The Anaheim

Historical Society

Home Tour

From the Civil War To the Space






1857 Territorial Cottage

Mother Colony House

414 North West Street

In 1857, a group of fifty Germans living in San Francisco formed the Los Angeles Vineyard Society, and set out to buy land in Southern California where they could grow grapes and make wine.  They hired an Austrian

immigrant, George Hansen, a noted Los Angeles surveyor, as their Superintendent to acquire and prepare the land they needed.  Acting as their agent, Hansen bought 1200 acres of land near the Santa Ana River for

$2,300 from the land grant owner, Juan Pacifico Ontiveros, who, while he was willing to take the money, reportedly believed that the land couldn’t support a goat.  That land, bordered by what is now North, South, East, and West Streets, would be named “Anaheim” by the German settlers, and Hansen would become known as the Father of Anaheim.

To provide himself a living quarters and an office while he prepared the land, Hansen built what we now know as the Mother Colony House, the first wooden building constructed in Anaheim (previous structures had been of adobe).  Classified as a Territorial Cottage style house, it is built of redwood brought in on steamship.  The side gabled roof is capped by wooden cresting, a decorative touch surprising when one imagines the primitive conditions in which it was built.

After George Hansen, several families inhabited the house, each putting their own touches on the home.  Originally consisting of three small rooms, the home was enlarged with the addition at the rear in the 1870’s, likely for Senora Vicenta Sepulveda de Carrillo, widow of two prominent Californios, Tomas Yorba and Ramon Carrillo.  Senora Carrillo purchased the house in 1872.

In 1929, the Mother Colony House was saved from demolition and deeded to the Mother Colony Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  They moved it from its original location at the corner of Los Angeles St. (now Anaheim Blvd.) and Cypress St. to its present site.  Marie Horstmann Dwyer donated the land and, the Daughters of the American Revolution used the house for 20 years as their meeting place.

The Mother Colony House is the oldest museum in Orange County and it was designated State Historical Landmark No. 201 in 1950.
In 1954, the House became the property of the City of Anaheim, and it has been under the supervision of the Anaheim Public Library since 1962.  The museum’s interior is filled with objects that reflect Anaheim’s domestic history, donated by many of Anaheim’s pioneer families.  The museum is open regularly for elementary school field trips, but is not often open to the general public.

Curator Jane Newell and her staff take excellent care of the property, and recently supervised a community work day to renew surfaces in the house.  Plans are underway to include this simple cottage in the upcoming Sesquicentennial celebrations, as both Anaheim and the Mother Colony House celebrate 150 years of history in 2007.

IMG_00012-363x231During the Gold Rush, people flocked to California from the eastern states and Europe.  LaFayette and Ellen Lewis left their home in New York for the riches of California.  They could have been seeking gold or, perhaps more likely, the gold that came from serving the gold seekers.  As a stable owner, Mr. Lewis may have seen the benefit of providing horses to those heading out to the mines and rivers.

In the 1870’s, the Lewis family, now expanded with the addition of son Arthur in 1863, left Alpine County, California, for Anaheim where they opened the Fashion Stables.  In 1872, they built this Folk Victorian cottage just outside what was then the business center of town.  Building materials, including the drop-channel siding, were shipped from San Francisco by steamer.

In 1901, LaFayette sold the house The Lewis family grew with the birth of daughter Cora in 1874 and Estelle in 1876.  All five of the Lewis family members lived in a house to Malcolm and Elizabeth McAuley, settling permanently in Los Angeles, where he had already opened another stable.  LaFayette’s son Arthur, however, remained in Anaheim, and he and his son Fayette were community leaders.

The McAuleys doubled the size of the home in 1905, adding rooms to the southern end of the house, with porches on both sides.  The McAuleys remained in the home for the rest of their lives, and then their daughter, Janet McAuley Spencer, inherited the home.  Their sons, Angus and Robert, put down firm roots in Orange County; Angus operated the McAuley and Suters Mortuary and Robert became a Presbyterian minister in Orange.  Janet and her husband built the bungalow next door, and various family members appear in City Directories, inhabiting both of the homes. The house family passed to Mike Valenti, who added the fireplace on the eastern wall, as well as making changes to doors and windows, adding stained glass touches.  Mr. Valenti sold the house to the Weedman family, and the current owners and painstakingly resisting the urge to modernize, instead honoring the rustic nature of the home with simplified landscaping reflecting the time of construction.  A major project was recently finished when the western enclosed porch was reopened and rebuilt, and more work is planned as the owners determine how to balance the original 1872 house with the 1905 changes.

IMG_0003-363x231Ferdinand Backs arrived in Anaheim in 1867 and, with his brother Joseph, opened Anaheim’s first furniture store.  Later, their furniture making expertise made them in demand for constructing the community’s caskets as well.  They learned the mortician business along the way, and eventually became immensely successful as Anaheim’s undertakers.  Ferdinand married Louise Werder in 1875, she 18 and he 31.  The Werders had been among the first 50 families in Anaheim, with Louise being just two when they arrived in 1859.

In 1900, Louise received a substantial inheritance from the sale of her family’s vineyard located at South and West Streets.  Together with her brother-in-law Edward Neihaus, a prominent Berkeley lumberman, she designed the house featured on the tour.

Construction began in 1902 and was completed in 1904.  It was Louise and Ferdinand Backs’ dream house.  The Colonial Revival architecture shows an oriental influence in the unusual shape of the gables.  The finest materials were used to build this beautiful and unique home, which illustrates the style and quality of life lived by a family in the upper social strata of Anaheim just after the turn of the century.  A two-story carriage house, a summer kitchen, and other outbuildings were built at the same time.  Ferdinand and Louise lived in this home until their deaths, he in 1922 and she in 1936.  The home then passed into the care of the two youngest daughters, Emma Backs Jackson and Frances Backs.

In 1973, Andrew Deneau purchased the house and lived in it with his grandmother, Elizabeth Hargrove.  The Backs House holds a unique place in the hearts of many people involved in the Anaheim Historical Society as it was in the dining room of this house that the Anaheim Historical Society was formed in 1976, with Andrew as our first president.

Our society’s origins stemmed, at least in part, out of concern over the loss of Anaheim’s historic downtown, which took place
throughout the seventies and eighties.  Alas, even this home would not be free from the controversy and conflict of that time.  The Anaheim Redevelopment Agency purchased the house in the 1980’s and moved it to its present location on Vintage Lane. Several owners have restored and added their special touches to the house through the years.  Mr. Perry Howard, the current owner, has continued that process.

IMG_0004-363x231The years before the Great War were exciting, hopeful times.  People enjoyed the many advancements being made in this thoroughly modern period, with changes in fashion, transportation (the affordable Model T Ford was introduced for 1909), and more, including housing styles.  This classic Craftsman house was built in 1910 for a nurse, Mrs. F.C. Nelson, and her children.  She sold the home in 1923 to a widow, Nellie Buzzell, who kept the house until 1944. Afterwards, it went through a succession of owners, including a number of years where the second floor was used as a boarding house (as witnessed by deadbolts on all the doors and even a small kitchenette in the largest of the upstairs rooms).

The foundation had settled unevenly and the floor dipped alarmingly in the center.  The door jams and window frames, as well as the porch and balcony, and followed suit.  Numerous coats of paint buried the interior wood, and the lath and plaster wall were covered over in a “modern” texturing.  Original light fixtures were long gone.  The kitchen and bathroom had been remodeled in the 1980’s with no regard to the home’s history.  The exterior had fared no better.  The house had been clad in cement tiles and the ’87 Whittier quake had left the chimney partially collapsed, the remaining portion left barely clinging to the side of the house.  The house had been re-roofed with no regard to a possible chimney rebuild, and the fireplace had been completely removed and drywalled over, leaving virtually no trace of its existence.

Where to begin?  Gail and Eric set to work quickly, first making the house level again, replacing all the girders that supported the house and jacking the structure up where needed.  Because of the extent of sag, the old plaster cracked and burst out during the leveling process and had to be replaced throughout the house with an appropriate smooth plaster finish.  They stripped all the interior wood, including all doors, windows, wainscoting, and built-ins.  Door and window hardware was boiled in baking soda to remove paint so it could be reused.

The original condemned chimney was demolished and replaced with a river rock chimney and an interior fireplace was recreated, using some lovely Claycraft tiles rescued from another Craftsman a block away, just before the wrecking ball took that house down.  Sadly, the original carriage house (sorry, now a “garage”) had gone beyond the point of restoration and had to be demolished.  In its place, Gail and Eric built a new, but historically sensitive one that matches the style of the home.  They’ve also restored the kitchen and bathrooms using historically appropriate flooring, tile, and appliances.  The hardwood floors were refinished and, where necessary, replaced with compatible wood.  The house features archived wallpapers by Bradbury and Bradbury and period-style furnishings. In August, 2005, little more than a year after they began restoration, the home was the site of Gail and Eric’s wedding and reception.

The years between the Great War and the Great Depression were ones largely of prosperity.  This Craftsman Bungalow is quite typical of those built in the area in the 1920’s.  While deceptively conservative in size, it incorporates striking detailing such as the glazed bricks in the front pilasters and front porch that makes a home like this truly special.

Real estate investor Gustave Grefe constructed three homes in 1921.  He sold the other two for profit, but kept this third home for several years as the Grefe Famiy’s own residence before turning it into a rental property in 1925.

In 1935, a recently immigrated French couple, Jean and Marie Mirande, purchased the home where they would raise their daughter, Rose.  Rose, interviewed some time before her recent passing, was able to recall being a very young girl when the disastrous flood of 1938 hit Anaheim.  She remembered how her father’s wine bottles washed up to the front of the house from their small, post-Prohibition wine cellar and were lost.  Indeed, many of those old bottles were recovered during repair work in the 1960’s.  Rose also said that her home was the center of the French community in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  The grandchildren have recounted large, lively dinners with everyone gathered in the dining room around Mrs. Mirande’s cooking and her husband’s wine. After her mother passed, Rose and her husband Roy Merk owned the house, and it became a rental property again for another decade.

The current owners, Laurie and Richard Crawford, made a promise to Rose to restore her childhood home.  This promise has obviously been kept, with the dramatic and loving restoration the house displays today.

Original details abound.  All of the woodwork in the front bedroom, living room, and dining room is original, with original stain and varnish.  Most windows have retained their original glass, with restoration glass used to maintain the proper look in those needing lost panes replaced.  The floors, oak in the living and dining rooms and, as was customary, fir in the “private” areas of the house, have been recently refinished.  The original doorknobs found in a box in the cellar have been returned to their rightful places.  The home even still uses its original knob and tube wiring, although forced air heating and air conditioning have been added.  The front bedroom’s light fixture is original; others are careful replacements.  For example, the sconces on the pop-outs between the living and dining room replace originals evidenced by wiring uncovered during restoration.

The single bathroom had to be completely gutted because of water damage.  It has been refurnished using the original commode and other authentic period fixtures.  The kitchen restoration is almost complete with new countertops and sinks in its future.  The stove isMrs. Mirande’s from the 1940s and still works quite well, merci beaucoup!

The owners obviously take great pride in this attractive little bungalow and have restored it with great care.  It has been a greatpleasure to those of us who pass by regularly to see the tremendous progress they have made in just a few years’ time. On the mantle of the home’s fireplace is proudly displayed a gift Rose gave to the current owners:  one of her father’s wine bottles recovered from under the house from that flood of a childhood’s memory.


The years of the Great Depression were difficult, to be sure, but there were still opportunities for people to enjoy life, and elegant homes were built in the years following the stock market crash, even here in Anaheim.
This striking 1931 Mediterranean Revival/Spanish Eclectic style home welcomes visitors with a lovely Moorish arched main window, as well as an outdoor courtyard with a fountain and fireplace.  Many characteristics of the home evoke a mission, including the massive original front door, arched doorways, Monterey arcade and balconies, and niches in the entranceway
The house was built for Albert Beck and his wife Helen, along with Helen’s mother, father and two sisters.  First in the real estate business, Mr. Beck would be listed in the local directories for 1939 as an oil man, by then a growing industry in the area.

In 1941, Olaf Hansen and his wife Florence bought the home and lived in it for four years before selling it to Robert Wurgaft, sales manager of a citrus juice plant, and his wife Irene.  Their daughter Joy, whose stage name was Joy Lane, was one of the lesser known kids in the Hal Roach Studio’s Little Rascals movies.  She also appeared in the 1934 Laurel and Hardy Babes in Toyland.  She later went on to be a singer with Ted Fiorito and his Orchestra.  The home continued to house an extended family, as Robert and Irene’s son Robert and his wife Rosemary are listed as residents in 1955.  The home remained in the Wurgaft’s care until the late 1960s.

In 1974, the Beck House began a new life…as home of the local Byzantine Catholic church.  The living room was used as a sanctuary and kitchen converted to feed the congregation on a regular basis.  The resident priest had a room and kitchenette upstairs.  Prominent features of the house added by the Byzantine church are the bell towers (which still house working bells) on the northeast corner of the property and above the roofline of the house adjacent to the courtyard.  The church also added the adobe style wall, which encloses the northeast side of the property, and a parking lot on the south side of the building.  Other additions made by the church were industrial carpet and fluorescent light fixtures, giving the house a somewhat institutional character, not surprising in a building housing an active congregation for more than twenty years.  The congregation put the building up for sale in 1998 as they prepared to move to their beautiful new church building on West Street near La Palma.

Lew Aguilar and Michelle Lieberman purchased the property from the church in 2001.  They have spent the last five years restoring it to its original historic charm.  They have removed the carpeting and refinished or replaced the hardwood floors, and brought the kitchen back to early twentieth century style, although they have kept the industrial stove and refrigerator they use for frequent entertaining. They have removed most of the fluorescent fixtures and replaced them with appropriate period style lighting.  The parking lot was removed and, in its place, the couple has built a lovely pool and garden area.  Lew and Michelle often open the house and grounds to host wedding receptions and other large parties in the community.


 Like most of America, things were on the move in postwar Anaheim.
Agriculture, particularly oranges, was still the city’s main claim to fame, but the summer of 1954 saw some 160 acres of those orange groves cleared out to make way for something new in town – Disneyland.
Just a couple of miles up the street that same year, dentist Charles Schutz and his wife Dorothea, who both grew up in Anaheim, custom built the modern ranch house featured on today’s tour on a large one and a half sized lot.  
The area, located just outside neighborhoods of older historic homes, was popular with prominent Anaheim business and political families, including Mayor Charles Pearson (in whose honor City Park was renamed), the Horns, the Thoms, and the Martenet family
Now, 50+ years later, we are starting to recognize that the sprawling mid-century California ranch home, the ideal home environment sought by families after the end of World War II, is itself an important historical style.
The Schutzes had no children, so they had their home built with only two bedrooms for all the home’s expansive floor plan.  It was customized for Dorothea in several ways.  She had respiratory problems, so they built an air purifying system into the venting system and added special seals on the doors to help keep out outside air.  Dorothea was also rather tall for a woman of her day at perhaps 5’8″, so the kitchen and laundry room counters and cabinets are scaled to that height.
Years after his beloved Dorothea passed away, Dr. Schutz married again.  Dorothy, the nurse who had helped him at his dental practice, and who had been living with Charlie and Sarah Parson, became his second wife.  They enjoyed many years of traveling and entertaining
Dr. Shutz’s dental practice was located nearby on the south side of Pearson Park (near the tennis courts).  One of his patients, David Stephenson, became a dentist as well, and eventually took over the practice that he continues today in the same building
Current owners Dan and Jennifer Harrison bought the home in 2003 from Charles’ niece, who had loved the home as a child, and inherited it in 1989.  Dan and Jennifer and previously restored a 1920’s bungalow on Broadway, which had qualified for Mills Act recognition.  While their ranch house required little restoration, they have done a fabulous job decorating and furnishing it in a retro 1950s style appropriate to the age of the home.  The home has been featured in Atomic Ranch Magazine, a publication dedicated to the appreciation of these homes and 1950’s era culture.
A Side Note:
Across the street and north two lots from this home was the home of Morris Martenet, Sr. and his wife.  Mr. Martenet was one of Anaheim’s most well-known businessmen and civic leaders, with a hardware store that had been in business since the teens.  The store was razed during the loss of Anaheim’s downtown in the 1980’s, but his quality-built 1946 home survived here in the neighborhhod… until just a few months ago.  It was demolished, despite pleas from concerned citizens, to make way for a modern home.  Incidentally, Martenet Hardware still exists, although under new ownership and in a different, smaller building, on Lincoln Avenue west of State College.