Though long thought of as a purely suburban County, there are pockets of urbanization that have arisen since the 1970s, especially in North Orange County. Costa Mesa is probably the most urbanized city in Orange County. The two tallest skyscrapers in Orange County are located in Costa Mesa. The oldest, and third tallest building in the city is the 17-story Park Tower, completed in 1979. The tallest skyscraper in the city and county is the 21-story Center Tower, completed in 1985. It’s part of South Coast Plaza. The second tallest building in the county and city is Plaza Tower, built in 1992 and also part of South Coast Plaza. Other skyscrapers include the two 15-story Comamerica Bank Tower and DiTech.com Tower (both part of Two Town Center), the17-story Westin South Coast Plaza, the 12-story Metro Center I and Metro Center II (both completed in 1988), and the South Coast Metro Building (completed in 1989).
The land was later part of Mexico until the US’s imperialist victory in the Mexican-American War. After newly becoming part of the US, settlers built the town of Fairview near the modern day intersection of Harbor and Adams. There was a church, a schoolhouse and a 25-room hotel to accommodate tourists visiting the nearby sulfur hot springs. Fairview was devastated in 1889 when a storm and flood ravaged the town and it soon reverted to farmland.
To Fairview’s south, another town, Harper, had sprung up. It continued to function until three years of droughts at the dawn of the new century drove most families, including the Harpers, off the mesa. It slowly began to recover around 1908, when a new school opened at 17th and Newport. Harper also acquired its first commercial building, Ozment General Store, at the northeast corner of 18th and Newport. In 1910, the first commercial apple orchards were planted by George Waterman and George Huntington. A second schoolhouse (this one with two rooms!) opened at 17th and Orange. Tragedy again befell the residents of the mesa in 1916 when the Santa Ana River flooded the town.Paularino was a sleepy lima bean farming community to the northeast. I don’t have much info about it… and it doesn’t seem like people thought it was worth photographing.
Perhaps wanting to signal a new start, on May 11th, 1920, Harper changed its name to Costa Mesa. Its character stayed relatively the same, however, with most of the economy based around growing sweet potatoes, corn, tomatoes, strawberries and apples. Eight years later, in 1928, Costa Mesans effectively fought off arch rival Santa Ana’s attempts to annex them. The discovery of oil brought new growth to the city and everything was hunky dory until the depression struck. Industries folded and Costa Mesa’s only bank closed.
In 1945, Iowa-born Don Ed Hardy and his family also moved to Costa Mesa. He later went on to become a tattoo artist and founded one of the most loathed clothing brands (outside Orange County).
On June 29th, 1953, Costa Mesa was incorporated as a city. The rest of the decade was fairly uneventful until scandal rocked the suburb when Miss Costa Mesa of 1958 was stripped of her grown after it came to light that she was a divorcee. The ‘60s were predictably more tumultuous.
In 1960, a more serious crime occurred when a man pretending to be interested in buying 29-year-old Nancy Haas’ house on Princeton Drive shot her to death (five times) in front of her three-year-old daughter, Heidi. Heidi’s testimony lead to the capture and conviction of Robert Elton Edwards, a 19-year-old from Modesto.
In 1964, a group of theater students started Costa Mesa’s South Coast Repertory. Leading the way were two San Francisco Stage College graduates, David Emmes and Martin Benson, who opened their theater in Costa Mesa, convinced that there was a future for theater in Orange County. In 1972, South Coast Repertory launched a new branch, Actor’s Mime Theater. Sadly, that didn’t last (I’m not joking – I like pantomime) but the SCR is still active.
In more Christian Costa Mesa news, in 1970, Richard T. Coughlin established Costa Mesa’s All-American Boys Chorus. Coughlin had been moved to Costa Mesa from Boston by the pedophile-enabling Catholic Church after he was accused there of molesting young boys. Later, five members of the chorus would make the same accusations but Coughlin swore to the Almighty that he couldn’t remember anything.
In even more creepy Christian news, in 1973, the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) began. Its headquarters are in Costa Mesa and it is the largest and most popular Christian network in the world. Occasionally TBN’s promotes “prosperity gospel,” promising viewers that if they give cash to the network, they will in turn be rewarded with money. If you’ve ever lived without cable and tried to pretend that there are more than enough free stations, TBN is the one where the pink-haired harlot, Jan Crouch, joins her husband, Paul, on the set of Praise the Lord where they sit on lavish thrones of gold.
In case you’re the average Christian who’s never bothered cracking open a Bible, here are some of Jesus’s teachings on wealth.
- “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
- “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
- “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
In other unholy news from the 1970s, in 1978, Costa Mesa witnessed the formation of the Nazi Lowriders gang.
Some say that Costa Mesa got back on track in the 1980s. In 1981, the Costa Mesa Historical Society’s Museum and Headquarters opened. In 1986, the aforementioned Orange County Performing Arts Center opened. However, not everyone was happy with the increasing cultural opportunities. A complaint was made by crotchety Costa Mesa resident John Feeney when he realized that South Coast Repertory was using city money to produce flyers supporting the NEA, which a conservative reactionary claimed amounted to “religious bigotry.” Chester priests vs. Robert Mapplethorpe…
In 2006, The Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall opened in Town Center.
Movies & TV
Costa Mesa is home to the Theater & Arts District, a performing and visual arts campus. It included the Orange County Performing Arts Center (OCPAC), Segerstrom Center for the Arts (which comprises the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall and Samueli Theater), as well as the aforementioned South Coast Repertory.
Other Stuff To Do
There are also three libraries and 26 parks. The largest park is Fairview Regional, on the city’s western edge. It’s a large park along the Santa Ana River with trails and the Talbert Nature Preserve.
Especially prominent cuisines in Costa Mesa are Italian and Mexican but there’s a pretty good variety of cuisine represented across the city. I think that the first place I ever went to was a tragi-romantic meal at Scott’s a couple of years ago. On the day of our visit, the crew ate at Plums, which was excellent. There’s also Anjin, Anotello Ristorante, Arriba Baja Grill, Boudin SF, Bristol Palms, Champagne French Bakery Cafe, Corner Office Grill, Darya Fine Persian Cuisine, Diho Siam Restaurant, Finbars Italian Kitchen, Durty Nelly’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, Fresca’s Mexican Grill, Garduno’s Ristorante Italiano, The Gypsy Den Café, Habana, Hamamori Restaurant Lounge, Hemingway’s, Jerry’s Famous Deli, Karl Strauss Brewery, Kura Sushi, La Cave, Lawry’s Carvery, Le Chateau Restaurant, Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge, Marché Moderne, Marrakesh, May Garden Chinese Restaurant, Memphis Café, Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant & Bar, Nello Cucina, Newport Rib Company, Oki Doki, Old Vine Café, 118 Degrees, Onotria Wine Country Cuisine, Orchid Cuisine Grill & Bar, Park Privé, Pinot Provence, Quattro Caffé, Ristorante Mamma Gina, Royal Khyber Fine Indian Cuisine, Skosh Monahan’s Steakhouse and Irish Pub, Soprano’s Restaurant, Sutra Lounge, TerraNova, La Terraza Mexican Grill and Bar, Valhalla Table, Wahoo’s Fish Taco, Westside Bar & Grill, Z’Tejas and Zipangu.
To vote for any communities you’d like to see covered in California Fool’s Gold, name them in the comments. If you’d like a bit of inspiration, there are primers for:
- Imperial County
- Kern County
- Los Angeles County
- Angeles Forest
- the Antelope Valley
- the Channel Islands
- the Eastside
- the Harbor
- Mideast Los Angeles
- Northeast Los Angeles
- Northwest Los Angeles
- the Pomona Valley
- the San Fernando Valley
- the San Gabriel Valley
- the Santa Monica Mountains
- the South Bay
- South Los Angeles’s Eastside
- South Los Angeles’s Westside
- Southeast Los Angeles
- the Verdugos
- the Westside
- Orange County
- Riverside County
- San Bernardino County
- San Diego County
- San Luis Obispo County
- Santa Barbara County
- Ventura County