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¡§When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I

Brea, California the Legacy                             Vincent Chen


Esther Cramer became a historian after her home was destroyed by fire in 1959. Her accomplishments include community leader, author, supermarket executive, and local historian. In addition to her qualifications, she is also a La Habra resident, familiar with most of the residents in Brea. Her first published book, La Habra, the Pass through the Hills, won awards from the University of California Irvine in 1970.



On January 19, 1981, the Brea Community History Project was founded to preserve the history of Brea. Their historical compilations were combined to create Esther Ridgeway Cramer¡¦s book, Brea: The City of Oil, Oranges and Opportunity. Cramer sets out to illustrate the history of Brea from its first conception as a wayward Mexican territory to the present day industrialized American city with its uniquely ¡§strong community identity.¡¨1 

For the first three chapters of the book, Cramer moves from describing the fertile landscape of La Habra Valley¡Xuntouched by man¡Xto the arrival of its first settlers: Mexican-Spanish travelers. Cramer details the establishment of surrounding missions in the area. For example, the first official historical recordings of Brea were diaries kept by Franciscan missionaries. Mission San Gabriel Arcangel ¡V the mission located closest to present-day Brea - was founded on Sept. 8, 1771 for the purpose of converting the surrounding Indians to Christianity. Unfortunately by the end of the 18th century, most Indians were ¡§missionized, dead, or [had] fled to other areas.¡¨2 Cramer alludes to American explorers of the 1820s through singular individuals like Jedediah Smith and James Ohio Pattie, although America was not interested in California at the time. The second chapter discusses Mexican land grants¡Xespecially the Ontiveros Grant¡Xand documents the life of its namesake, Juan Pacifico Ontiveros. The Ontiveros Grant of 1837 granted Juan Pacifico Ontiveros present-day Brea, Anaheim, Fullerton, and Placentia. By 1840, American influence was growing rapidly due to the interest of merchant vessel fleets from New England in the hide-and-tallow trade. President James Polk tried unsuccessfully to buy California from Mexico. Little known to most Americans, Commodore John Sloat sailed into Monterey Bay and took possession of Monterey on July 7, 1846, proclaiming California a part of the United States. After the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, The Treaty of Guadalupe officially marked California¡¦s passing from Mexican to American hands.

Chapter three discusses the transformation from ranchos to real estate with end of the Bastanchury Ranch, the American breakup of ranchos, and the decline of the sheep ranching trade. In the early years, sheep were grown primarily for wool, but in densely populated areas were sold as meat. Sheep were driven from the Los Angeles Basin to regions like Fullerton. Although all the land had been in use, ¡§fewer than a dozen families were involved in sheep ranching,¡¨ which would easily account for its disappearance.3  Abel Stearns was one such individual who acquired thousands of acres from Governor Jose Figueroa in 1842. By 1860, Stearns became the most important land owner in Southern California but the Great Drought of 1868 that lasted for six years ruined him and others¡¦ properties. Desperate, Stearns mortgaged all his ranch assets in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties to obtain the necessary operating capital. With his friend, Alfred Robinson, he was able to interest several San Francisco investors to form a syndicate¡Xthe Robinson Trust¡Xto subdivide and sell 177,796 acres of Stearns¡¦ ranchos. Most historians agree that 1913 marked the end of the sheep period when most sheepmen became involved in other agricultural pursuits or subdivided their property. Important contributions made by the first settlers were towards the economy and the fact that they leased land for oil. After the end of the ranching era, Cramer documents the main discovery that drew widespread immigration: not gold, but oil. Brea was essentially born out of the success of oil companies. The Puente Oil Company, organized by William Lacy and W.R. Rowland, already had thirty wells on the Puente that produced 700 barrels of oil a day in 1895. The Standard Oil Company¡XRockefeller¡¦s infamous trust¡Xtried unsuccessfully to buy Puente Oil Company and started a price war, which ended in the signing of a contract to let Standard handle Puente¡¦s refined kerosene. Through all this, the Union Oil Company was founded in 1890. While not a major competitor at the time, its was not until that the Santa Fe Railroad arrived in Southern California six years later and competed in a rates war with Southern Pacific Railroad¡Xwho had a monopoly on the industry¡Xlowering prices from a staggering $125 per pass to $1. In addition to railroads, Union Oil also experimented in new drilling methods such as rotary drilling tools, which decreased drilling times and increased the depth that could be drilled compared to conventional cable methods. In 1910, the Navy would convert from coal to oil fuel, causing a glut in the market and dropping crude oil prices to 30% a barrel. A year later the Supreme Court broke Rockefeller¡¦s Trust in the anti-trust decision against Standard Oil. By the end of 1908, Union Oil had produced over five million barrels of crude oil alone, leading William Loftus to comment, ¡§the Olinda-Fullerton field¡Kis the best in the United States.¡¨4

Chapters eight through thirteen specifically address the beginnings of Brea¡¦s cityhood, transportation, and utilities. Cramer systematically divides this into three segments: education, health and religion, and organizations. The 1920s remark ¡§don¡¦t leave town, you won¡¦t know it when you get back!¡¨ was most fitting for this period due the constant additions of new streets and buildings.5 Education in the city of Olinda began in 1899 with the Little Red Schoolhouse while Brea¡¦s first school was not established until 1916, and only had 275 students and 11 teachers. Rapid growth in Brea during the post-World War I era brought rapid rise in school enrollment and a second school, named Laurel, opening in September 1921. The first high school was the Brea-Olinda High School in 1925. In the 1850s Arovista Elementary School was built, followed by Mariposa Elementary School in 1966. Even more schools would be built during the sixties and seventies. Brea¡¦s first doctor was Dr. V.C. Charleston. A small emergency hospital was opened in 1922 to treat oil field accidents.  Religiously, Brea was originally Catholic due to the influence of Basque and Mexican settlers. The first Christian service was held in 1769 by Father Crespi on the Portola expedition, but no Catholic church was built in Brea until 1956. Then the Church of the Nazarene was founded in 1912. By Brea¡¦s Golden Jubilee celebration¡X1967¡Xthere were nineteen places of worship in total: seventeen Protestant, one Catholic, and one Jewish. Brea was the typical oil town with roughnecks and roustabouts working 12 hour shift in a ¡§dry town,¡¨ a township deprived of alcoholic beverages. The first public improvement in town was the creation of a local fire department while a stronger local law enforcement was soon sought created to deal with rowdy oil workers. Essentially, Cramer centers all the public developments around the oil worker. To meet transportation needs, Whittier Bus Line ran an auto stage line to carry oil workers from homes to oil fields early in 1914. Union Oilers needed to get to the Sansinena, Bastanchury, and other Union leases to the west, which led to the development of Central Avenue, connecting Brea and Brea Canyon with La Habra. Cedar (present-day Imperial) and Deodara (now Lambert) streets were also created at this time. The improvements continue¡Xand even increased in number¡Xas Brea passed through the First World War due to Liberty Loan Bonds. As more and more improvements were added, utilities companies such as Edison and Pacific Telephone Company offered its services to Brea. One important figure of this era is Albert Launer. Launer graduated from the University of Southern California law school and moved into Brea in 1914. He presented a petition to officially incorporate Brea into cityhood and became Brea¡¦s first attorney.

The last quarter of the book¡Xthe largest section¡Xcatalogs the city¡¦s contributions to the world. Cramer begins with the highest, most renowned gift: oranges. Beginning in the Bastanchury Ranch Company after Domingo Bastanchury died in 1909, his eldest son was given a 418 acre citrus and walnut ranch in La Habra, which grew to 3,000 acres¡Xthe largest in the world. The Bastanchury-Union Oil Company Agreement in 1925 planted an additional 2,107 acres of citrus and avocados within the next six years. But a few years later in the spring of 1939, Orange County was plagued by aphids carrying the tristeza virus which infected thousands of citrus trees. The damages were high enough that in late October 1941 Union Citrus Orchards decided to liquidate its entire citrus holdings - $1,000,000 in assets. Cramer also thoroughly documents the 1926 electrical storm that hit Stewart Station, which resulted in 15 oil tanks exploding into ¡§1,000-foot flames,¡¨ the largest fire at the time.6 Instead of a catastrophe, the fires became a massive spectacle, where they were watched and even broadcasted on television for weeks. Ironically, these disasters would give Brea increased publicity. During the First World War, the Brea Aviation Field served as a ¡§Top Gun¡¨ flight school for fighter pilots. Unique contributions that Brea has given to the country are introduction of driver education for California high school students, rehabilitation programs for brain-injured children, and affordable housing for senior citizens. Many prominent figures have come from Brea. The ¡§first families¡¨ of Brea¡XCraig Shaffer¡Xconstantly appear in the news. Vic Auer, born in Anaheim but moved to Brea when he was two, became a famed crack shot that won a silver medal in the Munich Olympics. In athletics, Walter Johnson and Brea Randy Jones were two major league pitchers that started out in Brea. Another athlete from Brea, Paul Moore broke the world¡¦s track record for the three-quarter mile on April 17, 1940.

Cramer¡¦s thesis proposes that the evolution of Brea constitutes a linear progression from Indian Territory, to Mexican control, and finally to American settlers. This idea of progress can also be interpreted through the city¡¦s history as a site of ranching businesses, then to a center of crude oil production, and later citrus productions. However, the end of one era does not necessarily mean that it no longer influences the present. Cramer¡¦s idea seems feasible in theory but overlooks the importance of other events. Her thesis suggests that Brea was founded upon oil while the impacts of the Gold Rush were largely ignored. The author explicitly draws a connection between the Union Oil Company and the founding of Brea, but if oil were the only source of revenue, Brea would not have become the prosperous place it is today. So after the oil industry began to wind down, Cramer focuses her attention on another rising industry: the citrus business. Following this, Cramer finishes with the retail industry that has promoted the growth of Brea¡¦s economy up to the present. Cramer believes that with the decline of one industry, another will take its place. For the most part, the author¡¦s thesis is defendable. Her historiography closely parallels Ranke¡¦s version of modern historiography: ¡§very critical on sources used in history¡K opposed to analyses and rationalizations,¡¨ fundamentally writing history objectively.7 Although this would seem to be the case, there are a few people who believe otherwise.

Credible officials have deemed Esther Cramer as more of a storyteller rather than a historian. Robert Chow of the Orange County Register comments Cramer¡¦s novel contains ¡§shortcomings as a historical work¡¨ in its failure to recognize the significance of the construction of the Orange Fifty-seven Freeway of 1972.8 Another Orange County Register article, written by Cerise A. Venezuela, describes Cramer as ¡§playing amateur detective,¡¨ as though she were unprofessional.9 Since she is a resident of La Habra, Cramer may not be as qualified as other historians but nevertheless, Cramer¡¦s objective has been to lay down the story of Brea, which she has accomplished. And in doing so, has received a $10,000 honorarium for her hard work. What critics like Chow and Venezuela could be judging is her point of view. 

Esther Cramer¡¦s position in writing this work leans to the moderate side because of her intended audience: the typical American. Her point of view is neither radical nor groundbreaking; Cramer simply retells the story of Brea with solid facts and her main assumption is that big business will result in progress and prosperity. Since the benefits are from capitalism, Cramer¡¦s assumption does not venture into uncharted territory. One of the few controversial topics worth mentioning is World War I and that Brea had profited from the war. Since this idea drastically differs from the opinions of most Americans, they condemn them without realizing that ¡§history is the history of winners.¡¨10 But for the most part, Cramer abides by respectable realms for her readers.

Cramer breaks down each chapter in her work with subsections that focus on the key topics, a structure that appeals to her readers for its accuracy and brevity. Even Cramer¡¦s diction is geared towards a broader audience due to its colloquialism. But even though her focus is on reducing verbosity, a few more refinements seem to be needed. For example, the description of the areas surrounding Brea, such as Olinda and Los Angeles, detracted from the overall impact of a historical piece essentially concerning the specific development of Brea. It may also confuse the Brea¡¦s history with the history of other cities. To avoid uncertainty, Cramer should not have compared the works of other cities compared to Brea, but should have focused more on the achievements of Brea itself. It is because Cramer does not address all minor topics like ¡§the thoroughfare¡¦s impact on the city,¡¨ she has made her point.11

Brea represented a new chance for eastern businessmen to invest in a greater life. Hundreds of thousands of people moved from the East coast to the West coast for economic opportunities. With this great influx of people, come many talents and specialized skills ranging from doctors to oil diggers. Therefore, the East coast was the lifeblood of Brea. But some things separate California from the rest of the country. For example, its Mexican heritage and culture can be reflected in the present day, as well as the benefits of the oil and citrus industry that shaped its economy. Brea¡Xlike most of the West coast settlements¡Xwas founded upon oil, living up to the title, ¡§the City of Oil, Oranges and Opportunity.¡¨12

In conclusion, the author views Brea as one of the most important cities in California due to its history and economy. Its industry has shaped California, it remains a popular tourist attraction, and it is recognized as a remarkable icon of its country. Public utilities remain one of the most well financed subjects of Brea, as seen through the building of Brea Mall and the recently redeveloped Brea Downtown, making Brea an important retail center. Brea is also known for its extensive public art program. It began in 1975 and continues today with over 140 artworks in the collection located throughout the city. Used as a model and inspiration for many Public Arts programs throughout the nation, Brea¡¦s public art program is a testament to the city¡¦s ingenuity. Sunset magazine has named Brea one of the five best places to live in the United States. As George H. Amerige¡Xthe founder of Fullerton¡Xwrote in 1937, "It takes a stiff backbone, a spirit of progressiveness and determination to win out.¡¨13



1. Cramer, Esther. Brea: The City of Oil, Oranges and Opportunity. City of Brea: Premier Printing Corporation, 1992. 47.

2. Cramer, Esther 14.

3. Cramer, Esther 39.

4. Cramer, Esther 56.

5. Cramer, Esther 129.

6. Cramer, Esther 274.

7. ¡§Modern Era.¡¨ Wikipedia.org. 02 June 2008. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historiography>.

8. Chow, Robert. HISTORY. Orange County Register, 1992

9. Valenzuela, Cerise. La Habra writer casting her attention on the history of Brea. Orange County Register, 1991.

10. Partner, Nancy. ¡§Serious Entertainments: The Writing of History in Twelfth-Century England.¡¨ 1977

11. Chow, Robert 1.

12. Cramer, Esther, Title.

13. Amerige, George. Oranges and Oil ¡V A Fullerton History. 02 June 2008. <http://www.cityoffullerton.com/depts/city_manager/history_of_fullerton/default.asp. 2000-2008>.