Trains, Irvine, Doris, Don Kennedy, owls, etc.

I've been down with a bug this week, and this is the first day I've even felt good enough to get my butt in front of a computer. Luckily, people have been sending me worthwhile news items for the blog, which makes it easy on me.

Our friend, Earl Nickles, the last of the railroad barbers, writes, "The Orange County Railway Historical Society is a very informal group and is open to anyone. The meetings are held on the first Monday of each month except when it is a holiday. Then we do second Monday. We meet on the fifth floor of the vestibule tower at the Santa Ana Depot, 1000 E. Santa Ana Blvd. Socializing begins at 7pm and the program at 7:30. [At] the April 2nd program ...our presenter will be Bert Hermey. Bert and his partner, Al Bishop are co-owners of a set of private rail cars that they maintain and make available for lease. Their customers include railroads, private parties, businesses, movie productions and others. Their present cars are all former Zephyr cars. They are the Silver Lariat, Silver Rapids and the Silver Solarium. ...It is a first class operation in services, amenities and food quality. ...Come and hear what it takes to develop and maintain an operation like this."
Further down the tracks, the Irvine Historical Society will offer a one-hour walking tour of Old Town Irvine (Sand Canyon Ave. at Burt Rd.) on April 1 at 11:30am. According to the State of California, "Old Town Irvine stands today as a testament to the rich agricultural past of what has become one of California's most heavily urban counties. Founded in 1887 as the distribution and storage center of the 125,000-acre Irvine ranch, Old Town Irvine was to develop over the years a bean and grain storage warehouse (1895) and granary (1947) known as the Irvine Bean and Grain Grower's Building [shown above], a blacksmith's shop (1916), a hotel (1913), a general store (1911), and an employees' bungalow (1915). All of these structures have been rehabilitated for commercial uses and their exteriors have been painstakingly maintained." Tours are $5, and reservations are required. Call Gail at 949-854-0510.
Donald P. Kennedy, longtime head of First American Title Co. (now First American Corp.) died Saturday at age 93. He grew the business from a local operation -- started by his grandfather, C.E. Parker, as Orange County Title in 1889 -- into a global giant. The Register is running part of an old interview with Don on their website, and the L.A. Times has an obit on theirs.

Those of us in the local history field immediately think of First American's collection of over 12,000 historical photos when we hear the company's name. It was the Parker/Kennedy family's commitment to preserving our roots and being part of the Orange County community that led to the building and maintenance of this collection, and Don Kennedy has certainly been an important part of that continuing commitment. We thank him for being a "keeper of the flame."
Brent Walker, film historian and son of South Orange County historian Doris Walker is working to restore, scan and otherwise save both family and historical materials that were salvaged after the fire that tragically took the lives of both Doris and her husband Jack last year. He's sharing some gems as he comes across them. Brent writes, "Last month I started a new blog, which I'll update periodically. The first two posts (one in February, one just posted) feature photos [from] my mother's collection, which I've been able to salvage and scan. She had so many interesting adventures and endeavors in her life that I felt should be shared, so I hope to do some of that on this blog (in addition to occasional adventures of my own) as time permits."

If you have your own photos or memories of Doris, I'm sure Brent and his brother Blair would love it if you shared those also.

The photo above shows Doris (on the right) appearing as a guest on a cable access TV show out of Laguna Hills. The host, it seems, incorporated a ventriloquist's dummy into the show, which is a dauntingly weird concept in this Post-Howdy-Doody-Era. Doris is doing her best to play along and make nice, but her expression still reveals a certain amount of incredulity. Does anyone remember this series?
And finally, Adam B. writes: "I was told by a friend that a long time ago there was a bar located in Santa Ana, called the Blinking Owl. It was said to have a mechanical sign of an owl with a moving eyelid that went up and down. Have you heard of this place? Do you have any information about it? Perhaps any images?"

A 1971 L.A. Times article about a robbery shows the Blinking Owl at 312 N. Birch St. It looks like there's a parking structure there today. I know nothing more about this place, and my online searches only led me (strangely enough) to photos of macrame owls, which in turn stirred up disturbing childhood memories of seeing 1970s decor first-hand. Star Wars and The Muppet Show aside, it truly was America's most aesthetically repugnant decade.

Anyway, if someone has photos of the sign, please share. If nothing else, I know at least four of my readers who will enjoy it.