California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Orange, Orange County’s Plaza City

California Fool's Gold


Orange Skyline

This blog entry is about the City of Orange, a town located in North Orange County, California. I was joined on my visit by long-time Orange residents and fans, Alex Graham (of The Internal Tulips) and Song Le Graham, whose contributions greatly contributed to this entry.

Seal of the City of Orange

Orange completely surrounds the city of Villa Park and is in turn surrounded by Anaheim, North Tustin, Tustin, Santa Ana and Garden Grove. Orange is noteworthy in California for its concentration of historic buildings built in a variety of styles, including California Bungalow, Craftsman, Craftsman Bungalow, Hip Roof Cottage, Mediterranean Revival, Prairie, Spanish Colonial Revival and Victorian. It contains several distinct residential areas including three Eichler tracts and the neighborhoods of Orange Park Acres, Cerro Villa Heights, El Modena, McPherson, Marlboro, Olive and Old Towne.

Although Orange has few buildings, 21-story City Tower, completed in 1988, was completed in 1988 and is today the fifth tallest building in the county. The next tallest structure is the 16-story 1100 Executive Tower.


Orange County Rancho Map

For at least 8,000 years the, the lands that now make up Orange were home to the Tongva and Acagchemem nations. An expedition led by Father Junípero Serra out of San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico led to the Spaniards naming the area Vallejo de Santa Ana. In 1801, the Spanish Empire granted 62,500 acres to Jose Antonio Yorba and he named it Rancho San Antonio. The rancho included the lands of modern day Olive, Orange, Villa Park, Santa Ana, Tustin, Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.


Map of the City of Orange

Pendersleigh & Sons‘ Official Map of Orange

As Orange has grown from a small town of 600 to a city of about 150,000, it’s grown around other towns, in some cases absorbing them into neighborhoods with distinct characters. Although whiter than Orange County in general (81% White and 10% Latino), El Modena and Olive are mostly Latino and the white population includes large numbers of Armenians, Persians and Arabs.

Olive 1912

After San Juan Capistrano, Olive is the oldest non-native community in Orange County. Around 1810, the Yorbas made their home on the smaller Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana there. In 1887, a town was laid out. Another town, St. James, was laid out to the south but was absorbed by Orange. Olive, however, remains unincorporated and distinct from Orange.

Students in front of Roosevelt School, El Modena (1922)
El Modena Elementary, 1922
Lorenzo and Josefina Ramirez, with their sons Silvino and Ignacio, mid-1930s
The Ramirez family, who sued to end segregation

El Modena was established as a Quaker community in 1886, as Modena. The post office complained it was too similar to Madera so they added the “El.” Why not La Modena? Italian presumably wasn’t the Quakers’ first language. After the citrus industry took off, the local packing plant attracted Mexicans and the neighborhood remains one of Orange’s few predominantly Latino barrios.

Also in 1886, the town of McPherson was established around the McPherson Brothers‘ vineyards. Shortly after a blight killed off their grapes, it was absorbed by Orange.

Cypress c. 1920

Around 1900, the largely Mexican-American town of Cypress developed around a packing plant and was later incorporated into Orange.

Hewes Park

In 1905, rancher David Hewes built Hewes Park in the middle in the orange groves as a tourist destination with an attractive plaza to the east of Orange. It was later destroyed to make way for a gated community of tacky mansions.

West Orange
was a small, residential farming town near Flower and La Veta that was later absorbed by Orange.

The 500 block of South Glassell was home to Orange’s Chinatown until 1924, when the last Chinese resident moved away.

Alice Chandler, Deputy Sherrif, Chandler Ranch, Orange Park Acres, 1950-1951
Alice Chandler, Deputy Sherriff, Chandler Ranch, Orange Park Acres, 1950-1951

In 1894, Ferdinand Keifhaber purchased a 2,000 acres east of Orange. In 1911, the Kiefhaber family sold much of the land to C.C. Chapman, Dr. Randell, Mervin Monnette and Frank Mead Sr. In 1928, Frank Mead Jr and Monnette formed the Orange Park Acres Corporation to develop 640 acres of what is now the equestrian community of Orange Park Acres.


Plaza Square Park, Richland

As early as 1864, Los Angeles attorneys Alfred Chapman and Andrew Glassell owned much of the land along Santiago Creek. Although Chapman liked to think of himself as the “Father of Orange,” Andrew Glassell’s brother William was probably more deserving. Civil War veteran Captain William T. Glassell laid out a community, Richland, bounded by Maple, Grand, Almond, and Lemon streets and with Chapman and Glassell streets meeting in a central pubic plaza. Captain Glassell’s home and office, on the west side of the Plaza Square, was the first building in Richland. The captain also supervised the construction of the A.B. Chapman Canal from the river to provide irrigation for the farm sites. By the end of 1871, there were a dozen houses in and around Richland. The Richland School District was established in 1872, the same year the first orange groves were installed. Before that, apricots, avocados, barley, raisins, walnuts and wheat had been the main crops. By 1873 the town required a post office, so an application was sent to Washington. It was refused, however, as there already was a Richland, California (which has since disappeared). The Richlanders of Orange County then chose the name “Orange.”


In 1874, the Beach Building was the first two story building. P.J. Shaffer‘s 1874 home is the oldest house in Orange (in 1905 it was moved from Maple and Orange to 221 North Orange). In 1882, the building of St. John’s Lutheran Church and School attracted many German-Americans to Orange. Early on, two local newspapers were founded, in 1885, the Orange Tribune (later renamed the Orange Post until it ended in publication in 1946), and in 1888, the Orange News (later renamed the Orange Daily News). The Plaza Square remained a dusty patch of weeds until 1886, when Orange Plaza was made a circle with a fountain in the middle, due to the efforts of the Women’s Club. (The original fountain was moved to the Orange Public Library in 1937…

New Orange Circle Fountain

…The “new” fountain came from Westinghouse and boasts 126 lighting and flow combinations.) C.Z. Culver opened the Palmyra Hotel in 1887. When the boom went bust in 1888, he moved to Mexico. The hotel was destroyed in 1970. Although still small, Orange was incorporated on April 6th, 1888, partly to ensure that it remained dry.


Orange was the first developed town site to be served by the California Southern Railroad when the line reached Orange County. The depot was built in 1880. In 1886, the Santa Ana, Orange & Tustin Street Railway began running between Santa Ana and Orange. Originally it was a small horse-drawn streetcar that locals nicknamed “The Peanut Roaster” and “The Orange Dummy.”

Santa Fe Depot 1891
Santa Fe Depot 1891

In 1887, The Santa Fe Railroad extended a line into the town. In 1887, the Santa Ana & Orange Motor Road Company purchased the Santa Ana, Orange & Tustin Street Railway. The competition drove down train fares and contributed significantly to the housing boom. In 1901 Henry E. Huntington‘s Pacific Electric bought the Santa Ana Streetcar Line and continued electric rail service until 1930. Orange’s original wooden depot closed in 1938.

Orange Train Station

The new train station was dedicated on May 1st, 1938. The Santa Fe Railroad discontinued service in 1971 and it was closed. In 1990, it reopened and is now served by Metrolink‘s Orange County Line. In July 2004, the station became home to a Cask ‘n Cleaver restaurant.


Orange City Hall 1921

After the housing boom of the late ’80s, things in Orange calmed down. By 1910 Orange had a bank, a blacksmith and a couple of shoe stores, grocers, drugstores, packing houses and, of course, “The Circle.” In 1921 they got their first city hall (razed in 1962 for to make way for the Civic Center). During the depression, Orange went pear-shaped along with everywhere else. A shanty town sprang up alone Santiago Creek that residents called Orange Dump. It wasn’t all bad, however; a reporter for the Orange Daily News wrote of it, “We found men of all colors and beliefs living together, enjoying life — such as it is — as much as we enjoy our luxuries.” Also, the women’s softball team, The Orange Lionettes was founded in 1936, playing until 1975.

Aerial view of Orange in the 1950s

A second real estate boom in the 1950s, fueled by post-War settlement in Southern California and freeway construction, put the final nail in Orange’s agricultural beginnings. In 1952, Orange was 3.8 square miles. In 1954, Chapman University moved to its present location in Orange, having begun as Hesperian College in Woodland in 1861. By 1960, Orange had grown to 8.3 square miles, with a population that more than doubled in the decade, reaching 26,444 by 1960. A new main library opened in 1961. In 1962, as Orange expanded east, residents of Villa Park voted to incorporate as their own city.


Eichler Home

CARDIS in front of an Eichler Home
The CARDIS in front of an Eichler

Joseph Eichler was a California real estate developer who, unlike many of his peers, established a non-discrimination policy and offered homes for sale to anyone of any religion or race. In 1958, he resigned from the National Association of Home Builders when they refused to support a non-discrimination policy. Joseph Eichler used well-known architects to design both the site plans and the homes themselves. Orange boasts three of these: Fairhaven (begun in 1960), Fairmeadows (in 1962) and Fairhills (1963) and the city is home of 350 of the 600 Southern California Eichlers. Some Eichler-owners host progressive dinner parties in which guests travel from house to house, eating a different course at each one.


In 1997, downtown Orange was, thanks largely to the non-profit Old Towne Preservation Association, given historic status, making it the largest district on National Register of Historical Places in California. As is typically done to connote great age, an extra “e” was added to the word “town.” It’s interesting that they didn’t call it “Olde Towne,” only employing the Early Modern English that went out of style in 1650 to one word. Please also note, trailing “e”s in Early Modern English aren’t silent, so Orange’s Old Towne should be pronounced “Old Townie.”


Not many musicians are native to Orange, perhaps just Toni Childs, although bands come to play at the American Legion Hall. However, there are a couple of independent music stores worth mentioning.

Mr. C's Rare Records

Mr. C’s Rare Records is one of them. Mr. C is Everett Caldwell and his rare 45s number in the tens of thousands… There does seem to be a general consensus that the prices are pretty steep but it’s not easy keeping a record store running in 2010, 32 years after opening their doors.


Inside Pepperland

Pepperland is even older, first opening their doors 37 years ago but having operated continuously since 1982. There’s a distinct Beatles focus but overall a wide selection of music, instruments and music-related knickknacks.


Big Momma's House
The titular house from Big Momma’s House

Luckily, Orange has been much more fruitful in film and was used as a shooting location in movies and TV series including Accepted, American Wedding, Another Gay Movie, Big Momma’s House, Black Sheep, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Brain Blockers, Clockstoppers, Crimson Tide, Darker Secrets: Sideline Secrets II, Defending Your Life, 8 Year Theory, Fallen Angel, Forrest Gump, Frailty, Ghost Whisperer, Gigli, Grey Matter, Happy Holidays, Herpes Boy, I’ll Remember April, Natural Demise, Porters – Two Men and a Sex Doll, Samantha, SexTV, Sideline Secrets, Smooth Criminal, The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, The Benchwarmers, The Gumball Rally, The Newest Pledge, Unsung Heroes and Vegas Vacation.

Orange is also the birthplace of actor Jason Lee.

Orange Theatre, 1934
Orange Theatre, 1934

Orange Theatre

Orange’s nicest theater, the 1,100 seat Orange Theatre, opened in 1929 with a screening of Molly and Me and a vaudeville act. It showed first-run films until the early 1970s when it closed. It was re-opened as the Orange Playhouse after a renovation in 1974 with a brown and orange color scheme replacing the original green and gold. It struggled and in September of the same year was passed to the Pacific Academy of Performing Arts, who in turn ceased operations the following spring. Plans were underway to re-open it as a porno theater until the Son of Light Christian Center bought it and made it their church in 1976, even using the Wicks organ that was installed during its construction. In 1994, the Pasadena Playhouse expressed interest but the Sons of Light denied them. It has been used as  a theater in films. In That Thing You Do! it was The Regent. In First Daughter it was re-named the Redmond Theatre.

Orange Drive-In, 1946

In 1941, the Orange Drive-In was Orange County’s first drive-in theater. From 1955 to 1961 Dr. Robert H. Schuller held Sunday morning services there. Its heyday way in the 1970s. In its later years, it showed Spanish-Language films. It operated until 1994. In 1997, the screens were torn down but the old snack bar remained, and the swap meet that began sharing the lot in the mid-1970s.

Chapman’s Lawrence and Kristina Dodge College of Motion Picture and Media Arts hosts regular movie screenings and churns out film talents including Jelena Jensen and Colin Hanks.


Henry and Grace Pitcher's place and the honey house
Henry and Grace Pitcher’s place and the honey house

Orange’s most famous park is the aforementioned Plaza Square Park, better known as “The Plaza” or “The Circle.” Other parks include the Belmont Park, Eisenhower Park and Lake, El Camino Real Park, El Modena Open Space, Fred Barrera Park, Grijalva Park, Handy Park, Hart Park, Irvine Park, Killefer Park, La Veta Park, Olive Park, Peters Canyon Regional Park, Pitcher Park, Santiago Hills Park and Nature Center, Serrano Park, and Shaffer Park. The Circle is the site of much weed-smoking and drum circle action. Hart Park is one of the most popular and has a bandshell for live music, including Orange’s annual Concerts in the Park. Irvine Park is home of Irvine Lake, the William Harding Nature Centerand the Orange County Zoo. Pitcher Park was formerly the home of Henry and Grace Pitcher beginning in 1912. Santiago has lawn bowling is a common cruising spot where one can also, supposedly, pick up a Greg Louganis poster. There’s also the Orange County Badminton Club, Vans Skatepark, Santa Ana River Trail, Strutter’s Ball and Holiday Skate Center.


Orange Street Fair, 1910

Orange has thrown many shindigs in its history. In Cypress in the late 1940s they used to have Mexico Lindo annual celebrations, hosted by the Holy Family Catholic Church. In the 1950s there were annual May festivals.
The Orange International Street Fair has taken place every Labor Day weekend since 1910. There are also the annual celebrations for 3rd of July, Treats in the Streets and Veterans Day celebrations at Sante Fe Depot Park. We hit the town on the day of the Tree Lighting Ceremony.

Manger Scene on the Orange Circle


Inside Watson's

For a city of its size, I’ve never seen so much variety of cuisines. Orange boasts American, Argentine, Belgian, Chinese, Danish, Filipino, FrenchIndian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lebanese, Mexican, “Mongolian,” Pakistani, Persian, Southern and Thai restaurants… and an unusual amount of candy stores. We opted for Watson’s Drug Store, which first opened in 1899. Apparently it’s moved around the neighborhood a few times but has stayed put at its current location since 1949. It’s also been featured in many films, including Cannonball Run, The Man Who Wasn’t There, The Stepford Children, Surviving Christmas and That Thing You Do! 

Places we didn’t eat include Adobo & Tacos, Anepalco’s Cafe, Archie’s Ice Cream, Arriba Baja Grill, Audrey’s Edibles, Bagel Me & First Class Pizza, Billy Boy Burgers & Restaurant, Blue Frog Bakery, Bobby D’s Mexican Food, Bruxie, Cabo Loco, Cafe Lucca, Carnitas Los Reyes, Cha Thai Restaurant, Chapman Coffee House, Charley’s Steakery, Chen’s Panda Chinese Restaurant, Citrus City Grille, Conca D’ Oro Italian Restaurant, Da Bianca Trattoria, Darya Restaurant, DeSimone Delicatessen, Don Joe & Ricardo’s Mexican Cafe, Donut Star, El Mariachi Restaurant, El Metate Mercado, Felix Continental Cafe, Francoli Gourmet Restaurant, French’s Pastry, Fuji Grill, Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen, Green China, Guadalajara Bakery, H Salt Esquire Fish & Chips, Haven Gastropub, Hollingshead’s Delicatessen, Hong Kong BBQ, Hong Kong Express, Ichi Teriyaki Roll, iFroYo, In-N-Out Burger, Japan Grill – Fusion Sushi & Roll, John’s Place, Johnnies Jr. Burgers, Johnny Rebs’, KC Delicatessen, Kaffa, La Bahia Ostioneria, La Carreta, La Casita L C, La Poblana Bakery, La Siesta Mexican Food, Lascari’s Italian Cucina, Los Cabos Mexican Restaurant, Lucky Star Restaurant, Market Broiler, Mascarpone’s, Mattern Sausage & Meats, Mongolian Grill, Ms Donuts, New York Subs, Norm’s Restaurant, Ohshima Japanese Cuisine, Opus Italian Restaurant, Orange Cafe, Orange Candy Co, Orange County Mining CoOrange Hill Restaurant, Orange Olive Bakery, Orange Tree Deli, Ostioneria Bahia Mexican Seafood 2, Ostioneria Siete Mares, PJ’s Abbey, Pacific Coast Hot Dogs, Panchos Mexican Restaurant & Catering, Pasta Connection 2, Pat & Oscar’s, Pepito’s Mexican Restaurant, Polka Deli, Poul’s Danish-American Bakery, Ralph’s Submarine Sandwich Shop, Renata’s Caffe Italiano, Ristorante Genovese, Roadside Cafe, Rockwell’s Creative Cakes, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Roma D’Italia, Ruby’s Grill Baja Style, Rutabegorz, Saffron Persian Grill, Safiya Dafiya, Sakura Sushi, Sassoon Chicken, Scottie’s Smokehouse BBQ, Smith’s Nut House, Spires Restaurant No 24, Steer Inn, Sweets From Heaven, Taco Adobe, Taco Mesa, Tacos Jalisco, Takaraya, Tandoor Cuisine of India, Taqueria Guadalupana, Taqueria Mexico, Taqueria de Anda, Tartan Room, Taste of Sicily, Thai Chili, Thai Swan, The Chili Pepper, The Filling Station, The Hobbit Restaurant, The Lazy Dog Cafe, The Original Pancake House, The Tulsa Rib Company, Tikiyaki, Troy’s Drive In, Tummy Stuffer of Orange, Tuttimelon, Tutto Fresco, Two’s Company, Valentino’s Pizza, Victoria’s Pizza, Waikiki Hawaiian Grill, Wise Guys Pizza, Yang Ming Garden, Zena’s Mediterranean & Lebanese Cuisine and Zito’s Pizza.


When Orange began they may’ve been dry but nowadays various beverages can be enjoyed with bar food, billiards, bowling, dancing and stripping at venues including served with Auld Irisher, Blondies, Cancun Juice, Danny K’s Cafe & Billiards, Fritz That’s Too, Kimmie’s Coffee Cup, Lucky Strike Lanes & Lounge, Marty’s Cocktail Lounge, Paris In A Cup, Paul’s, Prime Cut Cafe & Wine Bar, Rupee Room, Salty Dawg, Tastea, The Bruery Provisions and Wine Exchange.


Orange County Fruit Exchange
The Sunkist Orange County Fruit Exchange Building

There are several art galleries in Orange. The Exchange Fine Arts Gallery occupies the Sunkist Orange County Fruit Exchange Building. The structure was constructed in 1922 and was open until 1994. In its new incarnation, the gallery re-opened on October 4, 1997. There’s also The Art Hub, Gallery on Glassell, Chuck Jones Gallery, Schroeder Studio Gallery, Novak Art Glass Studio, Draconis Art and The Village Gallery.


Orange County Public Library and History Center
Orange Public Library and History Center

Orange has at least four libraries: the Orange Public Library and History Center, the Rinker Law Library, the El Modena Branch and the tiny Charles P Taft Branch Library. For otaku, the Orange Public Library and History Center hosts anime nights for those in grades 7-12.


Orange is home to several playhouses and theater companies including Chapman’s Shakespeare Orange County, and Killer Entertainment, and Imagination Machine and Village Theater of Orange.

Until next time, keep an eye on those wild parrots!

Orange Alley Plaza

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.
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