JL: Jill Leach, editor of the Tustin News, called me in late spring, 1997, and asked me to write a column on growing up and living in Tustin all my life. I declined because I knew several other people had been unsuccessful in writing about Tustin. She insisted and I finally agreed, thinking that she’d probably “fire” me after several issues. My first column was a long one, describing growing up in Tustin. It was a success and I’m still writing about Tustin 14 years later. Because I have run out of childhood memories, I’ve branched out into Tustin history.
AK: Can you explain the significance of the two images on the cover of Tustin As It Once Was?
JL: Tustin’s first fire truck, which is a conversion of Sam Tustin’s (Columbus Tustin’s son) 1912 Buick touring car, has become a symbol of Old Town Tustin. The vehicle used to be included in all the Tiller Day parades and once appeared in the annual Hollywood Parade with Max Sennett at the wheel. Complete with leather buckets and fire helmets, the vehicle has been retired to the Tustin Area Museum where it fascinates the children, especially when they are allowed to turn on the siren. An image of it appears as a logo in many places including letterheads, polo shirts, caps, and such, as well as on signs identifying Old Town Tustin.
The Victorian ranch house was built by my grandparents in the 1890s to replace the small house they had lived in while developing the property they purchased earlier. As you can see, the barn, cow shed and other out buildings were completed long before the house. My grandfather, like other ranchers, first planted grapes. When they were unsuccessful, he planted apricots, then oranges. In this picture the young orange trees are surrounded by what was called a cover crop, probably vetch. Planted between the trees, it helped to maintain moisture and discourage weeds in addition to feeding the soil.
JL: Old Town Tustin has changed little from its early years. Since it was originally surrounded by orange ranches, the first developments circled the edge of town. Recently annexation has extended development east to meet Irvine Ranch property. Annexation of land was used for the lighter-than-air base during the war has caused development to move even further east. This development is divided into two sections, Legacy (homes) and The District (commercial). Because of the recent economic slowdown, the Legacy is growing very slowly, but The District is thriving. As it has moved east, Tustin has added several business and manufacturing areas. Tustin has probably annexed more acres and increased more in size and population from its original boundaries than any other Orange County city.
AK: Who are a few of the significant figures in Tustin’s history?
JL: Columbus Tustin, of course, a carriage maker from Petaluma, CA, who started it all, but there have been many others.
Dr. William B. Wall, an early orange grower with a grove of 40 acres, contributed greatly to the development of the citrus industry in Tustin. He opened his own packing house and experimented with methods to kill scale and other insects that threatened the orchards in addition to helping to develop the Santa Ana Valley Irrigation Association and other organizations connected to the citrus industry. In addition, he continued his medical practice, helping to organize the Orange County Medical Association, serving as president for its first year, and dabbled in politics, becoming Orange County’s first treasurer when it was formed in 1889.
C. E. Utt, who came to Tustin with his parents at the age of 8, became a businessman as well as an agriculturist and land developer. His accomplishments included being a partner in organizing the San Joaquin ranch, buying and running the Tustin Water Works, opening Utt Juice Co. to use his surplus grapes and growing almost every kind of fruit and vegetable that could be grown in this area, all in addition to serving on numerous boards including the one responsible for building Tustin Union High School.
AK: How did the citrus industry impact Tustin’s development?
JL: It is interesting to speculate the direction Tustin would have taken if the majority of the settlers had not turned to agriculture. Because they purchased and developed large pieces of acreage on the outskirts of Tustin, first planting grapes, then apricots, walnuts and citrus, the town itself remained small with few residents, less than 300 when Tustin incorporated in 1927. The majority of downtown businesses served the farmers–a bank, hardware, feed store, blacksmith, general store, lumber yard, barber shop. The ranches were in unincorporated areas until after World War II when the city demanded annexation to the city of Tustin before a rancher could sell his property to a developer. Unfortunately the growth had little effect on Old Town. The outlying area, however, has become prestigious for housing and shopping.
AK: As a third-generation Tustin resident, how would you describe some of the major changes in the character of the city from one generation to the next?
JL: Tustin has become a bedroom community. People live here, but work elsewhere. In addition, the population has aged along with the city. There are a lot of retirees, especially in Old Town. Working wives also have made a difference. There is less involvement in local organizations and the schools. Tustin Marketplace and The District both have many stores, restaurants, movies house and discount stores such as Costco so people shop there, bypassing Old Town. Old Town has only antique and gift shops. There are a few grocery stores, drug stores, a small hardware and fast food places in the commercial developments on the edge of Old Town. Few are in easy walking distance of the majority of homes.
JL: I miss the friendliness. Everybody knew everybody. In the bank, grocery store, library, cleaners, etc., you were always greeted by name. We knew our neighbors. In many cases our parents had gone to school with the parents of our playmates. As children we were less protected than our grandchildren are. We had more freedom to go out to play, stop to watch the horseshoe players or take a break at the drug store fountain on the way home from school. Even driving down the streets, which had few cars, my parents would toot the horn and wave as we passed people we knew.
AK: What do you remember about the first Tustin Tiller Days that you attended?
JL: Our older daughter was two years old at the time. It was exciting to observe her reaction to her first parade. Although it was insignificant by most standards, it was “our” parade and we enjoyed it. She was ready for a nap by the time it ended so we didn’t participate in any other activities.
AK: How did you decide which articles to include in this collection?
JL: It was tough. I have over 500 “Remember When” columns on file, but I decided to select from those beginning with the founding of Tustin and stopping at the 100 year anniversary. Unfortunately many people and events were left out for lack of space. I have enough material to put together a book twice the size of this one.
JL: We live about a mile from where I grew up. The family still has a portion of the family ranch including the house, windmill tower, barn, shop and a number of orange trees which my husband cares for. Our younger daughter, her husband and two young sons live in the house my grandparents built, the house where both my mother and I grew up. The homes of our older daughter, her husband, two sons and daughter, and our son, his wife and daughter also are within walking distance of our home.
My husband and I love being close to our family. We also enjoy the beauty of the area, the many trees, the view of the mountains, the nearness to the beach, and the great weather plus the many opportunities to attend the theater, shop, participate in organizations and activities.