Orange County Designed the Lost Cause
Southerner's played key roles in the founding of Orange County. Like many places across California and the West, following the Civil War, Orange County served as a site of national reconciliation. Former enemies became neighbors, friends, and comrades as they sought to create a civilization in the wilderness. Without reconciliation, Orange County's secession from Los Angeles would not have been possible.
In the decades after the War Between the States, organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) fought to preserve a pro-Southern vision of history widely regarded as the Lost Cause. The South seceded from the Union because of states' rights, not slavery, in this vision. North and South were brothers, with Black Americans serving as a common threat. Slavery was a happy institution, interrupted by radical abolitionists dedicated to destroying the peace and prosperity that reigned over the nation.
No other film better encapsulates this vision than David O. Selznick's Gone With the Wind (1939) based on Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel of the same name. Gone With the Wind follows the journey of Scarlett O'Hara, a Southern belle whose life is interrupted by the outbreak of war. Rather than surrender, Scarlett - an embodiment of Southern womanhood and resilience - adapts to every challenge that comes her way. While her old way of life faded, she, like the South, would prevail.
One of the film's most enduring legacies is the image of Tara, Scarlett's family plantation and the place that keeps her rooted and strong. While the novel describes Tara as a small working plantation, the film depicts Southern grandeur at its finest. Rows of cotton, happy slaves, verdant scenery, sumptuous dances, and the wonders of technicolor bring the plantation to life, becoming America's defining image of the antebellum South.
This image of Tara was the product of landscape architect Florence Yoch, born and raised in Santa Ana - daughter of Orange County pioneers Joseph and Catherine Yoch. This is not to say anything of Yoch's character, but to remark on one of her most well-known pieces of set design. Yoch was responsible for the design of over 250 gardens and landscapes across Southern California, ranging from lavish estates and simple gardens to the beautification plans of Orange County (now Irvine Park). Her brilliant designs made her a favorite among Hollywood directors, including David O. Selznick (whose house she helped design), and throughout the Depression of the 1930s, her awe-inspiring landscapes helped the American people lose themselves in fantasies of a better world.
Thus, not only did Orange County serve as the background of D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915). The region also was home to the artist and visionary who gave the world Scarlett's Tara in Gone With the Wind (1939). Though a story for another time, Orange County also had a connection to one of the breakout stars of the film, Hattie McDaniel. In the end, Florence Yoch successfully created the most perfect image of the antebellum South, in effect designing the Lost Cause.
See the Gone With the Wind trailer here: