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DANA PARSONS

At Midway City Post, Disputes are Legion

April 18, 2001|DANA PARSONS

Mention Midway City to the typical Orange County smart-aleck and he's likely to say, "Midway between what?"

Well, Santa Ana and Seal Beach, if you must know.

But that's digging back into county history, into the 1920s, when rich Huntington Beach oilmen started moving a bit north to get away from the smell of oil near the coast. They were joined by weary overland travelers from all over and, before you knew it, they had created a. . . . A what?

Now, 80 years later, despite its name, Midway City still isn't a city. Nor does it want to be. Former Westminster Mayor Kathy Buchoz suggested to Midway City locals about 20 years ago that her city would be happy to annex them--Westminster surrounds Midway City--and remembers telling a reporter afterward that, "I was lucky I wasn't tarred and feathered."

If Midway City had a motto, it might well be, "Please Leave Us Alone."

Change comes slowly to this urban oasis off Beach Boulevard that still has a volunteer fire department. And that may be partly what's driving a flap at local American Legion Post 555.

If you whiz along Beach Boulevard between Bolsa and Hazard Avenues, you might have missed the post except for an unusual landmark it has sported in the parking lot for the last year: an original lifeguard's tower from Huntington Beach.

No one is quite sure what to do with it, but former post commander and current bartender Ed Crone notes, "Since it's been here, not a single person has drowned in the parking lot."

We digress.

The post leadership wants to add the name of World War II Medal of Honor winner Albert Schwab to its official designation. Schwab died on Okinawa, has a base there named after him and is the brother and brother-in-law of husband-wife regulars at the Midway City club.

A name change at a legion post demands that rules be followed. Crone says they were--two public votes by members--but other post members say it was a back-room deal that flouts local tradition.

And Then It Gets Complicated

Crone suggests one or two disgruntled people are stirring things up. It doesn't appear quite that simple, however.

In fact, the American Legion's district commander for Orange County, Sidney Triplett, put the club on probation in March after putting Crone, current commander Bob Bertels and muralist Pete Carolon "on notice" in December.

At the Post earlier this week, Crone, Carolon and Bertels tell me the dispute is silly and personal in nature. Triplett, who lives in Anaheim but is a club member, begs to differ.

"It's like they're trying to throw something down the members' throats," Triplett says. "It's been kind of a hush-hush, behind-closed-doors kind of thing, where they tried to say they had a first vote and a second, but that didn't happen."

Triplett, who oversees the 26 Orange County American Legion posts, says the probation will stick until he gets some answers. Crone says American Legion officials at the state level have assured the post the name change will be recognized. In fact, the post is planning a ceremony for next month.

I ask Triplett, a former Marine, why he sanctioned Carolon, an artist who's painting a mural of wartime scenes inside the hall. Triplett says it's because Carolon once told him "he would kick my [fanny] if I came back in."

Triplett says he turned the other cheek. "I'd snap his neck," he says, "but in my position as district commander you have to be humble, eat a little crow and walk away. But I don't have to take that kind of abuse."

Carolon, a former Navy SEAL, laughs off the imbroglio.

Crone says he likes Triplett but notes, "Sidney wants to be the first black commander in California, and he doesn't care how many bodies he has to step on to do it."

Triplett scoffs at the notion. As for Post members?

It's hard to say where all of them stand, but member Mary Stockton wrote a letter in January to the Westminster Herald. She pleaded for tradition to prevail.

"The name change is a snub of the old-time residents," she wrote. "Midway City has a historical significance to us, as we feel that the town will be swallowed up as was Wintersburg, Talbert, Goat Hill and Gospel Swamp. An illegal, cruel act has been perpetrated on the old residents of this community."

Other than that, I think it's safe to say, all remains quiet in Midway City.

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821; by writing to him at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626; or by e-mail at dana.parsons@latimes.com.

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