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The World War I Diary of George Vincent Fox
George Vincent Fox's dog tag from World War I.

The World War I Diary of George Vincent Fox

One of the treasures of the historical society’s collection is the daily diary kept by George Vincent Fox, an artilleryman in World War I. Fox documents his journey across the Atlantic, his time on the front lines, and his postwar duty as peacekeeper. Although the prose is sparse and matter-of-fact, it vividly captures both the thrill and the tedium of war and peace.

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The Costa Mesa Songbook
A detail of the sheet music to Joan Hoadley's "Costa Mesa Plateau", the first song written about Costa Mesa.

The Costa Mesa Songbook

Did you know that over two dozen songs have name-dropped Costa Mesa? Over ten of them have appeared in the past five years alone. And in a variety of genres, too: rock, reggae, alternative, Christian, electronica, you name it. Everyone loves to sing about our town.

We’ve selected a few notable tracks below. Find a full list of songs at the bottom of the page. Let us know if there’s anything we missed!

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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.

Background

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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Bessie Lounsberry: A Most Remarkable Woman

Bessie Nell (White) Lounsberry (1886-1972) made many important contributions to the civic life of 1930s-50s Costa Mesa. She compiled the city directory, worked local elections, and served on the Costa Mesa Citizen’s Council, along with other volunteer roles. Her seven-year beautification campaign led to the planting of 1,026 trees. She was honored for her decades of selfless service with the Costa Mesa Historical Society’s second Living Memorial Award in 1973.

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Costa Mesa 129 Years Ago

Society director Bob Palazzola uncovered this gem from the April 1979 the Costa Mesa Historical Society Quarterly. It paints a colorful portrait of early Costa Mesa. Note the reference to A Slice of Orange by Edrick Miller in the final paragraph. The book is essential reading for local history fans.

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Costa Mesa Aviation Accidents

By Dave Gardner, Society President

On June 5, 1935, a Stinson SM-6000 Trimotor made an unscheduled landing at the Joe Volck residence on the northeast corner of West Bay St. and Harbor Blvd. There were no serious injuries.

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This Month in Costa Mesa History

The Sunday Speaker Series is on hiatus until September. But history never rests. Many notable events in Costa Mesa history happened in July.

On July 22, 1769, Portolá first entered Orange County. 41 years later an expedition member and his nephew (José Antonio Yorba and Juan Pablo Peralta) received a land grant for Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. Costa Mesa sits on the southwest portion of the rancho.

Costa Mesa’s first church, the Fairview Methodist Episcopal Church, was dedicated on July 15, 1888. Bishop Charles Wesley Burns dedicated a new Methodist Episcopal Church on July 30, 1928. That landmark, still standing at 19th Street and Harbor Boulevard, will celebrate its 90th birthday this year.

In July 1920 Harper became Costa Mesa after voters chose the new name in a contest. In 1953, a month after incorporating, the city adopted a new seal emphasizing education and nautical interests. The motto promoted “The Hub of the Harbor Area.” The city’s first library opened in July 1923 and the Placentia Avenue fire station opened in July 1967.

The Costa Mesa (aka Balboa Bay) airport opened this month in 1946. It was located between Placentia and the river, north of 19th street, where the Freedom Homes are now. In July 1970 the police helicopter began patrolling the skies.

The Paulo Drive-in opened on July 8, 1949, while the Costa Mesa Municipal Golf Course, 51 years young, opened in July 1967.

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History Nuggets

The Santa Ana, Fairview, and Pacific Railroad was one of the shortest-lived railroads in boom-era Orange County. In March 1889, the Santa Ana River overflowed at Fruitland, washing out a portion of the nine-month-old tracks, and the small repairs were never made.

The town of Fruitland was near the intersection of present-day Harbor and Warner. It is called a phantom town because it was never officially registered.

In addition to the town of Fruitland, the right of way survey for the railroad lists other landholders adjacent to the tracks. At least three properties appear to have been held by women: Elizabeth Rabel, Mary Smith, and Mary Banning. 

The SAF&P never reached the harbor. Some claim Banning denied the right of way, while others say the boosters only wanted to sell land, not run a railway.

Many old place names have changed over the years. Fairview Avenue is now Harbor Boulevard, Shell Beach is now Huntington, Rocky Point is now Corona Del Mar, and Santa Ana’s West Street is now Broadway. 

Speaking of Broadways, in June 1928 the residents of Harper Street in Costa Mesa successfully petitioned to rename their own thoroughfare to Broadway. Why? Was it to shake off the associations with “old” Harper? To advertise, reminding visitors of the mansion-lined street in Santa Ana? Or because every town needs a Broadway?

According to the OC Register, contemporary accounts show the namesake of Edinger Avenue, farmer and politician Christopher C. Edinger, rhymed his name with “finger” or “humdinger,” not with “ginger,” as it’s usually heard today.

A photograph of the Fairview No. 1 engine is stamped Conaway & Hummel. Conaway was a leading landscape photographer of his day. While Conaway’s partnership with Hummel only lasted between 1887-1889, he later took on a young apprentice, Lou P. Hickox, who eventually bought out his former master. Hickox in turn sold to Mary A. Smart, who renamed the studio after herself. The Smart Studio operated until 1992, when the business closed for good, some 100 years after this photo was taken. 

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