Sunday, February 19, 2012

Albert Hetebrink

The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.

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The Hetebrinks were one of the oldest and most established Fullerton families, right up there with the Chapmans and the McFaddens. The Hetebrink house is that big creepy-looking house right next to Fullerton College. From previous research, I read that an Albert Hetebrink was in the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. You can read about that HERE. He was a fairly wealthy orange rancher here. At one time, his ranch covered 40 acres in Fullerton. He was a member of the "rancher elite" who relied upon Mexican labor to pick and pack his oranges. Knowing this, I was interested to find a 52-page interview conducted with Albert in 1999, for the Fullerton College Oral History program.

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I was disappointed with the interview for a few reasons. First, Albert was 99 years old, and a bit senile, when the interview was conducted, so his memory of names, places, and events is spotty at best. Second, the interviewer neglected to ask about the really interesting issues like the Ku Klux Klan. At age 99, the two things Albert kept talking about were bridge and golf.

One problem I've noticed with the Oral History Program at Cal State and Fullerton College is that the interviewers seemed to interview primarily those with power: orange ranchers and mainly wealthy white people. As a historian, I am equally interested in reading about those without power: the working class and minorities. So far in my research, I have found a few such interviews, but not many. I hope they exist, or I am going to have to do those interviews myself.

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Having said that, there were a few interesting tidbits from the Albert Hetebrink interview. Before the Hetebrinks moved into the large house on Chapman Ave, they lived in a smaller house near the railroad tracks. He recalls, "The hoboes followed the railroad tracks in those days, and they always stopped in for a meal…[my mother] always had chickens and eggs out there, and she always could mix up a meal for them any time of the day. And she did, as a rule." Interestingly, the hoboes were one of reasons the family moved. Albert recalls, "We moved over here [on Chapman] because they put a railroad track to Placentia. And the hoboes all followed the railroad track, and they were always begging a meal. So that's why we moved over here, mainly. It was one of main reasons, and to get closer to town."

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Albert went by the nickname "Pete." When asked why, he said, "I had an uncle Albert Hetebrink. He and a Placentia friend of his were out hunting, one behind the other one. His friend was the one in back, and his gun went off and killed Albert…My uncle Dee Dee (Dietrich] couldn't call me Albert because he knew Albert, and so he called me Pete. That's how I got my nickname."

In its early years, Fullerton was a "dry town," meaning it was hard to get a drink of alcohol anywhere, mainly because those in power (like mayor Charles Chapman) were very religious protestants who were against drinking. Albert recalls, "The people that drank, they liked to go to Anaheim because they were a wet town. Fullerton was more connected to the church, so it was just more natural to be dry."

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When asked if they had help on their ranch, people who worked for them, Albert said simply, "Oh yeah, Mexican labor," but he did not elaborate much on the subject. The interviewer asked a couple times about a man named Juan Castro, a man who had worked on their ranch and lived in a house on the orange grove. Albert had little to say on this subject except, "Oh, he worked. Yeah, he worked on the ranch." I can't tell if Albert's reluctance to discuss his laborers was due to embarrassment or simply a lack of interest, or both. A bit later in the interview, Albert said, "I had Mexicans that lived on the ranch."

When asked if he ever played cards with Juan Castro, Albert replied, "No."

When asked about the decline of the agriculture industry and the rise of residential, commercial, and industrial development in Fullerton, Albert speculated that it has affected the weather: "To have more houses where it used to be vacant ground, there's more houses and more heat…we never really had any bad cold weather after that…I think it's rained less." Instead of global warming, Albert witnessed local warming.

In response to this, the interviewer observed a trend toward more localized agriculture: "I think people are starting to turn towards raising their own food a little bit more. But you're an old hand at that, and we have to learn how to do it again."

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7 comments:

  1. I am Juan Castros' Daughter. Our Family were the "Mexicans" that lived on the orchard. He was like Family to us and he treated us like Family too. I grew up playing in that white house.My Dad and I would visit Pete and I loved to look at the old decor in the house and play an old grand piano that was downstairs.He was a kind hearted and generous soul.Pete took my Sisters and I on our first airplane trip. He use to love my Mother's tamales. I don't know about any involvement with the KKK in the twenties, but I believe my Family was introduced to the Hetebrinks maybe in the forties and there was never any indication of any hatred then. His legacy to the Castro Family, is a kind, gentle man that treated this Mexican as his own.

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    1. BTW, Mexicans don't play bridge, LOL!

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    2. Dora,

      I would be interested to interview you, if you are available. Did you think it was okay that you lived on the orchard, while the ranchers lived in that big house? Did you attend school with the white kids? Was your family allowed to purchase property anywhere you wanted in Fullerton? Did you have to sit in a separate section of the Fox Theater when you went there? These are things I am very curious about.

      --Jesse

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  2. Thanks for posting this interesting excerpt! Although I am not a historian myself, but rather an engineering student, I still find it very interesting to able to read about Fullerton's history. I occasionally visit the city library to look at old pictures for fun, but I find it even more interesting to be able to read about the old days from someone that actually lived back then. Also, I am glad that you will take your time to research about Fullerton's laborers, which are also a part of the city's history. I look forward to reading more!

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  3. I would like to know more about the house. I would also love to photograph the exterior as part of a photographic history piece I am doing on the historic homes & families of Orange County. Any info on the surviving family memebers who still own the property?

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  4. Pete gave the house to the Castro family that they live in.
    The ignorance of the misinformed continues about history.
    Pete was a very generous human soul, quite and humble.

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