Advertisement

Local Historian Urges Preservation of a Bar With a Colorful Past

Share via
Times Staff Writer

Jim Sleeper has witnessed much of the history he has compiled and written during his 59-year lifetime in Orange County.

So to him, Cook’s Corner is not only a place of historical interest. “I drop by there every now and then for a glass of Kool-Aid,” he said.

People should not look down their noses at Cook’s Corner, he insists. “The original, which was a board-and-batten shack, was not half as elegant as the present structure. The present is definitely an upgrade.”

Advertisement

Cook’s Corner is historically significant, he says.

The site of the beer bar and restaurant was where the Aliso School District held its first classes in 1886 for 19 students with 10 books sitting under a sycamore tree. They met there until the schoolhouse was finished half a mile down Aliso Canyon, he says.

The site became known as Cook’s Corner when in 1884 Andrew Jackson Cook traded land on Palomar Mountain for 190 acres in Aliso Canyon.

Diversified Operation

Little was done to develop the property until a son, E. J. (Jack) Cook, diversified his modest hog, sheep and cattle operation by opening what Sleeper remembers to be “a hamburger joint” in 1931.

“When beer came in (after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933), it really became what we now know as Cook’s Corner,” Sleeper said.

The present building, formerly a mess hall at the Santa Ana Army Air Base, was acquired by Cook in 1946 and moved to Cook’s Corner to replace the old stand.

It remained virtually unchanged over the years until one of the later owners added new exterior siding several years ago, Sleeper says.

Advertisement

To Sleeper, the Cook’s Corner side of Live Oak Canyon Road is much more historic than the other side, where developers have tentative approval for a shopping center.

The only structures on the shopping center side were Cook’s old hog pens, Sleeper says. But it was on the Cook’s Corner side where a shirttail relative, Jim Cook, blew out part of his own brains while rabbit hunting, but survived.

“Jack said Jim never was quite the same after that,” Sleeper recalled. Nonetheless, Jim survived until 1947.

It was on the Cook’s Corner side of the road where Uncle Foney, trying to pull a water trough out of Aliso Creek in front of the bar, was drowned when a sudden cloudburst filled the usually dusty waterway.

There was the time the volunteer fire department was called to extract a patron’s hand from the side pocket of the pool table, Sleeper says.

There was “Twiggy,” the 230-pound cook, and Billie Monk, a woman bartender who was reputed to have killed the last mountain lion then in Trabuco Canyon in 1963.

Advertisement

There was the arrival in the ‘70s of the bikers, “these colorful gentlemen of the road with their gaily tattooed girlfriends. They pretty much took care of the trouble among their own, but I think that’s when the no-firearms sign went up,” Sleeper said.

Then Sleeper took his tongue out of his cheek for a moment.

“All things considered, I think Cook’s Corner is the last, what you would call, roadhouse in Orange County, and it certainly spans a good many years and has been the source of a good deal of color,” Sleeper said.

He says that much has been lost by building before enough consideration was given, and the regrets set in soon afterwards.

“Many of the older towns, like Santa Ana and Anaheim, are really down to the historical culls. They tore down the really good things before they thought about it.

“And poor old Irvine. Because that was just an old berry patch and rodeo grounds for (Mexican ranchero) Jose Sepulveda, they have remarkably little to save out there.

“Their ‘preserved’ buildings are younger than their city manager,” Sleeper said.

Advertisement