Monday, August 11, 2014

Happy Quasquicentennial, City of Orange!

(Originally posted at OC Tastemakers on April 6, 2013.)

Today, April 6, is a special day in Orange County.

The City of Orange – one of our most tasteful cities – will be celebrating its 125th anniversary.
This city of 140,000, the county’s third incorporated city, is the home of California’s largest historical district. This dedication to preserving what is best about the past – while keeping one foot on the pulse of the present – brings people back to this community over and over again.

What is it that makes the City of Orange a city of good taste?

1. A dedication to preservation. It takes the combined efforts of city government, business owners, and property owners both commercial and residential to keep this town beautiful.
2. Keeping it independent. With few exceptions, most of the business in Old Towne is non-chain and owned by dedicated individuals seeking to give customers a unique, personalized experience. From high tea at Paris in a Cup to the nostalgic cornucopia of Mr. C’s Rare Records to the endless gifts (for others and yourself) to be found at the antique malls and vintage stores, you will not regret spending your dollars here.

3. Easy walking spaces. Let me elaborate on that.
When I have a problem that defies an easy sitcom solution, when I want to open my mind to new tasteful ideas, or when my feet just need to move in a beautiful place, I will get in my car and drive to the Orange Circle and its surroundings – usually the area framed by La Veta on the south, Cambridge on the east, Batavia on the west, and Walnut on the north.
I turn off Glassell, either left or right, and tuck my car on a quiet residential street, like a little mouse finding a burrow. I open my trunk and take out my walking stick, which I don’t need for health but which my husband Chris insists on for protection. It’s not really necessary in the Circle, but I bring the stick anyway because it’s such a small thing to do to make Chris happy.
With stick in hand, I set out on my walk. I always also bring a pen and paper for ideas (I don’t have a steel-trap memory).
I am grateful that Orange holds on to its tall, sprawling trees, instead of cutting them down to make room for big boxy houses with puny patches of lawn. (I admit that I am ashamed that I can’t name the trees on sight; to me it feels as much of a handicap as dyslexia to a creative writer). I am glad that Orange holds on to its older, human-scale homes; using only what you need is going to be tomorrow’s great virtue. I am pleased that Orange keeps the residential and the commercial close together; you don’t know the joy of being able to walk to a restaurant or art gallery until you actually can.
I have been here on sunny days and cloudy days, in the morning and the evening, in each of the four seasons. Every walk has been good for me; every walk has taught me something.
Each section has its own charm. The southwest is where the apartment buildings are, where Chapman students and families just getting their toehold in Orange stay. It’s the place of fruition, of ideas newly born.
The southeast is where the classic Orange homes are, the ones painted in pastel colors, guarded with tall trees. I wonder how we lost the ability to build large two-story homes with generous porch and lawn space. Here’s where I find the porches I wish I had, places to gather friends to sip wine and tell stories (but why is it I usually find the porches empty?).
The northeast is where Chapman University sits. I can smell the education wafting in the air like the aroma of cinnamon buns. It’s the place which tells me to take action, to turn thoughts into action.
The northwest is an industrial area. The homes are smaller and flatter, as if the thunder of the railroad tracks acts as a check on growth. But it’s not a place of cowering. It takes a strong people to live here.
4. (most important to me) It’s where I met Chris. On February 25, 2007, I decided to eat breakfast in Old Towne Orange instead of at home. I am not sure why – perhaps it was the sunshine beckoning me, perhaps it felt like a special day because it was Oscar Sunday. I set out, stopping to buy a Sunday paper at 7-11, and found myself in Orange minutes later.
My first choice of restaurant was Café Lucca, and I was hoping for a croissant there. They didn’t have any, a fact for which I will be forever grateful, for it sent me down the street. (Don’t let this stop you from going to Café Lucca, which among other things has fine gelato.)
I did not expect to eat at Felix Continental Café, but a handsome man in a silver fake-fur coat and a cigar case next to his coffee made me stop. I sat near him and gently tried to get his attention. When he finally smiled at me, it was like the sun rising all over again. More than six years later, the happiness that each day together brings still amazes us.
I’m glad that we both had good taste that day!
This is the bench where Chris proposed to me.

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