What might (or not) have been

DISNEYLAND could been built in Burbank (Flickr/Adam Smith).

Disneyland in Burbank? The Angels in Long Beach? Oil derricks in Garden Grove?

What sort of “Twilight Zone” world is that?

Well, those things do seem sort of off, but they are all things that could have come to pass, twists and turns that would have transformed Orange County in ways in which might surprise us.

Here’s a look at “What-ifs” and an alternate Orange County that might have been.

What if Disney had built in Burbank?

Walt Disney long cherished the idea of building a “Kiddieland” with higher standards than the sketchy amusement parks of the era, which tended to resemble a carnival with a fixed address.

According to published reports, Walt originally wanted to establish his original “Magic Kingdom” on a modest 13-acre site adjacent to Disney Studios in Burbank, but that city resisted the idea. Foiled, he looked south to where the construction of Interstate 5 (Santa Ana Freeway here) opened up the state all the way through mostly rural Orange County.

The land was cheap and the city fathers of Anaheim were willing, so it all happened at Katella and Harbor instead of Buena Vista Street.

Given that Disneyland “put Anaheim on the map,” it seems logical that no Disneyland might have meant no Anaheim Stadium, no Anaheim Convention Center, and no Honda Center. That likely might have meant no row aof mid-and high-rise hotels in Garden Grove and overall slower development for all of Orange County.

What if the Japanese had not attacked Pearl Harbor?

USS WEST VIRGINIA in flames at Pearl Harbor (Wikipedia).

Obviously, that’s a big turning point in American history, but it had a huge impact on Orange County as well. If Japan and the U.S. had come to some kind of détente over China – the key source of friction between the two nations – the OC landscape might look very different today.

Dec. 7, 1941 brought a flood of military building on the West Coast and Orange County. Uncle Sam established a naval weapons station in Seal Beach and a naval air station in Los Alamitos, not to mention the Santa Ana Army Air Force based (in what is now Costa Mesa).

The Los Al location is now known as the Joint Forces Training Base. It covers 1,319 acres and is adjacent to the Seal Beach navy operation, which is even bigger, at 5,256 acres.

The absence of a threat from the Pacific Ocean likely means no such bases would be established. Since Seal Beach was an incorporated city and Los Alamitos was not (until 1960), you can imagine those areas combining into super city the size of Long Beach. Which leads us to …

The Long Beach Angels? Maybe

This could be in the realm of folklore, but it’s known that Gene Autry, original owner of the Angels, chafed at being a tenant at Dodger Stadium from 1962-65. In fact, the team referred to its home as “Chavez Ravine.”

GENE AUTRY, original owner of the Angels (Wikipedia).

The “Cowboy” began his search for a new home for his Halos. Disney’s presence in Anaheim was a lure, but Long Beach was a strong possibility as well. It was much bigger than Anaheim, closer to the team’s fan base in Los Angeles and had other attractions as well.

However – as the story goes – the leadership of Long Beach, always a little sensitive about being in the shadow of L.A. – insisted that the team be called the Long Beach Angels.

That didn’t fit Autry’s idea of a big league team title, so he – again, allegedly – leaned toward Anaheim, where they were fine with the more general California Angels, a name that lasted until 1996. Now, of course they are back to their original name, Los Angeles Angels.

And there’s more …

Garden Grove might have been an oil town.  Stanton might have become Orange County’s biggest city. Or maybe it was Saddleback Valley …

More might-have-been “alternate history” in the next Retorts column, in two weeks.

Jim Tortolano’s “Retorts” column is posted every other week, alternating with “Usually Reliable Sources.”





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