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The Lost Landmarks of Mayor Willard T. Jordan
Willard Jordan, AIA, called Nabers Cadillac at 2600 Harbor Boulevard “as good as I have ever designed.”

The Lost Landmarks of Mayor Willard T. Jordan

Willard T. Jordan (1913-1981) is perhaps best known for his public service, both in politics and in philanthropy. Not only did he serve as mayor from 1966-68 and as councilman for a decade, he received, among other honors, the OCC’s Outstanding Citizen’s Award for Distinguished Community Service and Man of the Year awards from both the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce and the City of Santa Ana.

“I never heard anybody say anything but the very best about him,” said local historian and friend George Grupe. “And that’s hard to happen to you if you’re the mayor of the city.”

With such an honored public reputation, it’s easy to forget that privately, Jordan, AIA, was a prolific architect. Nevertheless, he designed many Costa Mesa landmarks over the course of his 30-year career. 

In a 1978 interview with the historical society, Jordan was asked which of his buildings he was most proud of. Sadly, developers haven’t been kind to his legacy. Much is now lost. Below we find out what has befallen this significant Costa Mesa architect’s favorite projects .

330 West Bay Street

This award-winning facility served as the home of the Daily Pilot for nearly six decades. But after the newspaper moved to the LA Times building in 2004 the structure was demolished to help ‘revitalize’ the area, as was said at the time. It is now the home of a housing development, the Bungalows of Bay Street.

2803 Royal Palm Drive

Built in 1961, Fire Station No. 1 once served as the headquarters for the Costa Mesa Fire Department. In 2017 it was determined the structure — by then aging, cramped, out of date, and out of code — would be cheaper to rebuild than to renovate. A new $10-million, 11,740-sq. ft., state-of-the-art station opened in the summer of 2018.

2850 Mesa Verde Drive East

Jordan designed this medical, dental, and professional building in the early 1960s. In 2017, the Costa Mesa Planning Commission determined the site was “not an efficient use of land and really no longer functional”. The building was demolished to make way for 11 new houses in phase 2 of the Miraval housing development.

2600 Harbor Boulevard

The iconic Nabers Cadillac earned Jordan an “Award of Honor” in 1968 for its creative, functional, and dramatic use of concrete. “Nabers Cadillac is probably as good as I have ever designed,” said Jordan in 1978. In 2014 the building was demolished by Orange Coast Buick GMC Cadillac and replaced by a “state-of-the-art dealership with 32 indoor service bays and two ‘Internet-driven’ showrooms.”

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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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