Christmas was a time of tradition on the Irvine Ranch.
James Harvey Irvine (1867-1947) saw to it that the holiday was properly celebrated and was involved in everything from the annual holiday dinner program to the Christmas cards that were sent to friends.
Irvine Family Home at Christmas
According to historian Judy Gauntt, James Irvine, Sr. hosted an annual Christmas dinner for members of the Five-Year Club, whose employees who had worked for The Irvine Company at least five years. This event was held at the mess hall in the agricultural headquarters. Today, the Mess Hall is used as OC Parks meeting space on the Irvine Ranch Historic Park campus.
“Irvine personally conducted these programs. He initiated new members; showed his home movies of travels to Australia, Europe, Africa and Alaska; commented on hard times and taxes, and awarded the invariable Christmas turkey and a month’s wages as bonus.”
“The men would put on a suit – often borrowed – to go to Irvine’s Christmas party. As the late Bill Cook recalled, “There would be a delicious dinner and kind words from Mr. Irvine. After dinner, the men politely watched the motion pictures of Mr. Irvine’s most recent travels.
“Sometimes it was kind of boring. Mr. Irvine always asked two hired hands to run the projector. One year they had a great deal of trouble threading the film properly. Every time they put the film in, it would break. Mr. Irvine took this for a short while and then you could tell he was getting sort of irritated. He looked at me, snapped his fingers and pointed to the projector. I had never run a projector in my life, but I knew he meant for me to go fix it, and I sure as heck was going to try. I went over to the projector and looked at what they were doing and made a lucky guess. I said, ‘Well, maybe if you threaded the film over this way and behind this, it would work better.’ It worked, and I wasn’t the only one relieved that it did!”
James H. Irvine was also responsible for the family Christmas cards sent out every year. He designed his own cards and, even though the poetry may not have been Mr. Irvine’s strong suit, the message came from his heart. These were not messages from The Irvine Co, but personal cards sent to family and friends. Most readers would have understood the humor that was intended. For instance, one year Irvine the avid hunter sent out a message that stated “no one could love the Irvine family without loving their dogs”
Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Navy contacted Irvine shortly after Pearl Harbor in search of a blimp base to provide antisubmarine patrols for the Los Angeles harbor. They chose two of the most valuable bean fields on the Irvine Ranch to create the Naval Air Station at Santa Ana (Lighter Than Air Base) and the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.
The 1941 card showed sacks of lima beans stacked up to the rafters in the old warehouse at the shipping center. The message, which indicated there would never be another sight such as this because the government had just taken over the bean field and there would never again be such a harvest, said, “Goodbye forever? Buy war bonds!”
Regardless of the theme or the poetry, these holiday cards give a rare insight to the personal side of a very private man.