The Plummer Project Examines a Shameful Chapter in Fullerton’s History

Why are a bunch of La Habra High School students performing in an ambitious play in Fullerton’s most iconic building in a play steeped in history—warts and all—about the city of Fullerton?

Blame OC Weekly.

OK, maybe blame isn’t the right word. Let’s just say our esteemed editor, Gustavo Arellano’s April, 2013 cover story, “The Lost Mexicans of Bastanchury Ranch,” played a big part in helping to shape “The Plummer Project,” a site-specific, audience-immersive play conceived by Brian Johnson, a La Habra High School teacher, and written by his wife, Callie Prendiville, an actress and acting teacher at the Orange County School of the Arts.

But again: what’s up with the Hilltoppers invading the land of the Lancers, Indians (isn’t it about time to change that name, already?) and Wally the Warrior? Don’t they get their fill of ass-kicking when football rolls around every year? (La Habra narrowly clipped the three Fullerton high schools last year by a combined score of 146-13. That is a true story).

Turns out, La Habra High School is part of the Fullerton Joint Union High School District, along with Fullerton, Sunny Hills and Troy. So, the Plummer, which is owned by the district, belongs as much to the northerly kids as their more southerly brethren. The theater department, known as the La Habra High School Theater Guild, mounts shows there regularly. Plus, both Johnson, who directs the play, and Prendiville, who wrote it, live within spitting distance of the site of the black-eye-in-Orange-County-History Bastanchury Ranch, 6,000 rolling acres in and around the Sunny Hills area that most people only know as the name of a long street, that was once the largest orange grove in the world, and whose Basque owners notoriously stood by while 400 of its Mexican workers were deported at the height of the Great Depression.

Though it’s mentioned in a few history books, and the aforementioned cover story, the story of the ranch belongs in that vast compendium called “Stories That Orange County Has Tried To Bury For Decades,” since it doesn’t snugly fit into the narrative of the creation of a paradise of white suburbia. Which is one of the reasons why this play exists.

“(Johnson’s) original idea was to let us show off this cool building (The Spanish Colonial Revival Plummer was built in 1930) but as I began researching it, I fell down the rabbit hole of district history and city history, and discovered a history of racially motivated problems,” Prendiville said.

One of those problems was Bastanchury Ranch, which Prendiville discovered in both the OC Weekly piece as well as research at the Cal State Fullerton Center for Oral and Public History. 

“The fact there was a completely separate school (for Mexicans) and the deportation of those people was horrifying,” Prendiville said. “Ironically, my husband and I lived right near where the camp was.”

Another unsavory revelation was Louis Plummer, the first superintendent of the school district, who led the charge to build both Fullerton College and Fullerton High School.—and who the Plummer is named for. Like so many of Orange County’s luminary leaders, he was a member of the KKK.
Now, the Plummer Project isn’t all about the ugly. Combining original live music, dance and oral history texts, the play is served in three parts. Two stories unfold inside the building, including one about the ghosts whom purportedly occupy the joint, as well as a glimpse into Fullerton during the Great Depression. Another story takes place outside, where the content of a fresco on the exterior of the building is brought to life. The characters are a combination of Prendiville’s creativity and actual texts from the oral history project and, as her press release states: “The stories illuminate how multiple cultures of Southern California have coexisted in various states of peace and prejudice. As certain groups gain and lose power, the ways in which they tell their own histories shift, leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions about the stories they have heard.”

And this isn’t a traditional sit down and commence snoring experience:

“It’s very immersive. People will be walking and interacting around with cast members, so it’s much more than just sitting back and watching something,” Prendiville said. “You are in it and you’re a partner. So bring some comfortable shoes and a jacket.”

The Plummer Project, 201 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton. Opens Tues. Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., 6 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Mon., 8 p.m. Thru Jan. 25. $15.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *