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CELEBRATE! : ORANGE COUNTY'S FIRST 100 YEARS : CREATING A COUNTY : Divide and Prosper : 'Hell, yes! We bought the county from the state Legislature for $10,000. I went out and raised the money myself in two hours. And it was a rainy morning at that.'

May 22, 1988|BILL BILLITER | Billiter is a Times staff writer .

The year: 1869. The place: the 12-year-old village of Anaheim. The issue: Herr Maximilian Franz Otto von Strobel begins what is to become a 20-year fight for the creation of a new county from Los Angeles County.

Tired of his town's taxes going to pay for bridges and roads for the bigger city to the north, Strobel seeks the creation of Anaheim County.

Six major efforts, including Strobel's, will fail before the lower third of Los Angeles County, now Orange County, wins its freedom.

Historians agree that the man who started it all, the man who lit the torch that even the politically powerful city of Los Angeles couldn't extinguish, was soldier-of-fortune Strobel, a political exile from Germany and the first mayor of Anaheim.

Los Angeles County, which even today is big, in 1870 was huge. Residents south of the San Gabriel River complained that county supervisors lavished improvements on the city of Los Angeles, but neglected the southern area of the county. Getting to the courts and county offices in Los Angeles also was a hardship, the southern residents said.

J. M. Guinn, in his "Historical and Biographical Record of Southern California," published in 1902, pointed out that ambition also played a role for many who wanted to secede from Los Angeles County. "There was another reason more potent but not so prominent in the petition, and that was the spoils of office," Guinn wrote. "The politicians of the populous center (City of Los Angeles) monopolized all the offices . . ."

Strobel was armed with money from the so-called "divisionists" when he lobbied the 1870 Legislature. The state Assembly passed his bill, which would have created a new county of Anaheim, with Anaheim as the county seat. The county would have included all of what is now Orange County plus the area south of the San Gabriel River that includes the current cities of Whittier and West Covina.

Politicians in Los Angeles--perhaps asleep when the bill passed the Assembly--awoke when it got to the Senate. Finding a fight on his hands now, Strobel wrote his supporters to send more money to Sacramento for his lobbying, which they did.

One story frequently told, but perhaps apocryphal, is that on the night before the Senate vote, Strobel was host to a free-flowing champagne party for the senators. According to the story, Strobel overindulged so much himself that on the morning of the crucial vote, he was too hung over to get to the Senate in time to rally his supporters.

The Senate defeated the bill, and the historical record indicates that it had nothing to do with champagne; Strobel was simply outgunned by opposing lobbyists.

In his May 8, 1871, farewell speech as mayor, Strobel told the City Council: "Before taking leave, with your permission, I would recommend to the honorable mayor and common council-elect not only not to lose sight of, but to aid with all their power, a matter dear to our citizens, coveted by all our neighborhood and of the most essential magnitude to the future importance of our city--the division of the county of Los Angeles."

Although Strobel, in the three years before his death in 1873, was no longer in a lead position, his followers in late 1871 launched another move for county division. (The residents who wanted a separate county always used the term "division," never the word "secession," which had bad connotations from the recently ended Civil War.)

A committee was formed to continue the pro-division battle. This group met in December, 1871, and January, 1872, in the community of Gallatin, which later took its present-day name of Downey. Despite the fact that some historians have claimed that the identities of these division leaders could not be found, the Southern Californian, an Anaheim-based newspaper, reported in 1871 that Dr. J. E. Fulton was named committee chair and Judge Edward Evey was chosen to represent the group in the state Legislature.

That same newspaper on Jan. 6, 1872, reporting on the second meeting of the divisionists in Gallatin on Jan. 3, noted that the delegates had decided to drop the proposed name "Anaheim County." "The name of the proposed new county is changed to Orange ," reported the Southern Californian. It was the first time that reference to a California "Orange County" appeared in print.

A bill to create the proposed "Orange County" was introduced in the 1872 Legislature, but it went nowhere. Los Angeles politicians, still angry at Strobel's near success in 1870, were cautiously minding the store in Sacramento. The new division bill never made it to the Assembly or Senate floors for a vote.

"In 1873 the division question drifted into (elective) politics," wrote Guinn in his history. "A county-division convention was held in Anaheim, and a man by the name of Bush from Santa Ana was nominated for the Assembly."

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