SHE HAD ORANGE RIBBONS IN HER HAIR — NORTH ORANGE COUNTY
It comes as something of a dismaying surprise to me how casually many seemingly intelligent Angelenos freely dismiss Orange County. Iv’e grown used to (if still somewhat surprised by) the out-dated chauvinistic attitude of New Yorkers and San Franciscans. But while those widely and rightly shrugged off by knowing Angelenos, many of those same sorts of hollow, outdated mis-characterizations tend to be freely expressed about regions like LA’s Westside and Orange County without apparent irony. This blog entry, then, will focus on the communities of North Orange County with the hopeful aim of introducing readers to some of what makes it a region worthy of reexamination and exploration.
DIVERSITY IN ORANGE COUNTY
Although often stereotyped as a uniformly white suburb, Orange County – especially North Orange County – is in fact highly diverse. There are large numbers of Armenian, Chinese, English, Egyptian,Filipino, German, Irish, Jewish, Korean, Lebanese, Mexican, Palestinian, Persian, Salvadoran,Scottish, Syrian, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese-Americans, to name a few. Orange County is home to the largest community of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam. North Orange County is home to several ethnic enclaves, including Little Arabia, Little Saigon, and Little Seoul. In fact, 45% of Orange Countians speak a language other than English at home. With a population that is 44% white, 34% Latino, 18% Asian, 2%black, and 1% Native American, there is no racial or ethnic majority. In fact, last month Forbes magazine published “America’s Most Diverse Neighborhoods And Metros” placed Orange County in their 7th spot – above Los Angeles County.
NORTH AND SOUTH ORANGE COUNTY
Whereas Los Angeles County is often separated into numerous smaller regions (the Eastside, Hollywood, the Harbor, Midtown, the San Fernando Valley, the San Gabriel Valley, the South Bay, the Verdugos, &c), Orange County (being much smaller) most often tends to divide into just two – North Orange Countyand South Orange County. Some South Orange Countians portray North Orange County as a lawless border region where illegal immigrant members of Mexican drug cartels and Vietnamese home-invaders terrorize “real Americans” as society crumbles around them (and a bald eagle cries). Their Birth of a Nation-esque views are often voiced in the comment sections for the OC Weekly and OC Register and are virtually indistinguishable from those of your garden variety internet trolls.
There are real distinctions between North and South Orange County. The north is more crowded, urban and developed. It bustles where the south seems to relax. It’s the area that I’m much more familiar with both because most of what brings me to Orange County (friends, food, entertainment, &c) is located in the north… and readers of this blog have consistently voted more heavily for North Orange County communities to be covered over those in South Orange County.
Of all communities in the Southland, right now Anaheim in North OC and Irvine in South OC are tied for first place (leading all LA County communities). To vote vote for Orange County neighborhoods and communities, Los Angeles County communities to be covered on the blog, or Los Angeles neighborhoods, leave a comment!
HISTORY OF NORTH ORANGE COUNTY
For thousands of years before the Spanish Conquest, what’s now North Orange County was home to the Acagchemem and Payomkowishum nations. It was also home to the Chumash and Tongva people – two seafaring people who, some evidence suggests, may’ve had dealings with Pacific Islanders All spoke languages in the Takic family and likely, therefore, migrated to the region from the Sonoran Desert.
All of California was claimed for Spain in 1769. In 1822, it became part of the newly-independent country of Mexico. Two years after the USA defeated Mexico in 1848, California became a state and what’s now Orange County was made part of Los Angeles County. On 11 March, 1889, Orange County seceded from LA County. In 1900 there were only 19.696 residents of the then-new, mostly agricultural county. The 1920s saw significant growth and the region’s population first surpassed 100,000. In the 1950s and ‘60s Orange County’s grew incredibly quickly. Since then, every decade has seen further growth although it has slowed considerably.
POLITICS IN NORTH ORANGE COUNTY
Although Orange County has long been characterized as a stronghold of Republican and Right Wing politics, today a mere plurality of 44% of registered voters are registered with the GOP whilst 32% are registered Democrats. Additionally, though still one of the most conservative regions in Southern California, Republicans in Orange County often have more in common with Libertarians than the far right, science and equal rights-denying neo-Con variety. North tends to grow increasingly Democratic with that passage of time. Nowadays, among what most people consider to be North Orange County, Yorba Linda and Villa Park are only incorporated communities with overwhelmingly Republican constituencies.
CULTURE IN ORANGE COUNTY
Many people scoff at the suggestion that there’s culture in Orange County (just as they do about Los Angeles). It’s never been clear to me what either camp of haters means by “culture” since there are numerous art galleries, botanical gardens, cultural events, historic sites, live music venues, museums, performing arts centers, a variety of restaurants, revival movie theaters, &c in both regions – some of which I will touch upon below. So without further ado…the communities of North Orange County.
Anaheim is the largest city in Orange County (population-wise). To all but those that think that Disneyland is in Los Angeles, the city of Anaheim is largely synonymouse (sic) with that theme park. Less well-known but equally amusement park is the tantalizingly-named Adventure City.
Anaheim was founded by Bavarian immigrant winemakers in 1857 and incorporated in 1870 – making it the second oldest city in (then) Los Angeles County. “Heim” is German for “home” and “ana” refers to the Santa Ana River. As of 2010 Anaheim’s population was 53% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 28% non-Latino white, 15% Asian (mostly Vietnamese and Filipino), 3% black, and 1% Native American.
A large number of the white population are Arab (primarily Egyptian, Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrian) and the city is home to Little Arabia aka Little Gaza Strip. Other Anaheim neighborhoods include Anaheim Hills,Anaheim Resort, Downtown Anaheim, East Anaheim, the Platinum Triangle, and West Anaheim. The so-called “Platinum Triangle” was, according to the Orange County Business Register in 2010, the fastest growing region in the county. To read more about Anaheim, click here!
Anaheim is the birthplace of musicians Don Davis, Eden Espinosa, Jeff Buckley, Jennifer Warnes,Marcus Mumford, No Doubt, and Tairrie B. as well as actors Alli Mauzy, Alyson Reed, Austin Butler,Connie Needham, Lisa Tucker, Milo Ventimiglia, Moon Bloodgood, and Rosalind Chao.
The city of Brea includes the neighborhood of Olinda, named after the former Olinda Village which was incorporated as part of Brea in 1911. The city is known for its public art program which, since 1975, has placed over 140 artworks throughout the community. Brea, which means “tar” in Spanish, is a reference to the town’s early and close relationship with the petroleum industry. The Brea-Olinda Oil Field was discovered in 1898. Eventually, oil gave way to citrus groves which in turn gave way to industrial parks and suburban residences. The population of Brea today is about 67% white, 25% Latino,18% Asian, and 1% black. Brea is the birthplace of actress Stephanie J. Block.
Buena Park, whose motto is “the center of the Southland,” is home to two amusement parks, Knott’s Berry Farm and its sister park, Knott’s Soak City. The former was founded in 1887 by James A. Whitaker, a grocer from Chicago. It wasn’t incorporated until 1953. The so-called “E-Zone” district is home to Pirate’s Dinner Adventure Show, a Medieval Times, and a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum. The population of Buena Park is roughly is 45% white, 39% Latino, 27% Asian, 4% black, and 1% Native American.
As home to Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Orange County Fair, Isamu Noguchi Gardens, Talbert Nature Preserve, South Coast Plaza, and a couple of so-called “anti-malls,” Costa Mesa has arguably earned the nickname, “City of the arts.” I still find it amusing that the largest employer is McDonald’s.
Prior to 1920 Costa Mesa was known as Harper. It didn’t incorporate until 1953. Today it includes the neighborhoods of Cliff Haven, Mesa Verde, the Theater & Arts District, the Metro Center, the City Center, and Santa Ana Heights.
Musical acts from Costa Mesa include Bill Madden, Cowboy Buddha, Measles, Naked Soul, The Pressure and Xployt (aka Joe Public), and Supernova. Movies filmed there include Suburbia and In theShadow of the Stars. To learn more about Costa Mesa, click here.
Due to the preponderance of artesian wells in the area, the city of Cypress was at one time called Waterville. It incorporated in 1956 as Dairy City, in part to preserve its agricultural character from suburbanization (as did neighboring Dairy Valley (now Cerritos) and Dairyland (now La Palma). All the dairy-centric communities nonetheless suburbanized by the 1960s. Only a year after incorporation its citizens voted to change its name to Cypress, after the trees planted as a wind break next to Cypress Elementary School.
The population of Cypress, according to the 2010 census, is about 54% white, 32% Asian, 18% Latino, and 3% black. Two of its most famous sons are actor/singer/yoghurt-peddler, John Stamos and famed golfer/philanderer, Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods.
Source: Orange County Archives
El Modena is a small, unincorporated community surrounded by the city of Orange. For much of its history it was a barrio set aside for Mexican-Americans. Through annexation, El Modena High School is now located within Orange although El Modena still has the El Modena Community Center and the Jones Victorian Estate (built in 1881).
Fountain Valley’s motto is “A nice place to live.” It was originally known as Gospel Swamp and later, Talbert, before its incorporation in 1957. Until the 1960s it was primarily agricultural. The population today is roughly 57% white, 34% Asian, 13% Latino, and 3% black.It’s home to an historical site, Courreges Ranch, although it’s not open to the public. Thankfully, the historic buildings in Heritage Park are.
Fullerton is the town where Hawaiian Punch was invented in 1934. In 1949 it’s where Leo Fender invented the Fender Telecaster. It’s also the birthplace of a couple of seminal Orange County Punk bands: The Adolescents and Social Distortion – other music acts from Fullerton include Belay My Last, Coco B’s,Derek Shawn O’Brie, Dusty Rhodes and the River Band, Gwen Stefani, Jay C. Easton, K-Nobs, Kid Ramos, Lit, Stacey Q, The Daisy Chain, The Illustrious Theatre Orchestra and Tui St. George Tucker. One of the town’s major cultural attractions is the Muckenthaler Cultural Center.
Fullerton also includes the neighborhoods of Downtown, Fuller Park, SoCo, and Sunny Hills. The population is 54% white, 34% Latino, 23% Asian, and 2% black. To read more about Fullerton, click here.
Garden Grove has been a “capital of” numerous things from its early days up until the city was incorporated in 1956. Over the years 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.
It includes the neighborhoods of the Central Industrial District, College Park East, Colonia Manzanillo,Downtown, Little Seoul, Old Ranch, South of Katella, Uptown, West Garden Grove, and part of Little Saigon. To read more about Garden Grove, click here.
For a city primarily associated just with surfing, Huntington Beach – aka “Surf City,” has a number of surprisingly varied attractions. There is surf culture aplenty and Main Street is sometimes referred to as “The Jersey Shore of the West” but there’s the Bolsa Chica Wetlands, a Richard Neutra-designed public library, the kitschy/charming Old World Village, beautiful Central Park, clubs with Vietnamese New Wave/Italo nights, and more.
HB also includes the neighborhoods of Huntington Harbor, Sunset Beach, Surfside (or Surfside Colony). The population of the city is 77% white, 17% Latino, 11% Asian, and 1% black. It is the birthplace of metal band Avenged Sevenfold, reggae group The Dirty Heads, rap rock group (Hed) P.E., folk singer Matt Costa, pop punk band The Offspring, power pop group Hellogoodbye, ska punk band Reel Big Fish, ska group Suburban Legends, and punk band The Vandals. To read more about Huntington Beach, click here.
La Habra takes its name from Mariano Reyes Roldan’s Rancho Cañada de La Habra. Just north, in the Puente Hills of Los Angeles County is La Habra Heights. La Habra was incorporated in 1925. In that same decade, Rudolph Hass planted the Hass Avocado Mother Tree there and began producing one of the world’s most popular cultivars of the fruit. The tree ultimately died in 2002.
La Habra is the birthplace of metal band The Funeral Pyre, singer Jennifer Hanson, and musician Rusty Anderson. The population of La Habra is approximately 58% white, 57% Latino, 10% Asian, and 2% black. To read more about La Habra, CLICK HERE.
La Palma was incorporated in 1955, originally as Dairyland – an agricultural community zoned to exclude housing developments. Nonetheless, after the last of the dairies moved away in 1965, the name was changed to La Palma, after La Palma Avenue, and it was suburbanized. It is, area-wise, the smallest city in Orange County. The population today is about 48% Asian, 37% white, 16% Latino, and 5% black.
Little Arabia is an Arab enclave in North Anaheim, Anaheim Island, Garden Grove, Stanton, and Fullerton centered along Magnolia and Brookhurst streets. Attracted in part by the cheap rents and ample room for renewal, significant numbers of Arab homebuyers and business people began moving into the area of West Anaheim in the 1980s. In the 1990s, two entrepreneurs, Lebanese Ahmad Alam and Syrian Belal “Bill” Dalati, transformed the neighborhood into an Arabic business district. In 1996, Alam and other Arabs helped establish the Arab American Council. That same year the Arab World Newspaper began publishing from offices in the Alam-owned Brookhurst Plaza, and a Palestinian couple from Nazareth opened Kareem Mediterranean Restaurant, today the oldest-extant Arabic restaurant in the neighborhood. To read more about Little Arabia, click here.
Unlike fellow North Orange County ethnic enclaves Little Arabia and Little Seoul which are both fairly small, vast Little Saigon sprawls across parts of Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Midway City, Santa Ana, and Westminster (and, to a lesser extent, Anaheim, Huntington Beach, Irvine, and Stanton). It’s the oldest, largest and most populous Vietnamese enclave in the country. It was established in Westminster although Garden Grove is now home to about 10,000 more Vietnamese than that city.
Two business pioneers, Danh Quach and Frank Jao, established the first Vietnamese businesses alongBolsa – Little Saigon is actually often referred to as Bolsa. Around the same time, in 1978, Yen Ngoc Dobegan publishing Người Việt Daily News. There are now more newspapers — The Little Saigon News andVien Dong Daily News as well as TV and radio stations including Little Saigon TV, SBTN TV, VietFace,VNA TV, Saigon TV, Little Saigon Radio, and Radio Bolsa.
Not surprisingly, it is home to a vast number of quality Vietnamese restaurants.
Although Koreatown is incontestably the main Korean business district in the entire US, Garden Grove’s Little Seoul – located about 50 kilometers southeast – is itself no slouch. In fact, by some estimations it’s the second largest Korean business district on the West Coast and the fourth largest Korean business district in the nation. In the late 1970s, Korean businesses started appearing on this stretch of Garden Grove Boulevard until then known primarily for its strip clubs, adult video stores, seedy motels. One such lodge, the Ranch Motel, was the site of the grisly torture and murder of a Huntington Beach prostitute in 1985 but by then the Koreanization of the neighborhood was well underway.
As with Koreatown, the first Korean business established in Little Seoul was a supermarket [was it the now-closed Han Nam Supermarket?]. By 1980 there were 80 Korean-owned businesses in the neighborhood and in 1981, the first Korean Festival was held in nearby Garden Grove Park. The name “Little Seoul” was applied at least as early as 1986 and predictably complaints were made by some about signs written in Hangul. In 2001, signs designating the area the “Korean Business District” were placed at the eastern and western ends of Little Seoul. To read more about Little Seoul, click here.
Not to be confused with Rancho Los Alamitos, in Long Beach, the Orange County city of Los Alamitos was incorporated in 1960. The name, “Los Alamitos,” is Spanish for “The Little Cottonwoods.” The population today is approximately 71% white, 21% Latino, 13% Asian, and 3% black.
For decades the main industry in Los Alamitos was sugar beet production. Today the top employers are Los Alamitos Medical Center, Arrowhead Products, Trend Offset Printing, SuperMedia, Pharmacy Advantage, Bloomfield Bakers, Systems Services of America, Alamitos West Health Care Center,Timken, and MDA Information.
Despite its name, Midway City is not an actual city. It’s a “census designated place” jointly presided over by a chamber of commerce and a homeowners’ association. The “Midway” of its name comes from its being nearly equidistant to Huntington Beach, Long Beach, and Santa Ana.
Midway City began life in 1922 when John H. Harper purchased 200 acres due to its location near a stagecoach stop and the Huntington Beach Oil Field. Harper began selling lots the following year. Over the years it’s been chipped away at with annexations by Westminster and is now made up of several small, disconnected sections.
Some of the highest profile businesses include Dakao Poultry, Baladi Poultry, and Midway City FeedStore. In 1994, Midway City became the subject of mockery when several school campuses banned the playing of POGS. As the Vietnamese population has grown, the community has become unofficially part ofLittle Saigon. The population today is roughly 48% Asian (mostly Vietnamese), 34% white, and 29% Latino. It was the birthplace of actress Dedee Pfeiffer – Michelle Pfeiffer’s sister.
Orange is fairly unique among Orange County communities in that it preserved many of its older homes, rather than demolishing them. As a result, there are many attractive Craftsman homes near the neighborhood of Old Towne. It’s also home to three Eichler tracts, more than half of the total in Southern California. It’s motto is “a slice of old town charm.” Other neighborhoods include Olive, Orange Hills,Santiago Hills and surrounds the communities of El Modena, Orange Park Acres and Villa Park.
Prior to 1873 the community was known as Richland. That year it changed its name to Orange since there was already a Richland, California. The population in 2010 was 67% white, 38% Latino,12% Asian, and 2% black.
ORANGE PARK ACRES
Orange Park Acres is an unincorporated community surrounded by the city of Orange. In 1894, Ferdinand Keifhaber purchased a 2,000 acre farm that was part of a Spanish land grant known as Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. In 1911, the Kiefhaber family sold a portion of the land to C.C. Chapman, Dr. Randell, Mervin Monnette, and Frank Mead Sr. In 1928, the latter two formed the Orange Park Acres Corporationof what is today Orange Park Acres. It remains mostly residential with a pronounced rural, equestrian character.
The city of Placentia’s name is Latin for “a pleasant abode.” The population is 62% white, 36 % Latino, 15% Asian, and 2% black. It’s recognized locally as home to The Bruery, Knott’s Berry Farm Foods and some supposedly excellent Mexican restaurants. It’s also the birthplace of punk bank Agent Orange and the rap-rock group Kottonmouth Kings.
Rossmoor is a planned community developed between 1955 and 1961 by Ross W. Cortese. Part of the design involved not one but two shopping centers — Rossmoor Village Square and Rossmoor Business Center. The latter was annexed by neighboring Seal Beach in 1962 and renamed The Shops at Rossmoor (even though they’re no longer in Rossmoor). Rossmoor is walled off from the surrounding communities by a red brick “separation barrier.” The population behind the wall is 85% white, 12% Latino, and 10% Asian.
Santa Ana has the second largest population in Orange County, after Anaheim. As with most of Orange County, it was formerly dominated by a non-Latino white population back in the mid 20th Century. As late as 1970 nearly 70% of the population was white. As of 2010, an even larger majority (78%) was Latino. The rest of the population is 11% Asian, 9% white, 2% black, and 1% Native American. This radical shift is undoubtedly the reason that online comments about the city tend to laughably compare it to Juarez or Tijuana.
In reality it’s one of the county’s primary cultural centers – home to the Bowers Museum, CSUF Grand Central Art Center, El Centro Cultural de México, Discovery Science Center, Heritage Museum of Orange County, and more. The Observatory (formerly the Galaxy Theatre) was where I was lucky enough to see a live performance by Italo/Vietnamese New Wave legend, Gazebo.
In short, it enjoys a bustling nightlife, daytime, art scene, food scene and many historic sites. To read more about it, click here.
Seal Beach is located in westernmost Orange County, adjacent to Long Beach in Los Angeles County. It also includes the neighborhoods of Leisure World and Surfside Seal Beach. It was previously known as Anaheim Landing. It later became known as Bay City but since there was already another Bay City, it was renamed Seal Beach when it was incorporated in 1915.
As of 2010 the population was 84% white, 10% Asian, 10% Latino, and 1% black. In 2011 Seal Beach witnessed Orange County’s worse mass shooting when Kenneth Caleb murdered eight people at a beauty salon. Seal Beach Councilman Gordon Shanks offended many when he remarked, “These things are not supposed to happen here. Maybe in Compton.” Many were quick to point out that there had never been a mass shooting of that magnitude in Compton’s history.
Stanton grew up along the Los Angeles Interurban Railway’s Santa Ana Railway Line, which formerly connected Watts to Santa Ana beginning in 1905. It was incorporated in 1911. The fickle city then dis-incorporated in 1924. It once again incorporated in 1956. For such a small city, it is blessed with the presence of numerous, small parks.
Stanton’s largest employers are CR&R, Sam’s Club, The Home Depot, Adventure City, and All Metals Processing. The population is 51% Latino, 21% white, 24% Asian, 2% black, and 1% Native American.
Tonner Canyon is an undeveloped area in the Puente Hills just south of Rowland Heights at the southern edge of LA County’s San Gabriel Valley. Nearly all of the 5,700 acres are owned by the City of Industry. The Orange County portion was formerly owned by Brea Cañon Oil.
Villa Park is a small community completely surrounded by the city of Orange. It incorporated in 1962. Its declining population has turned it into the smallest city in the county, population-wise. The small city is mostly residential – comprised of about 2,000 single family homes. There is one shopping center with a Ralph’s grocery store, a pharmacy and more. There are zero public parks and few streets have parking lots, perhaps to dissuade visits from outsiders. Its motto is “Villa Park, the hidden jewel.”
The population is 78% white, 16% Asian, and 10% Latino. 60% of residents are registered Republicans. It’s the birthplace of no known notables in any creative field as far as my (minimal) research has turned up.
Westminster was founded in 1870 by Reverend Lemuel Webber as a Presbyterian temperance colony, its name a reference to the Westminster Assembly of 1643 (which laid out the basic tenets ofPresbyterianism). Its motto is “The city of progress built on pride.” Before its incorporation, Westminster (along with Barber City and Midway City) was considered to be part of “Tri-City.” Upon incorporation it annexed Barber City (Midway City remains unincorporated).
In the 1970s, it received a large influx of Vietnamese refugees. Today the population is 48% Asian (85% Vietnamese), 36% white, 24% Latino, and 1% black. Nowadays it is home to the largest concentration of Vietnamese-Americans in the world. Any visit should include checking out Asian Garden Mall (Phước Lộc Thọ) and a meal at Bo De Tinh Tam Chay (which I’m responsible for adding to Urbanspoon).
Westminster is the birthplace of documentarian Harrod Blank, professional gamer Ken Hoang, dance crewPoreotics, and the a cappella group, the Westminster Chorus.
Yorba Linda is an Orange County community that borders the Inland Empire’s San Bernardino Countyand whose motto is “Land of gracious living.” It’s named after Californio rancher, Bernardo Yorba. It was primarily agricultural until the 1960s, when the population began to grow rapidly.
President Richard Nixon was born there in 1913, the year after it acquired its first post office and began receiving electricity. His home, where he lived until 1922, and the adjacent Richard Nixon Library and Museum are the city’s chief attractions. I visited the museum once but became so engrossed by Dan Quayle’s memoir, Standing firm (with its frank discussion of his beef with Murphy Brown and Potatoegate) that I never made it past the gift shop.
Yorba Linda was incorporated in 1967 and also includes the neighborhoods of Carlton and East Lake. In some ways it feels more like a typical South County city. The population is 75% white, 16% Asian, 14% Latino, and 1% black. About 57% of its inhabitants are Republicans.
So there you have it – a brief and by no means complete entry to North Orange County. Get out there and explore, vote and share your experiences!
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing,Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Click here to offer financial support and thank you!