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Thursday, June 25, 2015

"It's these damn city people,” she said (El Toro's name)

Señor Reyes Serrano, 1968
     I’ve been doing a little research on the history of El Toro, nowadays called “Lake Forest.” I’m especially interested in why the town allowed its town center to be obliterated by permitting construction of the El Toro Rd. train overpass circa 1968. The “footprint” of the overpass’s foundation literally buried the center of the Old Town area, including the “Country Store,” the (site of?) the train depot, the old community center, and other long-time fixtures of “downtown El Toro.”
     I found documents that indicate that the state utilities commission put the project (called a “separation” because El Toro Road and the train tracks intersected; construction of the overpass separated the paths, thereby avoiding interference) on their list—and then awaited objections. The local entity in question—the County of Orange—evidently did not object, and so the project went forward. It is possible, of course, that, though the county did not object, the locals—perhaps 300 or so citizens—did. But I’ve found no evidence of that.
     Another outrage was the decision to rename the town “Lake Forest,” which occurred in 1991. What kind of town abandons its own name, and, ipso facto, its 100 + year history? (Ironically—and nonsensically—the city's shiny new motto is: "Remember the past - challenge the future.")
     It’s pretty clear, I guess, that, until recent urban development—that started around 1970—population-wise, the town of El Toro never amounted to much, maybe a few hundred people. Perhaps a tiny throng carped about the aforementioned obliteration, but to no avail. Or maybe they didn’t want to get in the way of what people in those days called “progress.” I remember that concept from back then. What a stupid concept.
     A relatively large population called El Toro home by 1990, and those people likely had a bad attitude about the El Toro that stretched back into the past. It didn't help that the “development” of El Toro road, from Trabuco Rd. down to Interstate 5, that occurred after 1970 or so was notorious, countywide. For South County anyway, it looked bad. Disorganized, cheap. Like, say, Anaheim or Garden Grove. Not like Irvine or Mission Viejo.
     No doubt the residents of the fancy new developments—e.g., those built around phony lakes and amid eucalyptus stands along Lake Forest Avenue to the west—viewed El Toro Road as an embarrassment and eyesore. Maybe the name wasn't romantic enough or was too closely associated with the old Marine Base just to the west. So (I’m guessing) some core group hatched a plan of starting the town over again by renaming it and redoing its central road. Hence the redevelopment at Rockfield and El Toro called “the Arbor.” The latter seems to have done the trick. It’s fairly posh, mostly, along El Toro Rd. these days.
     I’ll see if this scenario is but a fantasy, but I doubt it.

* * *
     It turns out, however, that some old timers did complain bitterly about the renaming of the town. Today, I came across an LA Times article, dated March 1991, about exactly that.
     The article was written by Davan Maharaj, who, it turns out, was my next door neighbor and good friend back then—i.e., when Kathie and I lived in Old Town Orange on Orange Street. In those days, he was an ambitious young reporter, married to a beautiful girl from Kentucky.
     He's come up in the world. Since 2011, Davan has been the editor of the LA Times.
     After Kathie and I split in the mid-90s, we lost touch with Davan and Abby, who had become pretty good friends.  We just didn't see each other any more. Eventually, Abby contacted me maybe eight or ten years ago, and I kinda dropped the ball.
     The article presents another coincidence: it mentions old Bauer family friend Leonard Schwendeman, a fixture of Trabuco Canyon (he must’ve been about 90 years old when he died about seven or eight years ago; that means he would have been born c. 1917). Leonard was a leftover of Orange County's rural past and an old-school white racist. He was pretty cheerful about it; he wasn't the obnoxious or noisy sort. Ma and Pa didn’t seem to pick up on any of that, for some reason, but I had no doubt: I used to see copies of (the notoriously anti-Semitic and anti-black) Liberty Lobby publications at the house, evidently left by Leonard. (As you know, I did battle against that very crowd back in the late 90s during my battles with trustee Steve Frogue and his supporters.)
     Sheesh.
     Anyway, here’s the article:


March 24, 1991| DAVAN MAHARAJ | TIMES STAFF WRITER
TRABUCO CANYON — The Persian Gulf War came and went and Reyes Serrano [born c. 1901] didn't hear a word about it.
     He also did not hear the news that greater El Toro will soon be known as the city of Lake Forest. He squirts tobacco juice into a plastic cup and begins to swear when a visitor tells him about the change.
     "It makes me want to take my gun and go up there and make them change it right back to El Toro," says Serrano, a great-grandson of Don Jose Serrano, who received the original Mexican land grant of 10,000 acres of land that became El Toro.
     Dora Serrano, his wife of 61 years, is even more angry.
     "You mean they actually did that?" asks Dora Serrano, 78, with a painful expression on her wrinkled face. "It's these damn city people that come to our country and make a city and change the name. Dammit!"
     For the Serranos, the name change is a modernity they cannot quite comprehend. But like other changes they have witnessed during the past decades, they doubt this one will faze them for long.
     At 90, Reyes Serrano is revered by local historians as California's oldest vaquero (cowboy). He and Dora Serrano live in a trailer home in Trabuco Canyon in one of the last remaining rural areas of Orange County.
     Ironically, the trailer home is a stone's throw away from suburbia—the tract homes and condominiums in Rancho Santa Margarita.
     Surrounded by oak and sycamore trees, the Serranos live as if the nearby developments never existed. Here, there is no homeowners' association to complain about the old wagon wheels, rusting tools and bird coops in the front yard where the Serranos keep an old white horse, Lady, four dogs, nine ring-necked doves, a parakeet and a peacock.
     Reyes Serrano is a living icon of Southern California's rancho history. His great-great-grandfather, Don Francisco Serrano, served as chief executive officer of the pueblo of Los Angeles in 1799. Don Francisco's son, Don Jose Serrano, was granted the El Toro land in 1846 as part of a sweeping series of land grants in Orange County.
     Reyes and Dora Serrano said that for years the Serrano family borrowed money at exorbitant interest rates and had to sign over the land to Banker Slauson of Los Angeles following the devastating drought of 1863-64.
     But the family stayed in the community and "became integral parts of the El Toro scene, never complaining about their ill fortune or bad breaks, simply going to work and doing the best job they could," writes Whittier teacher Joe Osterman in his book, "Stories of Saddleback Valley."
     Reyes Serrano, for example, is a former hand on the Irvine, Mission Viejo and Moulton ranches. Known for his feisty character, he earned a reputation for being Southern California's most rugged cowboy.
     After retiring from the Irvine Ranch in 1967, he bought some cattle and moved his other livestock to a 102-acre Trabuco Canyon spread owned by Ann Robinson. [See photo above.] In 1981, the Serranos had to move out after the land was sold to developers.
     Property owner Leonard Schwendeman, however, came to the couple's rescue, offering them a 40-acre plot under the snowcapped Trabuco Peak on the condition that they serve as caretakers.
     But two years later, disaster struck. A fire razed their trailer, destroying Reyes Serrano's prized saddles, guns and other equipment.
     For Dora Serrano, the loss was even more devastating. For years, she had saved money by selling beer cans to buy books about the region's history. She had spent years researching the Serrano family through old clippings, church records and family stories and had hoped to put together a book of her own. Much of the material was lost in the fire.
     Included in the book would have been Dora Serrano's version about how El Toro really got its name.
     One version suggests that the community was named El Toro after a padre's prayer for divine intervention stopped a charging bull. Another claims that the community was named after the family's bellowing bulls.
     But Dora Serrano says El Toro was named after a white-faced prized bull owned by her husband's grandfather, Francisco Serrano, that was found at the bottom of a well.
     Dora Serrano's hopes went up in the flames. "It hurts me when I think how everything, all the history, burned in that fire," she says, her voice breaking. "It's so painful."
     The Serranos owned a few head of cattle up until three years ago. But Reyes Serrano broke a leg and suffered a slight stroke when he attempted to deliver a calf. Dora Serrano decided to sell the herd and set aside the money for her husband's funeral.
     For now, they say, they will stay put—watching the development and changes around them but with a historical perspective few others share.
     Re “Property owner” Leonard Schwendeman: the description of the Serranos’ dilapidated home—old wagon wheels, rusting tools and bird coops—would have applied to much of Leonard’s place, the property with the big plastic chicken, down at the start of Trabuco Oaks, not far from the steak house that Nixon visited.
     I know that Leonard was some kind of right-wing libertarian, and he enjoyed ignoring and flouting authorities. He seemed to create and/or allow a kind of Hooverville somewhere on his property in Trabuco Canyon (he charged rent). I do believe that officials sought to crack down on this off-the-grid community in the late 80s or 90s.
     Re the “102-acre Trabuco Canyon spread owned by Ann Robinson”: back in the 70s and 80s, Pa knew one of the Robinsons pretty well. I used to see him come around a lot.

     I found a peculiar website (here) that seems to be an effort to record someone’s memories of old OC. At one point, the writer refer to Reyes Serrano:
     For many of his 97 years, cowboy Reyes Serrano rode wild horses, rounded up cattle, hunted bobcats, chewed tobacco, smoked cigars and downed a shot of whiskey with breakfast every morning. Serrano--born on a Juaneno Indian reservation in 1901 and known to local historians as California's "oldest vaquero"--was the great-grandson of Don Jose Serrano, who in 1846 received the original Mexican land grant of 10,000 acres that eventually became El Toro. Serrano's great-great-grandfather, Don Francisco Serrano, served as chief executive officer of the pueblo of Los Angeles in 1799. The last Spanish cowboy was buried last year at El Toro Memorial Park in a simple service punctuated by the singing of an Indian song.
     If this information is accurate, and assuming that Serrano was born in 1900 or 1901, it follows that he died in 1997 or 1998.
     I wonder if, by then, that money his wife squirreled away was still intact?
     Not likely.

Working on the El Toro Reservoir

Leonard Schwendeman, that crazy old guy


     We’ve mention family friend and canyon institution Leonard Schwendeman (1918-2009) before (Manny and the Trabuco Canyon Water District (board)). When the Bauer family moved into the Trabuco Canyon area in the mid-70s, we got to know Leonard, a large bulldozer operator and long-time resident. I suppose it was inevitable. Leonard seemed to know everyone.
     He was quite a character. I never got to know him well—he was pretty obviously some kind of old-school redneck—but Pa had occasion to hire him and works with him. The two became friends.
     Leonard and his wife Evelyn were pretty close to Ma and Pa up until their deaths (he died in 2009; she must have died about five years earlier). I always looked askance at Leonard, I guess, but I wasn’t about to tell Ma and Pa who they could be friendly with. Mostly, Leonard kept his unfortunate opinions to himself, evidently. He never expressed them around me (although I did notice his using an unfortunate term on one occasion, as I walked by).
     [PS: Evelyn was born July 3, 1920; she died Dec. 11, 2004 at the age of 84. Leonard was born on May 24, 1918 and passed away on Sunday, September 6, 2009. Age: 91.]
     Below are some things I found on the internet about old Leonard:

Leonard's business [founded in 1968?]:

L E Schwendeman & CO
L E Schwendeman & Company Inc
31055 Trabuco Canyon Road Trabuco Canyon, CA 92679

HISTORY [of the Trabuco Canyon Water District]:

     In the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, TCWD was mainly a community of summer homes. Water sources consisted of two wells, earthen reservoirs for collecting rainfall runoff and small wells and springs. During the summer and fall, as well as during drought periods, there often was not enough water. In 1961, a group of resident pioneers pursued annexation of what is now the TCWD boundaries to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). These founders included: F.L. Schwendeman, Frank Waer, Nicholus West, Leonard Schwendeman, Grady Glenn, and Roy Head. Roger Howell and Alex Bowie as attorneys for the District set up the legal structure of the District.
     The early pioneers organized a special election for October 16, 1962 with a vote of 98 to 2. The election authorized bonds in the amount of $1,575,000 to purchase water capacity and construct pipelines and facilities….

LAGUNA BEACH : Woman Takes Stand Against Bulldozer
January 31, 1990 | JIM GOMEZ and FRANK MESSINA

     The bright yellow bulldozer was tearing up clumps of bushes and trees in a dry creek bed as Laguna Canyon resident and activist Marielle Leeds just happened to pass by. Angry over the sight, Leeds did not hesitate to move into action. She stood in front of the earthmover and ordered her mother, Bess, to alert the media.
     "I screamed at him (the bulldozer operator) and told him that was enough," said Leeds, who said she knew there were no permits to grade the 10-acre parcel at Laguna Canyon and El Toro roads.
     "I know what is supposed to go on around here," Leeds said. "He was scooping up dirt, wrecking the environment. This (site) is a real critical point here. It is in the middle of the (Laguna) greenbelt."
     Although Leeds feared that the bulldozer was a sign that the landowner, the Laguna Hills-based Rossmoor Liquidating Trust, was planning to build illegally, City Manager Kenneth C. Frank said that was not the case. Frank said a company representative came to City Hall last month and asked if the company needed a permit to clear the land of unwanted vegetation.
     "I told him that the answer was no," said Frank, who all but forgot about the conversation until Leeds alerted him Tuesday morning. In the course of the brush clearing, however, the operator had dug into the dirt in several places and filled in a portion of a major creek bed that moves rain water from the canyon to the ocean.
     "We assumed that they would use a weed eater or some other method to clear the site," Frank said. "If you bring in a bulldozer, you are grading the land."
     Arriving at the scene, Frank and another city employee surveyed the site and issued a "stop work order." Bulldozer operator Leonard Schwendeman was ordered to clear the creek bed of soil and a city building inspector was stationed at the site to ensure Schwendeman complied.
     Officials from Rossmoor were unavailable for comment. A secretary at the company's headquarters said that top officials were out of the office for the day.
     Schwendeman said he was shocked that his activities caused such a commotion, adding that he assumed all permits were in order before he was sent to do the job. He said it should have been obvious that he was not grading land in the environmentally sensitive canyon.
     "We were not actually grading," he said. "We would have put in red stakes all around. We're just taking the brush out." Schwendeman said he had no idea what Leeds was screaming about as she stood in front of the wide metal blade and stuck out her arm.
     "She scared me," Schwendeman said.


Witness to change 
July 23, 2006 Updated Aug. 21, 2013 1:17 p.m.

     Trabuco Canyon
     In more than 75 years of living in Trabuco Canyon, 88-year-old Leonard Schwendeman has seen a lot of changes in Orange County. Believed by neighbors to be the longest-living resident in Trabuco Canyon, he's seen the orange groves give way to tracts of houses. He's worked in both agriculture and construction. He's seen forest fires and helped fight them for 25 years as a volunteer for the Trabuco Canyon Volunteer Fire Dept. He's seen the lack of water and helped form the Trabuco Canyon Water District in 1962 to help bring water to the area.
     He recently saw eight of his classmates at the 70th reunion of Tustin High School's Class of 1936.
     He was married for 65 years, until Evelyn Marie Schwendeman died a year and a half ago.
     Schwendeman for more than 75 years has lived in a brown, concrete-block house on a 7-acre plot of land. He watches over a small grove of citrus and avocado trees and tends to a flower and vegetable garden in his front yard. Now and then, he rents out construction equipment from his longtime business.

Q. How long have you been here?
A. My dad had me help build the place. The original part of this house was built in 1928 to 1929. I helped carry the rocks for the fireplace and stuff. I have my own wells here. We dug our first well in around 1934. We dug that one with pick and shovel.

Q. What do you think of all the changes you've seen?
A. Honestly, some of the changes I don't like. I see all the farmlands turn into homes and I wonder, what are we going to eat? But you can either go ahead or backwards. You have to progress. People can't get that through their head a lot of times.

Q. What business were you in?
A. I started out in the agriculture business. There were big windbreaker trees around all the orchards. I had a machine that would go down and cut the roots of the windbreakers in the ground. The roots from the windbreakers would spread out and rob all the nutrients from the citrus trees. After the war, things started to change, more people came and started to build houses. They started to take the citrus groves out and finally it got so there wasn't that much of that business anymore. In 1975 I traded that stuff for bigger stuff and went into the heavy equipment business. I've been in business my whole life. I've always worked outside, never office work or anything like that. My father was in the construction business. I worked for him when I was a kid. You learn to use a shovel real quick in that job.

Q. Are you retired?
A. I'm tired, not retired. I like to work but old age has caught up with me. I'm never out of things to do around here. I just don't have the time to get them all done.

Q. What kind of fires have you seen as a volunteer fireman?
A. One was started when some tracer bullets got fired into the mountains from the range over by Elsinore and came clear over the mountains and into the creek. That was a bad one. I got caught in a firestorm once. A firestorm is pretty bad. You can't see, you can't breathe. I was fortunate I was able to survive.

Q. Do wild animals bother you?
A. We get deer through once in a while. The mice don't bother me much. The raccoons are the worst. They like to come in and raid the food. They get mad if you try to take away their food. They love to get into the tomatoes and sample every one; they'll take a bite out of each tomato I have.

Arsonist lucky he wasn't caught in the act, resident says 
Oct 25, 2007

     Entrance to downtown Trabuco Canyon:
     On his sprawling ranch home next door to the Trabuco General store, Leonard Schwendeman, 89, sits in his living room and spews against whoever started the fire that threatened his home.
     "Of course [we're] very aggravated," said Schwendeman, sitting on his couch in a blue shirt and red suspenders. "I think they should put [the arsonists] to work on a fire line for six months. Just carrying those water hoses is a hell of a lot of work." ....
     The Schwendeman Ranch built in 1929 in the Trabuco Canyon is 6 to 9 acres of citrus trees and wood pilings, with a white fiberglass rooster perched in front.
     Schwendeman ignored an evacuation order to stay and protect his spread. Schwendeman said the arsonist "would be a lot luckier than if he had been caught in the act. Around here if they caught a guy doing that they'd shoot him right on sight... I don't have much sympathy for people who get involved in things like that. Years ago you used to solve your own problems around here. You're not supposed to anymore, you're supposed to call 911," Schwendeman said with a smile.
     Schwendeman, who lives alone and does grading and construction work around the canyon despite his age, was the Trabuco fire chief beginning in the 1940s at the canyon fire station his father started. In the many decades he's lived in Trabuco Canyon, he's seen the entire mountain range above him burn, seen the ranch besieged with flames across the road, and has been in firestorms that have made a whole firetruck shake. He plans to remain in the canyon, and adds that "you always consider evacuating, but you have so much that's yours here. You could be more useful if you're around."
     -- Hector Becerra

Authorities vow to catch arsonist in O.C. fire 
The public's help is sought, and the reward now stands at $150,000. Tips have poured in but have led to no suspects. 
October 26, 2007

…The arsonist is lucky he wasn't caught in the act, some residents added. "Around here if they caught a guy doing that, they'd shoot him right on sight," said Leonard Schwendeman, 89. Boeck added, "If they ever catch this guy, they better hope that it's the sheriff or the FBI that catch 'em, because if canyon residents catch 'em first, there won't be a piece of them big enough for a dog to bite." [I noticed that these remarks were noted by the legal community--as in "let's stay away from that area."]

BOARD COMMENTS [OC Board of Superviors]
August 25, 2009
Adjourn in the Memory Of . . . Leonard Schwendeman

     Colleagues, I ask that we adjourn today’s meeting in memory of Leonard [Erwin] Schwendeman. Mr. Schwendeman passed away September 5, at the age of 91.
     Leonard was born in 1918 in a small house on Irvine Ranch where his father worked. As a small child he wrapped and packaged oranges at the packing house at Bryan and Redhill. He attended the old Tustin Grammar School, and then Tustin High School where he met the love of his life Evelyn. They were married in January of 1940 in his parents home across from the little schoolhouse in Trabuco Canyon where he lived his entire life since 1928.
     During World War II Leonard had his own business cutting tree roots along orchards to protect the citrus crops and food supplies, and cut hundreds of ditches at the old El Toro Marine Base so the military could install electrical infrastructure. Leonard was well liked by the pilots, and they would often buzz him from the air to say hello.
     At a party last month Leonard spoke of his early days in the “Wild Country.” He spoke of hunting and horseback riding, he recalled the grand opening of O’Neil Park where he was in charge of the ceremonial BBQ, and recounted his experiences during the Great Flood of 1961.
     Leonard loved all kinds of engines and spent his life operating them. He built roads, hauled water, moved dirt, helped build Mission Viejo’s water tanks many years ago, and helped his neighbors out during the many floods and fires. In addition he was the Trabuco fire chief beginning in the 1940s at the canyon fire station his father started.
     He was a passionate gardener, sharing the fruits of his labor with the people he loved. He was also a very good cook.
     He will be buried at the old El Toro Cemetery, a cemetery that was expanded by him with his tractor work many years ago. He will be buried next to his wife, Evelyn, this Friday, September 18.
     After the ceremony, everyone is invited to the church on the top of the hill in Trabuco Canyon to share their stories of Leonard because Leonard loved telling the stories of his life to everyone.
     He was preceded in death by his wife Evelyn, and is survived by their daughter Cathy. Please keep them in your prayers.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The AAA store in old El Toro

Operated by AA Avery in the 1910s
     One of the Register's Janet Whitcomb’s recent pieces (Old general store kept Saddleback Valley running [OC Reg, Jan. 17, 2014]) concerns the AAA store in El Toro:
     ...[A] different type of investor purchased land for purposes of developing communities. Such a person was Boston-born Dwight Whiting, founder of El Toro and today’s Lake Forest. Whiting’s vision included a community of gentleman farmers, living off the proceeds of their apricot and walnut groves. To create this community he helped establish a school and church and negotiated the arrival of the Santa Fe railroad through the valley. But in order to entice gentlemen farmers and their families, something else needed to be available. That something else was a general store. 
     New York native Olif D. Fairchild, El Toro’s first train station agent, also realized this and had a two-story building constructed across from the station. The first level served as both store and post office; the second floor offered rooms for section hands, or railroad maintenance workers. 
     After a few years James DeLong, the area’s first section foreman, purchased the building from Fairchild. But instead of running the store himself, he began leasing it to a series of tenants. One would be John Gail, whose visiting daughter, Nellie, eventually married nearby rancher Lewis Moulton. 
     By the 1910s the store had come under the management of A. A. Avery. Using his fortunate string of initials, he called his enterprise the Three A Store and enjoyed a reasonable tenure. As had been the case under previous managements, El Toro citizenry as well as nearby farmers and ranchers relied on Avery’s store, and whatever wasn’t in stock was ordered and shipped in by train. 
     According to 1930s historian Clara Mason Fox, the store burned down “about 1917.” Other accounts list the date as 1920 or even 1921, when a new building, this time of concrete, was constructed. That general store, run by the sons of former Trabuco Canyon homesteader John Osterman, would last until the late 1960s, supplanted by a widened El Toro Road and railroad overpass [1968], and replaced by an influx of shopping centers and malls.
Built, in c. 1922, on the same spot? That's El Toro Rd. in the foreground. We're looking to the north.
Recommended:
El Toro's Answer to Katharine Hepburn? - In her 1968 interview with Jim Sleeper, Edith Waterman Eckles Evans Scott is as candid as her complete name is long. Scott was the daughter of a Lake Forest blacksmith when Lake Forest was still El Toro.

Two important El Toro factoids (Why was the obliteration of El Toro permitted?)

Aliso schoolhouse, not far from intersection of today's Portola and Santa Margarita Parkways
     Excerpts from Old El Toro business was hub of activity (OC Reg, Aug. 22, 2014):
     For years, San Juan Capistrano had been the Aliso Valley’s* only town. But in the 1880s, entrepreneur Dwight Whiting changed that, laying foundations for the ambitiously named Aliso City. Learning that another California settlement had a similar name, Whiting redubbed his community El Toro. 
. . . With suburban development, however, the biggest change of all occurred: construction of the El Toro Road railroad overpass, obliterating much of old El Toro, the meat market/barbershop/pool hall included.
     Factoid #1: Mr. Whiting was evidently responsible for causing an actual town to be built—the town that came to be known as “El Toro” (later, Lake Forest). Initial efforts occurred in the 1880s, and the place was to be named “Aliso City,” though that name was not permitted. Evidently, the main road of this town (corresponding to contemporary El Toro Rd.), running from southwest to northeast, was initially called “Los Alisos.” (I don’t know when its name was changed to El Toro. Likely soon after the turn of the century.) In fact, El Toro’s first schoolhouse was built in 1890, and its first church was built in 1891.

     Factoid #2: the town never amounted to much, but it was essentially obliterated by the construction of the El Toro railroad overpass in 1968(?). The footprint of the enormous mound of dirt which is the basis for the overpass covered the train depot, community hall, meat market/pool hall and the all-important “country store,” among other structures.

     Question: was this action controversial at the time? Who made the decision to allow the obliteration of this town, and did the effort meet any resistence?

P.S.: I Googled "El Toro railroad overpass" and found this 1967 decision by the Public Utilities Commission of the State of California:
Decision No. 73511
BEFORE THE PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA

     Investigation for the purpose of establishing a list for the year 1968 of railroad grade crossings of city streets or county roads most urgently in need of separation or existing separations in need of alteration or reconstruction as contemplated by Section 189 of the Streets and Highways code. [Wikipedia: “Grade separation is the method of aligning a junction of two or more surface transport axes at different heights (grades) so that they will not disrupt the traffic flow on other transit routes when they cross each other.” I.e., "separation" is raising or lowering one path that crosses another so that the two do not collide.]
Case No. 8664 
OPINION
     On August 8, 1967, the Commission issued an order, instituting an investigation to establish the 1968 annual priority list of railroad grade crossings of city streets or county roads most urgently in need of separation and of existing grade separations in need of alteration or reconstruction. Thereafter, such list is to be furnished to the Department of Public Works. … The actual allocation of money from State Highway Division funds is made by the Department of Public Works and the California Highway Commission.
     Public bearings were held in Los Angeles and San Francisco … and the matter was submitted on October 20, 1967. Copies of the order instituting this investigation were served upon each city, county and city and county in which there is a railroad grade crossing or separation...and other persons who might have an interest in the proceeding.. . .
     During the course of hearing, Exhibit 1 was introduced by the Commission staff. Said exhibit considered the nominations and pertinent data filed pursuant to the Order Instituting Investigation in relation to certain tangible and intangible factors. These factors were used for the purpose of comparing the relative importance of one crossing with another in order to assign priorities. Considered among the tangible factors were traffic cost, accident, state of readiness, impaired clearance and demand. The intangible factors considered were potential traffic, position and relation to city street pattern, relationship to railroad operations, available alternate routes, accident potential and vehicular delay. Also considered was elimination of existing grade crossings, located at or within a reasonable distance from the point of crossing of the grade separation as required by Section 1202.5(a) of the Public Utilities Code.
     In addition to the nominations filed, the staff also nominated various crossings which it felt were in need of separation. Many so nominated were not sponsored by the public body affected thereby. Staff recommendations which were not sponsored by the public bodies involved will not be included in the list; unless the public body concerned urges a particular nomination there is no reasonable probability that the project could be financed during the year in which the priority list is in effect.
. . .
ORDER
[Signed by President and Commissioners:] December 19th, 1967
     As you can see, the El Toro project was #16 out of 46 on the priority list (for 1968 project funding). Being a high priority item, it was in fact funded, I suppose.
     I highlighted the relevant parts of the Order. If we can believe what this document—i.e., what the PUC—here asserts, it appears that the Commission did not proceed with projects contrary to the desire of the involved agency (in the case of El Toro, the involved agency would have been the County of Orange).
     Are we to assume, therefore, that the El Toro project proceeded without local controversy?
     I suppose it is possible that the County desired the overpass while the city residents did not. Doesn't seem likely, but I'll look into that.

*"Aliso Valley" refers to what is nowadays called Saddleback Valley.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Old downtown El Toro against a contemporary map


Here we have Joe Osterman's map of old El Toro (between Muirlands and Jeronimo on El Toro Road in today's town of "Lake Forest") beside a contemporary Google Earth image of the same area. I've provided colored dots to locate important structures. Also, I've provided the two elements of the above separately below.




And here, again, are pictures of some of those structures:

Built: 1890
The famous "country store." That's El Toro Rd. in the foreground. We're looking to the north. Built: c. 1922
The old AAA store burned down c. 1915. It had been built more or less at the same spot later occupied by the Country Store (above). We're looking northeast.
Built: 1891
The El Toro meat market. It later became the Pool Hall.
The El Toro train depot. Evidently, even back in the day, the ladies of the historical society couldn't identify the woman in the foreground.

The El Toro (brick) School. Demolished in the early 90s, I believe.

El Toro Community Hall, just north of the Country Store (1902)
The so-called "lake" and the Keating home

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Osterman Weekday* (old El Toro)

Built in 1890 as schoolhouse
     El Toro fans, these pics are taken from 50 Years in Old El Toro, by Joe Osterman (1982). Good stuff (and the book is well worth reading, too). It's about the Osterman clan in El Toro.
     According to Joe (grandson of John?),
     the man who was to become John Osterman was born in Sweden on October 18, 1872, to Per and Hannah Roth.... In the 1880s an uncle, Sven Roth, had immigrated to the US, settling in Wisconsin under the name Osterman. The reason for the name change was simple: when Sven entered the Swedish army as part of compulsory military training there had been too many Roths and the army changed his name. When Sven joined the flood of Scandinavians immigrating to the U.S. he entered into the American flow of life under the name Osterman....
. . .
     In California, John went to sea with a fishing crew for a short time, part of the Scandinavian heritage it would appear, and he also toiled as a farm worker for one year in an enterprise headed by Ben Kohlmeier in Redondo. When Kohlmeier moved his lease from the beach area to Orange County, Osterman moved with him. An expert machinist, mechanic and craftsman, [John] was in great demand by the grain farming firm, and when Kohlmeier took his farm outfit to the Trabuco Mesa in 1893 to introduce grain to the region, John went along. In fact, he is given credit for sinking the first plow share into what turned out to be rather rocky soil.
     ...By 1895, [John] had acquired the necessary capital and bought 100 acres near present day Trabuco Oaks, the areas known first as Wild Rose Canyon....
     Joe tells of the local Osterman clan and its famous (now largely forgotten) Osterman General Store, which, for many decades, served as the center or soul of the El Toro community.
     Natch, Joe's "Osterman" saga will resonate with the Bauer clan, given the two clans' similar and recent European roots.
     Pa (Gunther Bauer) tells of occasionally driving up El Toro Road and stopping at the general store, buying a beer, etc., back in the early 60s. (The place was located right where the large overpass—over the railroad tracks near Jeronimo and Muirlands—on El Toro Rd. sits now—where one now finds a vacant lot to the west.) It was a distinctive old-style store in a distinctive old-style town, back then (before El Toro got urbanized to death). Back then, it was a more-or-less whole fragment of the old, rural OC, which was rapidly disappearing in favor of urban sprawl and general money-grubbing shittiness.

Built in 1891
Evidently, even back in the day, the ladies of the historical society couldn't identify this woman in the foreground.




Near as I can tell, this early building, sitting along El Toro Rd. and not far from the train depot, and which was (as you can see) two-storied, became the single-storied "country story" owned by the Ostermans.
On the other hand, we have this:
Younger brother George [Osterman] took a different career path. He and his wife, Lois, became the proprietors of the new El Toro store, built in 1921 not far from where El Toro’s previous Triple A store had operated until, a few years prior, it burned to the ground. George, Lois and their three sons, George, Joseph and James, lived in quarters adjacent to the store. (OC Reg)

Here are photos I found online (not in Osterman's book):

Here is the same store (I believe), situated "behind" the train depot, the roof of which can be seen at left. El Toro Rd. runs  to 1:00 (i.e., almost straight ahead, slightly to the right)
Operated by AA Avery in the 1910s


<END>
Looking northeast, from the train depot.

Some photos of the same store (that I found online):


That's El Toro Rd. in the foreground. We're looking to the north.
<END>

Demolished in the early 90s, I believe. Abandoned as schoolhouse in early 50s, Later used by Ghanal Lumber.
Evidently, this is what was left of the brick schoolhouse by about 1990.
Looking southeast from the "country store" porch. Pool hall/meat market (see below) at left, train depot at far right. (Note the gas pump in foreground.)
NOTE: it seems that "Los Alisos" was the original name of what came to be known as "El Toro Rd."
Is that the Railroad Depot in the background? Seems likely. If so, we're looking at Front Street just behind George, and Lois is facing Los Alisos/El Toro Rd. The photo is looking south. The Country Store is immediately to the right.
Perhaps contrary to the account above, I believe that this view is (yes, looking southeast) from the Country Store, just north of the train depot.
NOTE: see train car just to the right of the central building on this pic. So we're looking at Front St.  (along that building) with El Toro/Los Alisos in the immediate foreground.






SEE ALSO
*A play on "The Osterman Weekend," an old novel/movie.

MISCELLANEOUS SHOTS OF OLD EL TORO:

Basque shepherds lived in the area.
El Toro Rd. — looking north. Sign says "Design One Homes." I'm guessing this is near present-day Trabuco Rd. Some have suggested that we see Pino Lane at left, followed by Toledo. Seems plausible.
Note the store/hotel "behind" the station. (The Triple A.) We're looking north from
the edge of El Toro/Los Alisos Rd.
The Bennet home, built: 1908
Actually a composite I created from two photos
El Toro Community Hall, just north of the Country Store



I suspect we're looking across El Toro Rd. and down Front St. If so, the train tracks run along the warehouses above, parallel to front street. And the "County Store" is just to the left (cattycorner relative to these warehouse buildings). This pic is pretty late, perhaps early 1970s.
Looking east from atop the notorious railroad overpass, built c. 1969

Keating Ranch





Now-vacant land. Looking west from atop the notorious railroad overpass. The train depot stood perhaps just to the left of the eucalyptus tree in foreground. The "country store" would have been in the immediate foreground or a few yards to the right. All obliterated by the overpass mound.
What once was part of downtown El Toro, just to the east of the railroad overpass. Olive and Front St.?
Same general area: that's the overpass in the background. The train tracks are a few hundred yards to the left.
Same general area



This is the country store, circa 1970, as seen from the east side





I believe this is the former Catholic church, at some point moved from 1st and Olive to this location on El Toro Road near Jeronimo. It was moved to Heritage Hill in the early 70s, I believe.



Again, the commercial zone just east of the railroad overpass, where the old downtown once stood
C. 1959, El Toro Rd. and 5

Historically speaking: El Toro's first lake inspired by desire to hunt (OC Reg, July 9, 2014)
   …Most cite the 1970s as the time when these changes occurred. But it was Boston entrepreneur Dwight Whiting who began the process, back in 1885, upon purchasing close to 10,000 acres of the Don José Serrano cattle ranch. Whiting intended to create a community populated by British émigrés who would live off the earnings of their orchards. His planned amenities included a school, church, general store, cricket field, library and hunt club. Of the six, the first three occurred during Whiting’s lifetime. A sports field – though for baseball and not cricket – was in place by the 1920s, and a public library opened in 1981.
   Only the hunt club failed to materialize.
   But as local historian Joe Osterman points out in his 1985 book, “Stories of Saddleback Valley,” this was not for want of trying. For upon purchasing the land, Whiting made sure his rights included access to Aliso Creek, originating in the nearby canyons. He then diverted some of the creek’s water to create a lake – or, as Osterman suggests, more of a pond – that would attract waterfowl. During the rainy season, Osterman adds, it measured “some two hundred yards in length and about half that distance across. At the south end, a low earthen damn (was) constructed to prevent water from ruining the crop and orchard land below.”
   Not coincidentally, the lake, aka pond, also provided a scenic aspect for Whiting’s wealthy parents-in-law, the Keatings, who helped fund the church and built the home you see in the photo.
However, the fancy hunt club idea was discarded, possibly because most who moved to the fledgling community of El Toro were not British.
   “Lake El Toro,” as many called it, remained for many decades, delighting local boys who used it as a swimming hole. Joe Osterman’s younger brother, Jim, still remembers the time he lost his swimming trunks and “was in a real panic until luckily I found them since the entire pond could be seen from El Toro Road.” Many Laguna Beach artists also visited, painting the lake as a change of pace from their usual seascapes.
   With the 1970s, however, the property was zoned for other uses and is now occupied by Freedom Village Continuing Care Retirement Community.
* * *
   THE BRICK SCHOOLHOUSE. It’s September 1914, and big changes are in store for the children of El Toro. 
   Their former one-room grammar school, built back in 1892, has been retired and will be moved across the field from its Olive and First Street location to El Toro Road, just east of the Community Hall, to be transformed into St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. 
     School now will be held at a nearby, newly constructed brick schoolhouse, featuring two classrooms. One classroom is for the first- through fourth-graders, the second for fifth- through eighth-graders. 
   But that’s not all. Miss Nichols, last year’s teacher, is moving with them to the new school, where she will not only teach the “big” classroom of fifth- through eighth-graders, but also serve as the school’s principal. (Historically speaking: Back to school for El Toro's Miss Nichols)
* * * 
Saddleback Valley's first schools took root in canyons 
Clara Mason Fox
   Today’s Saddleback Valley Unified School District includes 24 elementary schools, five intermediate schools and seven high schools serving families in Lake Forest, Mission Viejo and Rancho Santa Margarita.
   The foundations of this district center on three schools, each created more than 100 years ago.
   In 1881, homesteaders living in what is now known as Trabuco Canyon and Robinson Ranch opened the Trabuco School. According to historian Clara Mason Fox, a family by the name of Lyons allowed one of their small outbuildings to serve as a classroom that first year to “youngsters on horseback and afoot, from as far east as Bell Canyon.” The next year, lessons were conducted at the Straw family’s honey house; after that, the Rowell homestead became the next school site. And so it went until a modest structure, near the junction of Trabuco Canyon and Live Oak Canyon roads, was constructed specifically for teacher and students. Many years later the school, now known as Trabuco Elementary, moved to its present location on Trabuco Canyon Road.
   The exact site of the second school, named the Aliso School, is subject to discussion, but it appears to have been situated very close to what we now know as Cook’s Corner, named for the Cook ranching family. Fox writes that homesteaders living at that end of the canyon “desired a school near home, so, about 1886, a school district was organized.” One family by the name of Wilkes even provided the first teacher. “As I was holder of a legal certificate, I agreed to teach under a sycamore tree, at $60 a month,” Mrs. Wilkes later wrote. “Lumber was landed from McFadden’s Landing (site of today’s Newport Pier) and soon a good enough house was built.”
   Fox adds that until that schoolhouse opened, “benches were built to seat the children, and they moved back and forth to keep in the shifting shade of the trees.” In between lessons, children quenched their thirst by bringing buckets of water up the incline from a nearby spring. Fox also notes that Aliso School’s first students numbered “five Cooks, four or more Serranos, two Oliveras, two Scovilles, two Staples children, and Mrs. Wilkes’ two daughters.”
   Soon after Orange County broke away from Los Angeles County in 1889, folks living in the newly formed community of El Toro – today’s Lake Forest – decided to start their own school. “So a district was formed and a school board appointed,” writes Fox. “A small rough building was hastily constructed on Los Alisos Avenue (today’s El Toro Road), just below Second Street. Benches were made to seat the children, and a small table was the teacher’s desk.” This school opened “about the first of March, 1890, with 16 pupils.”