Fountain Valley is an exercise in creative packaging to make you think, "People live here?"Yet they do, hidden by blocks of compoundlike commercial buildings and strip malls that somehow mask thousands of homes, playgrounds, churches, schools, a library, a bowling alley, a roller-skating rink, a miniature golf course and a huge park all crammed into fewer than nine square miles.
It's like Tetris, without the stirring, faux-Russian music and the garish neon colors: Mile Square Regional Park alone has three golf courses, tennis courts, basketball courts, racquetball courts, a gymnasium and multiple community centers. And it's a good bit of evolution for a little town formerly known as Gospel Swamp: a former marsh that started to morph in the 1870s, drying out into good cattle land and a home to traveling preachers. By the turn of the century, the Swamp was a hamlet complete with blacksmith and general store; by 1920, it was a burgeoning city still known for its truck farming.
A generation later, it incorporated in 1957 as Fountain Valley, the county's 21st city, its remaining farmers joining the City Council in hopes of preserving an agricultural past that was slipping through their fingers like potting soil. Their efforts were plowed under a few years later when the San Diego (405) Freeway was extended through the center of the city, followed by housing developers who built much of what you see today.
A bog/tent revival/pasture no more, this is now "A Nice Place to Live," the current city slogan. Besides having a great park—one Irvine has no doubt visited with a tape measure—Fountain Valley boasts some of the best elementary schools and STAR exam scores in the state. Most of its residents are still white, but roughly 25 percent are Asian, including many Japanese-Americans, whose influence is evidenced in a slew of businesses, from karaoke clubs to noodle houses, a bakery, a grocery store and a record store specializing in imported Japanese music. A hundred years later, this place has truly come of age.
Best Reptile House Prehistoric Pets. They've got 'em: anacondas and lizards, pythons, turtles, iguanas, baby bearded dragons, and more—10,000 square feet of fishponds, artificial lizard habitats and snake cages. Also? In an alarming tangent, they do children's birthday parties. 18822 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 964-3525; www.prehistoricpets.com.
Best Imported Record Store Japan Records. The shop specializes in Japanese pop music, videos and toys—from Ai Otsuka to Zard—in a small strip-mall space at Garfield and Brookhurst. While you're there, stock up on imported snacks like fruit candies and chocolate Pocky. Mmm, Pocky. 18928 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 593-6128; www.japanrecords.com.
Best Sign of Hope for the Damned Dr. Freecloud's Mixing Lab. In April, Dr. Freecloud's Mixing Lab, one of Orange County's most beloved DJ culture record outlets, moved its turntables and obscure house records from the hipster bliss of the Lab Anti-Mall in Costa Mesa to determinedly unhip Fountain Valley. Owner Ron D Core—whose moniker during the glory days of rave was "the West Coast hardcore pervert"—is getting used to his new, unhip hood. With the exception of an anime store that sells Japanese pop music, he has little competition, but he's facing a new nemesis—an adjacent dance studio filled with Britney Spears wannabes. "They're louder than we are," Core says. "It's the first time I've ever been upstaged with music." 18960 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 962-9787.
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Best Ghosty Men Shroud Center of Southern California. A "scientific and research exhibition" since 1996 whose purpose is to "bring The Passion of the Christ to reality" by studying the image of the Shroud of Turin and by collaborating with other Shroud scientists around the world. Sounds noble—but it's the Shroud of freaking Turin. Jesus was wrapped in it, bro. Jesus was wrapped. Heavy stuff. 8840 Warner Ave., Ste. 200, Fountain Valley, (714) 375-5723; www.shroudcentersocal.com.
Best Luthier Guitar Doctor. Doc Pittillo has a surgeon's hands at guitar and bass repair, and besides his fix-it work, he also has 30 years of experience designing and building custom guitars. His shop is full-service, meaning he does repairs but also restorations and custom modifications for electric and acoustic guitars and basses. He also buys, sells and trades vintage guitars. 18171 Euclid St., Fountain Valley, (714) 437-9607.
Best Sign of Hopelessness The 9/11 Memorial. God, we're hopeless. There's something about us—and by "us," I mean the Weekly editorial staff, or maybe just me, an unnamed staffer—that resists the memorialization of violence, perhaps most when that disaster is reconfigured around some kind of myth of national innocence. And so when I see the 9/11 memorial outside FV's public library, see people stroking this absolutely chilling, four-foot, 350-pound hunk of steel from New York's Twin Towers like it's, I don't know, the Vietnam War Memorial or the femur of Christ, I actually get angry. And because I drive by the memorial a lot and because people are petting the thing so frequently that I expect them to have rubbed it down to the size and shape of a spoon, I find myself increasingly wigged out, and I want to ask these people what macabre impulse has them out there in this park pawing a piece of fast-fading wreckage. Is it to stoke the fires of their own indignation? Is it to conjure up some sense of victimization? Or—and I could live with this—is it to reflect on the fact that many of these people died without the chance to tell the people in their lives how profoundly they loved them, because instead of really getting close to one another on the morning they went to work, the Sept. 11 dead did what I did this morning, which is to say that I did the perfunctory "so long," the thoughtless peck on the cheek, the "see you later," and then went off to their deaths benumbed by news, caffeine and the seeming importance of their to-do lists? That, however Hallmarkian the sentiment, it really is true that every single moment is a gift? Is it that? Or is it that they've just read how the death count among U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians is now nearing, well, pick some number between like 25,000 and 100,000—making the Sept. 11 mass murder a mere prelude to more massive bloodletting? Because if it is, I apologize. But I still can't forgive the Los Angeles Times writer who began his story about the memorial with the sentence, "They say there is solace in the steel." Solace? Because I'll tell you a secret: late one night, I pulled over on Los Alamos Street—and could a name be more fitting, or explain more precisely why this whole memory thing is so troubling?—I pulled over and walked across the damp grass. A flood lamp threw just a bit of light across the memorial. I put my hand on the beam the way I'd seen so many others do, and I felt a flood of anger—and then, not solace, but the recollection that an ape does something much like this in 2001: A Space Odyssey and that what follows is all of human evolution. 17635 Los Alamos St., Fountain Valley.
Best Place to Wash the Booze Outta Your Mouth Blarney Stone. Everyone may not remember your name, for obvious reasons, but they'll give you a nice big welcome just the same! There's live music Fridays and Saturdays and a free buffet for Monday night football. Best part? They open at 8 a.m. on weekdays, and 6 a.m. on weekends. Start your buzz early! 11761 Edinger Ave., Fountain Valley, (714) 775-9987.