Westminster’s English roots

The Tudor style at the Wells Fargo branch in Westminster.

The Tudor style at the Wells Fargo branch in Westminster.

By Jim Tortolano

Westminster is a city best known for its mall and its large Vietnamese population, clustered in an area known as Little Saigon.  So what’s with the Olde English-style architecture that’s seen in the city’s central core?

In an area radiating out for several blocks in all directions from Beach Boulevard and Westminster Boulevard there are buildings designed (or at least with a facade) in the Tudor style, last popular in 16th century, including the Civic Center and the Keystone Square.

You can also see some less impressive efforts to reflect the fashion at liquor stores and real estate offices. Nevertheless, it may appear to be an anomaly in today’s high-tech, glass and steel world of building.

Well, not really, and especially if you’re interested in the heritage and history of one of Orange County’s oldest communities.

Westminster (not Westminister …) dates back to 1870, making it the third-oldest town in O.C. (after Anaheim and Santa Ana).  It was established by Lemuel P. Webber, a Presbyterian minister, and given its name in tribute to the Westminster Assembly of 1643, which laid down the basic principles of the Presbyterian faith.

This New World version of Westminster was founded as a temperance colony, meaning that the sale and use of alcohol was prohibited.  Webber bought 6,000 acres of land with the intention of establishing a colony of like-minded teetotalers.

First to join up was the Virginian, John Y. Anderson, who moved to a home at what is now Monroe Street and Westminster Boulevard, directly next to the present-day Civic Center.

By 1872, the area had a public school; by 1874 a general store was operating to serve an estimated population of 225 people.  The store was located on Almond Avenue, now known as Westminster Boulevard.

The community grew steadily through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, becoming well-known for many years both for its dairy farms and its hunting. The high water table in Westminster turned some areas into swamps and wetlands, good for hunting ducks and other fowl.

In fact the artesian wells and other water resources made burial a problem, so the founders of the community established a cemetery in what is now Garden Grove. Originally called the Westminster Cemetery, it’s now Magnolia Memorial Park (located on Magnolia Street just south of Chapman Avenue). Many of the members of the founding families of Westminster are buried there.

As the area grew with the post-World War II boom, the name “Westminster” almost got lost.  An incorporation drive trying to unite three communities – Westminster, Midway City and Barber City (west of Springdale) – in 1957 put forward the compromise name of “Tri-City.”

Voters approved it, but with Midway City opting out, it was a Tri-City with just two communities, so the next year saw the name Westminster restored. In the late Sixties, as a civic center was build, the City Council passed an ordinance requiring that surrounding construction resemble the Tudor style dating from the Westminster Assembly era.

There are some English touches elsewhere in the city as well.  Westminster High School has as its mascot the Lions, which is generally considered the animal symbol for England (as is the eagle for the U.S.). WHS has several English-style traditions, including having its student body’s top elected leader called prime minister instead of the more traditional president.

Sources: City of Westminster, Wikipedia.

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