Carnett: 60 years of memories in Costa Mesa

As we head full steam into 2013, Costa Mesa is gearing up to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

The city, which has been called Costa Mesa since the early 1920s, was officially incorporated in 1953.  My family moved here from Newport Beach months earlier, in December of '52.

We left the fabulous environs of Balboa Island — puttering about in a cozy apartment behind my grandparents' home on Marine Avenue — for the rough and tumble of the Mesa.

Leaving Balboa Island behind for Costa Mesa was like leaving the splendor of the Sydney Opera House for Ayers Rock.

The Mesa was a dusty, breezy –- and largely empty — plateau north of my former city of residence.  My Newport neighbors disparagingly referred to the future "City of the Arts" as "Goat Hill."

But we fell in love with it.

We took up residence in a new tract home on the Eastside, a couple of blocks from the Santa Ana Country Club.  There were scads of empty lots and open spaces throughout the nascent community.

My brother and I were 5 and 7 respectively, and, though we missed the beach in summer and the foghorn in winter, we took to Costa Mesa in a big way.  

In the many happy years that followed we played "Combat" and hurled dirt-clod grenades in the city's many vacant lots; played ball on its streets and fields; climbed trees all around town; rode our bikes everywhere; hunted crawdads in the open ditches that ran alongside pothole-marred streets; inhaled the fetid fragrance of putrefying skunks on its boulevards; and climbed the inviting — but crumbling — cliffs of the Back Bay.

What a great place to grow up!

This month marks the 60th anniversary of my residency here.  One thing we early Costa Mesans realized upon locating here was that no one else on the planet knew who or where we were.  We were invisible.

Costa Mesa, like Rodney Dangerfield, got no respect.

People who knew nothing about the place usually mispronounced it, calling it "KAHS-tuh Mesa."  For me, that mispronunciation was worse than fingernails on a chalkboard.

Our family purchased its first television set in 1951 — a black-and-white model, of course — and moved it with us to Costa Mesa in '52.

There were no Orange County television channels, none.  We relied on seven Los Angeles stations for access to the outside world: 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13.  And they always chose to ignore us.

Most of them were in Pasadena on Jan. 1, or in Pomona for the L.A. County Fair in September, or in Hollywood for the Oscars and Christmas parade.  But they never came to Kahs-tuh Mesa.

To those who watched weathercasts on L.A. TV, Costa Mesa either didn't exist or had no weather.   Funny, but I recall lots of weather happening here when I was a kid.  We got a slew of Santa Anas each fall, occasional rain in the winter and spring, and great gobs of autumn fog.

You'd always see Newport Beach, Santa Ana and Anaheim listed on those television weather maps, but never Costa Mesa.  Come to think of it, the state and national wall maps that hung in my classrooms never listed Costa Mesa, either.

What were we, chopped liver?

I remember, in about 1958, finally hearing a newscaster mention my native soil on air.

I was in my usual supine position watching the tube — reclining on the floor in front of the TV set, propped up on an elbow.  The newscaster actually uttered "Costa Mesa" — albeit mispronouncing it.  Still, he said it!

My mom was preparing dinner in the kitchen.

"Hey Mom," I yelped as I leapt to my feet and ran into the kitchen.  "They just mentioned Costa Mesa on the Channel 2 news!"

"What'd they say about us?" she responded.

Oops, guess I'd missed that part.

"I'm not sure."

Details, details!  With that mention, my hometown finally gained legitimacy.  

And, there's been no stopping us since.

JIM CARNETT is a Costa Mesa resident. His column run Wednesdays.

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