Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Tenaja, California
Ran across these postings of everyone refecting on the past, enjoyed reading them all.
A friend's son had to interview someone that lived in the area for a time for a class paper. I am by no stretch a writer, and tend to ramble a bit, but the following are my fond memories. If you are from Southern California, you will know of the places mentioned.
Some points of interest regarding the History of Orange County, California
As related to Dan Goron:
My name is Walt Darden; I am sixty years young, or old, depending on ones' perception. I have lived in the Orange County area since 1960, forty-five years and counting down. I am a Native American by heritage, born in the Great State of Texas. Spent most of my teen years in the Costa Mesa area. In 1960, this community had a total population of twenty-six thousand people, and that included Newport Beach. Costa Mesa had two police cars, and the Station was located in a small shack behind a gas station on 20th Street and Newport Avenue. My parents at the time purchased our first home on Costa Mesa Street, just north of Irvine Blvd, for at the time, the huge sum of $9,995.00. My guess today, this same home would sell for 600 ľ $700, 00.00 dollars. Do the math, a remarkable gain on the original investment. If I had stayed in high school (got in a hurry to get on with my life), I would have been in the first graduating class at Costa Mesa High, class of 63 pupils in 1962.
As most people that live in Orange County originally coming from somewhere else, it is rare today to find a Southern California resident over thirty years of age that was born here.
Regarding the name "Orange"Ł and the "Orange Groves"Ł. The county derived its name from the Orange fruit, this being the major crop that the earlier settlers farmed for income. The majority of Central and South county was covered with groves up until the mid-sixties when the development began in the area. One very common "saying"Ł back then was, "my home used to have an Orange Grove across the street"Ł. Now, I do not get the nice smell from the Orange Blossoms each spring.... Only more and more houses.
The Strawberries were largely farmed in the Fountain Valley area, and some in South County. They still are today where the land has not been developed into housing or commercial buildings. Fountain Valley (forget what it was known as before) did not even exist as a town until the early seventies. You could stand on the bluff in Costa Mesa (called Goat Hill), and see nothing but strawberry and bean fields until the little downtown area next to the Huntington Beach Pier. The original pier structure was made from wood, with only a Bait stand at the end, no Ruby's'. It was destroyed sometime in the late sixties or seventies due to a storm. The Main Street area was just a few shops and restaurants, mostly Surf related (SURF CITY USA). The corner where Jacks Surf Shop is located now, was the original Dewey Weber Surf Board Shop. Dewey was one of the early pioneers of the sport back then along Hobie Alter (long before he invented the Hobie Cat), Dale Velsey and others. I used to shape boards for Velsey when his shop was at the Newport Pier, next to where Charlie's Chile is now. Interestingly, Dale Velsey was the very first Surfboard maker to put a logo on a t-shirt. When was the last time you saw a kid wearing a t-shirt without some sort of Brand Identification? Huntington Beach and Newport was hugely popular for surfing, not so different from today. But there was no rivalry between us Newport guys, then nobody pretended to own their favorite surfing spot. Just back then, you were riding a "long board"Ł looking ahead at very little development on the shoreline. When the new retail establishments came along they did away with one of my favorite nightspots, The Golden Bear. The Golden Bear was a popular West Coast entertainment stopover for some of the biggest acts of the time. I saw Bob Dylan, the Beatles did a śwalk on' one night when Kim Carnes was playing along with countless others, Hoyt Axton played regularity and was considered the House Band. Hoyt was a local hero, and later became an actor doing bit parts in a lot of movies. His biggest hit song was a tune he wrote for "Three Dog Night"Ł, number one on the charts,,,,,,,,,, "Joy to the World"Ł. Now for those that do not know what a śThree Dog Night' is, I'll share a little trivia. In the Outback of Australia, the coldness of the night was determined by how many dogs a person had to cuddle up with to stay warm. What was really great back then for the teenagers was there were a number of places to go and have fun, listen to music, or just hang out. Newport had the Rondeview (sp) on the Balboa Peninsula adjacent to the pier, Dick Dale was always there Fri/Sat nights, originating the "Surfers Stomp"Ł, along with The Righteous Brothers, my favorite, (it burned down), Long Beach had the Cinnamon Cinder, Seal Beach had Trestles, and last but not the least, Whittier had the Harmony Park Ballroom. Back then if you did not surf, you were a "greaser"Ł, and "greasers"Ł went to Harmony Park. I was a surfer, but I also loved going to Harmony Park, and the greasers didn't bother me. The Greasers drove the cool 49 Mercury cars and did that Dance where the guys would line up on one side, the girls on the other........ Then take turns doing the stroll down the middle....... Hot Stuff. Nowadays a lot of the music is fowl by language and I am not sure if dancing is slamming each other on the floor. I'll take Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan over Rap any day. Everything seemed so simply then, with Rock n' Roll music emerging and becoming a big part of our lives. The music of the time had a great deal to do with the social structure of our personalities. I now refer to this time as "The Age of Innocence"Ł. What does not seem to exist today are places like the above for the young kids to go to. All of these places mentioned were open for the under twenty-one crowds, and just served soft drinks.... Good clean fun.
Note regarding Bob Dylan: Few realize it today with Dylan being the somewhat strange in his demeanor kind of person, but this guy was a giant in the early sixties. There is no other poet/songwriter of our time that can acclaim to being the essence of what brought about a social change in this society. His songs "Blowing in the Wind"Ł, "Like a rolling Stone"Ł, "Times are a Changing"Ł are anthems of the music that came out of what we called "Coffee Houses"Ł then (not Starbucks). His "Changing of the Guards"Ł was probably his most prolific in speaking of what man has faced, and what is to come.
There was a club/restaurant called Sid's Blue Beet in an alleyway at the Newport Pier. It is still there today, but doubt if Sid is still around. Sid was a unique character, and the place catered to the śBeatnik"Ł crowd. Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie music was what you heard here. What you never did here was ask the waiter (Sid) for any seasoning for your dinner, he would say, "If you don't like the way I fix it in the kitchen, then go eat somewhere else"Ł.
There were only "surfers"Ł and "greasers"Ł; the studious type later became the śgeeks'. Preppies did not come along until society was more affluent and IZOD came to market. What we surfers wore for clothing was quite a simple uniform. We did not have a gazillion choices for tennis shoes then, so, if you were from Newport and had money (different then, Newport was the only place rich kids lived, but they were not snobbish...they were cool too) you wore Sperrys (Top Siders), coming from Costa Mesa, us poor guys had the only other choice, VANS. You may not believe it but in 1965 Vans opened their first retail store on Victoria and Harbor Blvd, and you could buy the standard blue lace-up for $9.95.... and Made In The USA (Orange City). The other two pieces of our standard attire was Levis 501 (had to have the buttons, or you were square), and a JC Penney white short sleeve t-shirt with a breast pocket. It is crazy watching kids today being so caught up in the popular Brand Names that change by the week. We would not have been caught dead back then wearing pants fifteen sizes to big, and our butt crack showing. We would get excited about getting new "pack of six"Ł white tee-shirts......Yes, times have changed, that pack of six shirts cost six dollars and ninety-five cents then.
Other than the Spaniards that were the first settlers to arrive from Mexico setting up the Missions, there was a group of Germans that established one of the first communities here...... and called it Anaheim, not sure of its German meaning. The oldest established commercial center in the county is the Circle, in again "Orange City"Ł.
A farmer by the name of Walt Disney had a vision, guess what he saw? He had a likeness for trains, built one large enough for the neighborhood kids to come over and ride around on. In seeing how much they enjoyed themselves, he said, "I think I should expand on this idea"Ł........... Little did he know then that providing a place for kids to have fun, would later become a "big business"Ł
A few of the first families that received large land grants from Mexico were. The IRVINES: Owning most of the area south of the 55 Freeway to Laguna, west of the 5 Freeway to the ocean. The third generation, Joan Irvine Smith sold her last remaining interest in The Irvine Company to Donald Bren years ago, who now is one of the wealthiest persons in the county. The O'NEILL family: owned the property east of the 5 Freeway to the foothills, and south to San Juan Capistrano. Much of this property that is located east of O'Neill Park is still in the family. The Mission Viejo Company (later owned by the Phillip Morris Tobacco Company) purchased the land and built the first commercial housing track in South County in 1963 ....... Selling nice homes for $19,000.00, and called the development Mission Viejo. Most of the other communities in South County were developed by the Rancho Santa Margarita Company (Tony Moiso). The Segarstroms: Owned from the 405 Freeway (not there then) north to Warner Ave, and from the 55 Freeway (Newport Ave) west to Harbor Blvd. They were Bean farmers up until the mid-sixties, then realizing they could make more money selling land rather than beans. They developed South Coast Plaza (the highest grossing shopping mall in the US) by attracting Sears and May Company to build their stores there. The two merchants thought with the property being out in the middle of nowhere, they would be crazy to build there, When the Segarstroms offered the land for free, they could not pass up an offer to good to refuse. Others thought the Segarstroms were stupid to give the land away, me, I thought they were visionaries. The mall first opened in January of 1966, with just a handful of tenants along with the two anchors. ..... Now it is so large it is difficult to cover all the stores in one day. What really upset us teenagers at the time was the mall taking away our one-quarter mile drag strip. When there was nothing out there but bean fields, we had part of Sunflower Ave marked off, and Friday/Saturday nights we would race our cars up and down the street. On a typical Friday / Saturday night, a guy and his buddies would cruise two places, Oscars Drive Inn on 1st and Grand Avenues in Santa Ana, or Mels Drive Inn on PCH and Mac Arthur Blvd in Corona Del Mar (there was no Fashion Island then). These two places still had carhops that brought your drinks to your car, and wore the black/white saddle shoes (this kind of stuff wasn't just in the movies; it was real for us then). "Rave On"Ł by Buddy Holly and "Summertime Blues"Ł by Eddie Cochran (the first Rebel Rouser) could be heard blaring on the Juke Box. If you had a fast car (I did, a forty-six Ford Sedan with a 289 Fuel Injected Chevy motor), and you wanted to race, you would circle the group of cars in the parking lot until someone would flash their lights on you (this meant he was śchoosing' you off'), he would follow you out and off to Sunflower Ave you both would go. If you hung out on this street for most of the evening, most everybody would show up. And it was always the case that we would let the prettiest girls have the privilege of being the śflag girl'. We have street racers today, the śBonsai' / śRice Burners"Ł and the like, but they don't' get it. We had fun, but nobody ever got hurt. The local police did not bother us (sometimes they would stop by and watch the racing too), because they knew we would not do anything stupid like racing on crowded city streets.......... It was so different then when you knew each of the local officer's first names, and they knew yours'. One of the officers that use to work just weekends, largely keeping track of us guys either at our drag strip, or over at Bob's Big Boy (another hang out) on 17th street was named Norm something or another........ a good guy and he later became Chief of Police for Costa Mesa when they moved into that modern high rise building.
The Segarstroms went on to become one of the largest commercial developers in the county, but still maintains the original Farm House on the north side of the 405. Being the wealthy people they became, and wanting to give back to the county, they donated the majority of funds necessary to build the Orange County Center for the Performing Arts, a very nice center. The Peraltas: Owned what we now know as Orange, Anaheim Hills, Peralta Hills, East Hills, Yorba Linda, and Placentia.
There were other landowners too, but the above four were the biggest. With Orange County being what it is today, it is nice to reflect back and realize that so little of what we see today wasn't here forty-five years ago. The ideal climate being probably the largest reason that attracted people to the area when Los Angeles began expanding south.
In asking, "Was it a good place to live then"Ł? Yes, and it still is. Without having the perspective of were all this all came from, or what it was like back then... You just either like what it is today or you don't. Personally, I wish it had never changed, but that is not being very realistic. Just imagine Orange County without any smog.... why, then there were no freeways. There were no freeways because we did not have so many people in cars, always seeming to go somewhere different than the place they are at. We did not have any gangs, no drive by shootings, "and drugs"Ł hadn't even been invented yet. It was a much easier time to get along and be friends with everybody. The biggest duty the Costa Mesa police force had at the time was cruising around looking for the hooligans śditching school' for the day. Playing "Hooky"Ł was probably the worst thing we ever did. Long Beach had "The Pike"Ł (located where the Convention Center is now... burned down), an amusement park with all the rides, roller coaster, tattoo parlors, and it was a favorite place to go when skipping school.
What is most distinctive between then and now are the people. Interestingly, it used to be that all the gardeners were Caucasian, same working in the Rubbish Services around the county. Then, both the rich and the poor seemed to meld together in to one society. Different from today, where affluent people live all over the county, then there was only Newport, the Highlands area of Corona Del Mar, and Peralta Hills that people with lots of money lived. Maybe it was the affluence of our society that created a vacuum by which the migrant workers came north to find work, now becoming the largest segment of our population.
In conjunction with the higher prices of houses today..... Probably the one other big contrast between then and now................... In the sixties, a person could fill up their ten gallon Volkswagen gas tank for less than $3.00, and amount that today will buy just over a gallon. "Gas Wars"Ł between the stations were a regular occurrence, and the retail price would range from .23 to .29 cents a gallon...... Diesel was 15 to 18 cents, but farmers only bought that stuff for their tractors.
............ YES,,,, IT WAS GOOD BACK THEN
Yet, we must keep things in perspective. Then, I grossed all of $400.00 a month, had no debt, and paid cash for all my cars. Now, I gross considerably more, but buy my vehicles on time for a sum of three times an amount I paid for my first home in 1971. I remember my first pay day (cash in a little vanilla envelope) in the Army in 1969, all of $116.00..... And that was for the whole month of January. Today I drive a nice motorhome that would take over three months of military pay to fill up the diesel tank, and two years income to make one payment.
I guess it really isn't about how much anything cost, or the monthly payment, just can we afford them. I would never have dreamed back then to be able to obtain what I have today.
I friend once joked (while I was in ICU recovering from a heart attack), "Walt, stay in debt, and you will live forever"Ł..... Because you know, the people you owe money to will not let you die until you get them paid off.
I WOULD NOT TRADE FOR THE ERA IN WHICH I GREW UP, KNOWING ALL TO WELL IT HAS LOT TO DO WITH WHO I AM TODAY. NOW, IS ALSO WONDERFUL, AND I DO MY BEST TO ENJOY EACH AND EVERY DAY OF IT.
Walt / Julie Darden
2004 Alpine 40FDTS