Icons of O.C.: Celebrating Orange County Entities That Have Thrived for More Than Half a Century

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Orange Coast

This year’s 50th anniversary of South Coast Plaza and Fashion Island got us thinking of the many other Orange County entities that have thrived for more than half a century. We’ve gathered favorites from all aspects of life—places that fill our memories and scrapbooks—as a way of honoring their contributions to our everyday lives—then and now.

South Coast Repertory
The group started as a 75-seat playhouse in Newport Beach.

Founding artistic directors Martin Benson and David Emmes opened the first space in 1965, a year after they established their resident theater company. Now the company puts on 13 plays a year in a three-theater complex anchored by the 507-seat Segerstrom Stage. The buildings aren’t the only things that have grown: Over the past 53 years, the program has become one of the region’s most important hubs for creativity and innovation in the arts.

The company has staged 511 plays and 147 premieres and has won countless awards for its productions, including a Tony Award for Distinguished Achievement by a Regional Theatre. It has nurtured hundreds of writers through commissions, residencies, and workshops. Plays developed at the theater are routinely honored; Margaret Edson’s “Wit,” which premiered at South Coast Repertory in 1995, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1999.

Emmes credits community leadership for SCR’s evolution. “Orange County was built by the entrepreneurial spirit,” he says. “We benefited from people who made their way by taking risks, understood that risk is essential to growth, and understood the risks we were taking.

It’s an amazing odyssey that we were privileged to go on.”

Also: The Pageant of the Masters debuted in 1932 in Laguna Beach. The Philharmonic Society of Orange County began in 1954.


Illustration by Ciara Phelan

Hi-Time Wine Cellars
Customer loyalty is the best reward for the grand crew serving generations in Costa Mesa.

Just as old vines make better wine, Hi-Time suggests that legacy retailers make better wine shops. Now marking its 60th year, the family-run destination is a paragon of customer loyalty.

“The high point for me is the customer reactions everywhere I go,” says Chuck Hanson, 87, whose brother Fritz co-founded the store in 1957 with his brother-in-law Jim McVay. “I went to a new doctor and he lit up when he realized who I was. An 80-year-old woman in a walker stopped me and said, ‘That’s my favorite place!’ ”

A brief history: Fritz Hanson and McVay opened Hi-Time at East 17th Street and Irvine Avenue. Hanson’s brothers Chuck and Harold became wine buyer and GM. In 1984, the store moved to its current spot on Ogle Street.

Its cellar holds 80,000 wine bottles. There’s also a tasting bar, beer wing, Champagne room, and cigar humidor. Patrons can buy wine, spirits, beer, cigars, wine accessories, and gourmet foods.

Fritz’s daughter Diana Hirst took over as general manager 20 years ago, and his sons Keith and Don also work there. Factor in grandchildren and cousins, and family members account for a dozen employees.

Hirst’s involvement began on Saturdays as a child. “Our moms would want to get rid of us for a while. Our dads would find things for us to do. We’d put the soda bottles in the shed. We’d bag ice. Our dads gave us a nickel for every bag—actually, it might have been a penny.”

Chuck still works two days a week. Fritz, 90, helps out occasionally.

Reflects Hirst, “We just keep seeing generation after generation. It’s not like going to work—we see people we know every day.”


Five Crowns
Corona del Mar icon succeeds at staying relevant while preserving nostalgia.

In 1965, Corona del Mar was a hamlet of modest cottages and one curious old Tudor building on Coast Highway called the Hurley Bell. From the time it was built in 1936, the creaky and notorious place housed a succession of motley tenants. That changed when Richard N. Frank urged his father’s L.A. restaurant group to breathe life into the Poppy Avenue landmark, christening it Five Crowns. The restaurant opened in 1965 with a too-small kitchen and a passionate staff. Daily deliveries from an L.A. commissary sufficed until an expansion could handle the entire menu. Cosseting hospitality, fine Prime rib feasts, and an old-world atmosphere set the stage for romantic dates, family fetes, and festive gatherings. Five Crowns is now one of the county’s beloved destinations for celebrations. Don’t be fooled by the convincing old-time England vibe; president and CEO Richard Roger Frank credits continual renewal for staying in touch with diners and avoiding a time warp. The winning launch of SideDoor gastropub in 2009 is testament to keeping pace with modern diners. “We keep a foot in both worlds. There is always room for invention, though some elements are engraved in stone,” says general manager Kenyon Paar. “It’s an honor to be a custodian of so many treasured memories.”


Illustration by Ciara Phelan

The Ranch at Laguna Beach
The Laguna Beach Country Club and Village of 1963 grows up.

The property where the Thurston Homestead stood in the late 1800s stays true to its historic roots—four names and five owners later. In the hands of Laguna Beach local Mark Christy and his partners, who bought the property in 2013, The Ranch has become a world-class resort, honored as a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World. The community knows the place as Ben Brown’s, the nine-hole golf course where deer inhabit the grass nearly as much as golf carts. Open since 2016, the resort captures the secluded nature of its canyon surroundings and seeks to make every aspect of the 97 rooms, Harvest restaurant, unique wedding spaces, and luxurious amenities a reflection of old-time Laguna. Christy can point out Lion’s Head Rock and the property’s former Girl Scouts camp in between recollections of eating at Ben Brown’s restaurant as a kid or golfing barefoot. This is a labor of love years in the making. “No one here has an exit plan,” Christy says. “This was serendipity. This is what we’re committed to doing.”


Lido Theater
Newport Beach’s art deco venue, turning 80 next year, still clings to its roots.

First movie: The theater opened in 1938 with “Jezebel,” a Bette Davis film. The actress was a Corona del Mar resident at the time.

Original features: The outside box office, original Catalina tile work, and sitting parlor in the ladies room are still in use today.

Seaside roots: The entrance to the theater displays a sailboat and an anchor, likely a nod to its ocean‑adjacent location.

Level up: Not only is the Lido one of the last single-screen theaters in Orange County, it retains
a historic vibe with 188 balcony seats.


OC Fair
From ostrich races to cooking contests, there are glimpses of the past even at today’s Orange County Fair.

Fairgrounds
The fair moved to its current site in 1949. The land was part of the Santa Ana Army Air Base, something the fair highlighted this year with souvenirs and T-shirts.

Wild times
In the ’50s, ostrich races were a big draw. Drivers rode in carts and steered with brooms. The races were revived for one year in 1992.

Best year of attendance
More than 1.4 million people attended in 2011, when the theme was “Let’s Eat!” In 1949, the
fair lasted just five days. Now it runs for 23 days each summer.

Recent addition
Heroes Hall is a free, permanent museum honoring O.C. veterans. Visitors have written 4,500 postcards to active-duty military and veterans in VA hospitals.

Big ticket
The first concerts to take place in 1983 at the new Pacific Amphitheatre included The Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, Oingo Boingo, and Barry Manilow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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