Renaming Historic Sites Continues to Ignite Debate in Orange County

Photo courtesy of Steven Logwood Jr.

Jacqueline Logwood started a Change.org petition to remove the Louis E. Plummer name from the auditorium on the Fullerton Union High School campus. The Fullerton Joint Union High School District voted to remove the name less than three weeks after the petition was started.

Jacqueline Logwood grew up in Fullerton, attending elementary, junior high and high school there. Throughout her school years, she went to Louis E. Plummer Auditorium about twice a year, watching plays and seeing her siblings perform in variety shows onstage.

When she heard on June 4 that the auditorium, built in 1930 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was named after a possible member of the Ku Klux Klan, she was offended and mortified.

“I didn’t want an auditorium that I grew up (attending) to be named after a KKK member,” she said in an interview.

Logwood got busy. She started a Change.org petition to remove the name from the auditorium, and to date it has garnered over 31,000 signatures.

Photo courtesy of Steven Logwood Jr.

Jacqueline Logwood, a Fullerton resident and UC Riverside student, stands in front of what was once Louis E. Plummer Auditorium on June 19. The name was removed that day after a petition Logwood authored, demanding the removal of “Plummer,” garnered more than 30,000 signatures.

On June 16, the Fullerton Joint Union High School District, which owns the building, voted unanimously to remove “Plummer” from the name of the auditorium. On June 19, or “Juneteenth,” “Louis E. Plummer” was gone. 

This is one of many signs that times are changing in Orange County in 2020. Removing the Plummer name on the auditorium — an issue that has been a source of controversy for years — happened in less than three weeks with an 18-year-old college student spearheading the recent effort. 

“I was very proud of myself,” said Logwood, an incoming second-year business student at UC Riverside who’s half African American and half Filipina. “My parents were very proud of me. Overall, they supported me. Personally, it inspired me to do more.”

Logwood’s experience is just one instance among many that have taken place in the last couple of months across Orange County, the state and the country. This month, Fanning Academy of Science and Technology decided to change its name to Falcon Academy of Science and Technology, and finally dropped “Fanning” from its name. Originally, the William E. Fanning Elementary School was named after a confirmable member of a local chapter of the KKK.

What Are Our Values?

In the wake of George Floyd’s shocking Memorial Day murder at the hands of police in Minneapolis, a sea change has occurred in the United States, with ripples extending to other countries as well.

People throughout America are protesting institutional inequities and demanding that buildings, statues and monuments that bear the names of historic or perceived oppressors, and those who supported white supremacy, be changed. Statues of Confederate soldiers and generals are being toppled in the South, and statues of conquistador Juan de Oñate are being torn down in New Mexico and the U.S. Southwest. In Ventura, the city council voted last week to remove a statue of Father Junípero Serra from the city center. The Confederate flag has been banned from NASCAR and is being removed from the Mississippi state flag.

Native American mascots and team names also have been changed, including the Washington Redskins, which held onto that name for decades. People have even tried to take down President Andrew Jackson’s statue in Washington, D.C., because of his mistreatment of Native Americans in the early to mid-1800s.

Here in Orange County, Plummer Auditorium and Fanning Academy of Science and Technology are the latest to fall to the movement. The most recent debate to bubble up is over John Wayne Airport, named after the legendary actor who died in 1979. He was known to have made some racist and homophobic comments in his life, most notably during a 1971 interview with Playboy magazine.

This fight over names represents profound changes in culture, demographics and attitudes in a county that used to be majority white, staunchly Republican and conservative but has undergone major demographic shifts in the last generation.

The issues that are being unearthed and debated are raising the questions: What are our values? Who do we want to model ourselves after? Is it time to discard or dismantle the old heroes because of changing times?

As Orange County’s demographics continue to change, with people of color and Democrats now representing the majority, the debate is not going away. It has been intensifying, and lately causing real change and disruption.

“Things are changing actually very rapidly,” said Mike Rodriguez, a teacher and activist who lives in Fullerton and teaches history and ethnic studies in the Santa Ana Unified School District. “A lot of changes have happened in Orange County in the last four years. We had the whole blue wave. (Ronald) Reagan said this is where (good) Republicans go to die. We’ve had a rising population of people of color in Orange County as well.

“People want to address the racism that we’ve seen in this county. There’s a population of people of color rising. We can’t live under this veil anymore.”

Fanning No More

The successful effort to drop “Plummer” from Plummer Auditorium led directly to “Fanning” being removed from Fanning Academy of Science and Technology, formerly William E. Fanning Elementary School.

Photo courtesy of Vivian Grey

Vivian Gray helped lead the recent effort to remove the Fanning name from Fanning Academy of Science and Technology, formerly William E. Fanning Elementary School.

Vivian Gray, a 17-year-old African American graduate of Brea Olinda High School, wrote a petition on Change.org to drop the Fanning name. It got more than 3,000 signatures.

Of course, this was not a new issue. There had been efforts to remove “Fanning” from the school name for years. First, the campaign was called “Re-Name Fanning,” then it evolved into the North Orange County Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Project.

In January 2019, the Brea Olinda Unified School District Board discussed the issue, but voted 4-1 to keep the Fanning name. The board attempted to partially defuse the issue by renaming William E. Fanning Elementary School to Fanning Academy of Science and Technology.

But that was not enough for many local residents. After the Fullerton board of trustees voted to remove “Plummer” in June, Gray had a conference call with Logwood and others. Gray was inspired by the successful Fullerton effort to start her petition, and at the June 25 Brea school board meeting, dozens of local residents submitted comments, urging once again the removal of the Fanning name.

“Well, it was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement for sure,” said Gray of her petition. She lives in Los Angeles but commuted to Brea Olinda High School from ninth to 12th grade for several hours per day because it was considered a good school — better than the one in her L.A. neighborhood.

“I had to step up and say something,” she said. “I went to school in Brea. I felt by them keeping that name on the school, it would not be right. I’ve experienced people putting swastikas up, and people saying that was OK. It’s not OK.”

On July 2, the surviving Fanning family submitted a letter to the Brea board, asking that the Fanning name be removed because it was becoming too much of a distraction. That was pretty much the final nail in the coffin.

On July 7, the Brea Olinda School Board voted unanimously to remove the Fanning name permanently. The school will now be known as Falcon Academy of Science and Technology.

“I was so surprised,” Gray said when she heard the news. “I just opened up my phone and had all these messages. I’m super grateful to the Fanning family, even though they’re refuting that he was with the KKK. I was surprised. It was really unexpected. I did not in a million years believe that was going to happen.”

Within a few weeks of each other, two monumental changes occurred at Orange County educational institutions. They were led by a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old, both African American women. Both started petitions, used social media to an extensive degree, and helped bring down historic names and effect change.

It’s the type of change many of us have not witnessed in our lifetimes. There may be some people in Orange County who don’t appreciate such rapid and dramatic change.

But Gray believes the time for change is now, and sees power and potential in the youth of today.

“I definitely feel like we did what the adults couldn’t do,” she said. “The younger people — we have such a voice. And we know how to work social media, too. The younger generations — they look up to us, to see what they should do.

“It’s going to be our world. We need to take charge, show that there is another way. At the end of the day, it is up to us.”

High Noon: Showdown at the John Wayne Airport

We could set this up like a classic Western, with a modern twist. Imagine lights and cameras set up in the gleaming, award-winning airport that straddles Santa Ana, Newport Beach and Irvine, with legendary actor John Wayne cast as both leading man and treacherous villain.

On the one hand, you have the new guard that wants the name, John Wayne Airport, to be changed, and the 9-foot statue removed. On the other hand, you have the old guard that wants to keep the name and towering bronze figure intact.

As the opposing forces gather, Wayne continues to look down on the main terminal with a slight smile and a cool, unperturbed look in his eyes, which are wrinkling around the edges. His huge bronze cowboy hat is tilted slightly forward and a pistol hangs from his holster (in an airport). A gigantic American flag hangs behind him.

Michael A. Moodian

The John Wayne statue at the John Wayne Airport.

Incidentally, this issue is not new either. It’s been debated before.

In 1971, Wayne told Playboy magazine, “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.”

In the interview, he also said derogatory things about Native Americans and used a slur against gay people.

Last year, his comments and the interview went viral. A person called “LaLa Washington” started a petition on Change.org to remove Wayne’s name and statue from the airport. To date, that petition has received more than 3,180 signatures.

Local newspaper columnists Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times and David Whiting of The Orange County Register subsequently called for Wayne’s name and image to be removed.

Other Changes That Have Happened in O.C.

  • In 2012, Saddleback College dropped the name James B. Utt from its campus library. Utt was a conservative Republican O.C. congressman who opposed the Civil Rights Movement and voting rights. He once made national news by suggesting that “‘a large contingent of barefooted Africans’ might be training in Georgia as part of a United Nations military exercise to take over the U.S.,”according to Dissent the Blog, which follows the South Orange County Community College District. On Sept. 24, 2012, the South O.C. Community College District Board of Trustees voted unanimously to rename the building the Library and Learning Resource Center.
  • In April 2015, statues of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and author Ayn Rand on the Chapman University campus were defaced. All three statues were under student review at the time, according to the website Culture Trip, which cited student concerns about Reagan for racism, classism and homophobia; Thatcher for opposition to gender roles and homophobia; and Rand for “cloaking white supremacy in an economic philosophy.”
  • In summer 2019, a Confederate monument placed in Santa Ana Cemetery by the Sons of Confederate Veterans was vandalized. Someone sprayed the word “RACISTS” in red paint on the monument, which was billed as “the largest Confederate monument in the Western United States” when it was dedicated in 2004. In August 2019, the monument was removed by the Orange County Cemetery District, which called the memorial an “unsightly public nuisance” after the vandalism.
  • Currently, there are two petitions on Change.org to change the Fullerton Union High School’s mascot from “Indians” to something else. One petition has collected 1,385 signatures, and the other has gathered 446 signatures.

In June, as people protested across the U.S. and statues came falling down, two professors from Chapman University, Fred Smoller and Michael A. Moodian, wrote an opinion piece in Voice of OC, also urging that the airport be renamed and Wayne’s statue be removed from the main terminal. State Senator Tom Umberg wrote an opinion piece in The Orange County Register, echoing those sentiments and suggesting other O.C. heroes whose names could be identified with the airport, such as World War II warriors and brothers Walter and Roland Ehlers, Korean War veteran Tibor Rubin and Navy SEAL Michael Monsoor.

Another petition sprouted, and later in June, the Democratic Party of Orange County wrote a resolution condemning the legendary actor’s “racist and bigoted statements.” They have also demanded that the Orange County Board of Supervisors, which has the authority, drop Wayne’s name and remove his statue.

The issue got a ton of media attention, including national outlets like CNN, The Washington Post, CBS News and USA Today. President Trump even weighed in, tweeting, “Now the Do Nothing Democrats want to take off the name John Wayne from an airport. Incredible stupidity!”

It should be noted that Wayne is still revered by many across Orange County, especially in Newport Beach, where he lived for many years. Duke’s Place was a popular restaurant and lounge inside the Balboa Bay Resort. The Newport Beach Film Festival has screened an annual tribute to Wayne for more than a decade.

The renaming issue has not gone anywhere with the Board of Supervisors, which consists of four Republicans and one Democrat. The board opted not to discuss the issue during its July 14 meeting.

Michelle Steel is chair of the Board of Supervisors, representing the second district. She has declined to endorse discussion of the issue before the board, and there are no future plans to discuss it, according to her communications director Ian Henderson.

A couple of weeks ago, Steel issued a statement: “John Wayne led the movement to make Orange County home to Vietnamese refugees, he was an ardent supporter of our men and women in uniform, and his family foundation has been a national leader in cancer research.

“As an immigrant to our country, I am extremely sensitive to the actions and statements of people who perpetuate and make racist statements. The comments by John Wayne from 50 years ago are wrong and sad from someone who so many people across America hold in high regard. 

“While I have experienced racism first-hand, I do believe that a person should be judged on the totality of their actions and contributions to society which is why I support keeping the name John Wayne Airport.”

What About the Democrat?

Doug Chaffee, the sole Democrat on the Board of Supervisors who represents the fourth district, supports returning to the name Orange County Airport, which was the airport’s identity before it was named after Wayne in June 1979, nine days after his death.

But Chaffee doesn’t want this effort to be political or partisan.

“However it’s handled, it takes a majority to vote in order to change the name,” he said. The Republicans on the board “don’t want to change the name. If I can get the business community behind the name change, especially the businesses that belong in tourism, that to me is non-partisan. That’s the approach I want to take. Wouldn’t it be better to promote the county, identifying the airport, including the business interests, with Orange County, or ‘the O.C.’? The county now owns the trademark.”

Chaffee said he doesn’t think a name change will succeed before the November elections. “I think it kind of needs to take a rest until after November. Otherwise, it will be considered partisan or political.”

But Ada Briceño, chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County, who helped draft the party’s resolution, says now is the time, and they’re going to keep asking the board to change the name.

“The fact that we’re greeted, everybody who comes to Orange County is greeted by a man who is a self-proclaimed white supremacist is really troubling. It’s really troubling to a lot of people in Orange County,” Briceño said. “Given where we’re at now, it’s time. This is the moment. We are looking to the Board of Supervisors to make that change.

“We know that nothing happens overnight. This is a crucial time. It matters who greets you. Symbols matter. Words matter. Names matter. A lot of people know what (Wayne) said, and it’s not acceptable. We’re going to keep asking them to change the name.”

There is one supervisor who’s up for re-election: Andrew Do, who represents the first district. His opponent is Sergio Contreras, a Democrat, and he has received the endorsement of the Democratic Party of Orange County.

Briceño added that she believed the name of the airport will eventually change, whether it’s soon or in the future.

“I do think it’s going to change,” she said. “It’s got to. It’s got to change.”

Confirming KKK Connections

The Anaheim Heritage Center, located in downtown Anaheim, holds two lists of Orange County-based Ku Klux Klan members in its collection. The center is closed to the public during the coronavirus pandemic, but Jane Newell, the Heritage Services manager, does take public requests for research.

Newell confirmed about a dozen names of prominent Orange County residents from the 1920s and 1930s on the KKK lists, many of whom have streets or buildings named after them.

Incidentally, Gustavo Arelleno, former editor of OC Weekly, did a series investigating KKK ties in Orange County and referred frequently to these lists, which were donated in 1972 by historian Leo J. Friis, who worked in the Orange County District Attorney’s office from 1929-35 and served as Anaheim city attorney from 1941-49.

In Arellano’s series, he identified J.O. Lowell, a Santa Ana rancher, as a Klan member. Lowell Street in Santa Ana is named after him. 

Pieper Lane in Tustin was named after John F. Pieper, a verifiable Ku Klux Klan member. He served as a Tustin councilmember and operated a feed store in Tustin but the shop no longer exists, as it was torn down in the 1960s for not being earthquake safe. 

Samuel Hilgenfeld was a Buena Park minister and founder of Anaheim’s Hilgenfeld Mortuary, which still bears his name. He’s included in list No. 2 of Orange County KKK members. 

William E. Fanning is on list No. 2, identified as a teacher from Brea.

There are many other examples of KKK members who held prominent city positions and whose names are still on buildings, plaques and streets in Orange County.

Newell said the KKK lists in the Anaheim Heritage Center should be considered secondary and not primary sources, since they are a compilation of information from an unnamed source.

However, Mike Rodriguez, the Santa Ana history and ethnic studies teacher, said he has done research on these lists, and there’s plenty of documentation that they were copied by Friis from a reliable, primary source.

“I think that Orange County has had a very difficult path with racial issues, and you know, some time ago, the Ku Klux Klan had a stronghold on Anaheim City Council,” Briceño said. “They were the majority on the city council. There are many other stories like that in Orange County.”

Meanwhile, as protests continue and the coronavirus pandemic forces us to examine ourselves, more changes are being considered. A Change.org petition demands that Tuffree Middle School in Placentia should change its name. Colonel J.K. Tuffree, the school’s namesake, was a financial backer of the Confederate States and a Secret Service agent for the Confederacy, the petition states. He moved to Orange County in 1872, and lived in Fullerton until his suicide in 1903. More than 60 years later, after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, the school was named in honor of him.

And will Canyon High School in Anaheim Hills reconsider its mascot and team name, the Comanches? There’s a Change.org petition with 1,231 signatures demanding a change. Will Esperanza High School, also in Anaheim Hills, reconsider its mascot and team name, the Aztecs?

Will the city of Huntington Beach ever consider renaming Heil Avenue? Even though it’s named after Vernon C. Heil, a World War I veteran and rancher who lived on what’s now Beach Boulevard, “Heil” seems like a direct reference to the Nazi Party salute, World War II Germany and Adolf Hitler. Perhaps changing the signage to Vernon Heil Avenue would help to reduce the stigma associated with Hitler and would allow the community to more accurately honor the man.

As social unrest continues to brew in the U.S., and demand for change continues, everyone’s consciousness — regardless of political affiliation — is being raised a little bit.

“It doesn’t look like this Black Lives Matter movement is slowing down,” Rodriguez said. “I think we’re going to see a lot more change in the future.” 

Richard Chang is a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC, focusing on the visual arts. He can be reached at richiechang@gmail.com.

Voice of OC intern Kim Pham contributed to this report.


This article has been updated to reflect a name change that occurred at the Saddleback College library in 2012. 


This story was supported by a grant from the Asian American Journalists Association, Los Angeles chapter. Voice of OC makes all editorial decisions.