Howe-Waffle House, one of Orange County's most historic structures, bears
witness to a different time and way of living, and to the courage and
determination of a remarkable woman. Dr. Willella Howe-Waffle, Orange
County's first female doctor.
The Victorian home was built from 1887 to 1889 at 702 N. Bush in Santa
Ana. It was relocated to its present site at 120 W. Civic Center Drive in
1975, and has been restored by the Santa Ana Historical Society. It is
used as a museum, open for tours and events.
The home is architecturally significant for several reasons. It was built
late in the Victorian period (1837-1901) in the Queen Anne Style. This
period was a dynamic time of industrialization in the United States and
Orange County. The home was completed in 1889, the year the county split
from Los Angeles and also the year when Santa Ana, a mere 20 years old,
was chosen as the county seat. At the time, the county had only 13,500
residents, and 3,000 of them lived in Santa Ana.
The country was recovering from the
Civil War and economic challenges, and it was a time of innovations such
as electric lights, passenger elevators and steel-framed skyscrapers.
During this period, families constantly entertained, and so the homes had
lovely din-ing rooms, sitting rooms and rooms for the ladies to meet after
dinner, as well as a room for the men to have their after-dinner cigars.
This home reflects the social values of the late Victorian era.
Aivin Howe and his wife, Willella, came to Orange County in 1878. Willella
taught school, earning enough to complete medical school in 1886- They
started building their 2-1/2 story home in 1887, and it was furnished in
1889 costing a princely sum (at that time) of 53,000. They lived there
with their two daughters.
A year after the house was completed, the county's first grand jury
indicted Dr. Alvin Howe on charges of performing an abortion. Howe. who
was also Santa Ana's second mayor, was acquitted but the scandal led him
to leave town for San Francisco. After divorcing Howe in 1897, Willella
married Edson Waffle, a prominent livery stable owner, becoming Dr.
This was a time when it was not considered appropriate for a woman to be a
doctor. Dr. Willella Howe-Waffle was quoted in the Santa Ana Register as
saying, "Some of those who fought me hardest have become my best friends."
often had to endure hardships and hazards, traveling by horse and buggy to
make house calls. "I can recall the days when a doctor, in order to drive
to Los Angeles from Westminster, had to break his own road through the
cactus, the willows and the mustard," she told the Santa Ana Register in
the 1920s. "Many is the day 1 have driven my horses through mud and water
up to their waists, with the flood creeping in at the bottom of the
In 38 years of practice, she delivered more than 1,000 babies, who became
known as "Waffle babies." She frequently treated the poor without pay, and
took patients into her home if they had no place to stay. At night she
often slept on an upstairs porch, so she could hear the calls of those
She remained active in her medical practice up until the day she died in
1924, at age 74, at the bedside of a patient.
When touring the home, one can see some of the original furnishings,
including those used in the medical practice. Also of interest is a
speaker tube going from floor to floor. This was the Victorian intercom.
Guy Ball, a longtime member of the executive committee of the Santa Ana
Historical Preservation Society, says: "Unlike on the East Coast where you
often see homes built 100 and 200 years ago, it's rare to have a vintage
and stylish house so well preserved . . . one we can show our children and
their children. We often speak of the lack of history in Southern
California. However, restored buildings like the Dr. Willella Howe-Waffle
house remind us that there really is a strong history here. It's just not
as apparent. So saving these classic buildings becomes even more important
Several Victorian architectural styles were
influenced by the Gothic Style, which started in France in 1150 and spread
throughout Europe. Gothic architecture is sometimes referred to as pointed
architecture and is identified by pointed arches over doors and windows
(originally used in Mesopotamia), buttresses, steep roofs and interior
style varied from area to area depending on available materials (mainly
stone), cli-mate, religion and social conditions. It was also influenced
by historical events. These factors still influence architectural styles.
In England by 1830 the Industrial Revolution was well under way. Roads had
been built and railways were starting to connect all parts of the country.
products were being manufactured and were easily transported. Dramatic
changes were occurring and these were exciting times for the people and
The earlier architectural styles of the Victorian era were not apparent in
Orange County simply because Orange County did not exist. James Irvine and
his partners bought the initial portion of the Irvine Ranch in 1864, but
it was not until 1889 that Orange County was formed, with a population of
13,589. Various cities had started to form before this, and many homes had
been built in the popular style of the period.
America suffered through the Civil War and the assassination of President
Lincoln, as well as a severe depression in the 1870s. The people were
ready for the later Victorian styles, which were affordable, whimsical and
colorful, The architecture of the time reflected the exuberance of the
period with its use of ornamentation and experimentation with
architectural forms. Standardized building materials were avail-able at
modest cost, and homes could now be built by craftsman carpenters.
The Southern Pacific Railroad arrived in Anaheim in 1875, and a short time
later the Santa Fe Railroad arrived. The railroads ushered the later
architectural styles of the Victorian era into Orange County.
© Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society