Sixty years ago John Feeney, 76, was camping out in a tent in an open field where Fashion Island now stands.
Feeney, along with about 50,000 other boys and young men, were participating in the 1953 Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree.
“This was open fields,” Feeney said. “There was nothing here… I still picture all those tents out there.”
For the 60th anniversary of the Jamboree a group of scouts – young and old – gathered at the monument at Fashion Island, located near Macy’s at the top of the escalator, that was erected to honor the event.
They invited guests from all over to attend the anniversary celebration, said Devon Dougherty, chief development officer for the Boy Scouts of America Orange County Council.
The group then went up to the permanent scouting facility at the end of Jamboree Road, Dougherty said, the Irvine Ranch Outdoor Education Center in Orange.
“It’s a celebration,” Dougherty said. “Sixty years ago these guys were out here camping and it’s celebrating all the fun they enjoyed.”
The 1953 event is the only Jamboree the scouts have ever held on the West Coast, Herrmann said.
It was also the largest ever, said Jeff Herrmann, scout executive for the BSA Orange County Council.
Scouts were brought in by train to the Santa Ana station and then bussed down a dirt road to bring them to the Jamboree, Dougherty explained, which is why it’s named Jamboree Road.
Herrmann has met about a dozen people over the past three years he has been in his position who have told him that they came out here as teenagers for the Jamboree and ended up staying or coming back later to live.
“The stories these guys can tell are great,” he said.
“We always hear from people around the community, ‘I was at the Jamboree. I remember when Fashion Island was just dirt,’” Dougherty added.
While Feeney was at the original Jamboree in Newport in 1953, his grandson Tyler Gaines, 13, attended a more recent Jamboree in West Virginia this year.
“It’s really nice to see what the area looked like at the 1953 Jamboree,” said Gaines, who admitted it is a little hard to imagine fields instead of Fashion Island.
In 1953, Feeney had just moved out to SoCal from Madison, Wis., a few days prior to the Jamboree and was invited to the event as a guest.
He judged several competitions, two of which were first aid and starting a fire without matches, he recalled.
“The one that sticks in my mind is the starting a fire without matches (contest),” he said.
The scouts were allowed to used a piece of flint, a bar of steel, a piece of charred cloth and some shredded kindling.
“I had to take spot checks smelling that shredded wood to make sure nobody had put flammable liquids in it,” he recalled with a smile.
That has changed a lot since then, he added, the process is a bit easier nowadays.
Gaines did have to pass first aid and start a fire, though not using the same method his grandfather used, for his rank advancement.
The core values are the same as they were 60 years ago, Herrmann said, but the activities, outings and manner of how they get the kids excited about the scouts has evolved over the years.
“Clearly kids are into computers and technology now,” he said, but other things have changed as well.
A highlight of the 1953 Jamboree was the blanket toss, Herrmann explained as an example. The blanket toss game was pretty simple: A bunch of kids around the edges of a blanket, and one in the middle as they tossed him up in the air. By comparison, he continued, the highlight of this year’s Jamboree was canopy zip line tours.
“So we’ve upgraded,” over the years, Herrmann said. “We’ve tried to do a good job of keeping up with the times.”
For more information, visit ocbsa.org.