In my last column – way back two weeks ago – I mused on the significance of landmarks in a community. I asked readers to make their own suggestions about buildings or businesses or other eye-catching things and places in their community.
The article got a fair number of readers, but they were shy about sharing their own landmark nominations. So I will fly solo on this one and hope they spark your own selections, by city. Let’s start with one city, Garden Grove, and do our others – Huntington Beach, Stanton and Westminster – in future columns.
You’d think that the outstanding landmark for The Big Strawberry would be the Christ Cathedral campus, with its crystal main sanctuary, prayer tower and other striking buildings. But it was always more of a regional kind of place, especially located as it is at the edge of the city at Chapman Avenue and Lewis Street.
Other likely suspects might be the clock tower at Main and Euclid streets in the Village Green Park, or even the glittering row of hotels along Harbor Boulevard from the Hyatt to the Great Wolf.
But the landmark that seemed to me to be the one that most represented the spirit of the community is one that’s still under construction. Long known as the “rusty skeleton,” what will eventually become Garden Brook Senior Village, it seems to track with so many things about the town.
The land, located on Garden Grove Boulevard just west of Brookhurst Street, was originally donated decades ago for the creation of a boys’ orphanage. That idea eventually morphed into the Boys (and later Girls) Club of Garden Grove, one of the largest and most effective youth organizations in Orange County.
For years, the piece of the property facing Garden Grove Boulevard was used as a car dealership – first for Plymouths, then Volvos – with the rent going to support the B&GCGG. But in 2006 the idea was unveiled to really leverage that land into a financial bonanza for the kids of the city. It was the eight-story Garden Grove Galleria, a mixed-use behemoth that would be a key factor in revitalizing a rather drab intersection pock-marked by run-down car repair shops and low-ball furniture outlets.
Construction started and a steel skeleton was erected, but work came to a halt when the Great Recession of 2008 threw the project – and much of the economy – for a loss. Legal battles followed and the building became known for its corroding girders looming on the horizon like a big iron giant mocking the community’s ambitions.
But hope persisted, and a decade later, new developers, financing and managers were assembled and by 2019 re-construction was underway. It took nearly a generation, but anyone driving along Brookhurst or even the Garden Grove (22) Freeway can see how well the task is proceeding. Together with the Brookhurst Place development to the north, that area will go from junk to gem.
That building is a landmark not just a big building with charity at its heart, but also as testament to the persistence and will to progress that characterizes much of the best of what’s in Garden Grove.
Jim Tortolano’s “Retorts” appears on alternate Wednesdays, except when it comes out on Thursday.