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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