California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Garden Grove, The City of Youth and Ambition

California Fool's Gold

Garden Grove in the 1950s
Downtown Garden Grove

This Southern CA-area episode is about Garden Grove, which I journeyed to with Garden Grove native Tita Ortega.

Map of Orange CountyPendersleigh & Sons‘ Official Map of Orange County

Garden Grove is is located in North Orange County. In fact, it was whilst living in Garden Grove in 1888 thatR.Q. Wickham launched the political movement that would lead to the formation of Orange County. Garden Grove is bordered by Cypress, Stanton and Anaheim to the north; Orange to the east; Santa Ana to the southeast; Westminster to the south; Seal Beach to the southwest and Los Alamitos to the west.

Garden Grove in the 1950s

Garden Grove has been a “capital of” from the early days until the city was incorporated in 1956; it’s been declared the chili-pepper capital of the world in the early 1920s, the poultry capital of the world a little later, the egg capital of the world not long after that, and the strawberry capital of the world in the late ’50s. News of the Garden Grove world is covered by The Garden Grove Journal, which also covers Westminster and… Stanton. The funny pages include the latest strips from King Features Syndicate‘s Popeye (est. 1929),Flash Gordon (1934), Amber Waves (2000), Mama’s Boyz (1995), Out on a Limb (1991), R.F.D. (1992),They’ll Do it Every Time (1929), The Spats (c. 1987), Henry (1932) and Katzenjammer Kids (1897).

Map of Garden GrovePendersleigh & Sons‘ Official Map of Garden Grove

Garden Grove is affectionately and commonly known as “Garbage Grove.” The city includes the large subdistrict West Garden Grove which is connected to greater Garden Grove by a narrow strip along Garden Grove Boulevard. The strip of Garden Grove Blvd between Beach Blvd and Brookhurst St is officially known as “The Korean Business District.” “Little Saigon,” which was established in neighboring Westminster, has since spread into Garden Grove, Fountain Valley and Santa Ana. Other neighborhoods in Garden Grove include the Central Industrial District, College Park East, Colonia Manzanillo, Downton, Old Ranch, South of Katella and Uptown.

Garden Grove Rules
Garden Grove rules or Anarchy in Garden Grove — which is it gonna be?


For thousands of years before the Spaniards arrived, the area was home to the Acagchemem, Payomkowishum and Tongva. Spanish soldiers commanded by Gaspar de Portolà i Rovira first made their way north across California in 1769. On their journey, they camped on a wide grassy plain just east of present day Garden Grove. They named the area the Santa Ana Valley, claimed the state of California as a possession of Spain and the Santa Ana Valley was subsequently divided into large ranchos. In 1822,Mexico gained independence from Spain and California became a Mexican province. After the USconquered the land in 1848, California became a territory of the United States of America. In 1850 it became the 31st state.

Abel Stearns  Alonzo Cook  Garden Grove Post Office
     Abel Stearns          Statue of Alonzo Cook     The First Garden Grove Post Office

A businessman named Abel Stearns bought large tracts of land in Southern California in 1868, sold smaller lots to settlers and a small village appeared. Bolsa Grande school opened in 1870. In 1874, Alonzo Cook purchased 160 acres of land and named the land around the school Garden Grove. The same year, a Methodist church was established. Cook donated land north of Main Street and Garden Grove Boulevard for a post office, which opened in 1877.

Charles Hitchcock  Hitchcock Residence, Garden Grove  Lois Hitchcock

Although the name didn’t really seem to fit the open landscape, Garden Grove was peaceful until 1888. A local couple, Charles and Lois Hitchcock, had executed a deed to transfer their land to a German farmer,Fred Anschlag. When they failed to transfer ownership, he murdered them. A phrenologist, Professor William Windsor, examined the killer’s head. The doctor determined that the organs in the brain that deal with property value were almost “entirely idiotic.” In court, the doctor testified, “He is idiotic in the particulars mentions, and is incapable of exercising moral responsibility in any case. He is likely to commit homicide upon any occasion which may seem to him to be expedient. I would no t hold him responsible more than I would hold a horse, dog, or any other animal incapable of correct reason” and affixed the blame in the case on Anshclag’s parents and ancestors. The jury nonetheless found the murderer guilty. Invitations for his public hanging had already been sent out to the 200 residents of Garden Grove and then, two days before his scheduled execution, he poisoned himself.


Stanley House

The oldest extant home in Garden Grove is the Ware-Stanley House, which was completed in 1892. In 1970, resident Anne Stanley donated the two acre property including the Stanley House, Arthur‘s barn,  a tank house and her son Emerson‘s home to the Garden Grove Historical Society. Since then, more of Garden Grove’s oldest homes and business buildings have been moved to this location. It now includes Garden Grove’s first post office, the Electric Shoe Shop/Barber Shop and Garden Grove’s #1 fire engine, a1926 American La France. The museum remains the only one in the city.

At the turn of the century, eucalyptus trees were planted to provide lumber. However, since eucalyptus is totally unfit for that purpose, people began using the trees as wind breaks, property markers and for deliciously-scented eucalyptus oil. Eucalyptus oil went on to be one of the town’s first industries and there’s still an old boiling vat on the grounds of Mitchell School at the corner of Taft and Trask. Other early industry centered around the farming of orange, walnuts, chili peppers, lima beans and sugar beets.

Pacific Electric Railway

Things famously got real on November 6th, 1905, when the Los Angeles Interurban Railway began operating the Santa Ana Line, which connected Watts to Santa Ana and led to an explosion in growth along the communities it passed through, including Garden Grove.

1916 flood of Garden Grove

In 1916, four feet of flood water submerged the town, but once it dried out, people kept on arriving. Many of the new arrivals were Japanese and Mexican. In 1933, the Long Beach Earthquake destroyed much ofCentral Business District. After World War II, many veterans settled in the city and neighboring cities to work in the aerospace and other industries. In 1950, the MTA took over the railways and ended passenger service on the Santa Ana line. After the 1955 opening of Disneyland in adjacent Anaheim, hotels sprang up to serve the tourists. Houses sprang up for new residents and for a time, Garden Grove was the fastest growing town in the nation, with an average of 1,000 people arriving every month.


Crystal Cathedral
The Crystal Cathedral


Churches popped up too, none more widely recognized than Robert H. Schuller‘s Crystal Cathedral, which was built in 1955. Their weekly broadcasts of “The Hour of Power” are available on CD and DVD. The sinister looking building was designed by Philip Johnson. The grounds are also full of fountains, monumental statues and a marble-columned room in which a Jesus figure seems to struggle to emerge from a rotating block of crystal.

Rotating Crystal Jesus room
The Drowning of Jesus
Hippie He-Man Jesus and multi-ethnic children of the world
The Smiling Jesus
The Smiling Jesus and some young girls
The Lost is Found
The Lost is Found
Cast the First Stone
The judgement of the dimples of Venus
Statue of Job
Job, whom God allowed the Adversary (not Satan) to solve a bet

All those fancy objects came at a cost and on October 18, 2010, the board of the Crystal Cathedral filed for Chapter 11. On November 20th, 2010, Caroline informed me that “Chapter 11 is just another chapter of the Bible.” The Crystal Cathedral is mocked in The Simpsons ninth season closer, “Natural Born Kissers.” The Crystal Cathedral was also featured on the History Channel‘s “Building in the Name of God,” the Life After People episode “Wrath of God,” and Laguna Beach – The Real Orange County. Reverend Schuller is the father of season one cast member Christina.

Gem Theater
Gem Theater
Garden Grove Playhouse
Garden Grove Playhouse

On June 18, 1956, the 44,000 residents formally decided to incorporate their town. Four years later the population had swollen to 85,000. By 1970, the population was 120,000. In 1974, the Garden Grove Playhouse opened, the city’s oldest theater. Today there are two other theaters in the city, Gem Theaterand the adjacent Festival Amphitheater. The latter hosts Shakespeare Orange County, which presents aShakespeare Festival each summer. The former is putting on a Christmas revue, The Holiday Gem, which will possibly develop into another annual tradition.



Garden Grove Galleria
The unbuilt Garden Grove Galleria

Korean Business District

Beginning in the 1970s, large numbers of Koreans moved to Garden Grove and the first Korean-owned shop was a grocery store on Garden Grove Boulevard. The number of Korean-owned businesses and residents grew and the area came to be known colloquially as Little Seoul. Over time, however, most Orange County Korean-Americans  ended up in cities like Buena Park, Fullerton and Irvine. Nonetheless, Little Seoul is still home to more than 1,000 Korean-owned businesses along the boulevard between Beach Boulevard and Brookhurst Street, making it the second largest Korean enclave in Southern California, after LA’s Koreatown. Somewhat surprisingly, restaurants are outnumbered by Korean-owned dentist offices, hair salons and law offices. I’m guessing that the lack-of-Korean-food situation will be somewhat rectified with the opening of the massive Garden Grove Galleria. Although not in Little Seoul, at tiny Garden Grove Parkthere’s also an annual Korean Festival. To read more about Little Seoul, click here.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's Map of Little Seoul
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography’s Map of Little Seoul


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's Map of Little Saigon
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography’s Map of Little Saigon

Also in the 1970s, large numbers of Vietnamese began to settle in Garden Grove and neighboring communities. Little Saigon was established on Bolsa Ave in 1978 by businessmen Danh Quach and Frank Jao. That same year, Nguoi Viet Daily News began publishing from a home in Garden Grove. It’s the oldest, largest and most prominent Vietnamese enclave in the US. It was officially designated Little Saigon in 1988 but was unrecognized as such in Garden Grove in 2003. To read more about Little Saigon, click here!

Downtown Garden Grove
Downtown Garden Grove Today


Today Garden Grove’s residents are 47% white, 32% Latino of any race and 31% Asian (mostly Vietnamese and Korean). That mix is reflected in the restaurants, which include bánh mì joints, pho, Vietnamese French, Vietnamese Chinese, Vietnamese Cajun, Vietnamese dessert, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Pizza and many more. In fact, I will say without a doubt that Garden Grove is home to more restaurants than any neighborhood or city I’ve thus far blogged about. I’m sure this list is incomplete but just look in awe:

Al Madinah, Alwaha BBQ & Hookah Lounge, An’z Restaurant, Anh Hong Restaurant, Anna’s Mondu, Apollo Burgers, Artist Crawfish Express, Asia Super Buffet, Augustino’s Italian Restaurant, BCD Tofu House Restaurant, Bella Mari’s Italian Family Restaurants, Bellagio, Binh Duong Restaurant, Binh Minh Restaurant, Bonjour Saigon Restaurant, Boulangerie Pierre & Patisserie, Brodard Chateau,Brodard Restaurant, Byul Daepo – Star BBQ, Cafe-T, Cafe Artist Restaurant, Cafe Eden,

Capital Seafood Restaurant, Carolina’s Italian Restaurant, Casa de Soto, Cham Sut Gol Korean BBQ, China Chef Mi La Cay, Chung Dam Keul, Chyll Restaurant & Lounge, Claws, Co La Vietnamese Restaurant, Com Tam Thuan Kieu, Com Tam Tran Quy Cap, De Nhat Bun Bo Bolsa, Diamond Seafood Palace, Dinh Thieng Restaurant, Do Re Mi Udon & Sushi, Dongbosung, Doug’s Downtown Grill,Dragon Palace, Drunken Fish, Dzui Lounge, Dzui Restaurant, El Montezuma #2, Fe Lounge,

Fiesta Mex, Flor Blanca No 2 Restaurant, Flower Pig, Four Seasons Hot Pot, Fresh Foods Express,Furiwa Chinese Seafood Restaurant, Ga Bo Ja Restaurant, Gae Sung Restaurant, Garden Tofu Restaurant, Gaynor’s Lounge, Genki Living, Go Goo Ryeo, Go Hyang San Chon, Guacamole Burgers Grille #3, H. Salt Fish & Chips, Hai Ky Mi Gia, Hai Yen Restaurant, Ham-Hung Restaurant, Han Woori, Hana Sushi & Roll, Hangari Kalgooksu, Harry’s Place, Haus of Pizza, Hien Khanh,

Hoa Binh Restaurant, Hoa Sen Vegetarian Restaurant, Hoi An Restaurant, Hong An Restaurant, Hong Huong Restaurant, Hong Kong Express, Huong Huong Food To Go, Huyen’s Restaurant, Hwang Hae Doh, Incheonwon BBQ House, Jack’s Bakery, Jak’s Bistro Bar & Grill, Jang Mo Jip, Jang Toh Restaurant, Jong Ro Kim Bap, Jong Ro Shul Lung Tang, Jumpa Thai Restaurant, KZ 8 Lounge, Kaju Tofu Restaurant, KanSai Sushi, Kerostena, Kim’s Restaurant, King Harbor Seafood Restaurant,

Ku Wol San, Kyotori Japanese Restaurant, La Catering, La Langosta Restaurant, La Pizza Grotto, La Veranda, Laziz Cafe and Hookah Bar, Lee’s Sandwiches, Lien Hue 2, Lien Hue Food To Go, Lighttown House, Los Cotijas Taco Shop, Los Sanchez, Lua Bistrot, Lucky Chinese Restaurant, Mae’s Cafe, May Bon Phuong, Mi Ho Restaurant, Mika Sushi Roll & Teriyaki, Mimi’s Cafe, Minh Oi, Miyako, Mon Ami Cafe, Mon Cheri, Morangak Restaurant, Mr. Pollo, MyLinh’s Bun Bo Hue Restaurant,

My Nguyen Restaurant, My Vi Mi Gia, My Vi Mi Gia #2, Myung In Dumplings, Nam Giao Restaurant, New Seoul BBQ Buffet Restaurant, New Trieu Chau Restaurant, Nha Hang $1.99, Nha Hang An, Nhu Y Restaurant, Noorani Halal Restaurant, Nuoc Mia Vien Tay, OC Brewhouse, Oggi’s Pizza And Brewery, Omelette House, Ondal Restaurant, On the Rocks Bar & Grill, Ooh La La, Pahiyas Grill, Paradise Vietnamese Cuisine, Peking Gourmet, Phat Ky Mi Gia Restaurant, Pho 54 Restaurant,

Pho 79 Restaurant, Pho 86 Restaurant, Pho 2000, Pho America, Pho Bolsa, Pho Dakao, Pho Kim Ngan Restaurant, Pho Lu, Pho Mom, Pho Nam Dinh, Pho Quang Trung, Pho Season, Pho Thanh, Pho Vie II, Pho Vinh Ky 2, Phuong’s Restaurant, Phuong Hoang, Pita Paradise, Pizza and Chicken Love Letter, Pot Au Feu, Quan Bun Song Huong, Quan Gio Bar & Grill, Quan He Pho, Quan Sao Dem, Quan Vy Restaurant, Regina’s Restaurant, Restaurant Royal Seafood, Rockin’ Crab House,

Romano’s Pizza & Steak House, Royal Capital Seafood Restaurant, Royal Thai Restaurant, Saigon Deli Restaurant Pho Cong Ly, Seafood Cove, Seafood Place Chinese Restaurant, Seoul Oak Korean BBQ, Seoul Soondae Restaurant, Seoul Tofu, 7 Seas Fish House, Shik Do Rak, Smile Restaurant, Song Linh Restaurant, Ta Chen Chinese Restaurant, Taco Joe’s, Tacos Tijuana, Tai Buu Paris,Tastea, Tasty Pizza, Tay Ho Banh Cuon, Tay Thuong Restaurant, Thai Binh Food To Go,

Thai Famous Cuisine, Thai Nakorn, Thai Tangerine Restaurant, Thanh Son Inc, Thanh Tam Bakery, Thanh Thanh Food To Go, The Boiling Crab, The Crawfish House, The Garden Room, The Past Memories, The Red Cork Bistro, Thien An Restaurant, Thuan Kieu Noodle Bar & Grill, Thuy’s Food To Go & More, Tip Top Sandwiches, Tobaki Restaurant, Tokyo Love Japanese Restaurant, Tomy’s Burger (where Tita used to work), Tram Chim, Tu DO Restaurant, TusCa, 25Si Karaoke,

Van’s Restaurant, Vien Dong Restaurant, Vientiane Thai Laos, Warung Pojok, Wasabi & Sushi Japanese Restaurant, Waterfront Cafe, Wong’s Restaurant, Yeh Won Korean Restaurant, Yogi’s Teriyaki, Young Pung and Yum Cha

In the past I’ve had the reliable sandwiches of  Banh Mi & Che Cali (albeit the one in Rosemead). I’ve also attended a Vietnamese New Wave night at Can (but didn’t have any food). And once, my ex took me to Cafe Di Vang 2, where I slurped up a durian shake whilst served by waitresses in skimpy outfits and male customers smoking and gamlbling. I think Van Hanh Vegetarian (albeit the one in Westminster) might be where I first tried stinky tofu.

Louie's on Main

Tita and I ate at Louie’s on Main, the oldest bar in Garden Grove, established 1953 AD. The food was serviceable, the service was friendly… the coffee was a bit watery.

Inside Azteca
Inside Azteca
Azteca Mexican Restaurant
Azteca Mexican Restaurant

If I eat in Garden Grove again, it will likely be in the Crystal Cathedral’s cafe or Azteca. Azteca is a culinary shrine to The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. There’s an Elvis pinball game, an Elvis jukebox and the TV’s show Elvis performances. With over 1,500 pieces of memorabilia, the restaurant is the largest collection west of theMississippi. Adjoined to the restaurant is Crooner’s Bar, which hosts Elvis-related music events. The schedule when we visited listed A Touch of Elvis featuring Tally Lauriti this past Wednesday. There areKaraoke Fridays and Saturdays with Bobby Vegas and an Elvis Gospel Sunday Brunch featuringMarlon.


Also apparently worthy of a visit is Zlaket’s Market, a downtown staple since it was established in 1927 byLeo and Mary Zlaket. It was closed (!) but we could see a decent selection of soda in the windows (includingFaygo, all you Juggalos and Middlewesterners).


1963 Miss Garden Grove
1963 Miss Garden Grove
Garden Grove Farmers' Market
Garden Grove Farmers Market

If you like to incorporate your events with eating, every Memorial Day weekend Garden Grove hosts the second largest Strawberry Festival west of the Mississippi — damn you, Lebanon, Oregon! There’s also a weekly Farmers’ Market. Events that don’t involve food include the Miss Garden Grove pageant, the current title holder of which is Leah CecilAtlantis Park plays host to the Annual Family Winterfest.


Garden Grove is apparently not ready for its close up, as it’s appeared on screen rather infrequently. I guess it appeared in Chronos (1985). I feel like parts of Gleaming the Cube took place in Garden Grove, but that might’ve just been Westminster. There was, as I recall, the episode of The OC, “The Dearly Beloved,” where there was some kind of deal involving Vietnamese gangstas from Garden Grove, one of whom memorably said to Trey, “We’re renegotiating, Garden Grove style. What are you gonna do about it, you little Newport beyotch?”

Jenette McCurdy  Eunice Pringle

The only famous actresses from Garden Grove that my research dug up were and Jennette McCurdy andEunice Irene Pringle. McCurdy is known only to the Nickelodeon set. Pringle was born March 5, 1912. She gained notoriety after accusing Greek-American movie mogul Alexander Pantages of raping her when she auditioned for him in 1929. A rumor circulated that she was paid $100,000 by Joseph Kennedy to accuse him of rape to ruin him so that Kennedy could buy his chain of theaters. Pantages was sentenced to fifty years although he successfully appealed. He was ruined, however, and did in fact sell his chain to the Kennedy Clan leader. Pringle, afterward, dropped off the radar and married in 1935. She remarried in 1947, lived in Chicago and then moved to San Diego County in 1955. She died in 1996, aged 84.

As for renting and purchasing, there are a few mom and pop stores in Garden Grove. Kim Son, Sam’s Video, Thai’s Video and Midnight Adult Book & Video.


Garden Grove has a stronger connection to music than movies. The city inspired the Sublime song “Garden Grove.” Garden Grove is also the birthplace of Scott Allen “Scotty” Klopfenstein of Reel Big Fish. Untold Fables also hailed from Garden Grove. After recording two albums for Dionysus, member Robert Butlerjoined Portland band The Miracle Workers. The British & Dominion Social Club, established by Englishand Irish expats in 1963 and host of Tita’s club night, Superstar, has a British music night from theMadchester era, the first of its kind in the US. Garden Grove’s Eastgate Park also hosts the annual Free Summer Concerts in the Park.


Although I’ve never heard it acknowledged, Garden Grove is a hotbed of sculpture and statuary. In addition to those at the Crystal Cathedral, there are also many at Chua Quan AM.

Ho Phap
Ho Phap
Chua Quan The Am
Chua Quan The Am
Ho Phap
Ho Phap

I haven’t visited Won Buddhism OC, Bupwahng Sa or Chua Duoc Su but it’s my understanding that they are lower key affairs.

Kona Gardens Garden Grove

There are tikis and other Polynesian features at the Kona Gardens apartment complex.

Commander Donald A. Gary Bicentennial Mall
Commander Donald A. Gary Bicentennial Mall
Bicentennial Mall Garden Grove
Bicentennial Mall Garden Grove


There are many more statues at at the Garden Grove Civic CenterCommander Donald A. Gary Bicentennial Mall (named after a congressional medal of honor recipient and WW II vet) opened on the grounds of the Civic Center on November 7, 1977. The Bicentennial Commission coordinated the bicentennial celebration, which coincided with Garden Grove’s 20 year anniversary with the theme “Pride in Country and Community.” The mall has bridges, brooks, and ponds that are home to ducks and geese of several species (mostly mallard) and red-eared sliders, the cutest and best known species of terrapins.

The mall also includes “Tranquility Base Here – The Eagle Has Landed,” sculpted by John Edward Svenson. The phallic shaft symbolizes the thrust of the space craft from Earth into the unknown. The eight relief panels symbolize different moments in the US’s space program. It was dedicated December 17, 1980. On top, the pigeons have landed. In the pond is Children of Garden Grove, which includes statues of actual Garden Grove residents Anthony X. Munoz, Dami Lee, Wyatt Pierce McCarthy, Hayley Butterfield, Anna Lee, whose parents allowed them to be forever frozen in carbonite for Garden Grove’s 50th Anniversary.

In a distant corner of the park is Union Passage, by Guy Angelo Wilson, and dedicated January 20, 1991.


Garden Grove’s skyline is dominated by three hotels. The tallest highrise in Garden Grove is also the oldest — the 16-story Hyatt Regency Orange County, completed in 1987. The 14-story Embassy Suites Hotel was completed in 2001. Also 14-stories, the Marriott Suites were completed in 2002.

The CARDIS and an Orange County Slayer Truck
Silver Lake and Garden Grove
God Bless America and God Bless Garden Grove
God Bless America and God Bless Garden Grove
Garden Grove Fire Hydrant

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:

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRWWhich Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiand Twitter.
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