Orange County’s Jewish History

0816historyBorn in 1907 into a successful Jewish family in Portland, Oregon, Norton Simon and his family felt disconnected from their cultural heritage and unwelcome in their conservative Oregon surroundings. After his mother Lillian passed away when he was only 14, Norton’s father Myer moved the family to San Francisco, to be closer to the Jewish community. Simon, with a photographic memory and the ability to calculate complicated numbers in his head, graduated high school at 16 and plunged head-first into business. In 1927, he purchased an insolvent orange juice bottling plant in Fullerton, renamed it Val Vita Foods, and turned it into a $9-million-a-year company. Typical of tight-knit Jewish families, Simon hired his friend Mike Wangenheim, a distant cousin of the San Juan Capistrano Mendelsons, to be Val Vita’s president. When Hunt Foods was started in the mid 1940s, brother-in-law Fred Weisman, who was married to Simon’s younger sister Marcia, was named president. Simon began collecting art in the 1950s, out of a belief that “… art at its finest gives us a deep sense of history, tradition, and the true potentialities of man’s creativity.” A little known fact is that he wanted to house his significant private art collection in Fullerton, but a dispute with the city caused him to go elsewhere. When he passed in 1993, he left the world an amazing legacy.

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