Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Herman Hiltscher Remembers Fullerton

The following is from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In: A History of Fullerton.

For the past several years, I've been researching and writing a history of my hometown of Fullerton, California.  My research has taken me primarily to local museums and libraries.  The past week, I've been hanging out in the Center for Oral and Public History in the Cal State Fullerton Library.  The COPH got started back in the 1960s, and for the past 50 years, students and faculty from the history department there have been conducting oral history interviews with local residents.  There are literally thousands of interviews in the archives.  Some of them consist of a single interview, and others are bound collections of multiple interviews.  These have proven invaluable to my research, and I've written several little reports on the ones I've read so far.  To check out more of my local oral history reports, click HERE.

Last week, I read a thick bound collection containing seven interviews with a man named Herman A. Hiltscher, who served as a Fullerton city engineer and administrator from the 1920s until his retirement in 1966.  The interviews were conducted between 1968 and 1969, just five years before Hiltscher's death in 1973.  Before reading these interviews, my only knowledge of Herman Hiltscher was that he was one of those infamous Orange Countians who was part of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.  OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano did a fascinating series entitled "Profiles of OC Pioneers who were in the KKK," and Hiltscher's name is on that list.  But Herman was more than just a Klansman.  The interviews paint a picture of a man who was deeply invested in his community, and his memories provide a fascinating window into Fullerton's past.  And so, without further ado, here's a brief report on the historical recollections of Herman A. Hiltscher.  All photos are courtesy of the Launer Local History Room of the Fullerton Public Library.  Special thanks to librarian Cheri Pape for all her help.

Herman A. Hiltscher

Parents and Ancestry

Herman's grandparents were August and Fredricka Hiltscher, who had five sons (Fred, August, Joseph, Max, and John).   They left Sternberg, Austria bound for Southern California in 1886.  August Hiltscher was a weaver of fine table linens. The family voyaged from Hamburg, Germany to Castle Garden, New York aboard the steamer “Retzia.”  After crossing the continental United States, the Hiltschers ended their westward journey in Anaheim, California where they were met by friends and acquaintances.  He purchased twenty acres of land at the northeast corner of Orangethorpe and Nicholas (Euclid) Avenues in what would become Fullerton.  The Hiltscher Ranch was first planted with ten acres of peaches and apricots and then acres of general farming—corn and livestock.  Around the turn of the century, the acreage was converted to walnut trees; and by 1921, it was all valencia oranges.

Herman's parents, August and Elizabeth, were married in 1899.  They had four children—Gertrude, Herman, Elizabeth, and Isabel.  At the time of their marriage, August Hiltscher and his brother Joseph owned and operated the Center Market and Sausage Factory located on Commonwealth Avenue, west of Spadra Road (now Harbor Blvd).  The butcher shop was in operation from 1898 to 1918, when the Fullerton Hotel was built in its place.  

Describing his father’s job, Herman recalls: “He used to have his own slaughter house—they didn’t have wholesale meat suppliers.  He’d have to see the farmers and get the beef and hogs and the sheep and so forth, and do his own killing…They called it a slaughterhouse…It was a place there the they gathered the cattle and sheep and so forth, and then they’d kill ‘em and butcher ‘em.  And then he did all of that: made all his own sausage and everything.”

Hiltscher Brothers Meats

His uncle John drilled water wells and built the first automobile in Orange County in his machine shop—that had steel wheels.  Herman recalls, "He used to drive it on Orangethorpe Avenue and he caused many run-aways of horses.  They wanted to throw him in jail at one time.” 

The Early Life of Herman Hiltscher

August and Elizabeth Hiltscher’s only son, Herman August, was born 15 October 1901 in the family home on the northeast corner of Highland and Commonwealth Avenues,  where Fullerton City Hall is today.  As a kid, he delivered meat for his dad.  His father, August, was on Fullerton City Council from 1908-1918.

Herman recalls the 1908 fire “which practically burned the whole 100 block on north Spadra from Commonwealth to Amerige…at that time we had a volunteer fire department.”

When he was a child, Fullerton was mostly agricultural, and he remembers swimming in irrigation ditches: “They had a zanjero [sort of like a water police]…and we were more scared of him than anybody else because he didn’t want us to go swimming in the ditch.  And of course, we dug a hole and so it was a little deeper, and we were interfering with his irrigation system.  So we’d always be looking for him.  When somebody would say, here comes the zanjero, well, we’d scatter out in the orange groves like a bunch of quail.”

Children swimming in Fullerton Irrigation Ditch.

Hiltscher recalls how, at one point, the Bastanchury family had the largest orange grove in the world--4500 acres!

For recreation, Herman recalls fishing for trout in Trabuco and Silverado canyons, and hunting rabbits.  For entertainment, there were church socials, Sunday drives, his grandmother’s victrola, singing together, and going to Otto Evans' candy store.

Otto Evans' Candy Store.

“One of the big events of the week," Herman recalls, "was to come into town in an automobile and park on the street next to the curb, and then do your shopping.  Everybody from all around came into town on Saturday and all the business was thriving—that was before we had these shopping centers, you know—that was the only business in town.”

Young Herman completed his primary and secondary education in the Fullerton public school system.  He graduated in the class of 1919 from Fullerton Union High School.  In high school, Herman got a job at Boege’s Bicycle and Sporting Goods Shop. 

Here's a brief section of one of the interviews with Herman, in which he describes Fullerton as a kind of "Wild West" town:

H: They had to have law and order, you know.  They used to come in—the cowboys and all—shoot up the town and get—

S: Cowboys!  We had cowboys in Fullerton?  Really!

H: Sure.  And they would—

S: Do you remember cowboys shooting up the town?

H: I remember cowboys, but I know they used to carry guns when they’d come in.

S: They did!

H: Sure.

S: Now, who are ‘they’?  Where were these—?

H: Well, they had the ranches.  They’d come from Placentia area and Buena Park and Yorba Linda and La Habra and different places.

S: But why did they carry a gun?

H: I don’t know.  Shoot rattlesnakes, maybe.

S: Oh!  No, Fullerton really wasn’t that lawless was it?

H: No, it wasn’t that, but then most cowboys, you know—They didn’t all carry guns, but then sometimes—I have seen them.

Saloons in early Fullerton were acontroversial thing, just as they are today.  Hiltscher recalls how saloons were a target of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and how drunk driving was even a problem:  “Lots of these old ducks would go or there and they’d get drunk.  Then they’d get in their horse and buggy, and they’d start off and have a runaway.  I remember one time, I don’t know who he was, but he came around the corner of our home at Commonwealth and Highland in his little ole buggy and the thing tipped over.  He was drunker than a hoot-owl, and it didn’t hurt him a bit.”

Outside Brandle's Saloon/Pool Hall.

“Fullerton’s always been straight-laced," Herman remembers, "There wasn’t too much drinking in Fullerton except just, you know, a few.”  His Aunt Clara Meiser, the first girl born in Fullerton, was active in the WCTU.  To drink, most people went to Anaheim, where they had breweries, wineries, etc.  All the old Dutchmen used to go in Brandle’s Saloon across the street from his father’s butcher shop.

Inside Brandle's Saloon/Pool Hall.

Regarding infrastructure in early Fullerton, Hiltscher remembers that there used to be a "sewer farm" where the Fullerton airport is today.  “There was quite a bit of odor there," he remembers. Early garbage disposal involved collecting "the garbage from the city and some of the other cities around here, and they fed it to the [Bastanchury’s] hogs.” As for water: "in the early days we didn’t have a water system in Fullerton: most of the people had their own wells."

Early Irrigation Ditch in Fullerton.


Fullerton in the 1920s

After two years of college, one at U.S.C. and one at U.C. Berkeley, Herman completed his formal training.  Over the years, he took special extension courses in engineering and administration.  In the summer of 1922, Mr. Hiltscher joined the labor force of the Gallagher Tank Company in the oil fields at Santa Fe Springs, California.  Before the end of the year, he had started his forty-five years of service with the city of Fullerton, doing mainly surveying.

In 1924, he married Dorothy King, who was origianlly from Kentucky.  In 1920, following the death of both parents, Dorothy moved to Fullerton to live with her aunt Frances Shepherd. Dorothy graduated FUHS in 1922, then attended Fullerton Junior College.  After FJC, she was secretary of Southern Counties Gas Company until her marriage to Herman.

Herman and Dorothy had two children: Donald (born 1927) who married Betty Grant of Orange (they have 4 kids), and Ann (born 1929) who married Bruce Royer of Fullerton (they have three kids).

Hiltscher explains how Fullerton has encountered a few "booms" throughout its history.  The first was the real estate boom of the 1880s, which resulted in the formation of the town in 1887.  Then there was the economic boom of the 1920s, which was an expansion  of the citrus industry, the oil industry, and building.  Regarding the oil boom: “Some of these people that had these orange groves, you know, just had a medium living.  Well, overnight, they were more or less millionaires.”  Over time, Standard and Union oil bought out most of the local mineral rights.

Eadington Fruit Co. Packing House, Fullerton.

The packing houses for the booming citrus industry were mostly along Walnut, east and west of Spadra (Harbor).  “And you know, funny thing," Herman said, "I believe every packing house in Fullerton has burned down..some of the biggest fires that we had in Fullerton were those packing houses.”

Orange Packing House Interior.

Because he was both a city engineer and then city administrator, Hiltscher had a lot to say about water use in Fulllerton.  He explains how Fullerton was one of the original 13 cities that joined the Metropolitan Water District in 1928, the entity that secured water from  Colorado River for the growth and expansion of Southern California.

When asked why Fullerton joined the MWD, Hiltscher explained “It was just looking ahead.  Our only source of water was well water, and you could see that the level was dropping each year as more development came in.  The ranchers were using part of the Santa Ana river for water all all these cities springing up and growing and all.  And we knew about Mulholland going up into the Owens Valley to bring water into Los Angeles, and he was one of the leaders on this, too.  So they had this bond issue and then they—I guess they were the original thirteen cities and they all approved it: Santa Ana, Anaheim, Fullerton, Los Angeles, Pasadena, etc."

Fullerton During the Great Depression

In 1930, Mr. Hiltscher obtained his Registered Engineer’s license from the State of California and moved into the office of the City Engineer.  He became Fullerton’s City Engineer and Street Superintendent in 1932, and remained in this capacity until 1952 when the newly created office of City Administrator was formed at which time he was appointed to fulfill his duties.

Herman recalls the devastating 1933 earthquake which "was one of the worst that we ever had and I’ve witnessed many of them.  But Long Beach was hit the hardest.  So the people just flocked here by the hundreds or thousands and they pitched their tents in Hillcrest Park…We still have the effects of that; they condemned most of the schools.”

Auto/Tent Camp in Hillcrest Park, 1930s.

One of the most significant local engineering problems during Hiltscher's tenure with the city was flood control.  He remembers how ”During heavy rains, why, they’d wash through the City uncontrolled, and for years we had heavy damage the would bring the silt from the hills and deposit it in the lowland.  We used to spend most of our winter months fighting the flooding conditions in Fullerton—it was terrible."

He remembers the devastating 1938 flood, the worst in local history: "I think seventy-five people were drowned…It was right after that we started lining these channels and protecting for floods.”

The 1938 Flood.

Ironically, it was during the Great Depression that most of Fullerton's massive flood control projects were built, as part of FDR's New Deal:  “It was during and right after the Depression—from ’33 to ’42—who we had relief labor, we started to try and control the channels by lining them.  Break Creek Channel was lined and east Fullerton Creek Channel was lined with concrete.  And then two dams (Fullerton and Brea) were built...That was the salvation to the city on flooding."

Building the Fullerton Dam (1940).

As City Engineer, Herman supervised many of the WPA projects.  He recalls supervising 800 local workers to do public works—cleaning out storm channels, renovating Hillcrest Park, planting trees along Harbor, building the baseball field and grandstand at Amerige Park. Local buildings built with WPA money include City Hall (now police station), Fullerton College, the Library (now Fullerton Museum Center), and others.

Local WPA Workers Building the Fullerton Library (Now the Museum Center)

A funny thing, Herman recalls, was that every one of the Councilmen during the Great Depression was a Republican, which did not incline them to take federal assistance money, like the WPA provided.  But, whatever their political philosophy, the fact remains that Fullerton benefitted tremendously from the Democrat FDR's social programs.  Herman’s theory on WPA money was this: “My theory was that if they were going to hand it out to every city in the United States, we might as well get our share of it: that was really what we used to say.  We had people right here in Fullerton that needed work and if we didn’t provide projects for them here, they’d have to go someplace else.”

Herman recalls the financial hard times of the Depression:  “We even had to give twenty-five percent of our salaries to just help these people without jobs.  And people that we knew! because there weren’t any jobs; there wasn’t anything.  Then the banks closed and I think my folks owned around $8000 on this home and ranch and everything, and they couldn’t borrow anything so they just lost the whole works.  I mean, it was just that critical.  Many others were the same way.”  After his parents lost their hotel and orange grove during the Great Depression, his father went to work for Alpha Beta as a butcher.

One of the more unfortunate events of the Great Depression in Fullerton was the fact that nearly all of the Mexican labor force on the Bastanchury Ranch was deported, as part of a "repatriation" effort, because white people wanted their jobs.  Gustavo Arellano has written an excellent article on this called "The Lost Mexicans of the Bastanchury Ranch” which I helped him research.  Here are Hiltscher's recollections of this sad event:

S: Do you remember the Ranch School up on the Bastanchury Ranch in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s?  Where they had a school for Mexican workers?

H: Oh! Yes.  It was over here on Euclid, a little this side of where the Rider’s Arena is.  There was a big Mexican camp there and they worked on the Ranch.  And this was what threw us off.  In 1930, we had 10,882 people and in 1940 we had 10,300 and something; and we finally found out that the reason for the population loss was because we lost the workers up there.

S: Were they citizens?  Were these Mexican laborers American citizens?

H: I don’t know where they were or not.  I don’t think they had wet-backs then.

S: I wasn’t thinking of illegal entry, particularly, but—

H: Yes, I think they were.  We counted them as part of our population.

S: You did.  That’s interesting.  Was there more than one camp?

H: They had a camp down here on Balcom and then they had another—well, the camp's still there off of Raymond Avenue where the citrus workers lived.  I don’t know whether they still bring them in.  You see, the citrus is more or less going out of this whole area.

S: There wasn’t enough labor for citrus available in Fullerton and Orange County?  Is this why they st up Mexican labor?

H: Well, no.  You couldn’t get the local people to pick oranges…You see, there was a lot of citrus around here.

In the 1930s, the Bastanchury Ranch school was moved to the Ford School, and became a soup kitchen, organized by the school district.  Mrs. Hiltscher worked there.

Citrus Worker, 1930s.

Fullerton and the Post-War "Boom"

After World War II, Fullerton (and pretty much all of Southern California) experienced a massive housing and population "boom."  This was the "baby boom" and a period of great financial prosperity in the United States.  This boom involved lots of housing and industrial development of this area.  As agriculture was declining, Fullerton needed a new tax base, Hiltscher explained: "That’s one reason why we can keep our tax rate down is the revenue you get from all these industries."

When asked, “What was the basis for the selection of industry?  What specifically was the city after?" Herman replied, "We were after good clean industry that didn’t pollute the air or the streams or cause us any trouble with our sewer systems or anything like that."

Aerial View of Kohlenberger Factory, one of the first in Fullerton.

The main dude who was responsible for wooing industry to Fullerton in the 1950s was a guy named Bob Clark.  “We’d send Bob [Clark] back East to contact industrialists that were talking about coming to California," Hiltscher recalls, "Plus he’d go to LA to meet industrialists and railroad people.  Bob got property owners to sell our to various industries.

Ironically, the main opponent of these industries was the Fullerton Chamber of Commerce. "They thought maybe it might hurt the City," Hiltscher remembers, "in getting obnoxious industries in the city."  Some of the post-war industries in Fullerton included: Kimberly Clark (paper and other products), Beckman Coulter (medical instruments), Hughes Aircraft, Rheem (water heaters), and Hunt foods.

Aerial View of Hughes Aircraft Plant in Fullerton.

On the industrial development of Fullerton after World War II, Herman said: “Fullerton from its incorporation was known as a city of fine homes and schools and churches. We didn’t stress industry or commercial too much...And this went on for years until 1952 when Anaheim started to build factories right at our southern border.  We could see that they were getting industry right next to us.  So we decided that if we could get some good clean industries that wouldn’t affect the purpose or the environment of the city, why, it would be good for the city.  We’d figured out that one acre of industry, as far as revenue for the city and schools and all, was about four times more productive than residential development."

Around this time, a conflict emerged between Fullerton and Anaheim regarding the boundary between the two cities.  After a lengthy legal battle, the final decision was handled at a somewhat secret meeting between four dudes: the mayor and city manager of Fullerton (Tom Eadington and Herman Hiltscher) and the mayor and city manager of Anaheim (Charlie Pearson and Keith Murdock). The meeting took place at Orangethorpe school, and the line was decided at its current position near the 91 Freeway.

Hunt Foods.

During that early post-war boom, Fullerton almost got Walt Disney to build Disneyland here, but then the 5 freeway was built, which made Anaheim the more desirable location.  Fullerton also almost got UCLA and Westmont Colleges.  Ultimately, however, we ended up with California State University, Fullerton.

These interviews were conducted in 1968-69, when there were actually anti-war demonstrations going on at Cal State Fullerton and Fullerton College.  Here's what Hiltscher had to say about that: “If they don’t get too many demonstrations over there and start burning everything down, why, it’ll be an asset.”

Student Protester at CSUF Being Arrested.

Looking to the future, Hiltscher saw traffic as an emerging problem, as the area became more developed and populated.  “I see a traffic problem on every street in Southern California in ten years," he said, "I predict that in five years from now, the people won’t be able to go frontwards, backwards, or sideways on freeways and side streets.”  It's ironic that the things that made Fullerton prosper (good roads) was now causing severe traffic problems.“

Looking North on Harbor Blvd, Downtown Fullerton, early 1960s.

Herman Hiltscher's Thoughts on What Makes a Good City

The last part of the interview consisted questions about Herman Hiltscher's philosophies on Fullerton and what makes a good city.  Since he worked for the city for most of his life, his insights are instructive.

On early Fullerton..

“Every city has certain characteristics and I think the first City Councilers, the old timers that founded the City, more or less established the personality of the City.  For instance, Mr. Chapman, who was the first mayor, was a very religious man.  It was a city of mostly agriculture—we then had the revenue from the oil in the hills—and churches.  And Anaheim was just the opposite of Fullerton…the ones that wanted their beer—they had to go to Anaheim every weekend and haul it over here.”

Comparing early Fullerton to more recent times..

 “They (early city leaders) didn’t have too much time to plan ahead then like they do now...They were trying to take care of the bare necessities: to get water, and get a sewer system, and get streets...Now cities are all built up and you have all this planning and everything.  Now, they’ll spend more time in planning and maybe some of the cultural things.  They never thought anything like that then: they were just trying to get everybody out of the mud and get some water.  Just the main basic things to exist.”

On the legacy of the WPA on Fullerton...

“That’s probably when we started thinking ahead.  We thought ahead on our public buildings: we built that City Hall which will last for hundreds of years—the original one.  And we were thinking of the many floods we’d had and all this, so we were planning ahead on the physical part.  And we knew that you couldn’t build things helter-skelter—it had to be in some kind of order—and I think that’s when the planning first started, way back there.”

What is your concept of a city?...

“I think that a city should be designed and planned in such a way that you serve all the people adequately and at a minimum of cost…one of the main objectives is to see that you have a good clean city without corruption that you find in some of the Eastern cities.  You don’t find so much corruption in the cities in California…I don’t believe that we’ve ver had any recalls or anything in the City Council or any officials…

On the ideal size of Fullerton...

“I think to have a well balanced city, to have a good place to live and raise your family, and to enjoy and taken advantage of some of the cultural things that we have here, we shouldn’t have over, oh, 85,000.  It’ll probably be more than that.  It’ll probably get up to a hundred.  When you get over 100,000, why, the businessmen will probably encourage this all the time because when you get more people they have more business and all this.  But I think Fullerton is an ideal size city right now (78,000 people).  Of course, we still have some land to be developed and we’ll have more people, but I don’t think it’s going to be a better place to live.”

On downtown Fullerton...

 “I don’t think that’s too good a place for people to live in the heart of a city.  I think that if you confine that to, well, financial institutions, savings and loan, banks, and commercial-insurance firms and more or less commercial high rise buildings, you might be able to salvage it.”

On the problems of the future...

“I don’t think the problems of the future are going to be physical.  The problems will be more culturally inclined, I think: that is, getting along with people and trying to develop our relationship between the government units and the people so you can get things done…it’s going to be human relations—trying to get along with people will be the big problem…I mean, now its hard to get them to understand what government wants and what the people want.”

Herman A. Hiltscher, Fullerton City Engineer.



1 comment:

  1. Outstanding interview and historical perspective. Thank you Jesse.

    ReplyDelete