Arts

Preserving the Past at the Whitaker-Jaynes House Museum

I’ve always wondered about the old Victorian house on the corner of Beach Blvd. and Manchester Blvd. in Buena Park. This is the Whitaker-Jaynes House, which is managed by the Buena Park Historical Society. I recently took a self-guided tour of the historic house and grounds.

The history of the Whitaker-Jaynes House coincides with the history and development of Buena Park. The home was built for Andrew W. Whitaker when he arrived from Indiana in 1897. His brother, James A. Whitaker, a prosperous wholesale grocer from Chicago, had purchased 690 acres of land here in California in 1885 to establish a cattle ranch.

“A land agent for the Santa Fe Railroad named George Fullerton persuaded Whitaker to split his property instead. Since Whitaker’s land bordered the rail route, the deal was consummated in exchange for a railroad terminal to be built later.”

So, on June 17, 1887, Whitaker registered his platted map for the town of Buena Park with Los Angeles County (Orange County was not formed until 1889).

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J. Harry Whitaker, the grandson of James A. Whitaker, lived in the house with his parents until he ended up marrying his Uncle James’ adopted daughter, Lillian. After Andrew died in 1903, his wife sold the home to the Jaynes family, and moved to Los Angeles. In his early days, Isaac D. Jaynes was a successful rancher and fruit grower credited with being the first to plant citrus in the area. Upon returning home from World War I, Jaynes began developing commercial and residential properties within the City and was appointed Buena Park’s Postmaster in 1922.

Isaac and his wife Edna had six children, three of whom were born in the house. Around 1925, Jaynes undertook a major remodeling in which he added a bay window to the dining room and replaced a single window in the kitchen with three. The Jaynes family lived in the house until 1965 when the City of Buena Park purchased the property and turned the surrounding land into a park. The house was moved in 1994 to become the cornerstone of Buena Park’s newly established Historical District.

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Stepping up to the two-story, white Victorian house with curtains drawn over its windows, I rang a doorbell and was greeted by a member of the Buena Park Historical Society, who unlocked the rest of the house and handed me a pamphlet that would take me on a self-guided tour. Starting in the kitchen, I immediately noticed an orange painted cabinet, called a pie safe, sitting by the door to the dining room. This was originally used to keep flies off the pies while they cooled. The dishes inside the cabinet were from the Jewel Tea Company, a door-to-door merchant. They were given away in the 1930’s and 1940’s when food items were purchased from them.

On the other side of the door was the wood-burning stove, and sitting atop the stove were three kinds of irons: a flat iron, kerosene iron and charcoal iron. While one was used for ironing, the other two were being heated. Adjacent to the stove was an icebox with a pair of huge tongs hanging on the wall next to it. Ice used to be carried into the house with these tongs and stored in the top section of the box. This way, water drained down through the center where the food was kept, into a tray in the bottom that had to be emptied. If not, it ran over and onto the kitchen floor. Items like the kraut slicer, cherry pitter, and green bean stringer were placed in the kitchen pantry.

While very few items belonging to the two families still remain in the house, the large turkey platter in the dining room, which is more than two hundred years old, is believed to have belonged to the Whitaker family. I noticed a light with crystals on it hanging from the ceiling above the dining table and chairs. It was converted from kerosene to electricity. However, the main feature was an old organ leaning against one of the windows. Two people are needed in order to play the instrument: one to pump air into the organ, and the other to pump the pedals to play the keys. The marriage license of the James Whitakers hung above a pot belly stove in the corner of the room. On my way out, I spotted a 1908 Kellogg telephone sitting atop a small wooden table. This allowed residents to communicate with one another across the country.

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In the parlor and drawing room, there was an 1878 Arian Piano from Europe that was shipped around Cape Horn to teach a child in Pasadena. The family needed a place to keep it, so they stored it in the Whitaker-Jaynes House. To the side of the piano was a Victorian Rococo Revival style sofa with ornate hand carved mahogany from the mid 1800’s.

The early families didn’t have our modern conveniences. Hobbies, such as shell collecting, drying flowers, taking and looking at photos in scrapbooks and stereopticons, occupied their time while they weren’t working. Stepping closer to look at the red empire sofa and two red velvet Victorian style chairs, I came across a writing desk dating back to 1903 with plenty of space for books, stamps, and letters.

Heading up the red carpeted stairs, I was astonished by an incredibly large reproduction of Thomas Lawrence’s painting “Pinky,” which was donated by the Movieland Wax Museum’s “Palace of Living Art.” At the top of the stairs, I entered a room full of historic objects from Buena Park’s past, which included everything from the Japanese Deer Park and California Alligator Farm to a Dreger Clock display from Knott’s Berry Farm.

The next room over was the children’s room, where Madeline and Loring Whitaker were born. An old rocking chair with a Victorian doll on top of it sat in the hallway next to a Newell post from the home of James A. Whitaker. The upstairs master bedroom had a bedroom set that belonged to Walter and Cordelia Knott and was donated by the Knott family. It had been kept in the home above the berry market at the amusement park. Along with examples of Victorian clothing and a wardrobe, there was a potty chair. The home originally didn’t have a bathroom, but an outhouse was available.

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Behind the Whitaker-Jaynes estate, I found the Bacon House, where James Bacon, developer of the Bacon Avocado, was born. The Bacon House was furnished sparsely compared to the Whitaker-Jaynes House. However, the residents still needed many of the same things – stove, table, chairs, pie safe, beds, utensils, and other objects.

Inside, there were plaques on display, honoring him for his numerous contributions to agriculture and horticulture. The Bacon Family gave the house to the City of Buena Park in 1976. It was then moved to the Whitaker-Jaynes Estate Park where it was restored to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial and then moved again in 1994.

Up a set of wooden, winding stairs, I stepped into Bacon’s second-story bedroom. Vines of ivy were coming in through a crack in the wall and an old male mannequin dressed in Victorian clothing sat between two identical beds. The mannequin was actually used in the Haunted Shack at Knott’s Berry Farm. Stepping back downstairs, I discovered a strange little side-room with a bed and a nightstand, which was originally used for storage.

Back outside, I got a good look at the Dreger Clock. During the depression years of the 1930’s, Andrew Dreger built this multi-faced clock, which stood outside his home in Long Beach until his death in 1952. It was then moved to Knott’s Berry Farm, where it was displayed for more than fifty years. Peering up at all the clock’s faces, I noticed that it showed the time, date, day, and moon phases, as well as time in twelve international cities. The Dreger Clock was restored by the Buena Park Historical Society and moved to its current location in 2009. The Historical Society really has preserved Buena Park’s past. To take a tour, call (714) 562-3570.

To see my video tour of the Whitaker-Jaynes House and Bacon House museums, visit the Observer’s website, click on the “Videos” tab and click on the words “Emerson Little YouTube Channel,” which will take you directly to my page.

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Categories: Arts

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