Felix Stein

Interviewed by Greg Brolin, October 13, 1970   

Comments added by interviewee upon return of transcript:

I wrote to Yoneko but never heard from her. After Richard M. Nixon became 'President of these United States of America, I received two letters from him but after that one of his men answered for him, and during the past year he cancelled for his "contact, " so that put me entirely out of touch with the President after all these years. I'd love to call on him someday but don't know the proper approach now. M.S. [12]

This is a transcription of an interview conducted for the Oral History Program, sponsored by California State University, Fullerton. The reader should be aware that an oral history document portrays information as recalled by the interviewee. Because of the spontaneous nature of this kind of document, it may contain statements and impressions which are not factual.

Scholars are welcome to utilize short excerpts from any of the transcriptions without obtaining permission as long as proper credit is given to the interviewee, the interviewer, and the University. Scholars must, however, obtain permission from California State University, Fullerton before making more extensive use of the transcription and related materials. None of these materials may be duplicated or reproduced by any party without permission from the Oral History Program, California State University Fullerton, California, 92634.

Copyright © 1974

The Oral History Program

California State University, Fullerton [Intro]

O.H. 958


Richard Nixon Project



SUBJECT: Early Days in Yorba Linda

DATE: October 13, 1970

GB: I'd like to begin first of all by thanking you, Mr. Stein, for talking with me tonight. What first brought you to Yorba Linda?

FS: I was working as a clerk for an old firm, Stern and Goodman, that was interested in developing into part of Yorba Linda. The Stern Realty Company was the associated firm. Stern and Goodman ran stores in the early part of 1888 at Fullerton, and branched out to have stores in Placentia and then in Brea and finally in Olinda, which was closest to Yorba Linda. Olinda at that time was a pretty good-sized oil town, and we ran a pretty good-sized store there and also sold real estate when Yorba Linda came to be developed by Janss Investment Company, Stern Realty Company, and Newmark and Company. That must have been approximately 1912.

At that time, I was just a clerk in Olinda, but I owned a horse and buggy. The Pacific Electric Railroad only ran as far as Olinda, or to Lofton station rather, where they stopped all the Pacific Electric cars. People from Yorba Linda had to go out from Lofton station, which was probably about three miles from Yorba Linda to the center of town, and a mile and a half to Olinda. Having a horse and buggy, I got acquainted with the salesmen of the respective companies; on Sunday, being there was nothing else that you could do, I drove the different boys around when they had customers. I got acquainted with the people and I got acquainted with the salesmen and got acquainted with the dealers. [1]

In 1914, I believe, one of the owners of the old firm that I worked for, Stern and Goodman, passed away, and they decided to sell the stores. Mr. Stern had moved to Los Angeles, so he wasn't interested in a country store any more. There were three of us that got the, opportunity to buy a store, each so much down and so much a month. I bought the Olinda store, which I was familiar with, and later on I bought the little store in Yorba Linda.

Then in 1916 I got married, and by that time Yorba Linda was developed. We were pretty successful in selling a lot of acreage, especially to the Janss Investment Company, who were very, very active. The Stern Realty Company was almost as active. A lot of people from the Whittier area moved into Yorba Linda and supported the store. And Main Street, I helped start Main Street. Later on, why, the Pacific Electric got extended to Yorba Linda clear to the center of town, or the end of town rather, right clean through. And the population grew, but it stayed small for years and years, and it never boomed until the late fifties, early sixties maybe. It was mainly a lemon district. It didn't adapt itself to oranges very well. There were some orange groves out there, but they were groves down near Richfield and not in Yorba Linda proper. The area, for some reason or another, didn't go into the orange business; it went into the lemon business. What were you going to ask?

GB: What type of a store did Stern and Goodman have?

FS: They had everything.

GB: A regular general store?

FS: A general store, yes. Everything. You could buy a cow or you could buy a plowhorse. You could buy a sewing machine or you could buy a mowing machine. We had everything in the main store at Fullerton. The branch stores, well, they depended on the main store to draw from. But we sold everything.

GB: How would this compare with the type of operation that you had after you purchased your own store?

FS: Well, we blossomed out a little bit. But when the war broke out in 1917, help was hard to get and I was threatened to go into the service. In fact, I was slated to go in November of the year, and so I had to dispose of the store. In 1917 I disposed of the Yorba Linda store, and a little bit later on I disposed of the Brea store and [2] the Placentia store and kept the Fullerton store, which I sold last year. But the business had changed from the old country-style store, during the years. You must remember that we are talking about something that started in 1914, and we are now in 1970. And I operated a store until 1970. So it changed considerably from that time on. You know, I was in the game about sixty years.

GB: You mentioned that you noticed a lot of people moving in from the Whittier area. Now why was this, do you think?

FS: Well, Whittier was lemon country mainly. The Leffingwell ranch was south of Whittier and was controlled by a pretty good-sized concern, but it was mostly lemons. So the people that came out of there were in the lemon business, and everything that you saw out there was lemon ranches. I would say 75 percent of the acreage was planted in lemons. And one [rancher] bought out the other. This neighbor had some friend that was going into the game, so they came. And I think that most of the people that came to Yorba Linda originally had some connection with the Whittier area and Whittier people. I'm very poor on names, but I know ever so many of them that came from that area. Who's the man that has the garage now, the big garage in Yorba Linda, the big Chevrolet dealer out there?

GB: Barton?

FS: [William Hurless] Barton. His family came from over there. And Barton's father, for instance, built my home in 1916 on Lakeview and Yorba Linda Boulevard. A fellow by the name of Cole, he came from the Whittier area; he has some relations that are still out there. He was a carpenter out there at that time. There are so many people still out there that originally came out from over that way.

GB:What did the town of Yorba Linda look like at that time, say 1916?

FS: The town wasn't easy to spot. You went through it and you didn't know you went through it. One side of the street was our store, and on the corner of it, next to our store, was a barbershop, and right around the corner was a hardware store. I think the man that owned the hardware store is still in Yorba Linda. I can't think of his name. Yorba Linda Boulevard was the only main street that was running north and south. [3] Then next to the store, north of it, was the drugstore, and I believe that was all. The post office was behind the drugstore on the other street. And across the street from the drugstore was a boarding house, a two-story boarding house, then there was a church. Next to the church was a bare lot which we owned and sold to the church, and then there was a blacksmith's shop. And then there was Barton's garage. That was the town, if I remember. I don't think I've forgotten anything. And down on Yorba Linda Boulevard, across the railroad was the first packinghouse. Whether that was on the Imperial Highway or Yorba Linda Boulevard, I don't know; I don't remember which one was the first. See, I moved away from there in 1920, so you've got fifty years in there, too.

GB: Prior to 1920, did the economy of that area rest solely on citrus?

FS: Purely on citrus. The oil didn't come in until a little later. The little oil that was discovered was very spotty, as you probably know, but it came in the thirties, in 1930, '31, somewhere in there. And I don't think it hit very many to a great amount. It was mostly citrus.

GB:Judging from the clientele that frequented your store, did they come from any certain ethnic background, or did you have a mixture?

FS: Oh, they were all stable people. What you call stable, middle-class people that wanted stable merchandise in the middle, like nothing too cheap and nothing too high. We dealt with good, middle-class people. We ran credit stores in Olinda and Yorba Linda, and all the years we ran credit we never lost a dime. They didn't buy more than they could pay for. It wasn't this; business that evolved later on where you got your credit business and where you paid when you could. People didn't live that way. The rancher paid once a year, when he had his crop, but you got paid in full. And the oil workers that worked in the fields, like in the Brea fields and the Olinda fields, paid you your money twice a month, up to the penny.

GB: Were the roads very accessible around Yorba Linda to the outside area?

FS: Well, there was nothing out there, but you didn't expect anything like that anyway. The automobile came in around 1916 and '17, something like that, I guess, but the automobile didn't get popular until about... I think [4] we drove a horse and buggy until about 1915. But then the roads were oil roads and there were some main roads that were oiled, but the other roads, the side roads, were just poor. You caught them when it rained and then they were full of mud, and that was all there was to it. - You weren't prepared for it. But as your gasoline money went to work, after awhile there were good roads. But it took a long time. You take Yorba Linda. Yorba Linda ; Boulevard was put in, and Richfield Road was put in, going down, but it took a long time before the other streets got shaped up and taken care of.

GB: How did you go about getting supplies for your store? Where did they come from?

FS: Well, for instance, your produce all came from Los Angeles, also groceries, and they were delivered mostly by the Santa Fe to the town of Atwood or by Pacific Electric, later on, 1914, on up to Yorba Linda. Olinda had the Santa Fe, and later on you got delivery by trucks. But that was in, oh, the 1920s, something like that, when you got truck delivery. Before that, you had to haul it yourself. You just sent your mule teams. Every store had their own. For instance, the grocery store from Anaheim—Schumacher, Quarton & Renner, the SQR, which I think still exists in Anaheim today— delivered groceries up at Yorba Linda in 1910, 1912,1914, or something in there. All that country area, believe it nor not, took a horse and buggy or a wagon and a mule team, mostly these small mules, and delivered.

GB: What was the town of you mentioned Atwood, what was Atwood?

FS: It was as big as it is today. It was the junction of the railroads. At Atwood, the Santa Fe goes from there down to San Diego, it swings over there, and it goes to San Bernardino. And they just discontinued the depot the other day. I saw it in the paper that they said they didn't need any more depot there. I think they call it Richfield now. It used to be Atwood. Or is it Atwood now and it used to be Richfield? One or the other.

GB: I believe it still is Atwood.

FS: I don't know which is which. But they took the front off the bridge and they ended up making that boulevard wider. They took off the few shacks that were sitting on the road and it is just as big today as it was fifty years ago, with the exception that it's got the Yorba [5] packinghouse in there now and it's got another packinghouse on down there, which I noticed the other day. And then it has some development down La Palma and what have you.

GB: Who were the people that mainly lived in Atwood? Did they work for the railroad?

FS: No, they were all Spanish people. All Spanish people who worked in the packinghouses and citrus groves and worked here and there and everywhere. I don't think very many of the railroad people lived in Atwood. They lived in areas like Fullerton and down by the depot and so on, in boxcars, but I don't believe they lived in Atwood. I'm not sure, but I don't believe they lived in any great majority down there. They were mostly farmers and packinghouse people that lived down there.

GB: Were there any schools in the area?

FS: Yes, there was a school on Richfield Road in a pretty good-sized brick building. The building is still there now, but it's deserted. It was given up long ago. And there was another one farther over. I don't know what they call that. But they've given that up. It was abandoned long ago.

GB: Was the one on Richfield Road an elementary or a high school?

FS: No, elementary.

GB: They were all elementary in this area?

FS: All elementary, as far as I know. Yes. I think there's another elementary school following on down. I think it's on La Palma, if I'm not mistaken, or one of these streets. It's maybe ten years old or something like that. It's a new one.

GB: Were there many, many children at that point, let's say 1916, that went on to high school? And if they did, where did they go?

FS: Well, they had to go to Fullerton. That was the only high school. And the bus from Fullerton went out there to pick them up. Whether there were many, I really couldn't answer that. I don't believe there were too many of them, but there were some, like the Yorbas and the Manasseros and the Cooks. I just forget; my old brains don't work so good anymore. [6]

GB: Were there many churches in the area?

FS: No, there weren't. I think there was one that I remember on the other side of the tracks, but I don't think there were many other churches there. The old church, the original Catholic church, was where the old school used to be, as you go up the Santa Ana Canyon. It's over there on the road, as you go from Santa Ana Canyon, and there is a settlement over there. I don't have the name. It is one of the older settlements in that area. What's that school named, the old Yorba school, opposite as you go up the canyon there? That old Spanish school where the Yorbas used to go to? You go there and can find it all the time. [Peralta School]

GB: What about the church in town? You mentioned there was one on the main street there.

FS: Do you know if there were any churches out in Atwood?

GB:I don't know if there was any out there. In Richfield, Atwood? The nearest church that I know is over at Olive. Or was it over at Placentia, or Fullerton? It was a long time ago. I don't remember. And this place [Richfield] that I had in mind, I think that had a school and an old church there.

FS: How about entertainment in the area?

GB: Well, we had a barbecue on one Sunday at the Jones' house, and the next Sunday at the other Jones" house. And you had no way to go to anything except by a horse and buggy down to the ocean once in awhile in the summer time. Remember, you had your horse and buggy; that took you at least about three or four hours to go down to Anaheim Landing, which is the closest, or to Seal Beach. So you just lived amongst the family. And you had a show once in awhile. If you were rich, you took the Santa Fe into Los Angeles and took in a show. Oh, it was a yearly affair—maybe once a year, maybe twice a year.

GB: Do you ever remember what it cost in Los Angeles?

FS: Well, you had a good meal for a dollar and a half, a very good meal, from soup to nuts; and if you were a beer drinker, you got beer for ten cents a bottle, fifteen cents a bottle; and if you were a hard liquor drinker, you had all you could hold for twenty-five cents; it all depends how big you wanted it or were willing to pay for it. [7]

GB: At any time was Yorba Linda a dry town?

FS: Very dry indeed. Right on Yorba Linda Boulevard, past the first packinghouse, was a vacant lot there for years. Somebody got a license for beer, but the church people bought out the license and they held the license for years and years, so there wasn't a drink to be gotten in Yorba Linda anywhere, though I notice lately that you can. I think you can buy it. I think they have a license out there now. I haven't been out there. But I remember that place. They started the liquor store and then the church group bought it out, and it stayed there a number of years without anybody going in there or coming out.

GB: Was that a specific church that did this, or was it just a group of people?

FS: I wouldn't know. I wouldn't know. I couldn't answer that. I know that they didn't want it, that's all. And they didn't have it, either. They didn't have beer for years and years. I think you could get beer lately in the town down here about a mile or two. I know you can buy liquor in the restaurants, but I don't know whether they have a liquor store or not.

GB: One thing I've been curious about, too, is what you used for methods of packaging and refrigeration and preservation when you were in Yorba Linda and had your store.

FS: Ice. Oh, if you had ice in the icebox, it can't rot. You had your ice. Fill your icebox up full office.

GB: That was the way you kept everything cold?

FS: That was the way you kept it, in a big box. We used to have a box, oh, about as big as this fireplace is. We'd have about two boxes like that. You would just fill them full of ice and hope it stayed that way, and it did, for years and years. Then you got the electric thing, whatever you call these modern things. But I have a loyal friend today. We see him every week, once or twice. He used to be the iceman for Brea. He used to come with his team of horses and deliver his ice.

GB: He delivered to the houses, too, at that time?

FS: Houses and stores. He'd make a regular run.

GB: Did you have fresh meat that you had to refrigerate?

FS: Oh, yes. As long as you don't ask for the way to cut it, because you took it the way you got it. (laughter) [8]

GB: Did it also come from Los Angeles?

FS: How's that?

GB: Did the meat also come from Los Angeles?

FS: Oh, yes. Swift and Company, Cudahy Company, Armour Company, what have you. But usually you had a butcher in one store, as a rule, and he cut it in quarters and what have you, then from then on you cut it off yourself. You didn't get a dollar and a quarter for a steak, you'd get maybe thirty-five cents a pound or something like that, you know. But now it's altogether different.

GB: How did the automobile change life?

FS: The automobile came in there and got popular about 1914-1915, but you could have any car or any kind of car if it was black (laughter). You bought a Ford for $550, and if I remember right, I think you had to pay cash for them in those days I don't think you bought them on time. But I wouldn't be sure of that.

But I know that we used to drive on our delivery. In Olinda we had about five little double-teams of these small mules, and we did away with them; and we had one truck, one Ford truck. I remember distinctly that it was cheaper to have one truck than to have five mules. You had to have five men to drive and feed five or ten mules, you know, team them up and what have you. So I think automobiles came in about 1914-15, something in there. But like I mentioned before, you didn't have the roads you have now. You didn't go any thirty-five or forty miles an hour. If you went fifteen miles an hour, you did pretty good.

GB: Where did one have to go to purchase a new Ford automobile?

FS: Well, there was Fullerton Ford. It was down in Fullerton, [run by] Wickersham and Company. Do you know where Montgomery Ward is down in Fullerton now? That's where the Ford agency was. The Dodge agency was in Anaheim. .; The Studebaker agency was in Anaheim. The Buick agency was in Anaheim. The Cadillac agency was in Santa Ana. That's all..

GB: Did they have cars in stock, or did you have to order them?

FS: No, they had cars in stock. Not too many. But they had them in stock. It was just like I told you, there was no variety. You could have any color you wanted, except it [9] was black. I had a prosperous spell for awhile and we had a Cadillac coupe, big, oh, big, long automobile, and it was black and it had curtains"! The colored ones came in around 1920-25, I think.

GB: You mentioned that after the war there was a great influx into this area.

FS: Oh, yes, there was a great big boom from 1921-22. Everything went up. Well, just to illustrate what happened, when we first got married we had a house that my wife and I had built, both lot and building. We had $2100 in the whole outfit, complete. We financed it all through the Anaheim Building and Loan at $18 a month. We bought it in 1916, I think, and built it before we moved in; and we sold it in 1920, in October, when we moved to Fullerton. We put a sign up that this was for sale on a Sunday morning; the wife went to church, and when she came home I had it sold for $6000. So you see how the prices went ';; during that time from 1915 to 1920. They just tripled. It was the same with your land down there. Originally the land down in Yorba Linda sold for between $600 and $800 an acre, with water. And during the twenties, it sold for around $3500 to $4500 an acre. Now it sells for l; ; between $10,000 and $15,000 and $20,000 an acre. So it has grown richer.

GB: Was it during the twenties that the general store type of operation became outmoded?

FS: Yes, I think so. The first one that I remember of the ones that I was interested in was the Alpha-Beta. For instance, they got started in the cash stores. The Alpha-Beta came in, and then the A & P. Then the Safeway came in. I don't think that in the ladies' wear or men's wear there was any change until after the twenties. Then the May Company spread out and Bullock's spread out and Robinson's spread out, and so on. They got these shopping districts started. I think they started in the early fifties. But the grocery business changed in the thirties.

GB: Was that when cash and carry became the . . .?

FS: Yes, it came. Nobody believed they'd make it, but they did.

GB: There was no more credit.

FS: Oh, yes, there was in the poppa-and-momma stores and the stores like ours, the individual stores. They stayed with it. But it disappeared slowly but surely. The single stores still stayed, I mean, family stores like [10] you have in Fullerton right now. I think you have one or two or three pretty good-sized charge and carry stores in town. It still has a place, you know. But the bulk of the business is done by the cash and carry stores.

GB: You mentioned earlier that you had sold the Yorba Linda store. Was it 1920?

FS: In 1920, yes.

GB: And then after selling your other stores, you kept the Fullerton store.

FS: I kept the Fullerton.

GB: And is that the one you kept right up until a year or so ago?

FS: I sold it this year in May.

GB: Then you undoubtedly noticed that you had to change your methods of merchandising.

FS: Well, I'll put it this way: we should have.

GB: Should have? (laughter)

FS: But we had a clientele. What would you call them? Medium, old-fashioned kind of people, people that didn't go with the fashion or couldn't afford to go with the fashion. You know. There's a lot of these people that don't change, like myself and a few others that wear the same clothes or the same type of clothes, the same type of shirts and what not. But the day of the individual store, I think, is gone. You have to have a big turnover and you have to be able to buy so you can turn your merchandise from one place to the other. If it doesn't go in Fullerton, maybe it goes in Costa Mesa, maybe it goes in Anaheim, or so on. With chains you have that outlet. You can't exist by yourself anymore. Or I'll put it this way: if you had the amount of money that you'd have to invest in order to compete with the big stores, you'd be a fool to start a business. But the big store is working on somebody else's money. Bullocks and some like it are working on someone else's money.

GB: Could they undersell?

FS: They could if they wanted to, but they can't afford it. Their expense is terrific. And besides this, they're [11] owned by moneymaking organizations. You don't know who they belong to. The name doesn't mean a thing. Like May Company, nobody knows who May Company is, or who Bullocks is, or who Robinson is. Those were all good names that were good in this territory. But Robinson doesn't mean a thing in San Francisco, for instance, does it? So that doesn't mean anything. But Robinson in this area has a good name, but the same people that own Robinson here have a store in San Francisco. So it's all the same. I mean, money, the money people, money runs the big stores nowadays. A wholesale butcher shop, a wholesale meat distributor, might belong to a drygoods store and vice versa.

GB: Backtracking quite a few years now, you mentioned that during, well, let's say prior to 1916, a lot of the area or a lot of the land was held by certain development companies. Do you have any idea how they got a hold of this land?

FS: Yes. Yorba Linda, for instance, belonged to Olinda Land Company. Olinda Land Company was owned by who? Don't look at me, I don't know. You want to give me a little time and come back to it later on? I'll get the name. It was in the private ownership of one man, one family that owned all that land. The name is Olinda Land Company, but that isn't the owner. The Union Oil Company was Billy Loftis. It was Graham and Loftis that owned all that land that you see as you leave Brea and go clean to the outskirts of Yorba Linda, all that land out there where you see they're building that new town out by Brea. Billy Loftis, he must have owned around two, three, four thousand acres. I don't know, it could have been ten thousand. I have no idea. But you have to remember that that land was only worth a dollar or two an acre. It had no water. If you had to pay the taxes, you couldn't afford to hang onto it. But they developed a little oil on it, and that's the reason they could hold it. Same way with this Olinda Land Company. They have a little oil on it south of Olinda. It's a small oil field, but they couldn't hang onto that land. It was the taxes; the taxes went up and they had to do something. The same way with the Yorba ranch. That has been cut up now into various parts; it's nothing like it was. It used to be all one family; now it's divided up. And that land over here by Leffingwell, over there by Whittier, south of Whittier, that all used to be one family in there. Mission Viejo, have you ever been down there? That belonged to two families. The first job my partner had was hauling hay from there. [12]

GB: You said that there was oil discovered on that land, but it wasn't that significant; but did it bring any degree of prosperity to the area?

FS: Oh, I think that all these people that had the oil wells, it made some of them fairly well-to-do—fairly well. But the Olinda Land Company, for instance, kept the oil that way; they kept that. And the Santa Fe Railroad that owned that Olinda, they sold that and kept all the rest of the land, but the land they kept they had production on that. The Loftis people kept the land over there by the Fullerton. They kept all that land. That belongs to the Union Oil Company. But they got production in there and that was the reason they could keep that, you know. But Yorba Linda was pretty well-to-do. I mean, it was a stable community; they weren't rich and they weren't poor. But they were medium-class people. They had enough to keep them going and had enough income to keep them decent. Of course, the oil scene has changed now and the lemon deal has moved away from here. Just like everything else, they had improved the lemon deal. They are growing different trees now; the area that the trees take up is smaller. We used to have seventy-five trees to the acre; now up at Lindsay and Porterville and that area, they're putting in between 125 and 175 trees to the area. So you see, Yorba Linda as a producer of lemons is out of the picture, just like your Orange County is out of the production of oranges. Your Irvine Company is still in existence because they replanted their area and follow the new methods and have the new type of trees. They get production from it.

GB: Is that the reason that the citrus industry died in this area, because they didn't replant?

FS: That's right. They couldn't compete. Their taxes went up, their production went down. With lemons, if you had 75 trees to an acre and your neighbor had 125 and your other neighbor had 175, who would get the most production? And you can't sell what you haven't got. If you have production you can sell.

GB: I just have one more question, and it's not meant to be a loaded question. Just what do you remember most about the early days in Yorba Linda?

FS: It was a nice, quiet town to live in, you made your sixteen or twenty dollars a week and you were happy and you were contented, and you celebrated once a week and you [13] maybe took your wife out to spend maybe a dollar and a quarter for dinner somewhere else. And you lived well. Then all of a sudden, you went from sixteen dollars a week to thirty-two. You thought you had plenty, and then that wasn't enough, and from thirty-two to sixty-four and that wasn't enough, and from sixty-four to one hundred and twenty-eight, and that wasn't enough. So there you go and that's the way you're living today.

GB: Thank you very much, Mr. Stein.

FS: If you can make anything out of that at school, you're welcome to it.

GB: Thank you. (laughter)


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