(949) 631-5918 Thursday - Friday 10am - 3pm

A New Look at the Adobe

Thanks to a joint effort of society volunteers, a new mannequin has been added to the Diego Sepulveda Adobe.

It’s hoped the mannequin, representing a young woman from around the 1860s, will illustrate period dress, spark conversation, and add a splash of color, craftsmanship, and beauty to the adobe’s Victorian Room. The mannequin was purchased with the personal funds of Art and Mary Ellen Goddard, who then donated it to the society. It replaces a taller mannequin whose dress could no longer be repaired.

Once acquired, one of our docents reached out to Cynthia Corley, Orange Coast College Theatre Arts Department, who donated her time to create the new mannequin’s outfit and wig. Corley was reimbursed for the cost of materials, but she donated all her labor for the benefit of the historical society. The mannequin now models an attractive blouse and tiered skirt.

The mannequin is a perfect example of how people can help our organization. If you have an idea for helping out, let us know. And don’t forget to stop by the adobe and admire the work that went into the new educational model.

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Protecting Costa Mesa’s Native American Heritage

The Costa Mesa Historical Society preserves several documents written by Dr. Keith Dixon, a leader in the effort to protect the Native American site in Fairview Park (4-ORA-58). Taken together, Dixon’s 1971 draft of the site’s National Register of Historic Places nomination and his proposal to turn the archeological site into an open-air museum present a compelling case both for the preservation of the site’s past as well as a bold, if unrealized, vision for its future.


In 1959 the state of California designated as surplus a swath of land it had previously acquired for the Fairview State Hospital. The 350-acres stretched west from the hospital to the Santa Ana River. Had the land been released immediately, the history of Fairview Park might have been very different. But, as it happened, an ownership dispute tied up the land in court throughout the 1960s, and the title wasn’t cleared until 1970.

By then the ecological movement had taken root. Many in Costa Mesa felt squeezed by two decades of rapid suburbanization that had displaced the town’s rural character. Moreover, many felt a need to preserve the area’s disappearing history, as evidenced by, among other things, the formation of the Costa Mesa Historical Society.

By 1972 nearly everyone believed the land ought to be purchased from the state for the purpose of a park. Early champions of the idea include the city’s Project 80 committee, Estancia High School’s Ecology Committee, and Cal State Long Beach’s professor of anthropology, Keith Dixon.

Dixon, who had directed excavations at the site from 1959-1966, was an ideal advocate for the site. He combined scientific credibility, hands-on experience, and passion. Leveraging this background, he nominated the site for the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 to help protect it from urban development.

The National Register, in his words, serves as “the official list of the nation’s cultural property that has been evaluated by experts as worth saving. It is a protective inventory of those irreplaceable resources which are of more than local significance.”

National Register Nomination

In his nomination Dixon argues that the Fairview site is a unique example of what was once typical of the region. “It represents the last well-preserved remnant of an important part of the Indian heritage.” The site is of more than local significance, he says, for the following reasons:

  • It is one of the largest known Indian sites in the region, with up to 750,000 cubic yards of deposit.
  • It was intensely occupied for at least 3,000 years, giving anthropologists centuries of data from which to reconstruct cultural patterns.
  • It contains a large number of human burials, instructive on the diseases, pathology, and nutrition of native peoples.
  • It is the most securely dated prehistoric site in the region, providing clear markers between successive civilizations.
  • Its uniquely clear stratification further illuminates the relationships between the major cultures in the area.
  • It contains a number of cogged stones in their original position rather than scattered on the surface, giving better insight into the mysterious artifacts.
  • Finally, it offers an extensive record of past ecology, through which scientists may reconstruct millennia of ecological history.

Archeological Park

Dixon also argued that, given the proximity to major population centers, the site could attract both locals and tourists with its unique educational opportunities. To that end, he proposed an ambitious five-phase project partly modeled on Hancock Park’s La Brea Tarpits to bring people to what he would call the single most important Native American site south of Ventura. Here are the five stages the envisioned:

  1. Archeologists would conduct a surface survey by “disking” the upper 12 inches of the deposit to identify differences in human activity across the site, reinforce earlier tests, and guide future studies.
  2. A landscaped park would be developed over the site, allowing full public use of the recreational area while at the same time preserving the archeological material below.
  3. Archeological research would be conducted in view of the public, much like the tourist-attracting excavations at Hancock Park.
  4. Permanent exhibits would “recreate the Indian way of life, to make Orange County’s prehistory ‘visible’ for the first time.” Exhibits would include reconstructions of Indian homes, a native plant botanical garden, and an exposed cross-section of the bluff illustrating the archeological deposit and geological strata.
  5. A Museum of Local Ecology would not only house collected artifacts but would also demonstrate how all aspects of the environment — physical characteristics, animal life, plant life, climate, and man — interoperate upon one other as a single system. This kind of interdisciplinary, systematic museum would be, to Dixon’s knowledge, unique in the world.

Dixon believed the park could both memorialize past cultures and increase public understanding of the nation’s Native American heritage. Early planners seemed to agree, giving pride of place to the cultural zone. By 1978, however, the ambitious project was apparently dropped in favor of a less intensive park. Finally, in 1994, after the city performed one last archeological survey, Dixon recommended that the site be “capped.” Archeologists had done all they could to study it, at least for now, he said.

Although Dixon’s vision for an archeological park was never realized, his tireless efforts nevertheless played a vital role in preserving the site for future generations.

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A West Coast Woodstock?

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of a historic music festival remembered as much for its unpredictably large crowds, last minute venue changes, food and water shortages, challenging weather, and mud-loving concertgoers as it is for its lineup of legends like Eric Burden, the Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane.

No, not that festival.

We’re talking about the Newport Pop Festival, held right here on the OC Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa August 3-4, 1968.

While it’s largely forgotten now, the Newport Pop Festival is arguably one of the most significant events in Costa Mesa cultural history. It is believed to be the first ever pop concert with more than 100,000 paying attendees (total attendance is estimated at 140,000) and it provided an important link between 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival and 1969’s Woodstock, presciently foreshadowing what was to come the following year.

To learn more about this important part of our cultural history, visit the Costa Mesa Historical Society Museum’s exhibit box on the Newport Pop Festival, on display every Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m.–3 p.m.

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Archivist Offers Course for Society Volunteers

This September Mary Ellen Goddard, archivist for the historical society, will be offering four free hourlong seminars on archival practice. Topics include ethics, search methods, cataloguing, boxing/storage, preservation, and acquisition criteria. All society volunteers are invited to learn how archivists can help researchers take advantage of our rich collection. To learn more, sign up below or call us at 949-631-5918.


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    Society Welcomes New Intern

    Augustin Espinoza is a history and political science major from Vanguard University who will be interning with the historical society over the fall term. Augustin will work on Mondays and Fridays for the next few months for a total of 90 hours, culminating in a letter grade. His primary work will be to develop a finding aid for Nell Murbarger’s non-local photographs. Next time you see him, be sure to say hello!

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    The 71st Annual Fish Fry

    Stop by our booth at the 71st Annual Costa Mesa-Newport Harbor Lions Club Fish Fry this September 21-23 in Fairview Park. The popular festival expects an attendance of 15,000, and will feature live music, vendors, and carnival rides, not to mention plenty of fish made with Heinz Kaiser’s secret 70-year-old batter recipe.

    “Even people who don’t like fish like ours,” says Mike Schaefer.

    Costa Mesa Historical Society volunteers will be showing the DVD Echoes from the Fields and selling items from our gift shop. We are sharing the booth with the Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries. It’s a nice partnership since we share the parking lot at Lions Park.

    Proceeds from the event are donated to organizations throughout the community. So come on by and show your support!

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    Remembering Hank Panian

    Historical Society Charter Member Henry S. “Hank” Panian passed from this life on July 14. In addition to his career as a history professor at Orange Coast College and a dedicated family man, Hank made time for community service and your Historical Society.

    Hank became a charter member of the Historical Society in 1966. Since that time he has:

    • Served with distinction on our board of directors
    • Co-authored the Historical Society Quarterly from 1977-1987
    • Served as a docent at the Diego Sepulveda Adobe
    • Contributed his wit and wisdom to innumerable Society meetings and celebrations
    • Recorded his memories of Costa Mesa’s history at the city’s 50th anniversary, and
    • Provided expert review of the Society’s two pictorial history books.

    Hank received the Society’s Living Memorial Award in 1987 and special recognition as one of two surviving charter members of the Society in 2015.

    Rest in peace, Hank. This society will never forget your contributions.

    — Art Goddard

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    Living Memorial Nominations – August 2018

    The Costa Mesa Historical Society is currently accepting nominations for its Living Memorial Award. The award is presented to an individual:

    • Who has given volunteer service over a period of time.
    • Who has made a creative contribution of historic value.

    Those wishing to nominate someone to receive the Living Memorial Award should submit a letter to the Costa Mesa Historical Society. The letter should state the nominee’s full name, some information about the individual, their achievements, and why the nominee is deserving of the award. The recipient(s) will be selected by the Board of Directors.

    Please address the letter to:

    Living Memorial Award
    Board of Directors
    Costa Mesa Historical Society
    P.O. Box 1764
    Costa Mesa, CA 92628

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    52nd Anniversary of the Diego Sepulveda Adobe restoration

    August 28 marks the 52nd anniversary of the restoration of the Diego Sepulveda Adobe. Originally built in the early 1800s as an outpost for vaqueros from Mission San Juan Capistrano, the adobe is not just Costa Mesa’s oldest building, it’s one of the oldest in Orange County.

    In 1961 clapboard walls that had been built around the original building caught fire, reminding historians, among others, of the adobe structure beneath. The Segerstrom family donated the adobe’s 5-acre site to the city the next year. The city, led by assistant city engineer George Madsen, restored the structure under the direction of the Costa Mesa Historical Society. Some reconstruction was necessary, but the restoration and furnishing process employed period methods wherever possible. The project was a resounding success. An estimated 700 people toured the “estancia” during the first open house in August 1966.

    In 2012 Mexican artisans made further restorations. Floors were sealed, walls whitewashed, and exhibits updated, thus preserving the California landmark for a new generation.

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