The big day is finally here. It’s June 30, 1888, and you’ve been invited to board Fairview No. 1 for its maiden voyage from Santa Ana to the new town of Fairview.
May 22nd marks the 90th anniversary of what was called “one of the warmest elections ever held on the Mesa.” At issue was an attempt in 1928 to annex 6,000 acres of property to Santa Ana. The strip would have run due south from that city to the Upper Newport Bay, and would have included Delhi, part of Paularino, and most of Costa Mesa.
A sampling of historic events events that occurred in April.
College Center is a $2 million shopping complex that first opened in 1965 on the corner of Harbor and Adams near OCC. It is perhaps best known as the site of the West Coast’s first Howard Johnson’s Restaurant (later a Ground Round and now Coco’s) and as Pier 1 Imports’ home for the past 49 years. Less noticed is the College Center Office Building (AKA San Joaquin Office Building or Harbor Plaza) which is interesting in its own right.
Those of you who have visited our museum may have seen our harmonium reed organ. However, of those who have seen it, only a percentage have read the story posted above it explaining how we obtained it. Even if you did read it, there is still part of the story you haven’t heard.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 1918 influenza, one of the worst pandemics in history, which claimed the lives of up to 100 million people and infected 500 million worldwide. About 300 died out of Orange County’s population of 30,000. While the mortality rate here was lower than elsewhere, the demand for nurses still outstripped the supply, leading the chairman of the Santa Ana Red Cross to plead for volunteers to “meet the call of humanity” and tend to the sick.
Alice King (later Eastman), a young philanthropist from Costa Mesa, answered the call. But it didn’t turn out the way she expected. Decades later, she told the story to our own Mary Ellen Goddard:
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.
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.
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.
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.