My old Costa Mesa neighborhood looks nothing like it once did.
I spent the bulk of my youth — 1952 though 1964 — living in a tract home on Fairway Drive on Costa Mesa’s Eastside. I resided there from age 7 to just a couple of weeks beyond my 19th birthday, whereupon I dropped out of college, bid my family and friends farewell, and joined Uncle Sam’s Army.
The Carnett clan remained attached to the house on Fairway until 2007. My father died a year earlier, and my mother –- the last original resident on the block -– moved to smaller digs in Huntington Beach.
FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version of this column had the incorrect street name in the headline.
I’m now the only member of my 1952 household of five who continues to live in Costa Mesa. I’ve been here 61 years.
“Costa Mesa is still my home and always will be,” my 89-year-old mother stubbornly avers. “Where I live now, I don’t consider home. In my mind, there’ll never be another Costa Mesa — particularly the Costa Mesa of the 1950s.”
I occasionally cruise down Fairway when I’m on that side of town. It doesn’t look to me today as I choose remember it. For one thing, in 1952 I was taller than most of the trees on the block! Many of those trees — planted during the neighborhood’s naissance — still stand, and are 50 feet tall and taller.
More than half of the original 40 homes in the one-block neighborhood have either been dramatically remodeled or torn down completely and replaced by new structures. When I drove the street one afternoon last week, a couple of dozen cars lined the curbs on both sides of the road, giving it a narrow, cluttered look.
I remember in ’52 living on what seemed like a broad boulevard.
I used to get off the school bus at Santa Ana and Del Mar avenues and walk home. When I’d turn left onto Fairway — a block without sidewalks — I faced what to my adolescent brain resembled a vast landing strip, with wide lawns and spacious homes recessed on either side.
Usually, I’d make my way home by ambling right down the middle of the street. Rarely were my reveries interrupted by traffic.
For years, we played baseball in the street in front of my house.
Home plate was a block of wood in the middle of the street. First base was my parents’ mailbox. Second base was a T-shirt lying in the street, and third base was our neighbor’s mailbox across the street.
We’d occasionally get “strawberries” and “road rash” diving for grounders or running out extra-base hits, but bad hops only occurred when the ball hit the curb.
The best ballplayer on our block, by far, was a towheaded 12-year-old named Karen. She could blast towering drives that landed on the fly in the middle of the street three houses down. After hitting the asphalt, the ball would take a kangaroo hop and bounce and roll for another two or three houses.
Karen regularly slugged “six-house homers!” I used to drift into deepest centerfield each time she came to the plate.
Cars almost never interfered with our games –— either motoring down the road or parked at the curb.
In the early 1950s, almost no family in the neighborhood had more than one car and we all parked our cars in our driveways. Visitors owned the only vehicles that ever parked along the curb.
Our dads worked and the vast majority of our mothers stayed at home. My mother didn’t begin working outside the home until I was in high school in the early 1960s. As a result, we enjoyed nearly a decade of wide-open asphalt for our ball games.
The Carnetts surged from being a one-car family in 1960 to a four-car family in 1963. My mom needed a car for work, and my brother and I required vehicles for school.
My first car, a 10-year-old Ford, cost me $250.
The Carnetts — and many others on Fairway — at long last achieved the American Dream!
JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.