By Jim Tortolano
The slower pace of summer often gives way to reflection. One of my favorite mental pastimes is the premise of “What If?” In the context of this website, some big what-ifs about Orange County history.
Disneyland in Burbank? The arrival of the Magic Kingdom in Anaheim signaled a new phase in local history, starting a chain of events that would attract major league sports teams, a booming convention business and national attention.
But it wasn’t inevitable … maybe. Disney’s studios were located in Burbank, and there was land available to build his dream amusement part there. Published accounts differ here. Some claim that Walt himself decided the site available for too small (eight acres) for his big plans. Other sources say the City of Burbank rejected the idea.
What is established is that he hired a consulting firm to find a better place. His requirements were that it had to have freeway access, be near Los Angeles, be at least 100 acres and be affordable.
Locations reportedly were examined in Tustin, Santa Ana and other cities, but Anaheim was chosen. It sat right on the Santa Ana Freeway (Interstate 5) had lots of available and relatively inexpensive land (in the from of orange groves). Additionally, Anaheim officials were perhaps more cooperative than those in Burbank.
The rest is history. Which leads to another big step in our local heritage …
The Long Beach Angels? Cowboy star Gene Autry came to the winter meeting of the American League owners in 1960 in an effort to get a client for his Golden West Broadcasting, the new Los Angeles franchise in the American League.
He ended up getting the team itself, which debuted in 1961 as the Los Angeles Angels. The Halos played their first season in the tiny Wrigley Field, which had been the home park of their minor league namesake and predecessor.
In 1962, the Angels moved into the new Dodger Stadium (which the Angels stubbornly called Chavez Ravine) but were soon unhappy tenants. They were not only in the shadow of the more successful Dodgers (World Series champs in 1958, 1963 and 1965) but the lease agreement saddled them with half of the maintenance costs but only a fraction of the concession revenue.
Autry soon began looking for another place to hang his 10-gallon hat. The most attractive location seemed to be in Long Beach, the second largest city in Los Angeles County and the biggest between L.A. and San Diego.
But negotiations foundered on the naming of the franchise. Long Beach city fathers, anxious to elevate the community into the big leagues, insisted on the name “Long Beach Angels,” presaging a battle between Anaheim and the Halos several decades later.
Autry wasn’t going for it. He wanted a name that would appeal to the suburban sprawl that took in Orange County, the Inland Empire, San Gabriel Valley, etc. He liked the name “California Angels.”
Anaheim didn’t mind being left out of the title (then, anyway) and a deal was signed in 1964 to build a new municipal stadium on favorable terms for the team. The franchise began the 1966 season in Orange County as the California Angels.
The 2002 team that won the World Series was the Anaheim Angels, but the current version is officially the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Odds are the “of Anaheim” won’t last long either. You wait long enough and everything comes back into style.
Placing the Plaza: South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa is an internationally-known shopping destination. As one of the first enclosed shopping malls on the West Coast, its 1967 debut sent a tremor through the retail world of Southern California, and dozens of enclosed centers followed within a decade.
But the earthquake just as easily could have come from Garden Grove. In the mid-Fifties, the newly-incorporated city was the fastest-growing municipality in the United States. All those new homeowners needed shopping, and an ambitious plan to build a major shopping center in the city was unveiled.
Orange County Plaza, at Chapman Avenue and Brookhurst Street, was built in stages, with the first section opened in 1956. Owners-developers Don Shandeling and Harry Rinker wanted to transplant an idea from Minnesota: an enclosed, climate-controlled shopping center.
The original plans called for a pair of two-story department stores (JC Penney and JJ Newberry), a farmer’s market and dozens of shops and restaurants, all of it air-conditioned. A pedestrian bridge over Chapman to another center on the southwest corner of the intersection was also planned.
But things went wrong. The bridge was never built. JC Penney built a one-story store and Newberry located across the street. And it wasn’t until after the center was constructed that Shandeling tried to retrofit the open-air mall, enclosing it as was originally planned.
According to Louella Kearns, who operated the popular Kandi Kane’s dress shop for many years, “The tenants wouldn’t go along because it would have meant higher rents to pay for the air conditioning and remodeling. That’s not the way to do it. You don’t sign everybody to leases and then afterwards try to get them to agree to something like that.”
Now the center is known as The Promenade and is anchored by a Regal 16-screen movie house and a new Wal-mart store. It’s successful, but never achieved the retail glory it almost had a half-century before.
Sources: Wikipedia, Los Angeles Times, “The Big Strawberry” by Jim Tortolano, Garden Grove Daily News, Garden Grove Journal, Fullerton Daily News Tribune.
Note: Jim Tortolano is editor of Orange County Tribune. He’s been OC resident since 1960.