Thursday, August 17, 2006

Memories of Gary Zaremba

Gary Zaremba, another visitor, shares his many memories of growing up in Orange County. Among them, the El Toro Marine Base, Cook's Corner, the Hells Angels, and the schools he went to...

Thanks for this web site, Steve! I wasn't born here but my family and I arrived in Orange County in the summer of 1958 when I was almost 7. There were orange groves and eucalyptus trees everywhere and most cities were "islands" between one orange grove or ranch to another. My dad was stationed at El Toro Marine base, becoming the Manager of the Staff NCO club. He used to book entertainment acts for Friday and Saturday nights. I remember my dad getting us a signed copy of a photo from Tex Ritter (John Ritter's dad) after he performed there one night.

We even lived in the military housing on base for a couple of years while I attended 4th and 5th grades. Stanley Cook, the son of the owner of "Cook's Corner" was the pitcher on our little league team. Another pitcher, Dan Peavey, was such a baseball fanatic (he had the best collection of baseball trading cards that I ever saw), that he impressed Joe Dimagio enough that he came to visit us at the El Toro Elementary School in 1962. Our team even took a photo with him that was blown up and mounted in our school cafeteria. I wish I knew what happened to it.

The smog was much worse and the traffic was about the same as it is today. I remember hardly being able to breathe from all of the "yellow" air that passed through our lungs all day while attending school. On summer weekends, we used to go to "Tin Can Beach" - where Bolsa Chica Beach is today. The beach got its name from all of the rusted tin cans that lined the road. We had to walk through thin, sandy lanes that were formed by foot traffic in order to get to the beach. Of course, this was in the days of pop tops, so you really had to watch out where you walked or you'd get one stuck in your feet.

We moved around a lot in those days, living in Orange (near the Circle), Tustin and then El Toro before finally moving to Santa Ana. I remember going to Hart Park a lot while I lived in Orange. There was a hobo used to ride the rails and who lived in the park in the winter months. He "borrowed" wood from a lumberyard that was nearby to fashion his makeshift shack. My friends and I would talk to him about his travels while he cooked his food out of tin cans. Sometimes he would feed the park squirrels and rabbits. I can't imagine my son doing something like that today.

When we moved to Santa Ana, I attended John Adams Elementary, McFadden Jr. High (first graduating class) and Santa Ana Valley High. In my Jr. year, they opened Saddleback High and about 1/2 of the students were transferred to that school becoming the first graduates.

While I was at Valley, Martin Luther King was killed and we had riots on Greenville with cars being burned right near our school.

Special places and people that I remember in Orange County in those days included the Pier at Newport Beach (where I spent many a time after cutting classes at school), Lars the "Greeter" in Laguna and the hippie shacks (where I stayed with friends) above the old bookstore, "Farenheit 451", crashing beach parties along the boardwalk in Newport on summer nights, the "Nutburger" restaurant on Fairview and Warner in Santa Ana, "The Zoo" drive in restaurant at the corner of MacArthur and PCH where the waitresses served you fast food on rollerskates, the long winding, country road from El Toro all the way to Cooks Corner, Lion Country Safari and "Bubbles" the hippopotamus who escaped and submerged in one of the ponds on Laguna Canyon Road.

How may people remember Victor Hugo's restaurant in Laguna before it became Las Brisas? How many people remember the "head shops" in Laguna where meditation and pot smoking were common events? How about the Hara Krishnas who used to dance and play tamborines on the main streets in Laguna? How about the annual events when the Hell's Angels would ride into Newport and park hundreds of their choppers effectively blocking off Newport and Balboa Blvds. near the pier? I remember the police securing many "paddy wagons" just for this occasion. Eventually, the Hell's Angels didn't return but it was exciting while they were there.

Does anyone remember the town that disappeared between Placentia and Anaheim along the railroad tracks - ATWOOD? My grandfather had a used furniture store there. How about the Tustin Marine LTA (lighter than air) base with the very large blimps that were housed in the blimp hangers before they were replaced by helicopters?

I attended several pop festivals and especially remember the Newport Pop Festival at the O.C. Fairgrounds where Country Joe & The Fish and Jefferson Airplane played. I also went to another 3 day festival at Devonshire Downs in San Fernando Valley (you name the 60's rock group, they were all there!) and one in Palm Springs during the summer of 1968 that became an all out riot with police helicopters dropping tear gas on the crowd. In fact, a curfew was established for several years after that where minors had to be accompanied by adults to enter into Palm Springs.

Well, that's about enough to cover for now. Maybe I'll add some other things when I remember them.
Thanks Gary!


  1. Anyone remember Cars of the Stars?

    It had the original Batmobile and a whole bunch of vehicles from the movies including Robby the Robot, and a section devoted to horror film props. We are talking 1981, very close to Disneyland off Ball Road.

  2. The Victor Hugo ....ah what fun memories! The Long Beach location was, at times, more convenient for me as I worked in that city. I knew the maitre'd, Jimmy Richmond. His son, Frank, and I went to Huntington High and were also in the Air Force together ....he, an officer, and I, a lowly enlisted man!
    Frank and his dad went on to open Francois' Manhattan in Long Beach and, most notably, Francois' in Huntington on Beach. truly fun times. Don and Jerry entertained there in the early 70's for weeks on end. Great food and great times. Jimmy and Frank also opened a seafood restaurant in Lomita on PCH, but I can't remember the name right now. Also great food.
    Now, does anyone remember Don the Beachcomber's? Right next to the then, I believe, Hurley Bell Five Crowns. Someone tell me I'm not losing it and that there really was a Don the Beachcomber's at that location!
    Another spot I liked to frequent (in those days I frequented a ton of bars and restaurants!) was the Jamaica Inn ....I believe at Avocado and PCH or at Bayside and PCH. Again .....memory - ain't what it used to be!
    Bob King

  3. Oh my goodness. What memories! My dad was actually a blimp pilot and he used to fly over our little suburban house in Costa Mesa (referred to as Goat Hill, lol). I was so proud when he would come to elementary school (I think it was Fairview at the time) and the kids though he was beyond cool. I hadn't thought about the huge hangers in eons until there was a show on them last night.

    Ha, I also remember my parents thinking South Coast Plaza would never "make it" cause it was too far in the sticks.

    Yep, the Newport Pier, the many memories. Not even going to get into the 60's when everything seemed to change. I think it was a wonderful time to "grow up." Such ideals we had...

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Gary:

    Appreciate your thoughts and comments on Atwood. I grew up in the Santa Ana Canyon in the 1950's and my Dad always went to the Richfield gas station in Atwood. Other than a wrecking yard and the Post Office, there wasn't much else in Atwood back then. It was a good place to watch the trains. The Santa Fe was still using their biggest steam locomotives back then, even when diesels were tredding into their territory.


  5. I was at the Newport Pop festivals at Costa Mesa and Devonshire Downs also as well as the mentioned one in Palms Springs. The Palme Springs one was actually on Spring Break in 1969. There were two festivals. The 1st one was at a drive-in movie theater with John Mayall headlining. The othe was at the Angels practice stadium with Canned Heat headlining.

  6. We drove straight down Orangethorpe through Atwood to get to the original "Knowlwood" was in the boonies back then.

  7. Atwood is still a neighborhood, if not officially. Don't know if it's been offically incorporated into Placentia or Yorba Linda by now but there is a gang named Atwood [that rivals Plas in Placentia and La Jolla in that same area] that still claims the neighborhood. There was some development in that area but it still looks like old OC -- with the traintracks and the oil dereks. The old Sunkist Factory used to be right by there, too. Last time I drove by there was still an onld junk yard and some shanty-looking mechanics in the area. There used to be the diveiest of bars right across the street from Atwood -- I wish I could recall the name.

  8. oh course i rember the newport pier brings back of happy toughts used to hang out there in the early 1960s there are a few i would like to find from the old days and the pier and rendevoous ballroom rita ,terri lee ,funny sonny ,mouse ,spider aka sally ,jackie ,budda ,hoot the surfarri truck, toni d.4th of july at scottsman cove tery AKA YOGI

  9. hello tought i would leave my email address love to here from anyone with memories of newport from the early 60s rendevoous ,newport pier ,wedge , still a few i would like to chat with terry aka yogi

  10. I actually bought the book Fahrenheit 451 at that same named bookstore when I didn't know it was named that; we had just walked in!

  11. I lived in Laguna Beach from 1964 thru 1970. I was 6 to 12 years-old, so I do remember a lot of what you had mentioned.
    I remember, Victor Hugo's restaurant. I specifically remember eating a fried abalone plate there on one of my Birthday's. Actually I just ate the abalone and not the plate! It was the one and only time I think "I" ate there and not just my parents by themselves. It was considered expensive at the time and my parents were far from rich, but back then you could be kind'a poor and live in Laguna Beach. I always thought it was so cool to see the people eating there outdoors through the wind protective glass and lit torches. I also remember riding down Pacific South Coast Blvd. and seeing the "Greeter" (Eilen Larson) wave to us and all the other cars going by. He usually was around the Hotel Laguna or near Main Beach.
    My mom would take us kids to the Pottery Barn once in a while. Of course my brother and me were not that interested in pottery, but would hang around the Greeter's statue outside on the corner, while my Mom would shop and usually ending up buying anything.
    My dad would take us kids to a place, I think called "The Penguin". They served great burgers and super good malts and shakes. The kind where they gave you the steel canister with a full glass. I think they were located on the West side of PCH, a few blocks South of Thalia St. There was a place called "Tortilla Flats", a converted house on the East side of PCH and "Ford's Pizza" in South Laguna.
    I also remember all the hippie head shops. We would go in there to see all the cool beads and buy sticks of inscense. I remember seeing James Bond, "Thunderball" when it came out in 1965 at the Laguna Theater at PCH and Broadway St.
    My dad and me would go all over the back hills of Laguna and hike all over. we'd pick Prickly Pears off cactus and bring them home for Mom to make Jam. One us kids or the dog would end up getting those Choya or "jumping cactus's" stuck on us somewhere.Or worse than that, poison oak.
    I remember body surfing and skim boarding, since I wasn't very good at surfing. We would go to many of the beaches that had public stair access. At night we would have beach parties and bon fires with family friends, it was a great time. In the Summer time we would go to the Laguna Beach High school pool and pay 50 cents to swim all day.
    I remember the first year the "Sawdust Festival" went up, it was real hippie back then, almost like a "Renaissance Fair" without the medieval drag and lot's of sawdust down your deck shoes!
    For a treat our parents would drive us up to Balboa for frozen banana and then go to the Fisherman's Dory at Newport Beach for some fish fillets. This was back when all the fisherman were in rows behind tables cutting up and selling their catch. It wasn't very commercial then.

    I know there is lot more memories, but here are a few of mine.

  12. Rob,
    That bar in Atwood was Bonnie's Place. Just closed recently.

  13. I teach in Yorba Linda. Many of my students come from Atwood. These families go back a number of generations with many cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents living within close proximity of each other. The neighborhoods are comprised of mostly small homes, not apartments. This community developed originally around workers and the orange packing plants. This explains why they are so close the railroad tracts.


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