Larry Strawther makes for a dizzying interview.
The local historian jumps back and forth in time like he’s not tied to the present. It’s the '60s. Then the roaring 20s. Then the gold rush. Then World War II.
And Strawther, a Rossmoor resident, has bottled that chronological skill into a book on the history of Los Alamitos and Rossmoor. Published by The History Press, the book is titled “A Brief History of Los Alamitos and Rossmoor.” Strawther, the force behind the local fundraiser Taste For Los Al , is going to have his first book signing at Marie Callender’s Grill from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Seal Beach on Thursday.
Strawther, a writer-producer who describes himself as a “history buff” has lived in Rossmoor since 1997, and his wife grew up there.
“I’ve always just liked history,” Strawther said. “Why is this area the way it is?”
And for the 60-year-old, the book seemed a natural outgrowth of that passion.
“I started accumulating information (on Los Al and Rossmoor) about 10 or 12 years ago," he said. “There have been no books of Los Alamitos or Rossmoor history.”
He adds that there are a few pamphlets about the area and some mentions in books on Orange county history, but no books specifically set aside for the area.
The book details the area’s transition from cattle ranching to a sugar beet factory town to a World War II military town and, finally, the residential community it is today.
"It has a very interesting history involving some of the most powerful ... and most influential men in the United States," Strawther said. "And it's almost a microcosm of western United State's history."
Strawther illustrates that microcosm by showing the area’s ties to locally important historical people, places and events: for example, the Native Americans, the gold rush, oil, the Civil War, both World Wars, the motion picture industry and post-world war suburbia.
According to the his publisher's biography, Strawther has been writing professionally since high school.
He has been a writer, script consultant and executive producer for the television classics Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Night Court and the co-creator and executive producer of the cult comedy hit MXC (Most Extreme Elimination Challenge).
He has also written for movies (Without a Clue, a Sherlock Holmes comedy), game shows (head writer on Jeopardy! in 1978-79) and for comedians such as Bob Hope, Rich Little and others and has even been a Bay Area sportswriter (late 1960s-early 1970s).
Strawther's longtime friend Polly Cross, a Seal Beach resident who’s helped Strawther with some of his fundraisers, said Strawther has "always been a history aficionado.”
“He just loves the community,” Cross said. “He does anything he can to give back. “His exuberance and his passion are contagious.”
Some interesting facts
- Future astronauts Neil Armstrong and John Glenn both flew planes from the Los Al base. Armstrong trained with a reserve unit on the weekend while working as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base during the weekdays in 1955. Glenn began his 1957 world-record setting transcontinental flight at Los Alamitos and three hours later landed in Brooklyn.
- Built in the 1890s, the Los Alamitos Sugar Factory, which extracted sugar from sugar beets, was funded by William Clark, the second richest man in America. Backed by the sugar biz, Los Alamitos was a factory town.
- As of Jan. 1, 1898, the LA Times called Los Alamitos one of Orange County's top three most promising towns – behind Anaheim and Fullerton but ahead of Santa Ana, Orange, Buena Park and Newport.
- At one point, sugar beets were a bigger crop in Orange County then oranges.
- Rossmoor is still the largest home tract ever built in Orange County: More than 3,500 homes constructed all by one builder.
- The owner of the dog food factory that used to be located in Los Alamitos had a controversial method of obtaining meat: collecting sea otters and wild Mustangs.
- According to Strawther, the Los Alamitos Navy Air Station (which became the Joint Forces Training Base) is the first base in Orange County, beating the Santa Ana Army Base. Although technically the Santa Ana Army Air Base was officially commissioned first, NAS Los Alamitos was the first one in use.
- The first building in Los Alamitos was the Southern Pacific Train Depot.