With the start of 2017, the City of Brea began its Centennial Celebration. From showcasing an immense collection of vintage film posters at the Brea Art Gallery to a parade down Birch Street and city wide picnic, it has been quite a year. How do we sum up a hundred years of history? When we talk about the past, oftentimes we separate time into specific events, memories.
This year we’ve been reminded of many significant events in our city history. Like the big game with Walter Johnson and Babe Ruth. Before Johnson became “Big Train” and joined the ranks of baseball’s all-time greatest pitchers, he moved to a small oil town named Olinda. Years later he would return with “The Gambino” himself to play a game in his old home town. We could look at the flood of 1938 and the aftermath of a town rebuilding, or the struggle of making it through the Great Depression. At the Curtis Theatre, we’ve done a lot of looking back while working on our upcoming play, Tales from the Canyon: The Olinda Story. When one of our narrators from the show, The Station Master, tries to describe the town of Olinda he says “I’d like to think a town is made up by the spirit of its people.” The spirit of the people that live here really has been undeniable, even all the way back at the beginning.
Before there even was a Brea, there was the once thriving oil boom town of Olinda. Olinda was nestled in the hills of North Orange County from the early 1900’s to the 1950’s. The promise of oil brought workers from all over the country, hoping to make a life for themselves and their families. Homes were built for the oil field workers and a community developed. Oil workers worked long hours in dangerous conditions; it wasn’t easy but the Olinda livelihood soon became a way of life. Schools and churches were built as workers and their families raised children among the rolling hills. Families enjoyed baseball and dances at the community hall. The first hints of Brea came as a neighboring community that began providing services to the oil companies and their workers. As technology changed, residents of Olinda saw a community dwindle and a way of life abandoned. The end of Olinda saw the beginnings of Randolph, which would eventually become the City of Brea that we know today.
You can explore more of historic Olinda at the Olinda Oil Museum & Trail where the community’s first oil well has been pumping since 1897. There, you can also take a historic walk down the Olinda Oil Trail and trace the footsteps of early oil pioneers. For more photos and stories of Brea through the ages, visit the Brea Museum & Historical Society.
Although the town of Olinda is gone, the spirit of its people continues today. Brea continues the legacy of strong community, hard work, and the importance of family. Now as Brea sets its eyes on the next hundred years, we not only take a look back, but forward as well. Two years ago, the city began a project called Brea Envisions. The goal of this project was to hear from Brea residents, business owners, youth, seniors, and community leaders to share their vision and value for what Brea should be in the future. We’ve come a long way since that small town and as we close out of Centennial year celebrations, it’s reassuring to know those strong values will guide us in the future.
This strong community of Brea is represented in many ways in Tales from the Canyon: The Olinda Story. With cast members who live and work in Brea now to those who have grown up in Brea, never knowing another city to call home. The cast also features many families, bringing in a multi-generational perspective on how Brea has changed and yet still has never lost that small town feel. We hope to celebrate the spirit of Brea and how far we’ve come together over the last 100 years.
Photos courtesy of the Brea Historical Society.
Tales from the Canyon: The Olinda Story performs Nov 3-12, 2017. Fridays & Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us!