The Dr. Howe-Waffle House

When you talk to some people around town, they believe the Howe-Waffle House is a restaurant that IHOP passed up when the pancake magnate purchased all the old waffle establishments (presumably because they wanted to have pancakes instead of waffles on their menu). The fact is, IHOP was never even in the picture. What was plain as day in the mid-80s was, the House was in big trouble, because it was on Seventh Street, and Seventh Street was in big trouble. Planned for elimination because of a redevelopment project, Seventh Street was the original site of the now famous Howe-Waffle House.

The House is the former residence of perhaps the most famous female doctor in [Orange] County history. Dr. Howe-Waffle was one of Orange County’s first female doctors. She was well known in her time for delivering over 1,000 babies. Her practice spanned 38 years, and she was known for her kindness and devotion to her patients.

Not long after William Spurgeon bought about 75 acres that became the nucleus of Santa Ana, Dr. Alvin and Mrs. Willella Howe arrived in the County. The year was 1878. Dr. and Mrs. Howe first settled down on a rural county road near what is now the town of Westminster. She was not initially a doctor, but a schoolteacher who taught locally at the Bolsa School. Her chief aim was to raise money to go back east to medical school. And go she did, in the middle 1880s. She took her baby daughter with her, showing great fortitude to take her place beside the predominate males in training to be physicians—and with a toddler, no less! She returned to Santa Ana from Hahnemann Medical College in Chicago after her graduation in 1886. She and her husband originally built their home near the corner of Bush and Seventh Streets.

It must have been a boom town in 1889 when the House was ready for occupancy. This was the year that Orange County Title Company opened its doors and Orange County separated from Los Angeles County. The House took two years to build and cost $3,000—in those days that was very serious money! Today, the remains one of the best examples of ornate Queen Anne Victorian residential architecture.

The Doctor treated many a patient, and traveled throughout the central County to her patients, sometimes through flooding lowlands. This was over 100 years ago, when there was no such thing as the Corps of Engineers or the channelized Santa Ana River. A two and one-half inch storm could put your buckboard half under water.

With regard to the old time history that covers the Howe, you may ask, “What about the ‘Waffle’?” This is where things must have gotten interesting. Dr. Alvin Howe (the husband) was accused by Orange County’s first grand jury of performing an abortion. The charges were scandalous in those days, and even though the jury eventually ruled the evidence hearsay, Dr. Howe left Santa Ana. The charges and publicity were apparently too much for the marriage, as Willela Howe stayed in Santa Ana, divorcing Dr. Howe in 1897. Not long after, she married Edson Waffle, a prominent livery stable owner and rancher, and became known as Dr. Howe-Waffle. Edson brought his three children to live with them in the House.

Dr. Howe-Waffle had a wonderful medical practice, and contributed much to local functions and the community. She died while serving one of her patients in 1924; she was 74 years old. The Dr. Howe-Waffle House has been restored to look as if the Doctor has just left to be with a patient and will return shortly.

More recent history saw the House moved and restored to its current location in 1975. Beautifully restored by the Santa Ana Historical Society, the Dr. Willela Howe-Waffle House and Medical Museum has reopened as part of the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society’s finest exhibit. Regular monthly tours are conducted on the first weekend of each month, Saturday from 10 AM to 4 PM and Sunday from 12 Noon to 5 PM.

For additional information, visit the web page, the home of the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society, celebrating their 25th anniversary in 1999! Information may also be obtained by calling the Orange County Historical Society at (714) 543-8282, or the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society at (714) 953-1876.

(Donald Krotee, “Architecturally Speaking,” Downtown Business News, May 1999)