Is it called “the circle” or “the plaza?” One Old Towne Orange-born and raised woman got the last word—on her headstone. Shirley M. Perkins, an Orange resident from 1926 to 2021, wanted everyone to know that the heart of our neighborhood is called “the plaza,” no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Orange from Birth
Before the plaza fountain and the antique shops, and before Old Towne Orange was what it is now, Perkins was roller skating and playing hopscotch all throughout the neighborhood. This spunky Orange native was born on February 6, 1926 in her family’s home at 343 North Cleveland Street. Perkins (nèe Edwards) was the oldest of two children and came from Iowan transplants.
In her written narrative history, compiled by Rosemarie Williams and Bill Barron of the Orange Community Historical Society, she recounted simpler times. Summer days were spent walking down to The Plunge at Hart Park. During Christmas time, her dad would drive her and her brother, Robert, to Santa Ana to see the lights and decorations on Flower Street. These were her stomping grounds. When she was eight, her family moved to 384 North Center Street, which remained her home until her adulthood.
From kindergarten through eighth grade, Perkins was a student of Immanuel Lutheran School. Social and personable, even at 89 in the retelling of her life to Williams and Barron, she can still identify the first and last names of the neighborhood children she used to play and go to school with; Lorraine Westcott, Arden Westcott, Lorraine Lembke, Ethel Stewart, Kenneth Stewart, Marvin Stewart, and Bonnie Minton. She could even recall where they lived!
Perkins attended Orange Union High School from 1939 to 1943, right in the thick of World War II. She remembers when she went to a show at Orange Theatre, now Son Light Christian Center, on December 7, 1941, a date that will live in infamy. A man came out on stage and announced that all servicemen were to report to their stations immediately. The war against Japan had just been declared by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The next day at school, they had an assembly to listen to the president’s address on the radio. From then, what was to be a high school experience filled with young love, golden friendships, and new experiences, was replaced with blackouts, rationings, and all-girl dances. Still, Perkins remembered happy times.
Two years after she graduated, the war ended on August 15, 1945, also known as V-J Day. Perkins and her friends celebrated in Santa Ana on the corner of 4th and Main. She said they honked horns, yelled, and screamed in honor of the victory against Japan.
Perkins’ attended Chapman College, now known as Chapman University, where she played the violin in the symphony orchestra. Her love for music began in the fifth grade when a girl in her school inspired her mother to enroll her in violin lessons. Her first studio was upstairs in what is now the Wells Fargo Building in the plaza. Her entire life was spent in Old Towne Orange and she reflected on it fondly.
Orange native through and through, Perkins played, learned, and even worked right in this neighborhood. She took her first job while still in high school at the Orange County Fruit Exchange, which is still on the corner of Almond and Glassell. Her next job was as a bookkeeper for Santiago Orange Growers, until she had her first child in 1947.
She stayed home with the kids while her husband, Bob Perkins, ran and operated Perkins Bakery, which was last located on West Chapman Avenue, where Elsewhere Vintage is located now. As traffic increased and parking spots became scarce, the Perkins let the bakery go. When the kids were old enough to go to school, she returned to work at Orange Savings and Loan for a number of years before going back to work at the Immanuel Lutheran School office.
Orange Plaza vs. Orange Circle
So, which is it—a plaza or a circle? Perkins was particularly passionate about this debate topic. She was adamant that her friends and family call it the plaza, even as more people were colloquially referring to it as the circle. Her reasoning was rooted in traditionalism as “the plaza” was what the organizers of the park had originally named it. It only became known as “the circle” in modernity when traffic surrounding it evolved from horses and buggies to cars.
Her interest in the topic seems to have originated from her high school days. She and her classmates felt so strongly about the subject, they made bumper stickers that said “It’s the Plaza! Not the Circle, Class of ‘43, O.U.H.S.” They handed them out and put them on their cars to make sure everyone knew exactly what it was called. She and her classmates remained good friends their whole lives, and met at Watson’s Soda Fountain and Cafe every Saturday for over 50 years!
Perkins passed away on January 22, 2021. She left this world surrounded by family, in the home she raised her children in, at 1031 E. Rosewood Avenue. That same day, hours before her death, her great-grandson was born, a little cutie to add to the Orange family tree. She leaves behind a group of Orange-lovers and a statement that she hopes echoes through the towne: “it’s called the Plaza.”
Have you been convinced to call it the plaza now?
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Last Updated on May 18, 2023 by Pattie Cordova