California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Tustin, Orange County’s City of the Trees

California Fool's Gold


TustinPendersleigh & Sons‘ Official Map of Tustin

This blog entry is about Tustin, a city in north Orange County surrounded by North Tustin to the north, Irvine to the south, Santa Ana to the west and the Santa Ana Mountains to the east. Within its borders are the distinct neighborhoods of Old Town, the hyper-planned, mixed-use Tustin Legacyand upscale, golf-centric Tustin Ranch.


Before the arrival of the white man, the area that’s now Tustin was home to Acagchemem, Payomkowishum and the Tongva.  After the 1769 expedition of Gaspar de Portolà, the surrounding area was named by the SpaniardsVallejo de Santa Ana.” Whereas most of the semi-arid Los Angeles Basinwas dominated by scrub, chaparral and grasslands, the presence of Artesian wells nourished numerous and varied trees, native fauna and three nations of indigenous people. It also attracted the more Spaniards and in 1801, Jose Antonio Yorba was granted 253 km2 for his Rancho San Antonio, which included the lands of modern-day Olive, Orange, Villa Park, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Tustin. In 1810, Don Juan Pablo Grijalva received a grant to ranch the Tustin area.

Tustin Signs

After the US‘s victory in the Mexican-American War, Alta California was taken from Mexico and moreAmerican settlers arrived. One such imigrant, Columbus Tustin, was  a Petaluma carriage maker fromNorthern California. Along with his partner, Nelson Stafford, he set about establishing Tustin City from the years of 1868 to 1872 on 5 km² of land with population of 750 settlers. He also brought his wife, Mary, and their five children; Mary Jane, Martha, Ella, Fannie and Samuel. He established a school district and post office and began selling lots but sales were slow and by the 1870s he resorted to giving them away for free to anyone that would build a ohm on them. In 1877, Tustin lost out to Santa Ana in a bid for the the Southern terminus of the Southern Pacific Railroad which led to Santa Ana’s growth skyrocketing and left Tustin city to whither on the vine. Columbus Tustin died in 1883.

Tustin back in the day

Tustin remained small, the downtown was nothing more than a couple of general stores and a drugstore. On November 23rd, 1886, the first street car (a horse-drawn “tallyho” run by the Santa Ana, Orange and Tustin Street Railway Co.) arrived in Tustin City and greatly facilitated Tustin residents’ ability to purchase amenities and necessities in the comparatively metropolitan Santa Ana. On March 11th, 1889, Orange County seceded from Los Angeles County and, in the following decade, Tustin grew as an agricultural town, first growing apricots and walnuts and subsequently, Valencia oranges.

Orange Grove
Tustin Orange Grove

chicken in Tustin

At the intersection of Red Hill and Walnut avenues is a fruit stand that’s a quaint reminder of Tustin’s agricultural past. The fruit is sold on the honor system. Mathais Nisson came from Denmark to the US in 1876 and started an orange grove in Santa Ana. In 1915, his son Clarence Nisson bought ten acres in Tustin and started an orange grove. By 1968, he sold most of the land but a four acre grove remains.

Tustin Postcard

Much of Tustin’s oldest neighborhood, Tustin Old Town, was established in the 1880s, centered aroundMain Street and El Camino Real.

The Blacksmiths
The old blacksmith’s

Among the early businesses and structures were a blacksmith’s, a meat market, a business and feed store building, churches and school buildings.

Tustin Area Museum
Tustin Area Museum

There are maps and walking tours but, as with the Automotive Museum, the Tustin Area Museum is closed on most peoples’ days off. However, just walking around one can enjoy the old homes, many in theVictorian and Crafrsman styles. The historical society does offer Tustin Home and Garden Tours.


Mary Tustin-Lindsay Home
Mary Tustin-Lindsay Home

Mary Tustin-Lindsay Home: A simple board and batten house built around 1886 for Mary Tustin, widow of Columbus Tustin.


The Stevens House
The Stevens House

The Stevens House: Pioneer Sherman StevensQueen Anne Victorian was built in 1887 of redwood shipped from Eureka. The avocado groves that surrounded it were torn out and replaced with office buildings in 1982.

Pankey House
Pankey House

The Pankey Residence: A California Monterey home built in 1928. The sycamore behind it was there when Tustin bought that land in the 1860s.

Leihy House
Leihy House

The Leihy House: A California Craftsman built around 1915.

The Vance House
The Vance House

The Vance House: A Queen Anne Victorian built of redwood in 1887.

The Rock House
The Rock House

The Rock House: Built in 1950 by a civil engineer using rocks collected on jobs in the Rocky Mountains.

Hewes House
Hewes House

The Hewes House: Built in 1881, it was added to in 1920 and combines elements of Victorian Eastlake,Italianate, and Greek Revival stlyes by David “The Maker of San Francisco” Hughes.

Tustin Church
First Advent Christian Church

First Advent Christian Church:  Oldest church in Tustin, operating since 1881.

Snow House
Snow House

Snow House: Built of redwood in 1887 for Alonzo Kendall.

Knights of Pythias Building

Knights of Pythias Building: This Italian Romanesque was the site of Tustin’s first city hall. Nowadays its home to the Tustin Area Museum.

McCharles House
McCharles House

The McCharles House: Built in 1885 by Tustin Township Justice, D.L. McCharles. It’s now a teahouse, I think.

Old Town
Old Town Tustin

Old Town still has buildings dating from 1914 that housed the post office, drug store, barbershop and theWell Fargo Express Office, among others.

The San Joaquin Fruit Co. was established in Lemon Heights (unincorporated North Tustin) and became famous in the 1910s for its “Home Made Grape Juice.” The company’s leader, C. E. Utt, began a new enterprise, The Utt Juice Co., on Sept. 9, 1918. After quickly outgrowing his home operation, led him to move to Main and Prospect in Tustin, which he’d bought in 1907 when it had been the home of Sauers and Berkquist grocery at which point it became The Utt Juice Co. Sheds.


Tustin 1920s

Growth in Tustin continued in the 1920s, albeit slowly. Tustin got its first high school in 1922. Japanese-American families moved to the area in the 1920s, leasing land from The Irvine Co. and mostly growing celery, tomatoes and various other fruits and vegetables. When Tustin was incorporated on September 15th, 1927 it only had a population of roughly 900 people and was still primarily an agriculture town devoted mostly to the production of oranges, lima beans, chili peppers and sugar beets.

Blimp Hangar Tustin

At the outbreak of World War II, Tustin’s Japanese-American residents were relocated to concentration camps and the nearby bean fields became the site of the Naval Air Station Santa Ana, where two massive hangars (over 29,000 square meters each and 59 meters high – the largest wooden structures on planetEarth) housed airships which patrolled the coast.

Tustin Church
Tustin Church
Abandoned Barracks
Abandoned barracks

Overnight the base transformed sleepy Tustin. Tommy Dorsey and other bandleaders played to entertain GIs and their families. It was decommissioned in 1949 and reopened in 1951as Marine Corps Air Station Santa Ana to support the Korean War.

Before its closure in 1999, the base was home to about 4,500 residents. In 1993, the blimp hangars were designated National Civil Engineering Landmarks by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). There have been talks regarding making one of the hangars a military museum or a sports and entertainment complex. One proposal for the other was to establish a culinary community with a cooking school, artisan food shops, gourmet cafes and a permanent farmers market.

Hangar 1
Starfleet Hangar 1

In 2009, one of the hangars was transformed into Starfleet’s Hangar 1 for the film, Star Trek. It was previously featured in the films The Hindenburg, This Man’s Navy and Pearl Harbor.


Tustin Legacy

Sadly, in 2007, the Tustin City Council instead announced the scheduled demolition of the hangar. Replacing one of the few iconic buildings of Orange County will be Tustin Legacy, a sort of soul-crushing mix of indistinct, sprawling shopping center and cookie-cutter, faux-European townhouses like the set of some B-movie.


Old Town Tustin - 1950s?

With the construction of freeways and the establishment of post-war industries, thousands of people moved to Tustin in the 1950s. From 1955 to 1965, the population grew even more rapidly due to large annexations of previously unincorporated land, increasing the city’s size 220%. The orange groves were also decimated at the same time by disease and the land was often subsequently sold and developed for residences. I’m not sure the significance, if there is any, but Lost character John Locke was supposedly born in Tustin on May 30, 1956.


The ’60s were a time of enormous growth and the population during the decade grew from 2,006 to 22,313.

Jamestown Plaza
Jamestown Village

Charlie May and Claude T. Gilbreath had moved to Tustin in 1954 but it was in 1960, that they began construction on Jamestown Village, a shopping center that included a tiny chapel, The Little Tree Church, which seats eight and has an organ. The rest of the shopping center appears to be going for a Spanish colonial vibe.

Tustin made global headlines when then-twenty-year-old residents Victor Searles Pankey and Gilbert Pago Ferry were arrested after trying to smuggle an East Berliner out of the county in the trunk of their car. As a result, they became the second and third American students to be imprisoned in East Germany (for two years).


It wasn’t until the 1960s and ’70s that large numbers of people began to make attempts to preserve history in the area and in 1976, The Tustin Area Historical Society was founded.

A horrible crime shocked Tustin in September, 1979, when nine-months-pregnant Dianna Green was raped and attacked in her apartment, her unborn daughter dying in the attack. After waking from a coma she identified her husband Kevin as the assailant, claiming the savage act was the result of her having refused to have sex with him. He was convicted and spent sixteen years in prison.


Tustin Ranch Golf
Tustin Ranch Golf

In 1982, Irvine Ranch (which had served as a film location for The Grapes of Wrath) became Tustin Ranch, a planned community. Construction began in 1986 and it was annexed by Tustin the same year. It’s home of the Ted Robinson-designed eighteen-hole “Tustin Ranch” course at the Tustin Ranch Golf Club facility.


Letters to Thien
Ly Minh Thien

On January 28, 1996, a 24-year-old Vietnamese-American Tustin resident/Georgetown and UCLA scholar and president of the Vietnamese Student Association, Ly Minh Thien, was stomped, kicked and stabbed 22 times by two pathetic K-mart employees, 21-year-old Gunner Jay Lindberg and a 17-year-old accomplice, Domenic Christopher. His body was found by a janitor at a local high school that Thien had gone to for some rollerblading. Gunner Jay Lindberg was caught after bragging about killing “a Jap” to a relative as part of his personal celebration for the Dallas CowboysSuper Bowl victory. Christopher received a 25 year sentence. During Lindberg’s trial, the creep threatened to kill other Vietnamese and mocked Ly’s family. Lindberg is on California’s Death Row. The events  inspired the documentary, Letters to Thien (1997).


Dick’s (formerly Chick’s)
The Marketplace
The Marketplace

Today Tustin’s pretty chill. Racists like Lindenberg have to be disappointed that the population of Tustin is now 34% Latino (mostly Mexican), 15% Asian (mostly Vietnamese, Chinese and Filipino) and 59% white. Not much of historical not has happened in the new millennium although there are lots of things to do! In addition to the aforementioned shopportunities, there’s the Enderdale Shopping Center and best of all, The Market Place. Formerly known as Tustin Market Place (“TMP” if you’re nasty), it’s now half of the inter-city The Marketplace, because facing off across city lines with The Irvine Marketplace.Marconi Museum

Aside from shopping there’s the Tustin Auto Center and the Marconi Automotive Museum. The latter has a collection of historical, classic and exotic cars, I’ve read, although since they choose to only be open when everyone’s at work, I’ll have to take their word for it.


Tustin Dinosaur Dash

Tustin also hosts many annual events; the Dinosaur Dash, Tustin Haunt, Tustin Street Fair and Chili Cook-Off, Broadway in the Park, Art Masters, Student Art Show, Tustin Art League (TAL), Cinco de Mayo, Cosmic Dance, Concerts in the Park (Pepper Tree Park) and Tustin Tiller Day Fair are all enjoyed throughout the year.


Peppertree Park
Peppertree Park

Tustin’s got a decent number of parks, although one wishes that there was at least one statue of old man Tustin in one of them. Anyway, there’s Tustin Sports Park, Cedar Grove Park, Citrus Ranch Park, Pepper Tree Park, Camino Real Park, Centennial Park, Frontier Park, Heritage Park, Laurel Glen Park, Magnolia Tree Park, McFadden-Pasadena Parkette, Pine Tree Park and Pioneer Road Park.


Tustin also has a healthy performing arts scene, with venues and companies in including the Classical Dance Center, The Gallery of Performing Arts, The Curtain Call Dinner Theater, Tustin Dance Center,MAD Bollywood Dance Company, South Coast Performing Arts, Hbp Dance Extreme and Lovett Dance Center.


Tustin Brewing

Fun to be had involving the nightlife and or boogieing (and/or booze) can be experienced at J J Music Studio karaoke, Tustin Inn, Godfather’s 1, Bowlmor Lanes, Swinging Door, Tustin Lanes, The Auld Dubliner, Heritage House,  Newport Five Cocktail Lounge, Baden Baden, The Walnut Room andDeva’s. When we visited, we went to the Tustin Brewing Co. and sampled the local and local-themed beers, all of which were quite good. Diana preferred the Red Hill Red, Bruce preferred the Old Town IPA and I preferred the Blimp Hangar Porter.

Tustin has appeared in fairly few films and TV shows. In addition to those mentioned earlier in the post, Tustin’s also been on-screen in The X-Files episode, “One Son.” The Tustin section of the 5 freeway appeared in A Scanner Darkly. The lunar surface scenes in From the Earth to the Moon where shot in Tustin. The Advanced Technology & Education Park at 15445 Lansdowne Road, was featured in Killing Zelda Sparks. Other films shot in part or in whole in Tustin include Austin Powers – The Spy Who Shagged Me, The Haunting (1999), Better Luck Tomorrow, Dating Games People Play and Mama’s Foot.


I’m sure there are more music performers from Tustin but the only band I know is The Human Expression,  a psychedelic group that only released three well-regarded singles between 1966 and 1967. What’s more, some of their members were from Westminster.


Rutabegorz TustinLunch at Rutabegorz

There area lots of Japanese, Mexican, Italian, Korean restaurants and coffee houses in Tustin. There’s also the McCharles Tea House. In addition there are a lot of specialty markets (Indian, Italian, Kosher, Korean, Vegan and the Tustin Certified Farmers Market) too.  We ate at Rutabegorz Tustin Restaurant. There are four Rutabegorz now and the Tustin location is housed in a historic building with a neoclassic colonnaded front at the corner of Main and C Streets in a building built in  1914 by Columbus Tustin’s son. In addition to tasty, healthy food, they showcase art by local artists.

There’s also Alberta’s Mexican Food, Aloha Hawaiian BBQ, Asian Mint, Bagel Me, Bangkok Corner 2, Barolo Café, Beach Pit BBQ — Tustin Garage, Belacan Grill, Black Sheep Bistro, Blue Fin Sushi,Bluewater Grill, Bread Basket, Cafe China, Cafe Rio Mexican Grill, Cafe USA, Casa Gamino, Charo Chicken, Chin Chinese Kitchen, China Palace Restaurant, China West Express, Christakis Greek Cuisine, Citrus Cafe, Claro’s Italian Market, Classic Burger Cafe No. 7, Coffee Grinder, Cream Pan,

DK’s Donuts, Don Jose’s Mexican Restaurants, Donut Star, Dosa Express, and Dosa PlaceEl Buen Sabor, El Chilito, El Habanaro, El Torito Mexican Restaurant & Cantina, First Class Pizza,Freesoulcaffe, Fresca’s Mexican Grill, Full Moon Sushi, Go-Bananaz Self Serve Frozen Yogurt, Golden China Restaurant, Gyu-Kaku, Habibi’s Funnel Cake, Habuya Okinawan Dining, Haveli Indian Restaurant, Honda Ya, Hong Kong Express, India Spice Mart, India Sweets & Spices,

Irvine Chinese Food, Island Sushi Bar and Grill, Italian Express, iYogurt Cafe, Jalapenos, Japonaise Bakery & Cafe, Jin Jin Asian Diner, Joey’s Smokin’ BBQ, John’s Place Restaurant, K’s Donuts, Kai Sushi, Kairakutei Inc, Kean Coffee, Kim Huong Vietnamese and Chinese Restaurant, Kitajima, Koki’s Japanese Teppan House, Korner Grill, La Provincia Mexican Food, Lamppost Pizza, Laxmi Sweets & Spices, Le Yogourt, Long Hai Restaurant, Los Cotijas Taco Shop, Lucille’s Smokehouse BBQ,

Maki-Zushi, Maki Yaki, Mama Kabob, Manila Groove, Marmalade Cafe, Maui Island B B Q & Roll,Mimi’s Cafe, Mimi Restaurant, Mulan Express, Myung Dong Kal Guk Su, Naan & Kabob, Native Foods Cafe, Nieuport 17 Restaurant, Oggi’s Pizza & Brewing Co, Oki Doki, Omega Drive-In No 8, Ono Ono Hawaiian BBQ, Original Taco FactoryOscar’s Deli & Grill, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Pei Wei Asian Diner,Peter’s Gourmade Grill, Philly’s Famous Cheese Steaks, Pho Bac Ky, Pho Hung Vuong,

Pick Up Stix, Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill Tustin, Pizza Shack Tustin, Pizzelle’s BistroQuinn’s Old Town Grill, Rockin’ Grill Cocina, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Rollie’s Bakery & Mexican Cafe,Roma D’Italia, Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill, Sandwich World, Savy Donuts & Smoothies, Seoul Garden BBQ Buffet, Shen Wen Chinese Bistro, Smoothie King, Spires Restaurant, Super Antojitos, Sushi Kappo Suzumaru, Sushi Time, Sushi Wasabi, Sutha Thai Kitchen,  Thai Bamboo Bistro,

Thai House Express, Thai Specialty 2, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, The Lost Bean, The Sandwich Box, The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar, Tokyo Lobby Restaurant, Tommy’s Sushi & Japanese Restaurant, Tustin Pizza Co, Uoko Japanese Cuisine, Wahoo’s Fish Taco, Waikiki Hawaiian Grill, Yogis Teriyaki House, Zito’s on 17th, Zon Baguettes and Zov’s Bistro.

Tustin Bench
A fancy bench in Tustin

Thanks to Diana Ward and Bruce Chan for their invaluable assistance on this adventure!

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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