On an overcast morning near the end of July, two volunteer tour guides wearing T-shirts that read “Park People” sat on the benches outside the sliding glass doors of the Fullerton Community Center with binders in hand, preparing for their upcoming walking tour. Experienced guides Christina and Bonnie were about to lead a tour for the Parks and Recreation Department’s Discover Fullerton program, which offers monthly in-person walks that are designed to highlight Fullerton’s history, parks, and architecture with seniors in mind.
“Aimee Aul, a member of the Parks and Recreation education staff at the Fullerton Community Center, came up with this idea for Discover Fullerton during COVID-19 to start a series of walking tours in different parts of the City,” Christina said. “This was a way to look at the City through a historical lens. In 2020, Aimee and the staff here at the Community Center created a series of YouTube video tours to encourage people to get out safely during COVID times. Now that things can be a little more leveraged, the tours are meant to be live, not virtual, walks. This way, people can get together, still be outside, 6-feet apart, wearing masks, and talk, while still getting exercise.” According to Aul, the program is supported in part by a grant from the OC Office on Aging.
On Saturday, July 23, Christina and Bonnie led a tour that focused on downtown civic buildings and art created during the New Deal, a relief program under President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 to counteract the effects of the Great Depression. It involved a massive public works program, complemented by the large-scale granting of loans. Federal programs, such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), were established to provide people with jobs and to build up the country’s infrastructure during a time when unemployment had reached a record high. The government programs were created to employ laborers, which also included artists, writers, actors, and musicians among others. FDR’s New Deal helped change communities all across the country, including Fullerton.
Visiting the Fullerton Community Center’s Discover Fullerton webpage, I found that I could register in two ways—either by calling the Community Center at (714) 738-6575 or by registering online through FullertonEConnect. I tried both and had an easier time making my reservation by phone. Registering online, I had to create an account through the City’s CivicRec website and go through a series of digital forms. The last form was a COVID Contract Class Liability Waiver, which loosely summarized, said that I agreed to not sue the City if I caught COVID or any other communicable disease while on the walk. On the day before the tour, I received a call from the Community Center reminding me to wear a hat and comfortable walking shoes. Sunscreen and water were also recommended.
Beginning and ending at the south parking lot entrance of the Fullerton Community Center (located at 340 W. Commonwealth Avenue), the hour and forty-five minute Discover Fullerton on Foot New Deal walking tour followed a mile-and-a-half route through the downtown area. The tour group consisted of about eight people; some were Fullerton residents, others were from surrounding cities. Under the shade of the overhanging roof of the Community Center, we congregated around Christina and Bonnie who introduced themselves. They also introduced us to a Parks and Recreation volunteer named Karla, who had helped register guests and organize the outing. Karla brought along a bag containing extra water bottles for anyone who needed them during the walk.
The first stop on the tour was the Fullerton Police Department, which was built by the WPA in 1940. Designed by George Stanley Wilson, the concrete Lshaped building with a threestory tower previously served as the Fullerton City Hall. Bonnie explained that prior to that it was the site of the home of Henry Hiltscher. “His father, August Hiltscher, had a house here. Hiltscher Park and Hiltscher Trail are named after August Hiltscher, not Henry Hiltscher,” she said.
“When you have this Spanish style architecture, you can usually look for a tower,” Christina said. “In the Spanish tradition, those towers kind of represent 700 years of history…So, when you watch around town, older buildings will have this feature; the arched windows will have the bell tower on top of them.”
Bonnie pointed out how one of the most distinctive features of the Spanish Colonial Revival style building is its extensive tile work, which was noticeable in the sunken courtyard. “The architecture at the time of the New Deal was intended to instill a sense of security and stability,” Bonnie said. “Repeating patterns also helped instill a sense of security. After what the country had just come through and were going through, architects were looking to boost spirits.”
Moving inside, our tour group got a rare opportunity to look at the three-part “History of California” mural within the Police Station. Christina explained that the mural shows everything from the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in San Diego in 1542 to the birth of the aircraft and movie industries in the Los Angeles area in chronological order. “The WPA’s Federal Art Project commissioned Helen Lundeberg to paint the mural in 1941,” Bonnie said. “In 1993, the mural was completely restored at a cost of $80,000.”
Continuing onward, we went down Commonwealth, up Harbor Blvd., and over to the Fullerton Museum Center, which was originally constructed as the City’s fourth library and was built as a WPA project in 1941. It was designed by prominent architect Harry Vaughan. Bonnie said that prior to its construction, Andrew Carnegie had given Fullerton a grant to build the City’s third library. “There was a Long Beach earthquake in 1933 that damaged some buildings here, and that Carnegie library was damaged. So, a WPA Project gave the City this new library. It had original oak-built bookcases. They still have the bookcases, so if it ever needed to be turned back into a library, it could. Right now, of course, it is our museum.” Our next stop was the Fullerton Post Office, another WPA project designed by Harry Vaughan. I learned from the tour guides that this is the only federally owned building in Fullerton. Bonnie said that it was constructed for $56,000 in less than seven months. The facility was dedicated on November 1, 1938 and has been continuously used as a post office ever since. Bonnie explained that the lamp fixtures outside the doors had been stolen overnight in September 1998. “Vandals cut off the bolts of the lamps and walked off with them. The Fullerton Police were able to work with art dealers and antiques dealers. They found the lamp posts at the Pasadena Antique Fair and brought them back.”
We walked up the post office steps, past the lamp posts and stepped inside to look at the oil-on-canvas “Orange Pickers” mural painted by Paul Julian, who trained with Millard Sheets and Lawrence T. Murphy at the Chouinard Art Institute. “Orange Pickers” is the only WPA post office mural in Orange County, and illustrates images of different Fullerton industries, including citrus, oil, and aviation. However, Bonnie and Christina were quick to point out that there are a couple of inaccuracies with the mural. “The three-legged ladder shown on the mural is not the right type for picking oranges,” Bonnie said. “They would’ve used a straight up and down ladder to lean against the trees. All the people that would’ve been harvesting oranges would have had large over the shoulder bags. The bags were then shipped to packing houses. The oranges were never packed in boxes in the fields.”
Returning to the Community Center after walking down Commonwealth, we concluded our New Deal walking tour. “Since people need their transportation from this location, most of the tours are designed to loop out from the Community Center,” Christina said. The next Discover Fullerton on Foot walking tour will be based around the theme of “Fullerton Mysteries” and is scheduled for Saturday, September 24, from 8:30am to 10:30am.