Friday, March 8, 2019

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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