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Watson’s Soda Fountain & Cafe in Old Towne Orange is closing

Watson's Soda Fountain & Cafe in Orange on Monday.
The historic Watson’s Soda Fountain & Cafe on Chapman Avenue in Old Towne Orange will close on Saturday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The historic Watson’s Soda Fountain & Cafe in Old Towne Orange will close its doors on Saturday.

“I am a lifelong resident of Orange, so Watson’s has been a part of my life since I was a small child,” said Councilwoman Arianna Barrios, who represents District 1, encompassing Old Towne Orange. “It was the place you went to get a great ice cream soda and just hang out with your friends.”

Watson’s opened in 1899 as K.E. Watson’s, first on Glassell Street, then at its present location at 116 E. Chapman Ave. In 1915, a soda fountain serving ice cream soda and phosphates was added to the drugstore. In 1965, Keller Watson Jr. retired from Watson’s, and in 1971 pharmacist Scott Parker took over the business. Parker’s son, Steve, managed Watson’s until 2015 when Bill and Laurie Skeffington took over.

A family walk into Watson's Soda Fountain & Cafe in Orange on Monday.
A family walk into Watson’s Soda Fountain & Cafe in Orange on Monday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“This is not just a loss of a beloved business, this is the oldest continuously operating soda fountain in the state of California,” said Barrios.

Watson’s has been used as a filming location for movies like Tom Hanks’ 1996 film “That Thing You Do” and 2006’s “The Benchwarmers,” starring David Spade and Rob Schneider. Don Knotts, Shelley Hack and Jimmy Smits all filmed commercials set against the soda fountain, and former President George W. Bush is said to have stopped in for a malt.

The Skeffingtons made changes to Watson’s, remodeling the interior and elevating the menu with the addition of draught beers alongside the shakes and ice cream sundaes.

“I know the owners put a lot of time and money and blood, sweat and tears into it,” said Barrios.

Watson's Soda Fountain & Cafe in Orange will close on Saturday.
Watson’s Soda Fountain & Cafe in Orange on Monday. The business will close on Saturday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The revamped Watson’s was met with mixed reviews on sites like Yelp, but the establishment has remained a fixture in the community, until now.

“It is historic, it is iconic, it was an anchor to the old town plaza district and it was a tourist attraction,” said Barrios. “To lose all of that is not just a blow for nostalgia, it is a blow for who we want to be as a community.”

The space will be taken over by Hector’s Mariscos, whose owner plans to open Hectors on the Circle in August. According to social media, Hectors on the Circle will be a Mexican kitchen, bar and seafood restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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