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Mesa Verde Library: Bold Architectural Beauty

The Mesa Verde Library was designed by architects Schwager, Desatoff & Henderson, the firm responsible for the Costa Mesa Civic Center, the former Edwards Theater on Adams, and Fire Station #4 on Placentia.

“Modern” was the most common way to describe the branch on opening day. Commentators praised the “lofted solar reading room,” the four patios, the dumb waiter, and, surprisingly, the fact it was carpeted. While some things have changed — the full-moon circulation desk has disappeared and the patios are more or less inaccessible — the basic structure remains intact. Even the dumb waiter still works!

A 1972 pamphlet states, “The bold architectural beauty of the Mesa Verde building is still noted by new residents in the community.” Indeed, from its distinctive folded-plate roof to its elegant low-slung base and geometric colonnades, the mid-century modern library still feels fresh after 52 years. The open tri-level interior is brightened by dozens of windows which bring the “park-like setting” in and lend what the pamphlet describes as “an air of cheerfulness and friendliness to all who enter its doors.”

The next time you’re on the north side, take a trip to the recently remodeled Mesa Verde Library and check out one of Costa Mesa’s unsung gems.

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Branching Out: A Timeline of the Mesa Verde Library

1950s. After a series of annexations and subdivisions, the north side of Costa Mesa grows rapidly.

1960. The city purchases a 1.35-acre lot on the corner of Mesa Verde Dr. and Baker from developer Walter Gayner for the express purpose of building a library. The location is chosen for its proximity to schools and 10,000 homes.

The Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries forms. Volunteer groups like the Friends and Mesa Verde Home Owners are vocal advocates for the new branch.

1961–early 1962. The city and county deadlock over funding. The city considers establishing its own library system, following the example of Newport and Huntington Beach, but ultimately rejects the “library business.”

February 1962. In a meeting with MVHO, OC Supervisor and library committeeman Cy M. Featherly tells Mesa Verde residents their library must wait until after the needs of other communities are met. He also claims the county’s library district is already spending more money in Costa Mesa than taxes warrant.

March 19, 1962. Thomas Thompson, president of MVHO, presents a compromise plan to the city council. Under this plan, the city would pay to construct the building while the county would lease it back, stock it, and staff it. The city council approves the plan.

Featherly also likes the plan, saying cities should shoulder library costs “wherever possible.” He warns, however, the city may have to pay higher operating costs than before.

Summer 1963. It is announced the library will be built within 3-4 months for $78,000. “Complications arise” with the county and ground is never broken.

July 6, 1964. The city council unanimously approves architectural plans for a 6,500-sq. ft. library and a 250-seat auditorium. Building both at once is estimated to save $1 per square foot. The architects estimate the cost at $169,500.

September 29, 1964. The county finally agrees to lease the library for $738 per month.

December 1964. A “lengthy pause without comment” fills the chambers when the city council learns the lowest construction bid is 25% over the initial estimate. The council quickly eliminates the auditorium along with $27,000 worth of “frills”.

February 9, 1965. Ground is broken for the library in a ceremony attended by city and county officials. The building is projected to be finished by September, but construction delays ensue.

November 20, 1965 — Opening Day. A dedicatory luncheon organized by the Friends and the OC Book Club is held at the Mesa Verde Country Club. LA Times literary editor and columnist Robert Kirsch is guest speaker.

A formal ceremony is held at 2:30 pm. Robert Wilson, mayor of Costa Mesa, calls the library a “milestone in the city’s effort to provide worthwhile public facilities. It is the first one the city has constructed, but I assure you there will be more.” An optimistic Featherly predicts a third library will be built at the Costa Mesa Civic Center. “It is not definite yet, but it probably will happen,” he says.

Thompson, now a city councilman, delivers the keynote address. He reflects on the 5 years it took to build the library and declares it “well worth the effort.”

Alvin Pinkley presents the library with an American flag that had flown over the US Capitol. 83-year-old Richard W. Katerndahl, a former lieutenant governor of Idaho, receives the first library card. MVHO and the Bridgettes present $400 in checks to the Friends for the purchase of more books. At opening, the library carries around 12,000 volumes, roughly half of which are children’s books. Esther Branch serves as the first librarian.

Following the ceremony, the library begins a long tradition of art exhibits with a tour of 40 serigraphs by pop artist, nun, and social activist Sister Mary Corita.

December 1965. The library begins its preschoolers’ story hour with readings from Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham and Sesyle Joslin’s What Do You Say, Dear?

 1966-1970. The library becomes a community gathering place. Programs include social coffee days for “listening, questioning, and sounding off,” a Bruce McIntyre closed-circuit TV art course, and great books discussions for adults and teenagers. In 1967, a 4-meeting course “designed for women who hate to keep house and want to find faster, easier ways to do it” draws hundreds of attendees.

The library earns attention for its rotating exhibits, many of which are drawn from members of the Costa Mesa Art League (now OC Fine Arts). The works display a wide variety of media and styles, ranging from landscapes, sea-scapes, and abstracts in oil to mosaics, collages, stitchery-weaving, and even bread sculpture. Other popular exhibits include collections of flags, Mesa Verde resident Richard Bale’s handmade model trains, and 100 Hopi kachina dolls.

Summer reading programs draw hundreds of participants each year, enrolling 600 children in1967 alone.

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In Search Of

As the bottom of our newsletter states:

Promoting and preserving Costa Mesa history is our mission

The whole purpose of preserving any history is to inform and educate future generations on things as they were at that point in time.

This is accomplished through such things as photos, stories, records and materials.

We welcome any one of those items to add to our collection to preserve. However, it is said that a picture is worth a thousand words and our search for photos of Costa Mesa is endless. Photos capture a moment in time. Some of those moments represent a slice of history. An example of this was in our December newsletter showing the fire that destroyed the Clark house.

You may have a photo that was taken in Costa Mesa showing a parade, the Fish Fry, the construction of a shopping center or the destruction of an historic building or an important event and so on.

If you have any such photos, but don’t want to part with them, we would be happy to scan them into our system and you can keep the original. Any photos of early Costa Mesa are most desirable, but bring in what you have. Your participation would assist us with our very important mission.

– Bob Palazzola

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Reminder: 2018 Historical Society Installation Dinner

Please join  us January 26 at 6 p.m. at our new location, Newport Rib Company for the society’s annual installation dinner. This year’s speaker is David Whiting, an award-winning Metro columnist from the OC Register. In his talk, ”Faith and Hope: Our American Land,” “we will travel across this great country and visit the towns where volunteering still matters. We will meet people who make a difference and we will do it on motorcycles with thousands of veterans as they make their way to the war memorials in Washington, DC.”

Dinner includes chicken and tri-tip, garlic mashed potatoes, roasted veggies, garden salad, corn bread and honey butter, brownies and cookies, and non-alcoholic drinks for only $25. Reservations and payments must be finalized by Friday, January 19.

There’s still time to sign up. Call 949-631-5918 to reserve your place now.

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Remembering Brad Long

Brad Long passed away from complications of a blood disorder on Nov 26, 2017.

It’s hard to imagine a more widely-known, outgoing city staff member than Brad Long. As the city’s senior videographer, you could find Brad at almost any city or community event, not only filming the event, but also, with his warmth and smile, serving as a City Hall ambassador.

Brad always said his favorite project was Echoes From the Fields, a one-hour video (available on YouTube) chronicling Costa Mesa’s history from the time of the Native Americans to the emergence of South Coast Metro in the 1990s. One of the themes of Echoes From the Fields is the value of local history — a theme every reader of this newsletter can appreciate. During his career, Brad covered nearly every City Council meeting, every Lions Club Fish Fry, Concerts in the Park, Mayor’s Dinners and Breakfasts, or just about any other city or community event.

Then, too, there were the special videos to recognize prominent citizens such as Hank Panian and Jack Hammett. Oh, and let’s not forget the video Costa Mesa My Sweet Home (available on YouTube) filmed as part of the City’s 60th anniversary. Then, too was the oral history series filmed for the City’s 50th anniversary in 2003. In fact, almost every one of Brad’s videos has a historical element, giving the Historical Society’s mission a big boost. Brad, for your warmth, friendship, and support of local history, we will all miss you — but you will live on in our memories and hearts.

– Art Goddard, on behalf of the entire Costa Mesa Historical Society

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In Search Of

As the bottom of our newsletter states:

“Promoting and preserving Costa Mesa history is our mission”

The whole purpose of preserving any history is to inform and educate future generations on things as they were at that point in time.

This is accomplished through such things as photos, stories, records and materials.

We welcome any one of those items to add to our collection to preserve. However, it is said that a picture is worth a thousand words and our search for photos of Costa Mesa is endless. Photos capture a moment in time. Some of those moments represent a slice of history. An example of this was in our December newsletter showing the fire that destroyed the Clark house.

You may have a photo that was taken in Costa Mesa showing a parade, the Fish Fry, the construction of a shopping center or the destruction of an historic building or an important event and so on.

If you have any such photos, but don’t want to part with them, we would be happy to scan them into our system and you can keep the original. Any photos of early Costa Mesa are most desirable, but bring in what you have. Your participation would assist us with our very important mission.

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Tragedy at the Riverside

During a heatwave on August 5, 1917, two cousins, Robert Gisler’s daughter Elizabeth, 11, and Sam Gisler’s daughter Mabel, 10, went to the Santa Ana River with Elizabeth’s sister Lucile, 6, to play in the water.

The two older girls were wading in the shallows of the channel, laughing and playing, when they suddenly lost their footing and stepped into a large hole. They struggled to find a foothold in the deep drop-off, while their cries for help went unanswered. Young Lucile thought they were only playing.

When the girls disappeared under the water, Lucile ran for help, eventually finding a surf-fisherman on the beach 3/4 mile away. He and a 13-year-old boy managed to recover the girls, who by that point had been in the water between 45 minutes and an hour.

Every effort was made to revive them. An electric car was flagged down, and a Pulmotor resuscitator was sent from Santa Ana. But it was too late. At the time of the accident, Sam and Robert were in Seal Beach, where they received the sad news.

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How do you pronounce Gisler?

Gisler Avenue in the north side of Costa Mesa sees more traffic, perhaps, than any other street of its size in the city. The 1.7 mile road is lined with subdivisions, schools, a city park, and hugely popular restaurant chains like In N’ Out, Raising Cane’s, Denny’s, and Chik-Fil-A.

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President’s Year in Review 2017

We have had a good year! When we were children, the saying was, “Will Christmas ever get here?” Now we say, “Is Christmas here already?” We had many good things happening in 2017. Our accomplishments include:

  • Contributing SAAAB photo displays and volunteer hours for the grand opening of Heroes Hall at the Orange County Fair & Event Center in February.
  • Hosting successful meetings which attracted new members to the society including January’s installation dinner with speaker Michele Richards and From SAAAB Barracks to Heroes Hall; February’s Bring A Friend event; presenter Bob Minty and Whaling Along the Orange County Coast in March; historian Richard Duvall and Early California Days in May; historian Craig MacDonald and Old West WOW! in September; editors Lisa Alvarez & Andrew Tonkovich and Orange County: A Literary Field Guide in October; and author David K. Heyward and A Young Man in the Wild Blue Yonder in November.
  • Participating in community events and setting up booths at 70th Annual Fish Fry, Concerts in the Park and Uncovering Hidden Histories in OC held at Irvine Ranch Historic Park.

All in all Society volunteers gave more than 6,000 hours of service to the organization and to the community in 2017. Thank you to our dedicated members:

Lead volunteer Art Goddard for all the amazing things he does from producing high-quality prints of old photographs to managing our technology needs. Head archivist Mary Ellen Goddard for everything, including handling the many requests from the public for historical information to organizing the acquisition and preservation of our collections. Tess Bernstein for taking on the role of 2nd VP of Membership, cataloging items, and overseeing Scarecrow Festival in the past. Nancy Pedersen in her role as Secretary while she devotes hours to the upcoming boat building exhibit The Hull Story. Kathy Bequette for managing the newspaper files, scheduling tours of the museums, helping out with refreshments, and overseeing the adobe. Susan Weeks in her role as treasurer – many thanks for an excellent job. Annette Watson who gave us four years of engaging newsletters – we will miss you.

Thanks to 1st VP Terry Shaw for his persistence in organizing our speaker events and excellent programs. Bob Palazzola, past president, SAAAB newsletter editor, and our representative to Heroes Hall – your efforts are appreciated. Dave Rusher for taking on projects involving hours at the computer. Cynthia Humphreys for chairing the adobe event in May and helping out where needed. Karl and Hope Von Herzen for their dedication to helping build a database of local newspaper articles. Sid Hallburn for coming in each week and cleaning up the building.

Thanks to docents Vickie Alcala Kelley and Lynn Alcala who captivate visitors with stories of growing up in the adobe. Sharon Dearing for the many projects you take on. Jean Nomura for cataloging our collection. Jan Rovan, Dolores Minerich and Ursula Hartunian for helping whenever needed. Estelle Hughes for cataloging the clothing and other textiles. Beth Refakes for setting up at the refreshment table during our programs. Alex Golson in your new role as adobe docent and more – thanks for joining us. 

And lastly thank you to Gladys Refakes and your many years of service to the society. You are our ROCK!

Enjoy the holidays and we’ll see you next year!

– Dave Gardner, President, Costa Mesa Historical Society

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Celebrating Lil’ Pickle

Even though Pete Bower has owned Lil’ Pickle almost 13 years, people still come in and ask, “Are you the new owner?” But that’s what happens when you own a 55 year old institution.

Every week, he says, he’ll get a customer who will say, “My mom used to bring me in here when I was a kid. Now I’m bringing my kids in.” Or, looking at the team photos lining the walls, one will say, “That’s my sister, that’s my brother, that’s me, 20 years ago.”

James DiCamilli first opened Lil’ Pickle on 17th Street in 1962, moving to Fairview and Baker in the early 1970s — where it’s been ever since.

Mr. Bower, who previously ran Pizza Pete’s and Balboa Beach Treats near the Balboa Pavilion, was introduced to Mr. DiCamilli though a friend. When the latter decided to retire in 2005, he handed the keys to Mr. Bower.

Since then, Lil’ Pickle added a 14” sub. And, for a personal touch, Mr. Bower — an avid golfer — added golf gear to the sports-themed decor.

But other than that, the sub shop remains much as Mr. DiCamilli left it, including the sandwiches, the layout, the photographs, and the popular avocado spread. And it’s still family run.

Sticking to tradition has helped make Lil’ Pickle what it is today: a buzzing neighborhood spot reflecting the diverse community around it, where plumbers, lawyers, electricians, students, coaches, and professors alike rub shoulders.

In gratitude for its continued support, Lil’ Pickle gives back to the community every year, sponsoring a wide variety of causes, with a focus on youth and college athletics and other local organizations. Mr. Bower is proud to make Mr. Di-Camilli’s devotion to the community a central part of Lil’ Pickle’s mission.

Popular subs include “The Lil’ Pickle,” made with salami, capicola, and cheese, and “The Natural,” a healthier choice with turkey, cheese, and avocado spread on a wheat roll. The pastrami is popular, too.

No matter what you order, you’ll get a taste of history when you come to this long-standing local institution.

Lil’ Pickle is located at 2985 Fairview Rd. and is open 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. daily.

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