O.C. Answer Man: When Was Orange County’s First Jail Built?

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Illustration by Blair Thornley

There were a few false starts. Initially the county rented the basement of Brunner’s jewelry store for that purpose. (It still stands at 116 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana.) In 1890, a makeshift three-cell jail opened, but it didn’t keep people in (or out) well. In 1892, as Francisco Torres awaited trial for the ax murder of well-liked Modjeska Ranch foreman William McKelvey, an angry mob broke into the jail, dragged Torres out, and hanged him from a telegraph pole. We still lacked a courthouse, but it was clear that a secure jail was the priority. A gothic, castle-like jail, nicknamed Lacy’s Hotel (after Sheriff Theo Lacy), opened in early 1897 and operated until 1924. You can still see the jail’s footprint in red concrete in the parking lot of the Old Orange County Courthouse.

Chris Jepsen is the Answer Man. Have a question? Send it to cjepsen@socal.rr.com.

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