Neighborhoods Living in the Past : Districts Keep Architectural Legacies Alive


When used collectively, the words Orange County and housing usually denote new --as in new, look-alike peach-and-earth-toned stucco tract homes in pristine planned communities.

But sheltered in scattered pockets around the county are homes that are anything but new.

They might be large Craftsman Bungalows built from 1905 to 1920 with such natural materials as field stone and brick, painted in natural tones of green and beige, and featuring exposed rafter ends and big windows.

Or they might be Tudor Revivals, popular in the 1920s, with half-timbered framing and massive medieval chimneys. Or Queen Anne-style Victorians with wraparound porches, fish-scale shingles, bay windows and turrets.

Occupants of most of these houses pride themselves on the originality of their homes' decorating schemes. Community planning in these areas of one-car-garage homes was done, if at all, as part of a neighborhood renovation.

These are Orange County's historic neighborhoods.

They range from San Juan Capistrano's Los Rios Historic District of board-and-batten cottages and adobes dating back to 1794 to a Streamlined Art Moderne mansion, circa 1935, in fashionable North Santa Ana.

In between are the Tudor and Spanish Colonial revivals of Fullerton, the Victorians of old Tustin, the Colonial Revivals of Santa Ana's French Park and Orange's Old Towne, and the California Cottages of coastal Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.

Architectural historian Diann Marsh of Santa Ana says she finds it difficult to think of places in Orange County that are unlikely candidates for historic homes.

A French Park resident and president of the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society, Marsh is scheduled to answer the questions "Is Your House Historic? And What Does That Mean?" in a lecture and tour today in Santa Ana.

The 1 to 4 p.m. tour begins at the Queen Anne-style Dr. Howe-Waffle House museum at Civic Center Drive and Sycamore Street. Tickets are $3 at the door.

Participants should wear walking shoes because Marsh plans to lead a tour through several historic neighborhoods in the area, as well as the former Dr. Julius A. Crane residence, now known as the California Federal Bank building and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Both Santa Ana and Fullerton grew tremendously in the 1920s, and as a result, both cities have large numbers of Spanish Colonial and Tudor-style houses.

Orange, in contrast, had a growth spurt from 1900 to 1905, and its new residents built Colonial Revival houses, characterized by narrow clapboard siding, hipped roofs, leaded glass, transom windows, columns and neoclassical details.

How can you tell if a house is historic?

The first step is to check the historic building surveys that have been done by all of the older cities in Orange County. Some cities (Placentia is one) have local historic registers. Buildings must be listed on it to receive historic preservation funds or federal block grant funds.

In defining a historic house, Marsh uses the same criteria used by the National Register of Historic Places--the building must be at least 50 years old and it must fit into one of several categories, such as these: The building represents an era when something important happened in local or national history; a famous individual was associated with the building during the time he or she was famous, or the building is a good example of a certain kind of architecture, was built by a famous architect or is in a historic district.

Most historic buildings qualify because of the last criterion.

Santa Ana, Fullerton, Orange and Tustin all have local historic districts established by their city councils.

Established in 1981, the French Park Historic District in Santa Ana--where Marsh lives in an 1883 Italianate--hosts Craftsman and Colonial Revival homes, many of which were in jeopardy of meeting a wrecking ball.

"It used to be that you could tear down the average-size house and put 10-unit (apartments) in its place. Now that it has been down-zoned, it's no longer feasible for developers," Marsh said.

She credits the establishment of the historic district with unifying the neighborhood and bringing people together. Now, old homes are being moved into French Park--some privately, some by the city and some by the historic district, which qualifies for various preservation grants.

Marsh's home, once scheduled to be torn down to make room for an apartment building on East 6th Street, was moved twice before it reached its French Park location.

Marsh acknowledges that the word historic can strike fear into the hearts of property owners, and she is eager to dispel myths about what it means to have a historic house or to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. "There are more rumors about the National Register than about Elvis Presley," she said.

The most persistent of these is that once a house is listed on the National Register, it can't be demolished, changed, added onto or repainted, she said. In reality, additions can be made to the back of historic properties and no one dictates paint colors. In fact, no one polices the buildings on the National Register, Marsh said.

As proof, Marsh points out that while she succeeded in getting 72 houses in downtown Anaheim on the National Register as the Kroeger-Melrose Historic District in 1985, a third of them quickly were torn down under the city's redevelopment plans. Without the support of the City Council, the designation had little strength, she said.

So what benefit is a historic designation?

"It's basically an honor," said Marsh, who points out that Orange County's historic neighborhoods are a little more close-knit than most because people who live in them are bound by a common appreciation of the old architecture and a common goal--to save a piece of the past.


1. Fullerton (Craftsman)

Hillcrest, Golden Hills and Central City districts; examples of California Bungalow, Craftsman, Spanish Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival residential styles. Downtown has several architecturally important buildings including the 1923 "Chicago Style" Chapman Building. 2. Central Anaheim (Spanish Colonial Revival)

Homes of some of Anaheim's early merchant and political princes in Spanish, Tudor Revival, Craftsman and bungalow styles. Kroeger-Melrose neighborhood on North Philadelphia Street has several houses on the National Register of Historic Places. 3. Old Towne Orange (Colonial Revival)

Largest intact historic city core in Orange County with more than 1,200 pre-1940 residences and commercial buildings in a mile-square area around Orange County's only traffic circle. Several Victorian homes, as well as a collection of Spanish Colonial Revival, Craftsman, Colonial Revival and California Bungalow homes. 4. North Santa Ana (Tudor Revival)

The "Beverly Hills of Orange County," this area is what the elite called home in the 1920s. Architectural styles include Spanish Revival, Tudor Revival, Greek Colonial, Georgian, Craftsman and one Art Deco. 5. Central Santa Ana (Spurgeon Clock Tower)

Includes the old downtown, with buildings such as the Moorish-style Santora Building, built in 1926, and the 1913 Spurgeon Building with its neoclassic Swiss clock tower. Residential neighborhoods include the Victorian, Craftsman and Italianate homes of French Park and the Spanish and bungalow styles of Washington Square and Wilshire Square. 6. Old Tustin (Queen Anne)

Tustin's downtown is home to a number of important homes, including the county's largest collection of pre-1890 residences. Victorian-era architecture includes the Sherman Stevens House, a spectacular example of the Queen Anne style. 7. Old Irvine (Irvine General Store)

Several important commercial and industrial buildings, including the 1912 Irvine General Store and an 1895 lima bean warehouse, have been restored and converted to retail shops, restaurants and a hotel. 8. Coastal Newport Beach and Corona del Mar (Craftsman)

The area contains some Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival homes, and several fine examples of California Cottage, especially on the peninsula. 9. Laguna Beach (English Cottage)

More beach cottages, Tudor Revival and other picturesque European styles. 10. San Juan Capistrano (Adobe)

The Mission San Juan Capistrano is the city's most famous historic building, but the area around it contains a wealth of Early California architecture, including the Juan Avilia, Garcia and Jose Antonio Yorba II adobes in downtown and the adobes and board-and-batten cottages of the Los Rios Historic District near the 1894 Atcheson, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad depot--the oldest Spanish Colonial Revival depot in Southern California. 11. San Clemente (Spanish Revival Office Building)

Downtown includes the Oscar Easley Block, a 1929 Spanish Style commercial building, and many other Spanish Colonial revival buildings. Research by JOHN O'DELL, Los Angeles Times

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World