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JERRY HICKS

Reliving a Time of Adobe Homes and Wide-Open Spaces

May 14, 1996|Jerry Hicks

Precious few buildings from the previous century are still standing in Orange County. Which is why we ought to get excited any time anybody throws a party to draw attention to any of them.

In a hillside corner of Serrano Creek Park in Lake Forest, there's a tiny village of these buildings in what is now called Heritage Hill Historical Park. On Saturday, you can relive the era when these buildings played key roles in the county's history. The Saturday celebration is being called the Rancho Days Fiesta.

Long before anyone knew the word "freeway," or before California was even part of American soil, Don Jose Serrano settled on that hillside. He was surrounded by 10,688 acres deeded to him by Mexican land grant, signed by Gov. Pio Pico. Serrano became a prosperous cattle rancher.

The Rancho Fiesta on Saturday will include a reenactment of the signing of that land grant--it was 150 years ago this month--with everybody dressed in period costume. There will also be music and crafts from the Mexican, Spanish and Native American cultures that thrived in the area at the time.

"We just want to make people aware there's a history down here," says Pat Eby, president of the Saddleback Area Historical Society, the coordinator. "A lot of new people moving here don't know about any of this."

Serrano built five adobe homes on his ranch. Only one still exists, but it's in its original location. Built in 1863, it's the oldest building at the park. The others, moved there from their original sites, include the old El Toro Grammar School, built in 1890, St. George's Episcopal Mission, built in 1891, and the old Bennett Ranch House, built in 1908.

Orange County has had its share of disasters throughout the years: bankruptcy, fires, earthquakes, mudslides. Don Jose Serrano had to face what might have been the toughest challenge of all: the drought. No rain meant no food for his cattle. He was forced to sell off most of the ranch to Dwight Whiting, who went on to be a leader in the settlement of the El Toro/Lake Forest area. Whiting's son George lived in the existing adobe and made many improvements to it.

The party is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. It's at 25151 Serrano Road, and you know where that name comes from.

History Walk: There are two more anniversary parties the Saddleback historical group is putting on this weekend. At the World Cup Soccer Center in Mission Viejo, there's a dinner Saturday night to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first family to move into that planned community.

Then Sunday afternoon, there's a walking tour of Memorial Park on Trabuco Road in Lake Forest, to commemorate the cemetery's 100th anniversary. The historical society's Eby says many of the county's pioneers are buried there, and many of their descendants will be on hand for the ceremony. Picking out your final resting place was a bargain during the last century--$1 per plot, with a 10-plot maximum. Some of those $1 plots are still unfilled.

A Few Words From Gene: Anaheim residents got a "Dear Neighbor" letter from Gene Autry over the weekend. He urges them to show support for the final plans between the city and the Walt Disney Co., which include major renovations at Anaheim Stadium.

It's all part of the package that would precede the Walt Disney Co. buying the California Angels from Autry and his wife, Jackie. Make that the Anaheim Angels, of course, if this deal comes off. Disney insists on the name change.

Autry includes a card you can mail back showing support. He also underlines points he wants to emphasize. Such as: "I am saddened to think that when the Angels finally win that World Championship they may not be in Anaheim for you and your family to celebrate it with them." Or: "This agreement doesn't require one cent in new taxes."

Angels II: Remember when the West division was the stepchild of the American League? The Angels are in last place in the division with a winning record (19-18). . . . Next Angels homestand starts May 24, against Boston. . . . OK, Jim Edmonds has fallen slightly behind on his pace to break Roger Maris' record of 61 home runs in a season. But he's still on pace (56) to smash the existing Angels home run record (Reggie Jackson, 39, in 1982).

Autry II: Autry also notes in his letter that without Walt Disney, there would never have been any California Angels at the Big A: "If Walt Disney hadn't sold me on Anaheim, the Angels might be playing somewhere in the San Fernando Valley today. He told me about this place called Anaheim and insisted I consider locating my new team there. Walt was right. Anaheim has been a wonderful home for our team."

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