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Eldridge Park used to be called Fallbrook Park and was named in 1998 after Colonel William W. Eldridge, a long-time Santa Ana resident whose house stood on land that is part of the park now.
Colonel Eldridge was a U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot who served in World War 2, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He was highly decorated for numerous wartime accomplishments. He received three Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Bronze Star, a Meritorious Achievement Award, three Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry Medals, a Purple Heart, and 28 Air medals.
His highest medal is the Navy Cross, which he received after shooting down four Japanese planes in four minutes during the assault on Okinawa. There is a plaque honoring him at the Orange County Hall of Honor in Civic Center Plaza in Santa Ana.
The plaque describes the award for the Navy Cross this way;
"For extraordinary heroism in aerial flight as pilot of a fighter plane in Marine fighter squadron four hundred forty one in action against enemy Japanese forces during the assault on Okinawa, Shima, Ryukyu islands on 16 April, 1945, while flying as a member of a twelve plane combat air patrol Colonel Eldridge, (then a First Lieutenant), and his patrol answered distress calls and located a flight of approximately 25 enemy aircraft attempting to destroy a United States Fighter Director ship by suicide attacks, boldly engaging the hostile formation, he pressed home a determined attack to destroy four planes, thereby aiding materially in repulsing the Japanese attack and saving the ship. His gallant conduct was in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service."
Have you noticed the beautiful house at the corner of Flower St. and Orange Road? It is called the Smiley house, named for Jasper and Fannie Smiley, who built it in 1911. They had a 57 acre citrus ranch around the house and they were one of several citrus farmers in the area that became Morrison Park.
The Smileys owned the house until 1956, and then a man named Elmer Taylor owned it until 1977. After two more owners, it was purchased by Phil and Irene Chinn in 1986.
They completed a two-year restoration of the house and had it put on the Santa Ana Historical Preservation list. It is categorized as "Landmark", which is one of three Santa Ana listings. The other two are "Key" and "Contributive."
It is a Colonial Revival foursquare with Craftsman characteristics, which dominated residential construction in southern California during the first two decades of the twentieth century.
Paraphrasing the Dept. of Parks and Recreation Primary Record; "The Smiley House is architecturally significant as an outstanding example of Craftsman design. It possesses an extraordinary degree of design integrity with no alterations to the original design."
"Its picturesque quality, derived from the treatment of the woodwork in the gable ends and between the windows, and it's broadly spreading overhanging gables reveal the influence of the Swiss Chalet on Craftsman design." The house is listed on the California Register of Historical Resources.
This house is the only one remaining from the agricultural farm houses that were in the Morrison Park area and it is one of the most attractive houses in our neighborhood.
Dick and Jo Kirwan are long time residents of Santa Ana. While living in south Santa Ana in the 1960s, a realtor told Dick about new homes being built in the yet to be named Morrison Park neighborhood. In all, there were 19, two-story houses in the development that was created on Westwood Avenue and Corrigan Avenue. At $33,000, the Kirwans thought the houses were overpriced, but in 1966 they purchased the house they now live in at 2802 Westwood. Interestingly their three children went to schools in the Orange School District since the middle of Westwood Avenue is the dividing line between the Orange and Santa Ana School Districts.
Married in 1953, the year 1959 found the Kirwans driving from Nebraska to California in a 1954 Ford. Their 2-door, 6-cylinder, two-tone green colored auto got them and their belongings here in fine shape, although they, like others of the time, carried a canvas bag filled with water on the front bumper, just in case they had to add water to the radiator while crossing the hot desert. Before heading west, Jo was teaching in Quinby NE (40 miles from Sioux City) and drove a red Chevy. Jo's parents lived in Iowa and would visit Dick and Jo in the summer.
Dick's professional career was in education. He taught in Wayne, Battle Creek, and Lincoln NE before taking up that occupation in the Santa Ana School District in 1959. He eventually became a principal in the Orange School District. Dick is a graduate of Nebraska State Teachers College (formerly Wayne State College) in Wayne, NE. Jo taught as well while in Nebraska, her subjects being high school music, speech, and English. Her first year in the profession was in a small town named Otto. Upon moving to Santa Ana, Jo was a stay-at-home mom for five years and then resumed her career in education by teaching music in the Orange School District for 22 years. She is a graduate of Wayne State College (now called Nebraska State Teachers College), which is not too far from Norfolk where the King of late night television was born.
Jo and Dick have three children, Susan, Jackie, and Danny. Jackie and Danny followed in their parents footsteps and are teachers. Susan was once a part of the Dick Clark organization performing on the show "Putting on the Hits" and had other jobs in the entertainment industry and elsewhere.
Dick Kirwan was the first president of the Morrison Park Neighborhood Association. The second president, Frank Vega, lived three houses down the street from them. Dick would bring a public address system to the meetings so that the neighbors could hear what was going on. Jo and Dick published the first neighborhood newsletter.
The Kirwans recalled that all of North Santa Ana was originally one neighborhood. However, the city desired to reduce the influence of the area and so devised a plan to split the north part of the city into the nine neighborhoods that exist now.
Dick remembered meeting Douglas Corrigan in his orange grove (now Morrison Park). Corrigan would throw oranges to his girls when they rode by on their bicycles. Corrigan bought the grove with the proceeds from his tour money in the 1930s. When the Kirwans moved here, Morrison Park itself was still part of Corrigan's property. In the 1970s the City planned to put in a large apartment complex on the site. The Kirwans got together with the neighbors and demanded no apartments and the result is the beautiful park we have now. They were also very much involved in the modernization of the playground in the mid to late 1990s. Jo was on the playground design committee that convinced the city to update the original playground, add a tot lot in the vacant field next to the playground, add new concrete picnic tables, and plant trees. During this period Dick was Vice President, Jo was treasurer, and Debbie Muise was secretary. There was no President and Dick, Jo, and Debbie constituted the only officers and the entire Board!
We wish Jo and Dick continued happiness
in their beloved Morrison Park.