Gustavo's Latest KCRW "OC Line": On the Passing of Henry T. Segerstrom

Wikimedia Commons
Renee and Henry Segerstrom Center

You cover Orange County long enough, you quickly realize that its lords--its Brens and Argyroses, its Lyonses and Nicholases--are almost all douches one way or another, caught up in slumlord this and cheating that. Leave it to Henry T. Segerstrom to buck that trend--as Clockwork Coker noted in his obit, the worst that we ever heard about the founder of South Coast Plaza and the Orange County Performing Arts Center (later renamed the Segerstrom Center in his honor) was siccing his PR people on us every time we called South Coast Plaza a mall. YIKES!

Anyhoo, Segerstrom's passing last week was the subject of my KCRW "Orange County Line" commentary yesterday.

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Civil War Cannonball Found Near Irvine Has Heads Scratching

Photo by Eric Hood/OC Weekly
Could the cannon fire during a Civil War reenactment in Huntington Beach in September have reached San Diego Creek?
You never know what'll wash up in San Diego Creek near Irvine. An old sneaker. A gnarled piece of oak tree. A Union cannonball from the Civil War.

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Santa Ana Deliberately Burned Down Its Chinatown in 1906--And Let a Man Die to Do It


The atmosphere was jovial as more than 1,000 people gathered in downtown Santa Ana on May 25, 1906, to watch their civic dream come true: the burning of the city's Chinatown.

Politicians and residents alike had long pushed for the torching, and now was the time to do it. The once-thriving area--bounded by present-day Main, Third and Bush streets--was almost vacant, atrophied over the years by anti-Chinese laws that made a peaceful life there impossible. Health officials had just condemned Chinatown's few remaining buildings, rounding up out the last residents as onlookers jeered. A representative of China's minister to the United States was rushing in from Los Angeles, seeking to stop the planned kindling. But Santa Ana would be denied no more.

Families gathered to witness the destruction, along with law enforcement and businessmen--the whole town, it seemed. "It was like a big picnic, or a Fourth of July," an eyewitness recalled decades later. A fire marshal was on the scene to douse coal oil on Chinatown's structures and set the blaze. But light drizzle throughout the day put a damper on everyone's plans; the fire marshal couldn't strike a spark.

That delay thinned the original crowd to a couple of hundred curious onlookers as the evening arrived. But when the first flames curled up to the sky around 8 p.m., visible for blocks around, a stampede returned "in time to see the fun," according to the Santa Ana Evening Blade.

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Gustavo's Latest KCRW "OC Line": On Orange County's Confederate/KKK Roots!

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From Annie Cooper Burton's The Ku Klux Klan
Head: County founder
Anyone who has read this infernal rag since our beginning knows that laying out the county's sordid history is an obsession of ours, and has taken us from the local Black Panther chapter to lynchings, hippie mafias, exposing historian charlatans, and more. But nothing has been more fun than exposing the Confederate and Ku Klux Klan origins of many of this county's pioneers.

Oh, the local historians have gone on and on about the Confederates, coming from a Lost Cause perspective that conveniently ignores the Grey's racist ideology and treasonous cause. It's this blindness that keeps them from digging into their heroes' KKK ties, whether real (like Henry W. Head, the former state assemblymember who you can see to the right), or circumstantial (Victor Montgomery, the lawyer who drafted the bill that would eventually set OC free from Los Angeles County, served under KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forest and alongside head--if the guy didn't don a hood and robe at one point in his life, then Mike Carona is innocent).

Anyhoo, that was the topic I addressed in this past Monday's "Orange County Line" commentary for KCRW-FM 89.9

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Irene Bernal, Daughter of Civil Rights Pioneer Alex Bernal, Passes Away

Photo by John Gilhooley
Irene, at right, with sister Maria Theresa holding an album about their father's discrimination lawsuit

Yesterday, I spoke at the Brea Rotary Club, and a gentleman asked me who I thought was the most influential Mexican in OC history. Without hesitation, I replied "Alex Bernal," the Fullerton resident whose successful defense in 1943 against his racist gabacho neighbors who said their neighborhood was whites-only not only set a precedent in American housing rights, but also set the course for multiple anti-segregation lawsuits.

Bernal was on my mind that day, and not necessarily for good reasons. This past Monday, his daughter Irene passed away from cancer. She was 78.

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Orange County's Great Drought of 1864

Back to the future!

Rain finally hit Southern California earlier this week--flash floods in the Inland Empire, downpours in Long Beach, 0.001 of an inch in Fullerton. It inspired reams of social-media snark in our parched region, bitter humor to make sense of a historic drought that has gone on for three years now with no signs of deliverance in the near or far future.

Meteorologists keep telling us we're suffering the worst dry spell on record, and they're right in a sense--data with the Western Regional Climate Center, California's official tracker of weather figures, goes back only to 1895. But in the annals of Southern California exist detailed accounts of an even-harsher drought that fundamentally changed the region: a two-year debacle that hit its driest days 150 years ago, in what a rancher of the era described as "perfect devastation."

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Axioms for Organizers, Collection of Sayings by Legendary Community Organizer Fred Ross, to Be Released This Month!

Photo courtesy of Fred Ross, Jr.
Ross, at left, with César Chávez
Earlier this summer, legendary community activists Fred Ross, Sr. was finally inducted into the California Hall of Fame. Ross, you may have heard your pinko commie friends once say, was a titan of civil rights in California, mentoring a young César Chávez, helping to orchestrate the rise of Latino power in East Los Angeles, and even scoring some victories in Orange County before vendidos ran him out of town at the behest of their gabacho overlords. Awesome, awesome guy.

A ceremony for Ross and other inductees (which this year include Joan Didion, Francis Ford Coppola, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) is scheduled for October in Sacramento. In the meanwhile, Ross' son, union organizer Fred Ross, Jr., is prepping an e-book of his dad's sayings.

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Emigdio Vasquez, Legendary Chicano Artist, Passes Away

Photo by Keith May
Vasquez, in front of his "controversial" mural, in 2009

Emigidio Vasquez, a legendary Chicano artist most famous for his epic murals that continue to dot Orange County, passed away yesterday after a long illness. He was 74.

Born in the mining town of Jerome, Arizona, Vasquez moved to Orange's Cypress Street barrio in the 1940s and eventually gravitated toward painting. In his heyday, he achieved the almost-impossible: mainstream, underground AND governmental success, as his works became famous nationwide among art lovers and lionized among Chicano activists. He even scored contracts to do public murals for the county of Orange (the sprawling epic of OC history off the old OCTA bus terminal near the Civic Center in SanTana) and the city of Anaheim (in a mural located in the lobby of Anaheim City Hall) during the 1980s.

Unfortunately, Orange County is an ingrate, and Vasquez and his supporters spent the last years of his life trying to preserve his work from being destroyed by the elements, indifference, and law enforcement.

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Santiago Canyon College Names Library in Honor of Lorenzo Ramirez, Plaintiff in Mendez, et al v. Westminster

Courtesy of the Ramirez family
Lorenzo, at left, with his sons and wife
Slowly but surely, the forgotten heroes of OC history are getting their due, getting rooms and parks and other public spaces named after them (so much better than naming streets after Klan members, ¿que no?). Last month, the Rancho Santiago Community College District Board of Trustees took a step in this right direction by naming the Santiago Canyon College Library after civil rights pioneer Lorenzo Ramirez.

Ramirez, you may not recall, was one of five fathers who were plaintiffs in Mendez, et al v. Westminster, the school desegregation case in the late 1940s that served as a precursor to the far-more-famous Brown v. Board of Education. Mendez, et al is pretty well known in Southern California at this point, but almost all of the attention was placed on the Mendez family, with the other four clans relegated to a footnote at best.

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Origins of the Bowers Museum's Bell Rock and Maze Stone

Photos by Joel Robinson
Bell Rock at Bowers Museum Courtyard
Have you ever been to the old courtyard in Bower's
Museum? If so, did you notice the
large granite boulders placed amongst the landscaping? If you look closely, you'll find that
one of the boulders is called the Bell Rock Its surface is strewn with cupules and the underside is curved like the palm of a hand. The other one, tucked away in some old cactus, is known as the Maze Stone, which has faint carvings of a maze-like pattern on its surface. Both boulders were relocated to Bowers from the Santa Ana Mountains in the 1930s--and this is where our story begins.

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