Then and Now: Blacksmith Shop and Irvine Garage

The former Irvine Garage is now a Dennyâ€TMs restaurant located on the corner of Sand Canyon Avenue and Burt Road.


The intersection of Burt Road and Sand Canyon Avenue was once "downtown" on the old Irvine Ranch.

The little town of Irvine was originally named Myford after James H. Irvine's youngest son. Businesses sprang up around the warehouses and the Santa Fe Railroad line, serving the farmers and ranch employees who worked the fields.

In 1909, Frederick Mead Culver leased the most acreage on the Irvine Ranch. Present day Culver Drive was named in his honor. Culver asked James Irvine for permission build a blacksmith shop near the warehouses. He intended to provide a business for his brother, Willard, who was raising a large family of 10 children. Permission was granted and Frederick Culver built the blacksmith shop facing Central Avenue, which is now Sand Canyon Avenue.

The blacksmith shop was key to keeping farm and warehouse machinery in good repair. It was imperative that all machinery was kept in working order, especially during the busy harvest season. Willard Culver also made wagon wheels, fixed buggies, and fitted horseshoes at his shop. In 1925, Gene Thomas took over the operation of the blacksmith shop, a job he held until 1978.

The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places because hydraulics where developed there for farm equipment during World War II. The crops of the Irvine Ranch were an important source of food for the troops, but field workers were needed for the war effort. New equipment was designed to automate the harvest. Next to the Armed Forces, the Irvine Blacksmith Shop had the highest priority in the area to obtain metal during World War II.

Adjacent to the blacksmith shop was the Irvine Garage. Built before 1929, it was one of the earliest Ford dealerships in Orange County. About 1926, a man started a small auto repair business under a pepper tree across the street. He was so successful that he built a mechanics garage which was eventually moved across the street and attached to the east end of the Ford dealership. The building still stands and is home to a Denny's restaurant.

The blacksmith shop was also converted into a restaurant during the Old Town Irvine restoration project. Today, it is the home of Knollwood Restaurant. Inside, diners can still find the old, gas-fired forge and see marks from branding irons that are burned into the north wall. The lathe belts are still hanging on the long drive near the Tool Room.

Ellen Bell lives in Irvine and is the author of the book "Irvine: Images of America" by Arcadia Publishing.