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Costa Mesa, California

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Costa Mesa Historical Society
Museum and Headquarters      

1870 Anaheim Avenue. The building is located near the downtown library and recreation center. Open Thursdays and Fridays 10-3

The Costa Mesa Historical Society is a civic organization whose members care about promoting and preserving the history of our town.

Since its opening in 1981, the Costa Mesa Historical Society’s Museum and Headquarters building has served as the repository for our collection of local history items including:

  • Natural and man-made objects

  • Photographs and maps

  • Newspapers, periodicals and news clipping files

  • Oral Histories, audio/video recordings and motion picture films

  • Published works such as books, pamphlets, directories and school yearbooks

  • Unpublished works such as manuscripts, personal papers, other archival materials

Only a small portion of our collection can be exhibited at any one time. Society volunteers have selected representative items for public exhibit.

Permanent Exhibits

Early Periods – Indian, Mission, Rancho Periods, 2500BC to 1870s: Includes cogged stones, arrowheads, grindstones, baskets; an Indian village diorama; and the story of the Diego Sepulveda Adobe (the Estancia), our connection to Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Early Communities – Farming Period, 1880s to 1930s: Includes the boom and bust of Fairview; establishment of farming communities of Paularino and Harper; and the contest to select a new name for Harper (winning entry: Costa Mesa).

Costa Mesa Homestead, 1920s to 1950s: Includes vintage household furnishings and products; farm tools and implements; and period office equipment. Most frequent comment: "My grandfather (or grandmother) had one of those."

City Incorporation, 1950s to 1960s: Includes the campaign for incorporation of Costa Mesa in the face of annexation moves by Santa Ana and Newport
Beach; early city halls; city staff; city council; and the building of today’s civic center.

Transition to "City of the Arts", 1960s to 2003: Includes the growth and development of modern Costa Mesa to a fully built-out city; South Coast Plaza; Orange County Performing Arts Center; and downtown redevelopment, Costa Mesa Courtyards and Triangle Square.

Costa Mesa from the Air, 1955 to 1987: Includes four giant aerial photographs (7ft. x 7ft.) of the Costa Mesa area taken in 1955, 1966, 1973 and 1987. These aerial photos document the miraculous growth of Costa Mesa from agricultural roots to bustling city with population over 100,000. Most frequent comment: "There’s my house!"

Santa Ana Army Air Base, 1942 to 1946: Includes cadet classification and training; class photos; uniforms; personal gear and insignia; maps; instruments; Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and Jack Otterson’s original sketch of the famed Gremlin Mural. Supplementing the SAAAB exhibit is a collection of fine scale models of the aircraft flown by SAAAB cadets as well as other aircraft pre-WW II to late cold war era.

Special Exhibits

Special exhibits focus on topics of current interest – they change more frequently than the permanent exhibits described above.

Newport Boulevard – Remember When? Covers the period starting when we had a railroad operating down the center of Newport Blvd up to the present time, pointing out some of the original buildings still in use today.

C. J. Segerstrom & Sons: In 1882 C. J. Segerstrom relocated his family to the USA from Sweden, finally arriving in the Costa Mesa area several years later. This exhibit covers the family businesses, farming and property development, and the many contributions the family has made to the area.

Costa Mesa’s First Schools: Includes schoolhouses and pupils from the early communities of Fairview, Paularino and Harper (beginning in 1889); the Costa Mesa School (1923); Lindbergh School (1931); and the new Costa Mesa Grammar School (1935) (later became McNally School). Can you help to identify any of the students or teachers in our school photos?

One Hundred Years of Industry: Covers the changes in industrial activity in the Costa Mesa area beginning with agriculture – ranching, grain farming, chicken farming, orchards – and leading to the advent of fiberglass and the spawning of the boat building industry. Later industrial development includes industrial ceramics, information and apparel industries. Most
frequent comment: "I didn’t know that!"

Hours, Activities and Events

The Costa Mesa Historical Society museum and library is open to the public every Thursday and Friday between 10:00am and 3:00pm, and at other times by appointment. Please visit the following pages for additional information on activities, events and other Historical Society information:

More information on Costa Mesa Historical Society activities can be found at the following links:

If you are interested in volunteering or joining the Costa Mesa Historical Society, please fill out our volunteer form.


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