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Preserve Orange County launched an interactive virtual map of Orange County’s historical resources on Thursday, with hundreds of historic sites now available to the public with the click of a button. 

“Our mission is to promote the conservation of the architectural and cultural heritage of the county through education, research and advocacy. So a publicly accessible map reflecting the breadth and scope of our historic resources aligns really well with our mission,” said Krista Nicholds, executive director of Preserve Orange County

Creating the interactive map was developed with the help of a team of experts and advocates passionate about this county’s historic buildings and landscapes. 

  • Philip Chinn, an Orange County historical commissioner, is a longtime advocate for preserving historic resources, and has supported this organization in its mission since the beginning, Nicholds said. Chinn inspired Nicholds with the idea that this interactive and accessible map would reflect the mission to build awareness of the county’s historic built environment, and planted the financial seed to make this project a reality, Nicholds said. 
  • Juan Thomassie, a visual communications professor at Ohio University, is the technical developer of the map. “Juan was generous with his time and really great to work with. And as you’ll see he’s created a beautiful tool that’s also very easy to use,” Nicholds said. 
  • Madeline Marmot, a Yorba Linda resident with a master’s in historical and sustainable architecture, assisted Nicholds in data gathering. “Madeline was an essential part of our team. She collected data for each site and helped me build the database on which the map depends,” Nicholds said. 

Only the Beginning

For its debut, the map includes 292 sites and the team plans to continue adding sites to the map over time. “There are a lot more places of historic and cultural significance in the county than 292,” Nicholds said. “Not included on the map at this time are any places, buildings, districts, structures, objects that are listed on local historic registers.”

Nicholds said this initial version includes sites on the National Register of Historic Places, the California Register of Historical Resources, County-owned historic sites and sites the County has identified with plaques.  

The map includes 100 sites with historical significance that have never received official recognition, called undesignated sites. However, Nicholds said this number will continue to increase as her team plans to continually update the map with more historic resources. 

Nicholds said the criteria for adding historic resources to the map follows the California and National Register’s established precedents, but that the two factors they weigh most heavily in the decision process is the site’s historic significance and integrity.

“Integrity we’re a little looser on because there are a lot of sites that are important that aren’t necessarily in the best physical condition. But we’re trying to tell a broad story about the important aspects of the county’s history,” Nicholds said. “For example, we’ve added the Michael Graves designed San Juan Capistrano Library; it’s neither listed nor 50 years old yet.”

Detailed information on the San Juan Capistrano Library and Auditorium as found on the Preserve Orange County interactive map. Credit: Screen Capture: HEIDE JANSSEN, Voice of OC

Alan Hess, board chair of Preserve Orange County, said the map includes roadside popular architecture alongside high art architects because architecture is about the daily lives of the people who live there.

“Buildings like fast food restaurants, like coffee shops, like the former Bob’s Big Boy in Garden Grove, these are all really very possible to be put on this list,” Hass said.

At this time, Nicholds said the map also doesn’t include contributors. 

“The site includes historic districts that are listed, but it doesn’t include individual contributors within those districts,” Nicholds said. 

Raising Awareness

Even though the project is still a work in progress, Hess is just excited for the resource to finally be available. 

As an architect and historian himself, Hess said this interactive map is a great way to raise attention toward Orange County’s under-appreciated buildings and landmarks. 

“Orange County is not always given credit for the great architecture that is here. But this map is a step towards focusing attention on that,”  Hess said. “We’ve got such a breadth of good architecture, well-designed architecture, but also culturally and historically important architecture.” 

Hess said Orange County also offers a variety of styles, from Santa Ana’s Victorian-style courthouse to the internationally recognized Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove.

Matching the map’s diverse collection of historical sites are diverse navigation options. Users can search for historic resources by name, location, association (i.e. religion for churches), time period and more. 

In addition to having convenient navigation, the virtual tool represents these historic resources on the map with red dots, with respect to the user’s location. Each dot includes a thumbnail with the site’s name, location and architectural style. 

Hess said this tool can serve many purposes in the future, including tourism, city planning and preserving ethnic history. Nicholds and Hess both encourage users to help them improve the map to fulfill these purposes by sending them locations that have not yet been included. 

“We invite you to let us know of buildings around the county in your area that you think should be added to this that we haven’t gotten to yet. So this is just the start, but it’s a good start,” Hess said. 

If you have suggestions for historical and cultural sites that should be added to the map, contact Preserve Orange County at info@preserveoc.org.

Kristina Garcia is a writing fellow for Voice of OC Arts & Culture. She can be reached at kristinamgarcia6@gmail.com.

Kim Pham is a writing fellow for Voice of OC Arts & Culture. She can be reached at kimhphm@gmail.com.

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