work for adhesive maker J.D. Lincoln Inc. and community members who
needed things repaired. He closed his shop and retired because of
"It's taken the heart out of this place for awhile," said Nancy
Stern, who runs a nearby art and gift shop. "You're always used to
seeing him over there telling jokes, making up stories."
Stern and other business owners in the Quonset huts, many of whom
are craftspeople or artists, have formed a friendly, eclectic
community, and Hildebrand was a big part of that.
"It's quite a little family around here," Stern said.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Hildebrand came west to attend
college at Cal State Fullerton. He had planned to teach history but
had a change of heart before he entered the job market, he said.
"I had a job offer, and I didn't like the way the [education]
system was going, so I turned around and went back to Orange Coast
College and studied welding," he said.
After getting his start at a welding shop that has since closed
down, Hildebrand opened his own shop at the Quonset huts.
"I never advertised all those years," he said. "It was all word of
As he befriended other business owners, Hildebrand's shop became
the social hub at the huts -- perhaps because of the coffee he made.
"I served the best coffee in town," he said.
Elaine Turney, who runs a home furnishings store in the Quonset
huts, said she'd grown used to Hildebrand and other business owners
having their daily coffee and talking.
The diversity and camaraderie of the community there reminded her
of the early days of SoHo in New York, she said.
"He's been a wonderful neighbor," said Doug Stotts, a painter who
works in the hut across from Hildebrand's old shop.
"Everyone keeps saying [it's the] end of an era," Stotts said.
Hildebrand said he won't lose touch with his friends at the
"I'll be down there at least once a week," he said. "I know it.
They've been a real good gang, and I'm glad to have had the
experience of knowing them."