A new exhibit at the Sherman Library and Gardens in Corona del Mar asks the question: What brought people to Orange County?
At the start of the pandemic, library director Jill Thrasher was cataloguing ephemera — printed items meant for short-term use — to later store in acid-free folders and sleeves when she realized just how many were in the library’s storage.
“I realized we had so many that were colorful and really beautiful that show Orange County,” said Thrasher. “How did they get people to Orange County? By advertising in these brochures. I thought they were so pretty that they should be in an exhibit.”
That led to the current show located in the gardens’ historic adobe — “The Persuasive Past of Orange County,” which opened in late January after curators spent about a year organizing it.
Thrasher said she decided to name the exhibit “The Persuasive Past of Orange County” because of the nature of the collection’s focus on how people were persuaded to move to the county by highlighting much of its agricultural boons, natural features and housing.
“After looking through all the brochures and booklets, I realized how the cities were all working hard to persuade people to move to Orange County. The cities needed population to grow, so they used persuasive language to get people to either relocate or visit their communities; hence, ‘The Persuasive Past of Orange County,’” said Thrasher.
Most of the items on display date from 1900, just a year after the incorporation of Orange County, to the 1990s.
The exhibit is largely arranged by the subject matter of the ephemera, which Thrasher added also happens to be by era.
“All the cities wanted to advertise to get people to come to their cities. What I tried to do was break it up by time period, starting in the 1900s … The first thing they started promoting was agriculture. All these towns we think of: Santa Ana, Tustin, Orange, Westminster … were irrigating through the Santa Ana River in the late 1800s,” said Thrasher. “It was an agricultural based economy.
“And then when Orange County became a county in 1889, the Southern Pacific Railroad had started moving into the county. That made traveling to all these different city locations easy. The second point then became the ease of travel. If you lived in Santa Ana, you could get to all these different areas very easily either by train or paved roads that they advertised.”
The next section of the display puts the spotlight on the abundance of natural resources in Orange County — natural gas, oil — and the distance of leisure activities from the country.
Lastly, visitors will see the ephemera from the 1950s forward, which focuses on affordable housing.
“After World War II, there was a huge economic explosion … you had the Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro, the Naval Weapons Station in Seal Beach, Los Alamitos, Santa Ana — people that were stationed there never left,” said Thrasher. “The promotional pieces from that time period are convincing you of why you should move to Fountain Valley or Westminster or all these little cities within Orange County.”
The exhibit will be available at the gardens’ historic adobe until June during normal operating hours and is free with garden admission.
“If you think of how quickly Orange County grew from 1900 to 1930 and then 1930 to 1960, these were instrumental in getting people to move here and stay here and then expanded the cities,” said Thrasher. “By advertising that you have rich soil in the beginning; you have natural resources, you have great climate; you have beaches; you have the ability to get to mountains … all those kind of factors would encourage people to move here and or visit.
“Sometimes they were just advertising to tourists as well, but if you put all those factors together; you have a great platform for the building of Orange County from the turn of the century until the current day.”