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Orange, California - my hometown

You only get one hometown. Mine happens to be Orange, California. I was born there, and went all through school there. It's also where I started my career as a local historian.

Orange is one of the oldest cities in Orange County, founded in 1871. It was built around a central Plaza (please don't call it a "circle"), and retains much of its historic downtown. It has also managed to retain its own identity as Orange County has grown into a mass of suburbia. It still has a reputation as a small town and a nice place to live, even as the population has swelled past 130,000. And the sense of local history there is part of what keeps it that way.

--Phil Brigandi


What's in a Name . . . ?

I expect to go to my grave still trying to beat down the old story that Orange was named in a poker game. As Mark Twain once said, "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

The truth is that when Orange was founded in 1871, it was called Richland -- a perfectly reasonable name for a prospective farming community. But when they went to get a post office in 1873, they found that there was already a Richland, California up in Sacramento County. So they renamed the town Orange, got a post office, and went on from there.

The poker game story does not seem to surface until more than 60 years later, when Margaret Gardner wrote that her father, Henri F. Gardner "told me that he had heard that Mr. Chapman, Mr. Glassell, and two other men each advocated a different name. One suggested Orange, one, Lemon, one, Olive, and one, Almond. So they played a poker game, the winner to name it."

Trouble is, Henri Gardner wasn't even here at the time, and the story doesn't appear in print until more than a decade after his death. I also hear that he could spin a pretty good yarn when he wanted to. Add to that the fact that no one else ever seems to have told this story, and there seems to be no particular reason to believe it.

So how did Orange get its name?

Certainly it was not named for the orange groves that dotted the hillsides -- there was not a single producing orange grove in the area in 1873. Grapes -- primarily raisin grapes -- were the big crop back then. It was only after the blight of the 1880s that the vineyards faded, and Orange went on to more than live up to its name.

Some point out that Andrew Glassell's family had once lived on the Richland Plantation in Orange County, Virginia. No doubt that influenced the decision, but historian James Guinn, a resident of Anaheim at the time, is probably closer to the mark when he wrote in 1902 that the decision was based on the early efforts to create Orange County. "The agitation for the formation of a new county to be named Orange was quite active about this time," he noted. "The town of Orange had hopes of becoming the seat of government of the new county."


The Real "Father" of Orange.

Alfred Beck Chapman sometimes declared, "I am the father of Orange." But if Chapman was the father, William T. Glassell was the midwife. Chapman may have owned the land, but it was Glassell who was on the scene, surveying, building, farming, and boosting.

Born in Virginia in 1830, Glassell joined the U.S. Navy in 1848, and later attended the U.S. Naval Academy. In 1861, after nearly two years in the Pacific, he returned to find the nation split in Civil War. Ordered to take a loyalty oath to the Union, he refused, and was thrown into prison. After eight months, he was exchanged for a Union prisoner of war, and handed over to the Confederate forces. "Being actually placed in the ranks of the Confederate States," he later wrote in 1877, "I should think even Mr. President Hayes would now acknowledge that it was my right, if not my duty, to act the part of a belligerent." He was soon commissioned a Lieutenant in the Confederate Navy.

The Union's new ironclad ships were proving a formidable challenge to the Confederates. Lt. Glassell began working on developing one of the new "torpedo boats" (an ancestor of the modern submarine) to attack the ironclads blockading Charleston Harbor. His boat was the David (a Biblical reference, no doubt), a 50-foot long, steam-powered metal tube that ran almost completely underwater.

With an explosive charge attached to a long pole on the bow, Glassell and his crew set off to attack the Union New Ironsides on the night of October 5, 1863. They slipped through the Union defenses, and set off a tremendous explosion that severely damaged the New Ironsides. But the David was almost swamped, and as Glassell and another man tried to escape, he was captured by Union forces and sent back to prison.

While he was still a prisoner of war, Glassell was promoted to captain. He was again exchanged for a Union prisoner, and took command of a gunboat on the James River in Virginia until the end of the war.

Broken in health, Capt. Glassell came to California in 1866, where his brother Andrew was practicing law with his boyhood friend, Alfred Chapman. Andrew Glassell had also refused to take a loyalty oath at the start of the war, and had been disbarred. He ran a ranch and sawmill in Santa Cruz County until the end of the hostilities, when he was again admitted to the bar. William Glassell's first job in California was running his brother's Santa Cruz ranch.

In 1870, Alfred Chapman began subdividing his lands in the Santa Ana Valley. He hired Capt. Glassell as his tract agent. By December, 1870, he had built his home on the Chapman Tract in what is now the heart of downtown Orange. In 1871, he laid out a townsite there that was originally known as Richland, but was soon renamed Orange.

Over the next three years, Capt. Glassell had a hand in almost every important project in town. He surveyed larger farm lots surrounding the townsite, supervised the construction of the first irrigation ditch to the site, and handled sales and advertising for the new town. He was also a partner in one of the first orange groves in the area.

But Capt. Glassell's health was failing. Tuberculosis (probably contracted during one of his stays in a Union prison camp) was eating away at his lungs. He spent much of the spring of 1874 in Los Angeles, trying to regain his health.

"It has only been during the absence of the Captain that the good effect of his presence and enterprise in promoting the growth of ... Orange ... has been felt," a local newspaper noted that June. "and it will be with much silent though heartfelt gladness that his return will be hailed by his many friends."

Capt. Glassell made it back that summer, but he was forced to leave Orange for good in the early part of 1875. He died in Los Angeles on January 28, 1879. Had he lived longer, he might be better remembered in Orange, for no one did more toward building up the community during its formative years.

A remarkable insight to Capt. Glassell's personality can be found in his Civil War letters -- now part of the local history collection at the Orange Public Library. He writes with such charm and good humor that it is difficult to remember sometimes that almost all of the letters were written from behind prison walls.

[For more on Capt. Glassell's Civil War days, see R. Thomas Campbell's Hunters of the Night. Confederate Torpedo Boats in the War Between the States, Burd Street Press, 2000.]

Some Orange "Firsts"

Building -

The first building in what is now downtown Orange was the tract office and home of the tract agent, Captain William T. Glassell. It seems to have been built before the end of 1870. A real estate ad in the Anaheim Gazette dated December 20, 1870 notes that Capt. Glassell "may be found at Anaheim, or at his office on the Santa Ana Ranch, near [the] residence of Mr. Travis." (Col. Amos Travis lived almost due north of the townsite, just north of what is now Collins Avenue.)

The Glassell tract office was located near the southwest corner of the Plaza Square, facing West Chapman Avenue. It was a small, two-room board and batten structure, built of redwood, with a narrow porch across the front. Capt. Glassell left town in 1875, and Millard F. Parker took over as tract agent. He also lived in the building, and was said to have had two seedling orange trees out front, which were considered great curiosities. J.W. Anderson followed Parker as tract agent, but it is unclear whether he used the office or lived there.

In 1885, the building was moved a short distance west to make way for the construction of the first Armor building. In the late 1880s, it was used as a millinery shop. In 1890 it was purchased by Joseph Beck, and moved to the northwest corner of Almond and Glassell, behind his blacksmith shop. Beck remodeled and enlarged the building, and it became his home. The blacksmith shop was torn down in 1935, but the home survived for a little longer. The exact date of its destruction continues to elude me, but it was probably in the mid-1940s, if not a little before.

Resident -

The first resident of the Richland townsite was of course the tract agent, Captain William T. Glassell, who built a house here before the end of 1870. There were a few other settlers already in the area by then, but Capt. Glassell was the first on the actual townsite.

On October 28, 1871 the Anaheim Gazette reported from Richland: "Four houses are now built on the town-site; the residences of Messrs. Nichols, Glassell, Brown and Davenport." Orange historian Don Meadows credited Nichols with being the first actual settler. All three men were here by July, 1871 when the townsite was formally surveyed.

E.R. Nicoles built a house near the southwest corner of Chapman and Grand (another early settler remembered it as a "cabin."); he also had ten acres northeast of town. He helped Capt. Glassell on some of his surveying. In 1873 he moved to Tustin, where he married Mary J. Tustin. The service was performed at the home of her father, Columbus Tustin (founder of the town that bears his name) by Rev. Lemuel P. Webber (founder of Westminster). Nichols also served as a school trustee in Tustin.

Thomas Brown lived here three and half years. His home was on South Olive Street. He was the first head of Richland Grange when it was founded in August, 1873. Testifying in the big water lawsuit, around 1881, Brown recalled, "I think the water from the Chapman ditch first commenced to pour into Orange about the second or third of July, 1871. I made a crop of corn there that year and recollect that the water came down a day or two before the 4th of July, and on the 4th they proposed to allow Mr. Davenport to use the water; and about the 5th or 6th Mr. Watson and those men up at Burruel Point [Olive] took out all the water of the ditch for irrigation purposes, kept it for a number of days and then it came down to Nichols and Huntington. Mr. Nichols used it and irrigated 10 acres before it came to me."

B.M. Davenport had ten acres north of town. He served on the first election board for the Richland School District 1872. He seems to have found himself a wife by 1873, when a Mrs. Davenport was one of the charter officers of the Richland Grange.

Glassell, Nichols, Brown, and Davenport were all single men when they came to Orange. According Don Meadows, the Talkingtons were the first family to settle on the townsite, around August, 1871. The old pepper tree that stood beside their home stood until very recently on the 100 block of South Orange Street.

Store -

The first store in Orange was opened by the Fisher Brothers, sometime in 1873. The lot was deeded to them that June. It was located on the north side of the Plaza Square, at what would be about 100 N. Glassell today.

The Fishers seem to have left town towards the end of 1874. In February, 1875, the store was being run by Abraham Kolsky, who sold out to the Grange Co-operative store at that time. Later J.W. Anderson bought out the Grange. When he moved his store to a new location, the Fisher Brothers returned, and took over their old building. They reopened early in 1878.

Joseph Fisher was born in Austria, and served in the Union Army during the Civil War. In 1878, after leaving Orange, he moved to West Texas and built up a large retail trade. He died in 1906. His younger brother, Wilhelm, was his partner. He stayed in the area a little longer, and was naturalized in Los Angeles in 1879.

Goldsmith & Baranovich were running the store in 1880, when Robert L. Crowder bought the building and moved his store over from across the street. Crowder sold out in 1882 to D.C. Pixley, who would become one of Orange's most prominent businessmen and bankers. He was in the old store until he completed his own brick building up the block in 1886. A variety of other businesses followed on the corner, and the old store was finally torn down in 1909, to make way for Campbell's Opera House (now the Masonic Temple).

But the Fisher store was not necessarily the first business in town. Besides the sale of town lots, there was a blacksmith shop in town as early as May, 1873, and in January, 1874 Hayward & Casey's Richland Nursery south of town was already "about a year old."

Orange Grove -

In 1880, Patterson Bowers claimed to have planted the first orange grove in Orange. The seeds had been started in nursery rows in 1871, and transplanted to his orchard two years later. Bowers bought 40 acres here in June, 1872, and built "a very fine residence" that summer. His ranch was located at the east end of Walnut Street, where it meets the Santiago Creek. Because orange trees take several years to mature, Bowers' first crop was harvested in 1879. During the 1880 season, he expected to pack about 200 boxes.

Post Office -

The Orange Post Office was officially established on September 1, 1873. The community had originally requested the name Richland, but there was already a Richland Post Office in Northern California, so the new name was selected. Dr. George H. Beach was appointed the first postmaster, and the first post office was established in the front parlor of his family's home in the 100 block of South Olive Street.

Dr. Beach served for less than four months, turning over the post office to his successor, Nathan D. Harwood, in December, 1873. Harwood probably moved the operation to his home at the corner of Chapman and Shaffer at that time. In 1876 he moved the post office into a little frame building at what would be about 122 North Glassell today. The post office continued to float between various downtown buildings over the years. It was not until 1926 that the first permanent post office building was built at 223 W. Chapman. Today's Plaza Station office downtown dates to 1935.

School(s) -

Elementary School - As early as December, 1871 plans were being discussed to create a new school district here. On February 5, 1872 the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors officially established the Richland School District. The first Board of Trustees consisted of E.W. Squires, Amos Travis, and E.R. Nichols. The first classes were held in Mr. Nichols' home near the southwest corner of Chapman and Grand, with Miss Sarah Groschong as teacher.

On July 1, 1872, Alfred Chapman deeded two and half acres to the district "for the purpose of a public school and for no other purpose." The price was a token $1. The land was at the southeast corner of Lemon and Sycamore. Later additional land was added to extend the property east to Glassell Street. The district built a 24 x 24 foot wooden schoolhouse on the site, dedicated with all available ceremony on August 1, 1872. There were more than 50 students enrolled when the new school opened that September, with Stephen McPherson as teacher.

Over the years the school was expanded, replaced, burned, rebuilt, moved back, and finally razed. The Orange Intermediate School was built on the site in 1914. It later became the offices of the Orange Unified School District. Today, Chapman University's law school occupies the site -- with a little piece of the Intermediate School's facade still preserved in their new building.

High School - Orange Union High School was created by the voters of the Orange, El Modena, Olive, and Villa Park elementary school districts in June 22, 1903 (later, Silverado also joined the district). It was the fourth high school in Orange County. Classes began on September 21, 1903 in the Dobner Block (now gone) on South Glassell Street. There were 86 students and four teachers, including principal Charles E. Taylor.

The seven members of the Class of 1905 were the first to graduate from the school. That September, the students moved to a new building on North Glassell Street. Over the next 25 years, six other major buildings were added to the campus. The school moved to its current campus (and lost the "union" from its name) in 1953. Chapman College (now Chapman University) moved down from Los Angeles and into the old campus in 1954. The original OUHS buildings are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The first building is now known as Wilkinson Hall, and is still in use after more than a hundred years.

Intermediate School - As noted above, the Orange Intermediate School was built in 1914, across the street for Orange Union High School. The name was later changed to the Orange Junior High School. It closed after Yorba Junior High School opened in 1958. By the mid-1960s there were five junior high schools in the Orange Unified School District. Today they are known as middle schools.

Private School - St. John's Lutheran Church launched the first private school in Orange soon after its founding in 1882. Rev. Jacob Kogler served as teacher along with his pastoral duties until 1889, when the first permanent teacher was hired. Prior to about 1906, all instruction was given in German. Beginning in 1904, the school was located in a substantial two-story building near the northeast corner of Olive and Almond. In 1929 they moved to their current location, where St. John's Lutheran School remains one of the most popular private schools in Orange.

Kindergarten - The Orange Elementary School District first offered Kindergarten classes on September 13, 1893, in an old church building at the northeast corner of Orange and Almond. There were 31 young pupils, with Helen LeBeuf as their teacher. Classes continued until June, 1904, when the district abandoned Kindergarten, and sold the building. It was not until 1915, the Kindergarten classes were again offered by the district. In the meantime, at least one or two private Kindergartens had been offered in Orange.

College - The first college not just in Orange, but in the new Orange County was the Orange County Collegiate Institute, which opened in the fall of 1889 in the Rochester Hotel building, at the southwest corner of Chapman and Lemon. Tuition was $10 per term, plus $4 a week for room and board. Rev. J.H. Harwood served as principal.

The Rochester was a three-story brick behemoth, a relic of the real estate boom that was never completed. It had been offered to the citizens of Orange County that summer as a ready-made county courthouse -- provided, of course, that they selected Orange as the county seat. When Santa Ana won the prize, the college moved in.

The Orange County Collegiate Institute was short-lived, folding up in 1891. It did have some prominent students, however, including future State Senator Nelson Edwards.

Church -

The Methodists were the first congregation to organize in Orange. As early as the summer of 1872, circuit riding Methodist pastors had held services here, and on September 20, 1873 Rev. William Knighten was appointed as Orange's first regular pastor. He preached his first sermon on October 26th and the Methodist Episcopal Church of Orange was born.

The Methodists also built the first church in town, on land donated by A.B. Chapman on the east side of the 100 block of South Orange Street. Construction began in at the end of 1874, and the first services were held in the new sanctuary on February 14, 1875. A formal dedication was held a month later. Enlarged in 1895, the original church stood until 1906. Part of it was incorporated into the Methodist's new church, dedicated in 1907. The last of the 1875 church was finally razed in 1958, when the site was cleared for the present sanctuary. Today it the First United Methodist Church of Orange.

Fraternal group -

The Patrons of Husbandry organized a local chapter or "grange" (as they were better known) on August 7, 1873. The Richland Grange #40 had 20 charter members, and met at the schoolhouse. The Grange was dedicated to the advance of local agriculture and the building of community. The original officers included Thomas Brown, Stephen McPherson, E.W. Squires, Patterson Bowers, A.A. Talkington, J.W. Anderson, and P.J. Shaffer. In 1875-76 the Orange Grange (as it was then known) ran a co-operative store downtown, to hold down prices for its members. But the venture soon fell apart, and the Grange disbanded not long after.

Doctor -

In January, 1873, Dr. Albert B. Hayward (1806-1899) bought 50 acres from Alfred Chapman near what is now the corner of Chapman and Yorba. While developing his own ranch, Dr. Hayward also served as Orange's first physician. He seems to have been still practicing medicine here in mid-1880s.

Born in Vermont, Dr. Hayward came to California during the Gold Rush, and found his way south to Los Angeles in the 1850s. Beginning perhaps as early as 1855, he ran a summer beach camp at Santa Monica. Once he was settled in Orange, he seems to have started scouting for a new location. On August 12, 1876 the Anaheim Gazette announces that he and C.E. French had discovered a new camping spot at "Nahant," ten miles from Tustin on the coast below Newport. "Dr. Hayward, the founder of Camp Hayward at Santa Monica, who has camped there 17 summers with his family, says that Nahant possesses all the good points of the old camp." If the ten mile figure is anything like accurate, Nahant must have been in the Corona del Mar/Newport Coast area on the Irvine Ranch -- which would make sense, since C.E. French was the ranch manager in those days. Some campers did visit Nahant that summer, and the Gazette carried correspondence from the camp over the next two weeks.

Drug store -

C.B. Andrus and Millard F. Parker opened the first drug store in Orange in November, 1875 on the west side of North Glassell Street. Andrus died of tuberculosis in 1877, and Parker soon sold the drug store. Over the next 20 years, the Orange Drug Store was bought, sold, and moved several times. It finally ended up in the Post Office Block on South Glassell. Franklin Wood was the final owner before selling out to a newcomer named Kellar Watson. He renamed it Watson's Drug Store, and more than century later, it is still in business.

Library -

The first library in Orange was a private institution, organized in 1875 by the local literary society -- which soon renamed itself the Orange Library Association. Carlos Shane served as the first librarian. It was a small collection, numbering only 120 volumes by April of 1876, and only open to members of the Association. Sometime in 1876, it just faded away.

In 1879 the revived Literary Society made another attempt to start a library and reading room, arranging for space in the Orange Hotel. But after a few months, the plans turned out to be just so much talk.

Finally, in June, 1885, a new Orange Public Library Association was formed, with Postmaster Robert E. Tener as librarian. He provided 300 volumes for the start of the collection. Once again, it was a members only institution. But the dues were a modest $2 per year, payable in cash or books. It was not until 1894 that the City of Orange took over the library.

Hotel -

In March, 1874, "Mrs. Dr. Larkin of San Jose" visited Orange on a lecture tour. During her visit, she proposed an "invalid's home and hotel" for the town. The idea took root, and in July, Dr. Larkin returned to lay her plans for a sanitarium before a public meeting. Fund raising began, with stock purchased by local residents. Construction began that summer, and continued on through the winter. The building was located on the south side of the Plaza, at what would now be 100-04 South Glassell, set a little back from the street. It was built of poured concrete, to "afford cool and pleasant rooms." It was two stories, with a balcony around three sides.

The Hygeian House -- as Dr. Larkin dubbed it -- was finally completed around June, 1875. But Dr. Larkin ran it for only a short while, before moving on to other schemes. It was eventually acquired by C.P. Webber and Ernest McGibbon, who reopened it on June 15, 1876 as the Orange Hotel. In later years, the old landmark also housed the city hall and the library. It was finally razed in 1905.

Railroad -

In 1877, the Southern Pacific extended its Anaheim Branch to Santa Ana. In those days the railroads often demanded "subsidies" from communities that wanted service. Orange (then a town of about 300 people) either wouldn't or couldn't rise to the occasion, so the SP passed about two miles southwest of town, at a point they called West Orange (near La Veta and Flower -- now lost under the concrete of the Orange Crush).

When the Santa Fe was preparing to build through the area in 1886, the community knew what it had to do. They pledged some $30,000 worth of cash and real estate to bring the line right through town. Service to Orange began in 1887.

Newspaper -

William E. Ward, an old Gold Country newspaperman from Quincy, California, started the Orange Tribune on April 4, 1885. It folded in 1889, but was reborn as the Orange Post, which survived until 1946. Our first daily newspaper, the Orange Daily News, made its initial appearance on October 29, 1907. It soon failed, but was revived on April 14, 1908. Later, under the leadership of W.O. Hart and Justus Craemer, it grew into one of the most successful dailies in the county. It was published under various owners until 1968.

Park -

The Plaza was Orange's first park. The Plaza Square had been set aside in the original survey in 1871, but it was not until 1886 that a park was created in the center. A fountain followed in 1887. All true Orange folk know it's the Plaza, not the Circle.

Bank -

The Bank of Orange was organized on November 15, 1886. The capital and the stockholders came largely from Santa Ana, though there were a few token local businessmen on the board. They opened their new, two-story brick office building on the east side the Plaza on June 1, 1887.

In May, 1905 a group of local investors bought up the controlling interest in the bank, which was re-organized as the National Bank of Orange. In 1927, it merged with the First National Bank of Orange, which became the First National Bank of Orange County in 1963. First National was finally sold to Wells Fargo in 1978.

Street car -

The Santa Ana, Orange & Tustin Street Railway Company was founded on January 26, 1886 to connect those three communities with horse-drawn streecars. After various delays, regular service between Santa Ana and Orange began on February 16, 1888. The line to Orange ran down Main Street to La Veta Avenue, where it turned east at Hargrave's Corner. The tracks continued down to Glassell Street, where they turned north and continued on straight to the Plaza. There, the Orange, McPherson & Modena Street Railway Company offered connecting service up Chapman Avenue and Center Street to El Modena.

The SA, O & T provided sporadic service until 1895, when the company disbanded. In 1896 a steam-powered car was put on the line between Santa Ana and Orange. Oldtimers knew it as the Orange Dummy, or the Peanut Roaster. In 1901 the line was acquired by the Pacific Electric, but it was not until 1914 the famous "Big Red Cars" were put in service on a new track running along Lemon Street. Passenger service finally ended in 1930.

Architect -

C.B. Bradshaw (1840-1932) came to Orange in 1886, and played an important role in designing our downtown. He was not only Orange's first architect, he was the first architect in what is now Orange County. In a career that spanned nearly 35 years, he designed many of the landmark buildings in Orange, including the Rochester Hotel, the Edwards Block, the Ehlen & Grote Building, the Kogler-Franzen Block, and the original Orange Union High School.

City Council -

Orange was incorporated on April 6, 1888 by a vote of 99-17. At the same election, our first five city councilmen (then known as city trustees) were elected. They were an interesting mix of old time residents and civic boosters.

The old timers included William Blasdale (1834-1892), a respected pioneer of 1875, who was selected as our first mayor. P.J. Shaffer (1823-1907) was one of the very first settlers in Orange, coming here in 1872. Blasdale and Shaffer both played an important role in the agricultural development of the area. Henri F. Gardner (1852-1918) worked with the Santa Ana Valley Irrigation Company from the time of its founding in 1877, and became superintendent in 1892. It was water from the SAVI system that made local agriculture possible.

The boosters had been riding high during the recent real estate boom. C.Z. Culver was Orange's premier promoter during the real estate boom of the 1880s. He was the driving force behind the Palmyra Hotel, which opened in 1887. But he over-extended himself, and when the boom collapsed in 1888, he skipped to Mexico rather than face his creditors. Dr. O.P. Cubb (c1830-1894) was another boomtime booster who promoted a hotel of his own -- the Rochester. It was also a financial failure, but at least Chubb stayed and took the heat.

City Hall -

After incorporation on April 6, 1888, the Orange City Council held their first meeting in the offices of the Santa Ana Valley Irrigation Company (154 N. Glassell). The Council continued to meet there until 1893. The building, built in 1881, was replaced by the SAVI's new office in 1913. It still stands.

After moving through several other downtown buildings, the city finally built it own City Hall in 1921, at the southwest corner of Chapman and Center (now the site of the City Council chambers). The current Civic Center opened in 1963.

Street Fair -

In the early 1900s, there was no Orange County Fair, so different communities took turns hosting a big event. In September, 1910 the City of Orange invited the rest of Orange County down for a Street Fair around the Plaza, with food, exhibits, and events. Historic photos of that Street Fair were the inspiration for today's Orange International Street Fair, which began in 1973.

Boy Scout troop -

Orange's first Boy Scout troop was organized on January 13, 1912 at Center Street School. The Boy Scouts of America was less than two years old then, and this was only the second troop in Orange County. A second local troop was started at the high school a few days later. Both troops had folded by the end of 1913, but in 1918 a new Orange troop was formed the remained active for many years.

Paved streets -

Paving of the Plaza Square began in May, 1912. The project was jointly funded by the city and the downtown property owners. The pavement was soon extended out in all four directions, and by 1913, Chapman Avenue and Glassell Street were paved for quite a ways in either direction. The original paving was done in Portland Cement, which is especially durable -- 1920s cement paving is still in use on some of the residential streets downtown

Service Club -

The Orange Rotary Club held its first meeting on October 27, 1921. It was chartered on December 1, 1921, with 25 charter members. Attorney Frank Drumm was the first president. The club is still very active today.

Housing tract -

The first large-scale tract housing in Orange was the Bitterbush Tract in West Orange, which was built in 1950. It featured 98 homes on the 25-acre subdivision. The tract is located north of Chapman Avenue, from Eckhoff Street west to Bitterbush. Unfortunately the new tract so close to the Santa Ana River proved subject to flooding. The county later built the Bitterbush Channel on the north and west to protect the area.

Freeway -

While the Santa Ana Freeway skirted the edge of Orange in the early 1950s, the first freeway that ran through the city was State Route 55 -- the Newport Freeway (later renamed the Costa Mesa Freeway). Construction began in January, 1961, and the formal opening of the local stretch was held in September, 1962.

Skyscraper -

The 12-story Union Bank building at Main and La Veta was built in 1962. By 1967, two adjoining buildings had been added.


Watson's Drug Store

August in Orange was hot, but at least not as hot as it had been back in Arizona. And the drug store wasn't much to look at. Just a narrow storefront in a ramshackle wooden building. But at least the location wasn't so bad, right on the main street. Besides, it was the only drug store in town. The 2,000 or so folks living in and around Orange would have to shop there.

On August 28, 1899, Kellar Watson celebrated his 29th birthday by opening his doors for business in Orange for the first time. A few weeks before he had purchased the old Orange Drug Store, which could trace its history all the way back to Orange's first drug store in 1875. Now a new era in its history was about to begin.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1870, Kellar E. Watson had worked for Santa Ana druggist Mitt Phillips while still a teenager. Perhaps it was Phillips who later encouraged Watson to leave his job in Prescott, Arizona, and go into business for himself in Orange.

When Kellar Watson took over the Orange Drug Store, it was located in the old post office block on South Glassell, on the west side of the street (later it was moved to make way for the Ehlen & Grote Building, and survived for many years as the Olive Hotel).

Soon after moving to Orange, Watson joined the new Odd Fellows lodge. In 1900, they began construction on one of the first modern business blocks downtown; a substantial, two-story brick building, with a lodge room and offices upstairs, and three storefronts below. It was dedicated in April, 1901, and Watson's Drug Store moved in less than one month later, on May 25, 1901.

Watson's new home was a big step up. It was located at 118 E. Chapman (the east half of Watson's current location), next door to one of the busiest places downtown -- the Orange Post Office. Later (from 1916-21), Orange's city hall was also next door. Besides "curatives for man and beast," the new Watson's Drug Store also featured toiletries, soap, cosmetics, and a soda fountain. In 1903, Watson also cleared out a little space for Orange's first telephone switchboard.

Kellar Watson became an active member of the community, including a term on the local school board. That was probably when he met his future wife, Alice, a teacher at West Orange School. They were married in 1903, and their only son, Kellar Jr., was born in 1907.

In 1926, the Orange Post Office moved to a new location, and the Alpha-Beta Market made a deal to take over both their old storefront and Watson's location. Kellar Watson moved down to the corner, and remodeled the drug store in a "mission" style, with lots of woodwork and an improved soda fountain.

Watson's had been the only drug store in town in 1899, but as Orange grew, other drug stores began to appear. Many of these new druggists had previously worked for Kellar Watson, including John Harms, Max Simon, and (in later years) Don Marsh. By the mid-1930s, there were six drug stores in downtown Orange. But the Depression, and the rise of the drug store chains spelled the end for many of these local drug stores.

It was during the Depression that Kellar Watson, Jr. took over the drug store. Times were tough, and to stay afloat, young Kellar added all sorts of odds and ends to Watson's inventory -- anything that would sell. He also became a regular at the bankruptcy sales of other Southern California drug stores.

One thing both Watsons refused to do, however, was to sell bootleg liquor during Prohibition. Kellar Sr. even stopped selling prescription liquor when he realized it was hurting his business with the local churchgoers. Not every other drug store in town was so scrupulous.

After several years of declining health, Kellar Watson, Sr. died in November, 1943. "His influence was felt in practically all walks of life," the Orange Daily News noted. "He was active in all civic and business affairs which had the betterment of Orange at heart."

In 1949, the Alpha-Beta moved to their own new building on South Glassell Street, and Kellar Jr. seized the opportunity to move into their double storefront next door. The new "Watson's Super Drug Store" opened on August 25, 1949, just three days shy of the store's 50th birthday. The 2,800-square foot store featured a 20-stool lunch counter and soda fountain.

When the new Watson's opened, the area around the Plaza was still Orange's commercial hub. But in the 1950s, businesses began to desert downtown for Tustin Avenue, and other newer parts of town. By the mid-1960s, the Plaza area was in decline. Then nearing 60, Kellar Watson decided to retire. In 1966, he sold the store to Jim Bowyer and Jay Delaney. The new owners decided to keep the old name, rather than go the expense of printing up all new prescription forms and labels.

Over the next few years, Watson's Drug Store went through a bewildering succession of owners and co-owners -- a reflection of the tough times downtown Orange was going through. Pharmacist Scott Parker acquired an interest in 1971, and later ran the store for several years in partnership with Carole Elder. Finally, in 1986, Parker bought the old store outright.

The 1980s saw the rebirth of downtown Orange as an antique mecca. For out-of-town visitors and locals seeking a reminder of days gone by, Watson's was an island of stability in a sea of change. The soda fountain and grill began to take over more and more of the store -- eventually pushing its way out onto the sidewalk. In 2011, Watson's ceased to be drug store at all, but the soda fountain, grill, and gift shop remain busy.

Watson's Drug Store was more than just a business, it was an Orange institution, where old timers and new visitors could rub elbows. Watson's offered them something that's becoming increasingly rare in modern Orange County -- community. Watson's reminds us of the best of our past, and gives us something to take with us into the future.

(In 2016, Watson's reopened under new ownership as a combination restaurant, bar, soda fountain, and bakery.)

Downtown Orange - a brief history

An article I wrote for the Orange Public Library's website:

A History of Downtown Orange

The Citrus Industry in Orange

Another article I wrote for the library website:

The Citrus Industry in Orange

Have You Seen . . . ?

My column in the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review -- you can find an archive of some of my articles at

A Brief History of Orange, California. The Plaza City (2011)

My most recent book on my hometown. Here’s the preview from Google Books.

Images of America: Orange (2008)

Yes, I’ve even done one of those Arcadia picture books. Here’s a preview from Google Books.

Me on TV 

In 2007 I got asked to host Huell Howser on his “Road Trip” to Orange. It was supposed to be 15 minutes and ended up eight hours. In a way, this trip led to Huell’s archives going to Chapman University. Here’s the episode, from their website: Huell Howser in Orange

About a year later I did another walk around downtown Orange for a local television show, Discover Orange County. I tried to walk down different sides of the streets (and wore a different shirt). 


"Doing historical research is like eating peanuts -- once you start, you don't know when to stop." -- Jim Sleeper (1978)

© Phil Brigandi