Garden Grove

Investigators with a ghost of a chance

A CREW from Orange County Ghosts and Legends at the Azteca Mexican Restaurant on Main Street in Garden Grove. Azteca owner Jennifer Stewart is in front; head ghost hunter Cris August is at her left shoulder. We’re pretty sure that’s not the ghost of Elvis in the back row (Orange County Tribune photos).

By Jim Tortolano

Are those things that go bump in the night just the cat sashaying through the dining room or perhaps something a bit more … unsettling?

Well, who you gonna …. No, wait. Not gonna do it. “We’ve been called ‘Ghostbusters’ more than we care to remember,” said Cris August, head paranormal investigator for OC Ghosts and Legends, a group that spends a lot of time looking into the not-quite explainable.

Representatives of the group were recently in Garden Grove looking into ghost stories in the city’s downtown area, specifically the Azteca Mexican Restaurant and the Gem Theater on Main Street. Both are located in buildings that were constructed many decades ago, and have long been rumored to host apparitions and more.

AZTECA MEXICAN RESTAURANT on Main Street in downtown Garden Grove.

“I bought this place about five years ago,” said Jennifer Stewart, owner of the Elvis-themed eatery and lounge. J.J. (J.J. Jauregui, the former owner of the restaurant) has relayed lots of interesting stories to me.” Employees, she said, recounted that  “they’ve seen little things,” including an airborne spoon, items moving on their own and lights coming on and off.

“They’ll be talking about Connie (Skipworth, who established the Azteca) and half an hour later lights will be turning on and off and it won’t happen again until the next time they talk about her,” added Stewart.

Orange County’s older cities have a rich catalog of legends about the possibly supernatural. Like most old theaters, the Gem – which dates back to the Silent Film era of nearly a century ago – has ghostly legends.  Ghosts sitting in the front row during rehearsals … places in the theater that are unaccountably cold.

“At the Gem Theater,” said August, “the jury is still out. There have been some audio recordings of voices.”

At Garden Grove High School not far away, in the original main classroom building, the Long Beach Earthquake of 1933 took the life of student Elizabeth Pollard. In the rebuilt structure, the tale has her shade still haunting the place, especially at night.

In Westminster, said August, there was a prominent person who is an actor and wanted to maintain his privacy. “There were a lot of reports of things happening in the middle of the night. Closed circuit cameras showed some shadows crossing in front of the lens, but [we] didn’t find anything specific.”

GEM THEATER on Main Street in Garden Grove has its ghost legends, as do many other stages and cinemas.

Huntington Beach’s city pier has been the site for many legends and “sightings,” including shades, full-body apparitions “as real as anyone would see,” some darker than dark. “However, they are difficult to investigate because the place is so wide open,” he said.

The group uses several pieces of apparatus, including cameras and sonic devices to try to detect or capture evidence of entities from the other side. But do they actually think ghosts are real?

“We have various beliefs,” said August. “We’re trying to keep an open mind, but some [of us] are definitely more skeptical than others.”

OC Ghosts and Legends defines itself as “an organization dedicated to and specializing in anomalous and paranormal research.”  But it has an entertainment element as well, conducting tours and excursions to allegedly haunted locations across Southern California, including San Juan Capistrano, Silverado Canyon and San Diego.

If you’re interested in the Halloween side of Orange County, you can reach them at And if you want to see for yourself if the Azteca ( is really haunted, you can drop in for tacos and karaoke. But don’t be too shocked if the lights start turning off and on.




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