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A source of community pride

The Orange County Memorial Garden, once a gathering place to honor veterans, was lost in the 1980s forever.

May 31, 2013|By Bradley Zint

For more than 25 years, the gardens that gave the Memorial Gardens Building its name served as a quiet respite for a growing city.

The nonprofit Orange County Memorial Garden, dedicated to all veterans, was established in 1953 and erected the following year. The garden took up a small space within the Orange County Fairgrounds, which during World War II was part of the massive Santa Ana Army Air Base. The base occupied a large chunk of present-day Costa Mesa.

The 1.4-acre garden is described in early documents kept by the Costa Mesa Historical Society as "two circular flower beds within the form of a figure eight." It contained 70 trees and more than 250 shrubs of many varieties and was, at the time, one of few memorial gardens in California and the only one commemorating a former air base.

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Each Arbor Day and Memorial Day the garden was home to public planting ceremonies. Private ceremonies took place throughout the year.

At one point, Harold Segerstrom — whose family developed South Coast Plaza — deep-plowed the land. Walter Knott, founder of Knott's Berry Farm, donated money that helped buy soil.

The garden soon proved to be as popular with birds as it was with people, and by 1963, the Costa Mesa City Council had officially declared the area a bird sanctuary.

Furthermore, the plot — also called, in some historical references, Santa Ana Army Air Base Memorial Garden — was a place to reflect during the bustling fair.

A 1962 Los Angeles Times story said Orange County Fair visitors "who'd like to temper the excitement of the event with a little thoughtful reflection in an appropriate beauty spot will get their wishes fulfilled" in the garden.

The garden center's executive secretary, Adeline Walker of Santa Ana, told the newspaper that a prominent individual said the garden is one "rich in the thousand and one memories left behind by the men whose lives were sacrificed in war. Only in a place such as this can the living reflect on those things for which men are willing to sacrifice their lives."

In 1963, one of the highlights of Costa Mesa's 10th birthday was the first planting of an Indian laurel, the city's newly official tree, at the garden. The Costa Mesa Women's Club also planted trees there, including a "liberty tree" in 1976, America's bicentennial.

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