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(Second of a series of articles celebrating our 30th anniversary)

By Roberta Reed

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In hindsight, some 30 years later, it seemed so simple. The Dr. Howe-Waffle house, both historically and architecturally significant, sat in the middle of the right of way for the widening of what would become Civic Center Drive. Of course, the house should be saved from demolition. So if it couldn’t remain where it was, it should be moved. It was that simple. Or was it?

As far back as 1968, plans were in process for the creation of Civic Center Drive in the area of Seventh and Eighth Streets in Santa Ana. The Dr. Howe-Waffle House, sitting at Seventh and Bush Streets, was threatened by this project from the beginning. Apparently the planners of the street project were unaware of the significance of the house, and those that were aware of its significance were unaware of the proposed street project.

Late in 1973, Mrs. Adeline Cochems Walker, an active member of the group LISA (Let’s Improve Santa Ana) learned of the proposed route and the implications to the Dr. Howe-Waffle House. By this time, the city had already purchased a significant portion of the right of way for this project, including the Dr. Howe-Waffle House, and had plans for its demolition. Mrs. Walker was quite surprised that city staff and officials were unaware of the significance of the house, particularly since a photo of it had hung in city hall for many years. It is also interesting to note that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project did not adequately review the Dr. Howe-Waffle House and had the house not been saved through other means, there likely would have been a legal challenge to the EIS to stop the demolition.

At a city council meeting on March 18, 1974, the fledgling group of preservationists, now known as the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society (Mrs. Walker noted at the time that while there were other historic organizations, this was the first historic preservation group in Orange County) asked the Council to hold off on demolition to allow for additional time to continue the efforts to save and preserve the house. At that meeting, Council voted to allow the historical society to do just that.

Working under the assumption that the first battle had been won, the Society worked hard to begin fundraising efforts to support the monumental project of moving and fully restoring the Dr. Howe-Waffle house.  Politics seemingly interfered with these efforts when Historical Society President Betty Biner stopped by Council Chambers on the night of the April 1, 1974 meeting to pick up a copy of the minutes from the March 18th meeting and was stunned to hear Council vote to reconsider its plans to give the house to the Historical Society and instead consider an offer from Santa Ana Community Hospital to relocate and restore the house.  It is interesting to note that many of the “plans” the hospital had for the house, enthusiastically greeted by Council, actually largely mirrored those that the Society had previously discussed.  Sadly, it appeared that someone in the city was not in favor of allowing the Society to restore the house, and had actually approached the hospital with the idea of them restoring it.  Mrs. Walker noted that while the hospital was financially in a far better position than the Historical Society, that it was not possible for them to love the house more than the Society did.

In the end, the hospital failed to follow through with any interest in the house beyond its initial letter.  This act did, however, have the effect of preventing the Society from being able to complete much in the way of preservation or fundraising efforts for nearly six months while the city tried to make up its mind about what to do with the house.

On September 17, 1974, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved the idea of a Heritage Square concept and agreed to provide land across the street from the Old Orange County Courthouse for the relocation of the Dr. Howe-Waffle House.  This apparently helped to convince the city to save the house, although additional work was necessary to convince them that the Carriage Barn also belonging to the doctor was also worthy of saving.

In spite of a year long battle filled with discouragement, Adeline Walker and her group of preservationists refused to give up (and no doubt sometimes they wanted to). Finally, the first stage of their hard work and efforts was realized when during the night of March 27-28, 1975, the Dr. Howe-Waffle House was moved to its new home at the corner of Sycamore and what would become Civic Center Drive.  The Carriage Barn followed it on Saturday, March 29.  Perhaps somewhat prophetically, the next day, Sunday, March 30, was Easter.

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