in the Los Angeles area, and allocated funds to develop that port in San Pedro, just a few coastal miles north. In 1899, the McFaddens sold the wharf, warehouse, and rail line to the Santa Fe Railroad, bringing Newport’s shipping legacy to an end.

The Tragedy of Tomato Springs

Water bubbled up from below and broke the surface of the rocky ground, providing water to a thirsty Padre Francisco Gomez. As one of the first European’s to walk in California, he discovered the little spring, and dubbed it “San Pantaleón.” The name didn’t stick. Once Gomez passed on, the locals began to call it “the Springs of Father Gomez.”

By the time two centuries passed, folks just called the place Tomato Springs, as wild tomatoes grew along its banks. But in 1912, it became one of the most infamous sites in Orange County. Accounts vary, but the tragedy of Tomato Springs happened something like this:

William Cook had a large bean farm at what is now The Great Park, in Irvine. Cook’s place was isolated, but on one December afternoon a drifter came knocking on Cook’s door asking if there was any work. Cook said no, but the drifter, James “Joe” Matlock, hung around. While he was asking for work, he noticed two young girls who were Cook’s nieces, Myrtle and Jesse. Matlock snuck back onto the property that evening.

After supper, the dog started barking, so Cook told the girls to go out and see why their dog was puttin’ up a fuss, Outside, by the barn, they ran into Matlock, who fired a shot in the ground to scare them and ensure their cooperation. Why no one else heard that shot isn’t mentioned in the accounts.

Matlock asked which one of them was the eldest, and Myrtle said she was, So he tied Jesse to a fencepost, and took Myrtle behind the barn to a haystack. Then he fled. Jesse managed to free herself and quickly located her uncle, telling him what happened.

Cook was unarmed, so he returned to his house to get a rifle, and then went to neighbors to enlist some help. Someone took Myrtle to safety and she was said to be doing just fine, though again, details were vague. Others began tracking Matlock.

It took time to locate Santa Ana Sherriff Ruddock, who had been called to the Fullerton area on a domestic violence incident. Left to man the office was a former Canadian Mountie by the name of Robert Squires. Squires was 44 and had come south from Canada, briefly working as a scout in Montana.

Using a tracking dog and carrying ropes and weapons, the men picked up Matlock’s trail leading to the eastern edge of James Irvine’s ranch. The posse found tracks of Matlock’s hobnail boots headed up the foothills above Tomato Springs. Too dark to pursue him further, they decided to reconvene at dawn.

The legend of the Tomato Springs Bandit started growing that very morning, when there were reports that Matlock had somehow found his way to Ed Chamber’s ranch, demanded some breakfast, and then returned to his hideout. The cook said Matlock taunted them, daring them to track him down as he headed back toward the hills, vowing to shoot anyone who came near.

It was dawn, and as the morning sun cast the shadow of Saddleback Mountain over Tomato Springs, the small tracking group had grown to a mob, some saying as many as 200 people. Well sheltered by rock outcroppings, Matlock could pick off anyone who ventured near, while no one could get close enough to get a clean shot up the hill.

Squires had an idea. While the mob below kept Matlock busy, he and some other lawmen tried to ascend the slope to get behind and surprise Matlock. It didn’t work. Matlock saw them approaching. Squires managed to get off about five shots as Matlock met him at close range, firing a Winchester rifle.

Squires fell forward and down the rocky terrain about 50 feet, unable to be spotted by the rest. More men went up to rescue the wounded and became wounded or cornered themselves, including a 27-year-old man who worked for Cook named Alfred Prater. Prater received a head wound, but no one could get near to lend aid.

The battle raged, bullets flying as Matlock shouted profanities and taunts. Finally, at about 11:00 am, the California National Guard entered the fray and stormed the barricaded outlaw, only to find Matlock dead. The wounded were evacuated, including Prater; and there were many others. Squires body was located and was confirmed dead. To this day over 100 years later, the Tragedy of Tomato Springs remains one of the bloodiest law enforcement battles in OC history. Squires was given a hero’s funeral that very week, and Prater died three weeks later.

It took a while to get a positive identification on the desperado. It was finally determined that Matlock was the disgraced son of a prominent citizen in Eugene Oregon. A former mayor, Matlock Sr. publicly denied the relationship, but two years later privately admitted the man had been his son. The coroner confirmed that the Tomato Springs Bandit had taken his own life, which was about to end soon anyway, as he had tuberculosis.

And when the mortuary where they had taken the bodies was dismantled many years later, they found a long-forgotten safe where inside lay both Squires’ and Matlock’s guns.

More recently they named the 241 toll road plaza located just south of the springs “Tomato Springs Plaza,” and the hillside where the posse had gathered below the spring has been levelled and a fresh crop of Irvine condominiums has sprung up. It’s now called Portola Springs (developers thought that sounded more marketable), so you might not hear the name “Tomato Springs” much longer.

But the memory of Robert Squires will long be remembered in OC. Today Robert Squires name tops the list on the Orange County Peace Officer’s Memorial located at the Orange County Sheriff’s Regional Training Academy on Armstrong Avenue in Tustin. 52 additional names are also honored. We thank them for giving the ultimate sacrifice to keep Orange County one of the safest places to live.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Habits

Father Jean Pierre Medaille was a traveling man. It was 1650, and in the aftermath of several wars, the people of Le Puy, France were, for want of better word, fragmented. Many of the men of Le Puy gave their lives, leaving behind widows and children by the scores. It was Medaille’s mission to bring some life back into the broken city.

As it happened, there remained a community of women in Le Puy who lived as nuns, praying hourly for the people of France, and making high-quality lace to raise money so they could assist the remaining people of Le Puy. Medaille was moved by their heart for the community, and quickly organized them as an official order, The Sisters of St. Joseph.

But the Sisters had one limitation. In 1650, it was customary that a man needed to accompany any woman who ventured outside, and men were not to be found. After all, the Sisters lived in a convent.

So Medaille had an idea. He noted in this post-war city that the custom was ignored when it came to widows. Women dressed in black mourning clothes were allowed to walk through the town. He instructed the Sisters of St. Joseph to begin wearing black gowns and head coverings whenever they went out into the community as well, and the costume worked. So much so that it became a common practice throughout the church.

After nearly dying out during the French Revolution (literally… some were sent to the guillotine), the Sisters of St. Joseph rebounded and became known for their educational efforts. In 1861 The Countess of Rochajaqueline was moved to sponsor a group of six Sisters to come to America to teach Native Americans. The settled in St. Louis, and the small group of six grew in number. Satellite communities sprang up in the Midwest; and once again, the Sisters of St. Joseph were once again.

One such group set their sights out west, and taking their vow of poverty to the maximum, the arrived in 1915 with only 60 cents in their collective habit pockets. Under the leadership of Mother Bernard Gosselin, they managed to open a school in Eureka, CA honoring a commitment to building schools and teaching.

But Mother Gosselin was challenged soon after she arrived. An influenza epidemic struck in 1918. With her mission to "Go out into the neighborhoods, see what the needs are, and meet them to the best of your ability,” Gosselin and her Sisters began treating people to the best of their ability. St. Joseph’s hospital was Eureka’s first hospital, and in 1922, Medaille’s Sisters of St. Joseph were travelling again, this time south, founding the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange.

It became evident that their mission now was much broader than education: Mother Gosselin knew a hospital was needed, and St. Joseph’s Hospital was soon to open its doors.

Today the Sisters of St. Joseph still reside and thrive in Orange, CA, though they no longer need the black habits to travel. The hospital they founded has been recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s best regional hospitals.

In addition, the Sisters continue to teach the community, now through their “Taller San Jose” (St. Joseph Talks). Focusing on youth who have been marginalized and disadvantaged, they teach life skills, trades and job skills, giving them a better advantage in today’s world.

It is a long history from Le Puy France to Orange, California, and we have the Sisters of St. Joseph to thank for their innovation and response to meet needs as they find them. As Mother Gosselin was fond of saying, “Never lose the love for community life, never lose the love of prayer life, and never be afraid to work too hard.”

The Man Who Went to Great Lengths

John Rea was a man who would go to great lengths to get what he wanted, but right now, all he wanted was a place where he could breathe. Born and raised in the cold north of Canada, John had contracted Tuberculosis at a young age, and by the age of 20, he knew he needed to head south to a warmer place, or die an early death.

John had heard of a warmer place that was supposed to be wonderful for people similarly afflicted. His brother had already left and settled in California, so John followed suit. He said goodbye to his friends, and one lady in particular, his girlfriend Margaret. He knew she had no future with someone in his condition, and he reluctantly left Margaret in pursuit of a breath of fresh, warm air.

When he reached California, the man who would go to great lengths got off the train as soon as he could. He heard that San Francisco was a wonderful city filled with opportunities. After all, this was 1873, and everyone knew that California was a place filled with enough space for any man to find his dream... and his health.

The foggy mornings of the fabulous city by the bay continued to plague John's health, and he quickly realized he needed to move on. He arrived by steamer in Los Angeles, but by now, John was so ill he almost immediately needed to be hospitalized. Alone and surrounded only by nurses and doctors, John wondered if he would ever find health. One day a nurse asked him what he might like to eat. "Strawberries and cream," he said, remembering how wonderful and fresh his brother made them sound. John's brother had became a strawberry farmer in El Cajon, CA, just outside of San Diego.

It was as if a bright light finally gave him the warmth he needed. What John realized he needed was some good outdoor work under the hot sun to regain his own fresh health.

As soon as he could muster the strength, John hit the trail again, joining his brother under the warm Southern California sun. John became a beekeeper, and soon regained the health and drive he needed to thrive..

So John set a new goal. He again went to great lengths, and returned to Canada just long enough to marry his beloved Margaret. He then whisked her off to his new success in El Cajon.

John and Margaret had two daughters, and built a home that happened to be right alongside a stagecoach line. When the stagecoach came through, the Rea family fed the travelers, and became so successful, John Rea purchased a grocery store in San Diego. Today a street and a district of San Diego carry the name Rea, in John's honor.

Of course this story couldn't end there... what about Orange County? As it happened, John began to think how he might get a hold of some inexpensive property of his own. Farther up north, in a little German community called Anaheim, a terrible disease began killing off the winery vines. John learned he could pick up a large spread at a greatly reduced price. So the Rea family sought a new fortune in Anaheim, switching the land from growing grapes to a more hearty crop; walnuts.

John wanted to give his new ranch a catchy name, but he and Margaret couldn't find the right one. Then one evening, John went outside to call his now teenage daughters in for dinner. "Kate! Ella! It's time for...."

Then it hit him. The name he sought was right there under his roof. Combining the girl's names, he named the ranch "Katella." Soon, the little cowpath that ran alongside the Katella Ranch to the schoolhouse became known as Katella Avenue.

Now best known as the Avenue that runs by the Honda Center, Angel Stadium, Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention center, that cow path now runs east to west, over 37 miles. It links eastward to Villa Park Blvd and then a portion of Santiago Canyon, terminating at Jamboree Blvd. in Orange. 

Heading west, Katella undergoes a couple more name changes: one at the Los Angeles county line to Willow, and again in Long Beach to another famous Blvd, Sepulveda. In fact, in Redondo Beach Sepulveda turns north, stretching to a total over 77 miles to the San Fernando Valley. Sepulveda is known as the longest street in all Los Angeles. Linked to Katella Avenue, it may well be the longest surface street in Southern California.

The move to southern California was good for the man who would go to great lengths. John Rea lived for 71 years, and daughters Kate and Ella, remained active in Orange County. Ella married William Wallop and together they made their home in Fullerton. Kate never married, but earned a Master's degree and taught at Anaheim High School, started Anaheim's first PTA, then later taught at Fullerton Junior College.

Katella Avenue remains as a lasting legacy to a man who would go to great lengths. Now the lengthiest thoroughfare in Southern California attests to his ambition, determination, and love of his family; especially two daughters, Kate and Ella.

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