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History's in Bloom in Westminster

October 06, 1994|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who contributes frequently to The Times Orange County Edition.

You can visit a museum, a farmhouse and a barn all in one stop at Blakey Park in Westminster. Then stop to smell the roses on your way to a drugstore where prescriptions expired almost a century ago.

1 to 1:40: Exhibits at the museum are numbered 1 through 30, but local history is such that not until display No. 5 is the founding of Westminster Colony in 1870 chronicled. Early photos show the home of the colony's first settler, John Y. Anderson, resident Ethel Bauer driving east on what was then Almond Avenue in her horse and buggy and, enough to make a grown man cry, an onion farm on the present site of Westminster Civic Center.

Various displays focus on "sad irons"--thanks to interchangeable handles, you could use one while the other was being heated--and turn-of-the-century petticoats, corsets and hats. A poster for Green Mountain Vegetable Ointment claims "a positive remedy for everything, unequaled for gout, shingles, milk-leg sores, face ague (and) swelled breasts."

The great quake of '33 destroyed the 17th Street School. The photo of second- and third-graders at Hoover School in '44 includes a dog. The museum deemed it worthy to exhibit the actual kitchen table on which Westminster's incorporation papers were signed.

Nearby hang Laurel and Hardy plates manufactured in Westminster, one showing the pair moving a piano on a suspension bridge. "There's something here to interest everybody," noted Westminster historical society President Joy Neugebauer.

There's even a Cape buffalo head.

"In the 1920s, the largest aircraft in the world, the Albatross, was manufactured in Westminster by Sterling Price," Neugebauer explained. "When his son Gerald told me the history of aviation in Westminster and gave me all this memorabilia, he also gave me the buffalo head. How could I not take it?"

1:40 to 1:45: On the grounds outside the museum are a windmill and a sycamore, all that remained after fire destroyed Leaora Blakey's home in 1944. A 60-pound pumpkin grows beneath the windmill.

Blakey arrived in Westminster Colony via covered wagon in 1894, at the age of 3. In later years she collected space flight memorabilia and was known as "the covered-wagon lady." She remained on the property at the corner of Westminster Boulevard and Newland Street until she died in 1981 at age 90.

1:45 to 2: The Warne family farmhouse next to the museum opens for tours Oct. 16. Inside is a dry sink with metal-lined cupboards to keep out bugs, a stove with a dial marked "warm," "hot" and "very hot," and an upright piano called an "orchestral grand" and featuring four pedals instead of the usual three. The farmhouse, barn and pump house stood at Bolsa Avenue and Bushard Street until 1988.

2 to 2:15: The barn at the rear of Blakey Park houses a sugar beet wagon and farm implements from the early 1900s as well as an early fire engine and Westminster's first paramedic wagon. The chickens--one white Leghorn that lays eggs six out of seven days and four black Australorps--are not vintage Westminster.

2:15 to 3:20: The flavored jellyfish ($6.95) appetizer at the restaurant next door was pleasantly crunchy and sweetly refreshing--it made you feel happy to eat it! No wonder they call this place Seafood Paradise.

" Don't get sea cucumber," pleaded my wife, referring to the wormlike creature that's served four different ways, including "family style." We settled instead on fried crispy quail ($3), clam with hot mint sauce ($6.95)--each clam came with its own pepper slice and mint leaves--a vegetable delight ($5.95) with at least four types of mushroom, and kung pao frog legs ($12.95) unusually replete with frog knees. When we're rich and famous, we'll go back for braised shark's fin soup ($12 per person), sauteed elephant clam with yellow leek ($22.95) and sliced abalone with chicken feet ($22.95).

Live crabs, lobsters and rock cod are sold from tanks, and Hong Kong dim sum is served daily. Special feasts range from $26 for four people to $298 for 12. Sixty dishes are offered at weekday lunch in the $4 range, including soup, rice and dessert. We were brought a complimentary dessert of frozen yogurt and fortune cookies. My fortune: "You shall soon achieve perfection."

3:20 to 3:40: A public rose garden lines the grounds of the Civic Center. Roundelay is the city's official rose; other varieties include Voodoo and Mikado, Typhoo Tea and Tickled Pink. Among the less humble are Pristine, First Prize and Sheer Elegance. There's a brick clock tower at the center and what appears to be a drum set atop the Municipal Court.

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