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Local Vintage: The Costa Mesa Historical Society

Local Vintage: The Costa Mesa Historical Society


Note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series on local, Costa Mesa history. You can read Part 2 all about The Diego Sepulveda Adobe, here.


Every Costa Mesa Superfan should take the time to learn about our city’s storied past. How else can we truly heart Costa Mesa through the ages?

Fortunately, we have the perfect, local organization for just such a historic heartfest: it’s the Costa Mesa Historical Society! They’ve been preserving, cataloging and showcasing our city’s antiquity for almost 60 years.

Have you been down to their museum at 1870 Anaheim Avenue, right next to the Costa Mesa Library? The museum is a lovingly-curated and comprehensive look back at all the ages and stages of our “Tableland on the Coast” – operated and safeguarded by the society’s passionate, all-volunteer team.


Costa Mesa Historical Society Museum

Retro Metro: The Costa Mesa Historical Society at 1870 Anaheim Avenue. | photo: @byoungforeverphotog


Modern Costa Mesans sometimes bemoan the speed and fluidity with which our area changes. But after a visit to the Historical Society Museum, a broader perspective of cultural transformation emerges. The lens of history reveals that Costa Mesa has a long legacy of reinvention; our region has ebbed and flowed, as readily as the nearby Pacific, for most of its existence.

“Certainly no grass grows under the feet of Costa Mesa, I’ll tell you that,” said Art Goddard, retired Aerospace Engineer and Historical-Society Volunteer. “This city is constantly on the move. It’s a very eclectic community and definitely, I would say. progressive in various ways.”

If anyone is intimate with our local ebbs and flows, it’s Goddard.

He’s spent the past decade sifting though Costa Mesa’s historic data and details, on a personal mission to digitize the photos, movies, newspaper clippings – and all the city’s other historic, media memorabilia – into a searchable format for future generations to use and enjoy.


Art Goddard: Costa Mesa Historical Society

Art Goddard: Bringing the Costa Mesa Historical Society into the Digital Age. | photo: @byoungforeverphotog


“My wife, Mary Ellen, and I moved here in 1977; she’s always been the one really interested in local history. But, after we retired, I saw that this place really needed some technical expertise, some computer savvy. So, I began the process of switching us from paper and things that weren’t going to work in the future, to something that would.

“The Historical Society now keeps track of everything using computer technology. Volunteers put clippings on 11×17 paper, scan them, and convert them to word-searchable PDFs. Then all those files are stored on the computer at our media-and-research work station.

“Patrons can come in and search articles, watch videos, watch any media we have. The bulk of the videos we have are 16-millimeter historic films we’ve converted to digital. But we also have a couple of multimedia shows: one is about music in Costa Mesa, another is about ‘250 years of agriculture in Costa Mesa’. Then we have recordings of every one of our monthly meetings – on all kinds of interesting topics – from the past 10 years.”


On The Ranch: Costa Mesa Historical Society

Interpretive Exhibits Tell the Tale of Costa Mesa Days Gone By. | photo: @byoungforeverphotog


Media archives aren’t the only way to engage with Costa Mesa history at the museum – you can use your eyeballs, too! The entire space is set as an homage to the significant eras of our most recent past: photos, vintage wares, uniforms, artifacts, timelines. Just pick your period:

Are you interested in learning more about the days when Tongva tribes called Fairview Park – and the surrounding Mesa – their home? Fishing in the Santa Ana river, or raising and skinning cattle for the Padres and missionaries that came through?

Speaking of missionaries, maybe you’d like to learn more about the Diego Sepulveda Adobe (still standing in Estancia Park) and how it was an important way station between Mission San Juan Capistrano and those further north?

Did you know our area then became farmland with large fields of feed barley all across the Tableland? Or that we had a railroad running right down Newport Boulevard – which ended at the Newport Beach Pier – and local farmers would use those trains to transport their grain to ranchers across the country?

If you’re a war-history buff, you can come learn all about the Santa Ana Army Air Base (SAAAB) and how nearly one-fifth of Costa Mesa’s land area was once an important training center for our nation’s effort during World War II.

Or how, after the war ended, farms were out and subdivisions were in. Anyone could come to Costa Mesa and get five acres of the American dream – and thanks to our wonderful weather, so many people did.

For a fantastic photo journey – on these topics and more – from prehistoric Costa Mesa through just before World War II, you can pick up the Historical Society’s book: Early Costa Mesa (Images of America) Get it now so you can brush up on this time period, because the next book in the series – covering World War II through Costa Mesa’s 50th Anniversary in 2003 – is already in the works and will be published soon!


Squadron Twelve: Costa Mesa Historical Society

Nearly One-Fifth of Costa Mesa’s Land was Once a Training Center for World War II. | photo: @byoungforeverphotog


Managing our city’s legacy is diligent work, which is why we are so lucky to have neighbors like Costa Mesa Historical Society Director, Tess Bernstein. Bernstein isn’t just a fount of facts and information about local history, she is a tireless crusader for historic preservation – even on her own time!

“I know we do have to grow, and we have to be in and of the modern world,” said Bernstein. “But we also have to record our history and not just let it be bulldozed over. So, my mission is, I stalk old homes and take pictures before they disappear. I try to connect our history with the buildings that still remain. I’m always looking for clues and trying to place the time period of the home with what I’ve learned here.”

As fortunate as the Costa Mesa Historical Society – and all of Costa Mesa – is to have wonderful volunteers like Art Goddard and Tess Bernstein, we don’t have nearly enough. The society is in desperate need of people with computer skills to donate their time and energy to causes like historic archiving, photo restoration and web design.

“We’re always looking for more volunteers,” said Goddard. “Not droves, not hundreds, but we need a steady stream. I have to be honest with you, a lot of our volunteer work is going to be on computers these days. And whenever we can interest younger people in the society, we’re thrilled to do that because we need to prepare for the future, you know what I mean? Make sure that the organization – and all of this history – stays in good shape for years to come.”


Tess Bernstein and Art Goddard: Costa Mesa Historical Society

Nobody *Hearts* Costa Mesa Like the Wonderful Volunteers at the Costa Mesa Historical Society. | photo: @byoungforeverphotog


Thank you to the Costa Mesa Historical Society for opening up your doors and your hearts to I Heart Costa Mesa. And if you, dear reader and resident, aren’t able to donate your time and computer skills – find the time to donate a little money. Future generations will thank you for your contribution! ♥


Are you a Costa Mesa history buff? Well, if you’re not one yet, the Historical Society pics in our Photo Gallery might do the trick. Check it out!


About The Author

The Mesa Maven

The Mesa Maven is a writer, entrepreneur, community organizer and - most importantly - Costa Mesa Superfan!!! She's simply mad for this Mesa On The Coast and all the creative, independent, amazing, everyday things happening in our sunny backyard. The Maven lives with her husband, two kids and guinea Costa Mesa, of course!

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