Retorts: Opportunity from crisis


THE 1933 EARTHQUAKE led many downtown businesses in Garden Grove to bring their wares out into the street (Garden Grove Historical Society).

Build it. Then see if you can make it better.

Can’t tell you how many times I’ve done that, from Lincoln Logs (remember them?) to newspaper/website columns to efforts to assemble furniture from Ikea or Target. The second or third version almost always turns out better and comes together faster. Any author will tell you that the first draft of a novel is usually awful, at least compared to the finished product.

The coronavirus pandemic and the economic dislocations that followed are still with us, and for most people their experiences range from the tragic to the merely annoying. No one is looking at this mess in terms of bright sides … however.

History teaches us that terrible times can clear the way to better days. One good local example is what is now Garden Grove’s Main Street. For the first 60 years or so of its history since the community was founded in 1874, it was the southern end of Euclid Street and was the town’s original central business district.

To be fair, though, it was not much to look at. Many of the structures were constructed of unreinforced masonry or clapboard timber or even corrugated metal.  When the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake (actually, located closer to Huntington Beach, but …) hit, it devastated the area, and leveled a fair part of the street.

There was even a death at nearby Garden Grove High, where falling masonry in the main classroom building killed Elizabeth Pollard, giving rise to many ghost stories since.

But from the rubble of the downtown came a new business center. A group called the Euclid Improvement Association was formed, which worked to renovate and rebuild the area safer and better. The street was widened and the architectural style of white plaster walls and red tile roofs gave a more attractive look to the area, and much of that survives in today’s Main Street.

In today’s public health “earthquake”  of COVID-19, some of the businesses on Main – mainly restaurants – have found a way to survive by having outdoor seating that spills over onto sidewalks and some street parking areas. While this isn’t enough to make up for the loss of indoor seating capacity, this new al fresco dining experience is winning raves from just about everyone. That experience is being duplicated in many area communities.

Grappling with this pandemic is bringing out some creative thinking and action. Cities and the Alcohol Beverage Control agency have found that they can – if they need to – move a lot faster in processing approvals and permits. Restaurants are finding ways to adapt, and a lot of new ideas are percolating in the old town.

Close the southern block of Main Street to car traffic? Make it a one-way street? Create a roundabout at Acacia Parkway, a la Orange’s “traffic circle” (technically, The Plaza), perhaps with a mini-park or landmark in the middle? There are lots of intriguing suggestions being floated.

I’m not endorsing any of them, but they do raise some interesting possibilities. It’s said that in Chinese, the word “crisis” is created from two characters, one of them meaning danger, and one of them opportunity. Let’s see how much we can lean on the opportunity part of this crisis.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts column appears on Wednesday.


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