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A Civic Dream Has Begun to Take Shape in Anaheim

January 02, 1988|WILLIAM S. MURPHY

A dream shared by many local residents to preserve their community's rich historic past has finally materialized with the opening of the Anaheim Museum.

Members of Anaheim Museum Inc., a private nonprofit corporation, moved its collection of artifacts into the city's former library, a building constructed in 1908 with a grant from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation.

"The city had a new library," staff member Rita Robinson explained. "This building had been closed for some time. There was even talk that it would be torn down. Residents rallied around to save it, and the city appropriated $600,000 to renovate it, then turned it over to our organization. We pay a dollar a year rent."

Volunteers helped museum director Herbert Pruett assemble exhibits that trace the growth of Anaheim since the first settlers founded a township there in 1857. On view are objects that reflect the development of Anaheim, the oldest incorporated city in Orange County, from a small community to the county's largest--with a population exceeding 229,000 and covering an area of more than 45 square miles.

A vintage wine press that is displayed marks the beginning of Anaheim's history. The colony was established by a group of Germans from San Francisco, who organized the Los Angeles Vineyard Society. Their plan was to cultivate grapes on 1,165 acres they had purchased from a Mexican landowner whose holdings included the present sites of Anaheim, Brea, Fullerton and Placentia.

The new arrivals began planting grapes. Water was brought to their fields by means of a ditch from the Santa Ana River. The vintners first named their town Annaheim meaning "home by the Santa Ana river." (Later it was decided to drop an "n" from the name.) By 1861, wines from Anaheim were being shipped around Cape Horn to New York and Boston, where they were being served in a number of the finest restaurants.

Linked to Railroad

One of the most significant events in the state's economic development took place Sept. 5, 1876. Laborers for the Southern Pacific Railroad, many of whom were Chinese, had shoveled and blasted their way over the Tehachapi Mountains, while other crews from Los Angeles had poked a seven-mile tunnel through the mountains near San Fernando. Los Angeles and Southern California were now linked to the transcontinental railroad, which had its western terminus in San Francisco. The railroad offered a quicker means of transporting the wine to the East than by ship from Anaheim landing, the harbor near Seal Beach that had been used since 1864.

A strange disease began decimating the vineyards in 1884. Four years later most of the vines were dead. It was a tragedy that could have caused the growers to vacate the land. Undaunted, they began developing a new industry--citrus.

It had its origins in Southern California in 1804, when about 400 seedling oranges were planted near the San Gabriel Mission. In 1873, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forwarded to Mrs. Eliza Tibbets of Riverside two small seedless navel orange trees that had been received by the government from Brazil. She was asked to plant them and report her results.

The trees thrived and became a source of budwood from which thousands of seedlings were planted throughout Southern California. The variety was called the Washington navel orange and became the principal type until the Valencia, which was introduced from Europe in 1879, proved its merit.

Orange Crates on Display

Walking through the museum, one pauses to examine several orange crates on display. One has the label: "The Anaheim Orchard Valencias" printed on the end. Thousands of these boxes were shipped to the East. The development of the railroad had opened a new market for fresh and dried fruits. Cooperatives were formed to exploit the wonders of California-grown products. Billboards and newspaper advertisements across the land were soon acclaiming the wonders of the orange: "Oranges for health--California for wealth." It was an advertising campaign that was highly successful.

Anaheim remained agricultural until Walt Disney opened his world of fantasy in 1955. More than 10-million visitors come to the popular theme park each year. Tourism is a part of the local economy, and appropriately, there is a model of Disneyland on display in the museum.

But the museum emphasizes the earlier history. Among the artifacts are household items, furnishings, tools, dolls, pictures--but they are only the beginning.

There is a children's gallery, which is currently featuring many models of kites and tracing their history. Plans are under way to change gallery exhibits with objects from the museum's collection as well as those on loan from other institutions.

Heirlooms from many families are being sought and acquired. Removed from boxes, trunks and closets where they may have been stored for years, they will be placed on display. Visitors, many too young to remember, will be able to look back in time at the visual reminders of a period when life despite its lack of modern conveniences must have been more serene.

The Anaheim Museum is opened Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is located at 241 S. Anaheim Blvd. Information: (714) 778-3301. Admission is free.

To reach the Anaheim Museum from Los Angeles, take the Santa Ana Freeway s outh to the Lincoln Boulevard off-ramp. Go left a mile to Anaheim Boulevard and turn right to Broadway. The museum is on the corner.

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