On Santa Ana Boulevard, from the city's historic train depot to downtown, structures sit vacant and empty lots gather trash. They're waiting for the implementation of the Renaissance Specific Plan, Santa Ana's dream of transforming the city so that the slogan painted on its iconic water tower next to Interstate 5 ("Downtown Orange County") reads as truth instead of embarrassing braggadocio.
Longtime Santa Ana activists fear what may come from the Renaissance Plan, but only out of experience. City leaders have a notorious record of favoring developments that seek to bring in outsiders rather than catering to the city's super-Latino majority. And if you dismiss my view as race-baiting, then talk to the scions of the neighborhood profiled in Mary Garcia's new book, Santa Ana's Logan Barrio: Its History, Stories and Families.
Logan is one of Orange County's oldest Mexican neighborhoods (dating back to the early 1900s), and it sits on the outskirts of the area Santa Ana officials say needs refurbishing. It has all the trappings of a classic barrio: next to railroad tracks, in an industrial area, home to old houses usually occupied by three successive generations, a place city fathers treat more as pawn than treasure. Garcia remedies this by telling Logan's history as a scrapbook: light on analysis and context in favor of photographs and anecdotes that prove the area has a heritage and pride worth preserving. "This book can't offer more than a mere glimpse into the early history of Logan," Garcia begins truthfully. "But in it, I tried to celebrate the essence of this barrio-the people who lived there and made the barrio thrive!"
She starts with a brief history of the barrio's origins—it's named after Civil War General John A. Logan, one of the founders of Memorial Day—and details why so many Mexicans came to live in an area Santa Ana's founding fathers originally envisioned as a "thriving commercial center" (remember Santayana's maxim, Renaissance pushers!). Santa Ana's Logan Barrio gathers photos of Logan's pioneer clans—the Lujans, Durons, Lagunas and Pargas, among others—and offers brief bios on each. There are pictures of Logan School, one of Santa Ana's four Mexican-only elementary schools back in the days when PTAs fought to keep Mexicans from attending the same classrooms as white students; included in its entry is a hilarious shot of kiddies hailing the flag in a way that was eventually phased out, Garcia writes, "because it looked too much like the Nazi salute." Even better are the pictures of Logan residents participating in World War II activities and other things American, a beautiful chinga tu madre to Know Nothings who insist Mexicans don't assimilate.
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Since Santa Ana's Logan Barrio focuses on the area's pioneers, Garcia only mentions in passing the neighborhood's anti-gentrification warriors who brought the area into countywide prominence during the 1970s for taking on City Hall. She dedicates the book to Josefina "Chepa" Andrade, who lived in Logan from her birth in the 1920s until her death in 2006 and whose epic battles against city bureaucrats wishing to zone her barrio out of existence earned her the title "La Reina de la Logan" ("Queen of the Logan Barrio"). Yet Andrade's amazing story is reduced to one sentence: "The Logan barrio might not even be on the map right now if it were not for her, always defending the rights of the Logan residents." Similarly getting short shrift is Sam Romero, who continues the good fight with Andrade's son, Joe.
Those are just quibbles: Santa Ana's Logan Barrio is fine, not just for historical value, but as a reminder to New Urbanists that sometimes the best communities are those that grow organically over time—and not those microplanned at the expense of what they claim to re-create.
Santa Ana's Logan Barrio: Its History, Stories and Families by Mary Garcia; Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society. Hardcover, 88 pages, $14.95. Available at Libreria Martinez, 1110 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 973-7900.