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Author Mines County's Past : Gems of Trivia, Substance Are Found in Book

July 28, 1987|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer(

Crossing the parking lot of the La Quinta Inn, a new hotel created out of the hexagonal silos of East Irvine's historic granary, Louis Reichman paused to look at an old wooden water tower.

Legend has it that a lynching occurred on a tree that once stood next to the tower, he said.

The tall, gray-thatched Fullerton College history professor continued walking, stopping in front of three weather-beaten buildings resting on blocks behind a chain-link fence.

The buildings--a hotel, the old Irvine general store and a bungalow--had been uprooted from across nearby Sand Canyon Avenue and now await restoration as part of the Old Town Irvine historic complex of restaurants and shops.

The symbolic blending of the old and the new was not lost on Reichman, co-author of a new book on Orange County's rich and varied history.

"It's the old Irvine Ranch--the agricultural and sheep and cattle-grazing area under James Irvine (I and II)--in contrast to the new Irvine Co. development under the leadership of Donald Bren," he said.

"Bren has roughly 60,000 undeveloped acres, of which this is symbolic. And how quickly is he going to develop it and in what manner?"

For Reichman, it's all part of what he refers to as the "Orange County Experience," in the book by the same name that the 52-year-old Fullerton resident has written with Gary Cardinale, 37, a part-time Fullerton College history teacher who lives in Yorba Linda.

Published by Pacific Shoreline Press, the book chronicles the changing face of the county--and the changing faces in the county's colorful cast of characters--from the Indian, mission and rancho eras to the burgeoning, high-tech major metropolitan area of today.

Aided by dozens of vintage photographs, post cards and illustrations, the 212-page volume is a reader's gold mine of local history, studded with colorful bits of little-known information aimed at enlightening both longtime residents and short-term visitors.

Consider the chapter on Orange County cities. Do you know, for example:

- What city was once nicknamed the "Sleepy Village of Trees"? (Tustin).

- What city is the home of the first American killed in action against the Germans during World War I? (Yorba Linda, where two churches once bought, but never used, the only liquor license in town to support a community ban on alcoholic beverages.)

- What city has been known as the "Coney Island of the West" (Seal Beach, which boasted a roller coaster, giant roller rink and gambling in the '20s).

- What city was named Waterville from the turn of the century to the 1940s and was known briefly in the '50s as Dairy City? (Cypress).

The book, however, is more than just a history of a county that can claim both Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom in Anaheim and President Richard M. Nixon's birthplace (Yorba Linda).

Reichman, who is in his 20th year of teaching American government, U.S. and California history at Fullerton College, and Cardinale, coordinator of staff development for the Corona-Norco Unified School District, have taken a "cross-disciplinary" approach to their study of Orange County.

The book covers a wide range of historical, political, economic, educational and cultural subjects. It also includes "profile-interviews" of 13 leaders in those areas and delves into both the county's "problems" (transportation, freeways, housing) and "promises" (such as the completion of the $70.7 million Orange County Performing Arts Center).

A section on contemporary Orange County, which taps an annual poll of the county conducted by UC Irvine, for example, dispels some of the stereotypes about the county as a bastion of arch-conservatives.

"We're a funny mix," said Reichman, noting that the county is indeed conservative on such issues as fiscal matters, the death penalty and opposition to gun control legislation.

However, "we are relatively liberal in terms of social issues involving personal choice: the Equal Rights Amendment, for example," he said. "We're more for that than the rest of the nation (66% in favor, to 62% nationally), and we're more pro-abortion on demand (70% in favor, 63% nationally).

"We've also got a newly developing mix, which is documented in the book, of slow and no-growth groups, which cross political boundaries."

In a chapter titled "A Case Study of Orange County's Most Famous Rancho," the authors examine the prominent role the Irvine Company--the largest private landholder in California--has played in shaping Orange County's phenomenal growth.

But, best of all, "The Orange County Experience" is a colorful pastiche of people and places.

Consider two of Orange County's most famous citizens, Walter and Cordelia Knott, whose one-time Buena Park berry farm has become the third-most-attended amusement park in the country, behind Anaheim's Disneyland and Walt Disney World in Florida.

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