Sharing Homestead Photos with the Orange County Historical Society

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This evening, I was honored to give my third presentation to the Orange County Historical Society with tonight’s talk highlighting photographs from the Homestead’s collection dealing with areas of the county, which was split off from Los Angeles County in 1889 up to 1930, the end of our interpretive period.

I noted that, while the Workman and Temple families were associated with the Homestead site in the eastern San Gabriel Valley, there were connections to what became Orange County.

For example, William Workman was a backer and investor in Anaheim Landing, a port created in the late 1860s by residents from the town of that name at what is now Seal Beach.  In 1875, when there was one of several efforts to create a new county in what was then the southeastern part of Los Angeles County, Workman was contacted by backers for his support.

Valencia Orange Show Anaheim Pomona exhibit 1928
The exhibit from the City of Pomona at the Valencia Orange Show in Anaheim, 1928.

Walter P. Temple, after the success of his oil lease at Montebello, became an investor in wells in Huntington Beach and was also a real estate partner of A. Otis Birch, who grew up in Santa Ana (where there is a Birch Street named for his family) and made a fortune in oil at Brea Canyon before launching a furniture company in Los Angeles, in building a business building in the latter.

The PowerPoint presentation included about forty images, including a very early carte de visite portrait, taken by the San Francisco Gallery in the new town of Santa Ana circa 1870s, of an unidentified young man.  Much of the views were organized by subjects, with one dealing with agriculture and dairies, including a couple of 1890s images of farming on the massive landholdings of the Irvine family and one of the Delhi Dairy in southeast Santa Ana taken in 1891.

Aliso Canyon 1910s
A circa 1910s real photo postcard of Aliso Canyon south of Laguna.

Of course, for a county named Orange, there had to be a healthy number of photos exemplifying that preeminent industry in the county.  A particularly notable photo showed laborers, including several Chinese workers, at a Santa Ana orchard in the 1890s.  Another was taken, about the early 1920s, at the Hewes packing plant in El Modena, a neighborhood of Orange, where dozens of employees, mostly women, as well as some Latinos were posed near the buildings of the plant.  Finally  there were several views of the Valencia Orange Show, a popular event held in Anaheim, during the later 1920s, showing exhibits as well as one of several women preparing a special gift box of fruit for President Calvin Coolidge.

Another major topic was the oil industry, which was launched in 1897 when Edward Doheny, discoverer of the Los Angeles oil field a few years earlier, brought in the first well at Olinda in what is now Brea at the northeastern corner of the county.  Other photos showed Brea Canyon and Huntington Beach oil wells, as well as a couple of examples of the dangers found in fields, such as gas explosions or oil tank fires.

Olinda oil well 1900s
An oil well at the Olinda field in modern Brea, ca. 1900s.

Some examples of landscapes and leisure activities were also featured, such as a 1919 image of the rocky shores of Laguna and a nice shot of Aliso Canyon to the south.  Similarly, a number of beach scenes were included, such as Seal Beach, Sunset Beach, and Balboa Island, while a view of folks fishing off the pier at Newport Beach was another interesting image.

Finally, there were a number of photographs grouped under a general heading of “O.C.,” though that stood not for “Orange County” but for “Other Categories.”   Examples included views of downtown Santa Ana from 1909 and the 1920s; the home of Anaheim pioneer Theodore Rimpau as shown in a 1913 postcard from his nephew to Rimpau’s brother in Germany; an airplane at Santa Ana called the “Guatemala” that was ready for a record-setting flight from this region to its namesake country; an 1890s photo of the El Modena School and one from 1929 of the 8th grade class at Garden Grove School.

Camp Doyle PCs Modjeska Ranch 1910
A pair of photo collage postcards from Camp Clyde Doyle at Modjeska’s Ranch in the Santa Ana Mountains, 1910.

The presentation concluded with a couple of photo collages concerning Camp Clyde Doyle, which was a Y.M.C.A. facility at the ranch of famed theatrical actress Helena Modjeska in the Santa Ana Mountains.  Doyle, a Long Beach-based attorney, was well known for his charitable work with trouble youth, being a major figure in the early days of Boys Republic, which started in San Fernando and moved to what is now Chino Hills, where it continues its important work after over 110 years.  Doyle then served several terms in Congress, including serving on the House Un-American Activities Committee, before his death in 1963.


The 40 persons attending seemed to enjoy the talk, especially seeing the great photos of the county and there are also plenty of non-photographic artifacts from the Homestead’s collection that can form a fine sequel in the future.  Having moved to Orange County from my native Chicago when I was five years old and lived in several areas there until my late twenties, it’s been great to reconnect with the county through its history and to establish excellent ties with the Orange County Historical Society.

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