Architecturally Sound

Orange County can match LA County building for building

Everyone who doesn't live here thinks Orange County is so new—and some of it is. Like one of its nearest neighbors to the north, Long Beach, Orange County is just now being built out. The suburbs are finally running out of room, and visionary tyrants like Mike Harrah are starting to revitalize historic downtown districts in cities such as Santa Ana, Fullerton and Orange. Historic downtowns? You probably know Orange County from what you see on TV (that'd be Manhattan Beach) or else the parts that did come later, like Irvine, San Clemente and Mission Viejo. As master-planned, Spanish-style and '70s as they are, these three cities have come to architecturally define the whole county to many people—when in reality Orange County has as many historical buildings as Los Angeles County.

LA could have beaten us with what came before—the crazy Victorian mansions of Bunker Hill, the awesome Irving Gill moderns and the countless bungalows that are still being demolished. The fact is neither county has much left from before the turn of the last century. And in this century, we're even.

Start with Santa Ana, its original red-brick courthouse and its massive mansions along Broadway, in tidy residential districts such as French Park and its unofficial offspring to the northeast, Floral Park. Floral Park came right after French Park; it was where the children of French Park residents moved. French Park, with its Victorian, Craftsman and Foursquare-style homes is amazing, but Floral Park is where the Maharajah of India had people build him a house in 1938—a house with slit windows near the door so his servants could see who was out there.

The original Santa Ana courthouse is amazing—but so is its replacement: one of the final commercial projects the great midcentury modern architect Richard Neutra did. It finished the '60s for him and was one of his last gasps of greatness. You may never haveto come here, but you should see it. It needs work; the ceilings are stained with water damage and—ironically—the reflecting pool outside hasn't been filled in years, but all that extruded aluminum makes for great bones.

Then there's Tustin, next door to Santa Ana and home to midcentury exotica artist Josh Agle, a.k.a. Shag, who lives in the Lemon Heights neighborhood. It's impossible not to get lost there, which may be why there are still a few unspoiled midcentury modern homes, with A-frame roofs, wide entry doors, amorphic pools and simple, simple, simple styling.

Orange has that, too; it has entire neighborhoods designed by legendary midcentury modern developer Joseph Eichler, known chiefly for his work here and in the Bay Area. Some of Orange's homes still have their original appliances; others, sadly, have ceded to granite countertops and those hanging cobalt lamps. Go '90s! It's time.

Much of historic Anaheim next door—particularly its business district—was wiped clean by Caterpillars in the '70s and '80s. But it, Orange and Fullerton are all still treasure troves of historic Craftsmans, Foursquares and Victorians—and best of all (unless you're obsessive), many of them mix and match various architectural styles.

We're smaller than LA, true, but hell—we're even tearing stuff down LA-style. Remember the Hollywood All-Star Lanes bowling alley you wrecked, LA? We wiped out Kona Lanes in Costa Mesa, and we'll take credit for Java Lanes in Long Beach, too. The only thing LA County has on us is size—and it looks a lot smaller once you subtract jerkwater burgs such as South Gate, Pomona and especially Simi Valley. Oh, but you can keep 'em, LA. Simi Valley, which indirectly gave us the 1992 riots, didn't even look good when they filmed Poltergeistthere.

 
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