By Jim Tortolano
It’s not just celebrities or serial spouses who change their names. Many a city – some of them big – trade in one monicker for another for a wide variety of reasons.
Long Beach, for instance, was once known as Willmore City. San Francisco was Yerba Buena. New York was New Amsterdam. Pittsburgh was Fort Duquesne.
Here in Orange County we have a rather large list of “do-overs” for the names of cities and communities, some of them rather recent as historical records go. Some are outright re-branding; some are about those who were absorbed into larger entities.
Impress your friends with this partial list of “What this used to be called …” And if the past is any indicator, we’re not done with the renaming process yet.
Benedict: A portion of what is now Stanton along Beach Boulevard. The new name was to honor Philip Stanton, who helped stave off an attempt by Anaheim to turn that area into a sewer farm (yes, it’s as bad as it sounds). The name survives with city plans to revive the “Benedict Tract.”
Bay City: Speculators like grand names for their projects, so this was chosen for what is now Seal Beach. Confusion with San Francisco (hard to believe, eh) led to a renaming.
Dairy City and Dairyland: When suburbanization threatened to wipe out the milk cow industry in west Orange County, these two areas became new cities in the mid-Fifties. The struggle against subdividers was futile, though, and the modern names of Cypress and La Palma were adopted in 1957 and 1965. Right across the county line, Dairy Valley was created, later to become Cerritos.
El Toro: Here’s a link to the 1860s when Orange County was cattle-grazing country. The El Toro Post Office was established in 1888 and the community gave its name to both the El Toro Marine Corps Station and the “El Toro Y” where the San Diego and Santa Ana Freeways converge. Now it’s part of the City of Lake Forest, but the name persists with El Toro High School and other landmarks.
Harper: Several communities came together to form what is now Costa Mesa, but Harper was first, forming around Newport Boulevard and 18th Street just before World War I. Other towns joining with Costa Mesa include Fairview.
Pacific City: This town (an echo, perhaps of the famous Atlantic City), saw the name changed to Huntington Beach in a shameless attempt at flattery to convince railroader Henry Huntington to extend his lines through the community. It worked for Huntington Park in L.A. County, too.
Myford: Irvine is Orange County’s city of the future, perhaps, but it’s got a past dating back to the 1880s. A post office was established on the Irvine Ranch, but the proposed name of Irvine was rejected (there was another Irvine, apparently) so the name Myford (the son of James Irvine) was substituted.
Richland: The first name for what is Orange, founded in 1871, was changed in 1873 when it was found that there was another Richland in the state. This is what happened to people before Wikipedia.
Talbert: A portion is what is now Fountain Valley at Talbert Street and Bushard Street. The area was originally going to be named Fountain Valley, but the proposed name was reportedly rejected by the U.S. Post Office, so the default name Talbert was used. Fountain Valley reclaimed its glory in 1957 when the city incorporated.
Tri-City: During the great incorporation boom of the Fifties, a plan was advanced to combine the towns of Westminster, Barber City and Midway City into one city. At the last minute, Midway Citizens backed out, so Tri-City was approved by voters in 1957 with just two legs. The next year the name was changed to Westminster. Barber City (along Westminster Boulevard west of Springdale) is hardly remembered these days.
Of course, this list just scratches the surface of the county’s mostly-forgotten geographical history. Most O.C. cities today include within their borders several small tracts, towns or landmarks which were once household names locally, but which are now unknown.
To those interested in a more complete list, see Phil Brigandi’s “Orange Coutny Place Names A to Z” and any of Jim Sleeper’s “Orange County Almanac” editions.