California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Costa Mesa, The Standing Ovation Capital of Orange County

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 8, 2010 07:30pm | Post a Comment

This episode is about Cosa Mesa, which I journeyed to with photographer Jeanine Michelle and filmmaker Diana WardTo vote for other Orange County communities to be covered on the blog, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities to be the subject of future entries, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, vote here
 Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Costa Mesa
Costa Mesa is a city in North Orange County, California, located on the coastal tableland above Newport Bay. It’s neighbored by Santa Ana to the north, Irvine to the northeast, Newport Beach to the south, Huntington Beach to the west, and Fountain Valley to the northwest. Originally an agricultural community, nowadays Costa Mesa’s economy is primarily based on retail, commerce and light manufacturing. There are a good deal of cultural events and centers for an Orange County town and Costa Mesa proclaims itself to be Orange County’s “Center of the Arts.” Nonetheless, it’s still Orange County and the biggest money maker is a mall; the largest employer is Mickey D's.
Costa Mesa skyline

Though long thought of as a purely suburban County, there are pockets of urbanization that have arisen since the 1970s, especially in North Orange County. Costa Mesa is probably the most urbanized city in Orange County. The two tallest skyscrapers in Orange County are located in Costa Mesa. The oldest, and third tallest building in the city is the 17-story Park Tower, completed in 1979. The tallest skyscraper in the city and county is the 21-story Center Tower, completed in 1985. It's part of South Coast Plaza. The second tallest building in the county and city is Plaza Tower, built in 1992 and also part of South Coast Plaza. Other skyscrapers include the two 15-story Comamerica Bank Tower and Tower (both part of Two Town Center), the17-story Westin South Coast Plaza, the 12-story Metro Center I and Metro Center II (both completed in 1988), and the South Coast Metro Building (completed in 1989).
The southwestern portion of the city is somewhat industrial in character. The area hemmed in by the 405, 55 and 73 is known as SOBECASouth on Bristol, Entertainment, Culture and Arts. The shopping area includes "anti-malls" The Lab and The Camp. Other areas include the
Theater & Arts District, the Metro Center, the City Center and the neighborhoods of Cliff Haven and Santa Ana Heights.
The duck-less Metro Center Duck Pond

 Yours truly giving a speech about Costa Mesa

The current population is roughly 69% white, 7% Asian and 32% of Latino. Although a minority, the Latino contingent reflects the browning of formerly lily white Orange County and some have exaggeratedly nicknamed the town “Costa Mexico.”

   Costa Mesa Estancia under normal conditions                           

   Costa Mesa Estancia on the day of our visit
At the time of the Spaniards’ arrival, the area now making up Costa Mesa was home to the Acagchemem, Payomkowishum and Tongva. The Spanish, of course, didn’t care and in 1801 granted a large portion of land to Jose Antonio Yorba. His Rancho San Antonio included the lands of modern day Costa Mesa, as well as Olive, Orange, Villa Park, Santa Ana, Tustin and Newport Beach. It was primarily used as pasture and in 1823, work on an estancia for vaqueros was completed. The structure later became known as the Diego Sepúlveda Adobe (after one of the inhabitants) aka the Costa Mesa Estancia aka the Santa Ana Estancia. It still stands and serves as a museum although it's undergoing restoration currently.
Fairview, Harper and Paularino

Fairview Hot Springs, 1909
The land was later part of Mexico until the US’s imperialist victory in the Mexican-American War. After newly becoming part of the US, settlers built the town of Fairview near the modern day intersection of Harbor and Adams. There was a church, a schoolhouse and a 25-room hotel to accommodate tourists visiting the nearby sulfur hot springs. Fairview was devastated in 1889 when a storm and flood ravaged the town and it soon reverted to farmland.

Harper-Fairview Grammar School c. 1920

To Fairview’s south, another town, Harper, had sprung up. It continued to function until three years of droughts at the dawn of the new century drove most families, including the Harpers, off the mesa. It slowly began to recover around 1908, when a new school opened at 17th and Newport. Harper also acquired its first commercial building, Ozment General Store, at the northeast corner of 18th and Newport. In 1910, the first commercial apple orchards were planted by George Waterman and George Huntington. A second schoolhouse (this one with two rooms!) opened at 17th and Orange. Tragedy again befell the residents of the mesa in 1916 when the Santa Ana River flooded the town.

Paularino was a sleepy lima bean farming community to the northeast. I don't have much info about it... and it doesn't seem like people thought it was worth photographing.
Costa Mesa
Perhaps wanting to signal a new start, on May 11th, 1920, Harper changed its name to Costa Mesa. Its character stayed relatively the same, however, with most of the economy based around growing sweet potatoes, corn, tomatoes, strawberries and apples. Eight years later, in 1928, Costa Mesans effectively fought off arch rival Santa Ana’s attempts to annex them. The discovery of oil brought new growth to the city and everything was hunky dory until the depression struck. Industries folded and Costa Mesa’s only bank closed.

Earthquake aftermath, Newport Blvd, 1933

Then, in 1933, the Long Beach Earthquake damaged most of what remained.
Costa Mesa soldiered on, getting a second start after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when the government hastily established the Santa Ana Army Base nearby and the population of Costa Mesa grew considerably.

Ed Hardy fan in Ed Hardy's hometown

In 1945, Iowa-born Don Ed Hardy and his family also moved to Costa Mesa. He later went on to become a tattoo artist and founded one of the most loathed clothing brands (outside Orange County).

In 1949, Paul Clinton and Edward "Buddy" Grant opened Grants Surplus, which offered "1001 things you can't use” to a town otherwise mostly defined by feed barns, hardware stores and pharmacies. It is still in business today as Grant Boys.
On June 29th, 1953, Costa Mesa was incorporated as a city. The rest of the decade was fairly uneventful until scandal rocked the suburb when Miss Costa Mesa of 1958 was stripped of her grown after it came to light that she was a divorcee. The ‘60s were predictably more tumultuous.

In 1960, a more serious crime occurred when a man pretending to be interested in buying 29-year-old Nancy Haas’ house on Princeton Drive shot her to death (five times) in front of her three-year-old daughter, Heidi. Heidi’s testimony lead to the capture and conviction of Robert Elton Edwards, a 19-year-old from Modesto.


Newport Blvd. at 18th St. circa 1963

Four years later, a group of rowdy teenagers were involved in a fatal car chase when 19-year-old Costa Mesan Michael Madison saw his girlfriend, 16-year-old Sheri Lilly, in a car with 18-year-old Newport Beach resident Jerry Dale Kennedy. The incident ended with Kennedy being thrown from his car and dying.
In 1964, a group of theater students started Costa Mesa’s South Coast Repertory. Leading the way were two San Francisco Stage College graduates, David Emmes and Martin Benson, who opened their theater in Costa Mesa, convinced that there was a future for theater in Orange County. In 1972, South Coast Repertory launched a new branch, Actor’s Mime Theater. Sadly, that didn’t last (I’m not joking – I like pantomime) but the SCR is still active.

Newport Ave in the mid-1960s
In 1965, Chuck Smith, a leading figure in the “Jesus Movement,” established Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa. It started with 25 members and now boasts 1,400. They church is responsible for radio broadcasts, and many live Christian music recordings on CD and DVD.

Costa Mesa was forever changed in March, 1967, when Harold T. Segerstrom and his cousin Henry T. Segerstrom opened South Coast Plaza on the site of their family’s lima bean field. Most malls that old have long since been demolished but Sout
h Coast Plaza just continues to grow and generates more than one billion dollars a year. In fact, it's estimate that if the female Vietnamese population used the money they spend at the plaza and instead sent it as remittances to Vietnam that it would elevate that country's economy to that of Dubai.
In more Christian Costa Mesa news, in 1970, Richard T. Coughlin established Costa Mesa’s All-American Boys Chorus. Coughlin had been moved to Costa Mesa from Boston by the pedophile-enabling Catholic Church after he was accused there of molesting young boys. Later, five members of the chorus would make the same accusations but Coughlin swore to the Almighty that he couldn’t remember anything.

In even more creepy Christian news, in 1973, the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) began. It’s headquarters are in Costa Mesa and it is the largest and most popular Christian network in the world. Occasionally TBN’s promotes “prosperity gospel,” promising viewers that if they give cash to the network, they will in turn be rewarded with money. If you've ever lived without cable and tried to pretend that there are more than enough free stations, TBN is the one where the pink-haired harlot, Jan Crouch, joins her husband, Paul, on the set of Praise the Lord where they sit on lavish thrones of gold.

In case you're the average Christian who's never bothered cracking open a Bible, here are some of Jesus's teachings on wealth. 
  • “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
  • “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
  • “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
In other unholy news from the 1970s, in 1978, Costa Mesa witnessed the formation of the Nazi Lowriders gang.
Some say that Costa Mesa got back on track in the 1980s. In 1981, the Costa Mesa Historical Society’s Museum and Headquarters opened. In 1986, the aforementioned Orange County Performing Arts Center opened. However, not everyone was happy with the increasing cultural opportunities. A complaint was made by crotchety Costa Mesa resident John Feeney when he realized that South Coast Repertory was using city money to produce flyers supporting the NEA, which a conservative reactionary claimed amounted to “religious bigotry.” Chester priests vs. Robert Mapplethorpe...

In 1991, another shopping center, Triangle Square, opened in downtown Costa Mesa although over the years it's more like a ghostmall. That same year, game manufacturer Zono Incorporated was founded in Costa Mesa. They’re best known as the developer of Mr. Bones for the Sega Saturn. In 1995, The OC Weekly was founded in Costa Mesa and has somehow avoided completely going to s**t like the LA Weekly which has since been taken over by soulless – and worse, clueless -- Arizona-based media mega corporation New Times Media.


In 2006, The Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall opened in Town Center.

From 1976 till 1981, the most famous music venue in Costa Mesa was Jerry Roach’s punk venue, Cuckoo’s Nest. The Vandals wrote a song about the infamous club, "Pat Brown." The club also claimed to be the birthplace of slamdancing and was documented in the 1981 film Urban Struggle.

Bands that were formed and musicians who were born in Costa Mesa include Bill Madden, Cowboy Buddha, Measles, Naked Soul, The Pressure and Xployt (aka Joe Public). Supernova was another band from Costa Mesa, who even wrote a song called "Costa Mesa Hates Me."
Movies & TV


Not a whole lot of films have taken place in Costa Mesa. Reflecting the punk rock past, Suburbia was filmed there, as was In the Shadow of the Stars.

Orange Coast College entrance circa 1960

Perhaps the first film shot in Costa Mesa was the Vincent Price-narrated, Chuck Roberts-starring recruitment film, Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California. Other films and television programs with scenes shot in Costa Mesa include Arizona, Convict, Big Momma's House 2 (the Deloitte & Touche Building), Entering the Student Body, Final Assignment, Hierarchy, Laguna Beach, The Newest Pledge, Quest for the Holy Ale, Stratagem, The Omega Code, The Sopranos and Time Changer.

There used to be a big drive-in theater too, the Paulo, but it was torn down in the name of progress.
Costa Mesa is home to the Theater & Arts District, a performing and visual arts campus. It included the Orange County Performing Arts Center (OCPAC), Segerstrom Center for the Arts (which comprises the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall and Samueli Theater), as well as the aforementioned South Coast Repertory.

Richard Sera's Connector, which you can step inside of (and make noise)

There’s also a large Richard Sera sculpture on the grounds, Connector, as well as works by Jean Dubuffet, Henry Moore, Joan Miro, Charles O. Perry and Isamu Noguchi’s California Scenario.

Orange County Fairgrounds, 1950
Costa Mesa is home to the Orange County Fairgrounds which hosts the Orange County Fair each July. The fairgrounds were also featured in Tom Hanks’s directorial debut, That Thing You Do!. Regularly scheduled events in Costa Mesa include the New Years Eve Block Party at OC Fair and Event Center, Howl-idays at the Costa Mesa Bark Park and Food Truck Fare Thursdays. For fans of libido-destroying plastic surgery or atrocity exhibitions, there’s the Costa Mesa Streetlow Show Bikini Contest -- google at your own risk. Back in 1938, residents started the annual Carnival of the Scarecrows. By its second year, it drew 10,000 attendees. It ended with the US' entry into World War II. Maybe they should bring that back. 
Other Stuff To Do

Hidden behind some nondescript buildings is the California Scenario, a tranquil sculpture garden with trees, a stream, cacti, fountains and rocks.

There are also three libraries and 26 parks. The largest park is Fairview Regional, on the city’s western edge. It's a large park along the Santa Ana River with trails and the Talbert Nature Preserve.


In 2001, Fairview was the site of the grisly and senseless murder of sixteen-year-old Ceceline Godsoe on a hiking trail by a deeply-disturbed high school friend who was ultimately arrested after fleeing to Mexico and being arrested for beating his wife.

When we visited, it was a happier place. We saw Audobon Cottontails and a Red Tailed Hawk. The park is also inhabited by American Goldfinches, American Kestrels, California Groundsquirrels, Gopher Snakes, Southern Alligator Lizards, Western Fence Lizards, Western Flycatchers and Western Kingbirds.

And no stop to Costa Mesa is complete without a visit to the Pain Center, which includes Massage parlors, salons, a suit store and a liquor store to help make a visitor feel better.

Henry's, hot spot in the 1960s   

                                                                       Plums, the hot spot now

Especially prominent cuisines in Costa Mesa are Italian and Mexican but there’s a pretty good variety of cuisine represented across the city. I think that the first place I ever went to was a tragi-romantic meal at Scott's a couple of years ago. On the day of our visit, the crew ate at Plums, which was excellent. There's also Anjin, Anotello Ristorante, Arriba Baja Grill, Boudin SF, Bristol Palms, Champagne French Bakery Cafe, Corner Office Grill, Darya Fine Persian Cuisine, Diho Siam Restaurant, Finbars Italian KitchenDurty Nelly's Irish Pub & Restaurant, Fresca's Mexican Grill, Garduno's Ristorante Italiano, The Gypsy Den Café, Habana, Hamamori Restaurant Lounge, Hemingway's, Jerry's Famous DeliKarl Strauss Brewery, Kura Sushi, La Cave, Lawry's Carvery, Le Chateau Restaurant, Leatherby's Cafe Rouge, Marché Moderne, Marrakesh, May Garden Chinese Restaurant, Memphis Café, Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant & Bar, Nello Cucina, Newport Rib Company, Oki Doki, Old Vine Café, 118 Degrees, Onotria Wine Country CuisineOrchid Cuisine Grill & BarPark Privé, Pinot Provence, Quattro Caffé, Ristorante Mamma Gina, Royal Khyber Fine Indian Cuisine, Skosh Monahan's Steakhouse and Irish Pub, Soprano's Restaurant, Sutra Lounge, TerraNova, La Terraza Mexican Grill and BarValhalla TableWahoo's Fish TacoWestside Bar & GrillZ’Tejas and Zipangu.



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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Skid Row

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 25, 2010 07:00pm | Post a Comment


This blog entry is about Skid Row. Joining me on the adventure were Aussie-Chinese film-producer Diana Ward and Colombian-Chinese-American designer/illustrator/downtown resident Wendy Chin -- both used to playing "traveling companions" to my Doctor.

Skid Row
is a neighborhood in Los Angeles' Central City East District. It's known to locals as "The Nickel" because it's centered on 5th. It's neighbored by the Fashion District, Little Tokyo, The Toy District, The Flower District and The Downtown Industrial District.

To vote for other Los Angeles neighborhoods to be covered on the blog, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, vote here. To vote for Orange County communities, vote here.

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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Fullerton, The Education Community

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 25, 2010 03:00pm | Post a Comment

is a city located in northern Orange County, California. On this blogventure, I was accompanied by Chronicle Books' Southern California Trade Sales Representative and Fullerton native Dave Erlich.

 Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Fullerton

Fullerton is bordered by La Habra and Brea on the north, La Mirada on the northwest, Buena Park on the west, Anaheim on the south, and Placentia on the east. To vote for more Orange County communities to be the subjects of future blog entries, vote here. To vote more Los Angeles County communities, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, vote here.


California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Highland Park

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 3, 2010 10:30pm | Post a Comment

This blog entry's focus is the Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood of Highland Park. To vote for more Los Angeles neighborhoods to be the subject of future entries, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, vote here. To vote for Orange County communities, vote here. Please vote for as many as interest you!

Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Northeast LA and Highland Park
As mentioned already, HLP is in NELA. Its neighbors are Pasadena to the northeast, Hermon and South Pasadena to the east, Montecito Heights to the south, Cypress Park and Lincoln Heights to the southwest, Mt. Washington to the west, and Eagle Rock to the north.

Roberto Reies Flores' Highland Park Tongva mural - The People of the Earth


The Chumash lived in the region over 10,000 years ago before moving further north as the Hahamog'na branch Tongva arrived from the south. For tens of thousands of years the landscape was predominantly rolling hills and grasslands with wild grapes, clematis, sycamore, California live oak, willows and black walnut trees growing along the Arroyo Seco, a seasonally dry creek fed by springs.



The many springs in the area allowed for the establishment of Sparkling Artesian Water (later Sparkletts) in 1925, Yosemite in 1926, Indian Head Water in 1928 and Deep Rock Water.
After the Spaniards conquered the Natives, they made it part of Rancho San Rafael. It was subsequently part of Mexico until the US won the Mexican-American War and took over. The founding of Pasadena in 1873 created the need for new transportation routes connecting it to Los Angeles. In 1876, the Sierra Madre Stage Coach began ferrying passengers through the area. Settlers began to arrive around what's now Highland Park shortly after, establishing the communities of Sycamore Grove, Garvanza, York Valley, Annandale, Hermon and others.

Figueroa and (New) York Blvd intersection in the 1880s


In 1885, the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Railroad built the first wooden trestle bridge across the Arroyo Seco where Avenue 64 crosses the Arroyo Seco Parkway. The following year, the Pasadena Street Railroad established a horse-drawn trolley line through the area. The same year, 1886, Judson and Morgan named their land The Highland Park Tract. The following year,  William Lees Judson and his three sons established t he Colonial Glass Company. Development followed, although by 1888, the land boom had gone bust. Nonetheless, Highland Park was largely spared and Sycamore Grove was annexed in 1895. Garvanza was annexed in 1899. Today, they, along with districts like York Valley are more often viewed as subdistricts of Highland Park rather than separate communities, although all have very distinct atmosphere. 

The California Cycleway


The area early on began to attract bohemians and bandits, resulting in brothels and saloons springing up around Sycamore Grove. In 1900, a section of the bicycle tollway, the California Cycleway opened, designed to connect Pasadena to Los Angeles (although it never extended past Avenue 57). Highland Park's cycle-loving spirit continues with the Bike Oven, the Eastside Bike Club, the Arroyo Seco bike bath and the ArroyoFest Freeway Walk and Bike Ride, which in 2003 closed the 110 freeway to cars for one night. 

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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Monterey Park

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 23, 2010 07:00pm | Post a Comment


This blog entry is about the Los Angeles County community of Monterey Park. To vote for more Los Angeles County communities to be the subject of future blog entries, click here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Orange County communities, click here.

Monterey Park is located on the western edge of the San Gabriel Valley at the junction of the Eastside and SELACO. It is surrounded by Alhambra to the north, San Gabriel to the northeast, Rosemead to the east, South San Gabriel to the southeast, Montebello to the south, East L.A. to the southwest, and Lincoln Heights to the west.

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