El Toro Post Office

(May 29, 1888 –        )

The first townsite here was known as Aliso City, but the Post Office Department reportedly turned down that name because it was too similar to Alviso, in Northern California. So El Toro (a name that dates back to mission times) was substituted. In 1963 it was proposed to reduce the El Toro Post Office to a branch on Laguna Beach, to be known as Laguna North, but local residents strongly protested. Though the area has now incorporated as the City of Lake Forest, the El Toro Post Office survives, since there was already a Lake Forest, California, post office near Lake Tahoe (a fact missed by boosters of the Lake Forest name).

Like many small town post offices, the El Toro Post Office was located for many years in the El Toro Store. Joe Osterman, the son of longtime El Toro merchant and postmaster George Osterman, provided a bit of an inside view of life in a small town post office in his 1982 book 50 Years in “Old” El Toro: “Fourth class post offices, which El Toro would remain for the next quarter century or more [after 1922], were certainly not ‘political plums’ that were in any kind of demand…. The pay was based on the volume of mail handled calculated according to the number of cancellations on outgoing mail.” “[P]ostal inspectors of that time traveled by railroad, and, in a way, they were victims of a ‘conspiracy’…. The practice was for the postmaster of Irvine or San Juan Capistrano, whichever might have been the preceding stop, to pick up the phone and call the next station so that office could get things in order.”


Olif G. Fairchild, 1888-1890

Olif Fairchild was the first railroad agent at El Toro (and presumably some relation to local real estate promoter J.A. Fairchild). The post office was probably originally in the depot, but Fairchild then built a two-story building across the street which served as a store and hotel. The post office was located there until the building burned in 1917. 

Charles W. Lyon, 1890-1894

“C.W. Lyon, proprietor of the hotel at El Toro, died yesterday at El Toro, age 53. Mr. Lyon was a native of Pennsylvania and had resided at El Toro several years.” (L.A. Times, 7-22-1903) 

Robert L. Squires, 1894-1897

Robert Squires is listed in the 1895-96 Orange County Directory as “Postmaster and dealer in general merchandise, groceries, hardware, furnishings goods, cigars, etc.” in El Toro. By the beginning of 1898 he had left town.

David Gockley, 1897-1898

“Gockley was well known in Santa Ana and Orange county. He farmed for a number of years on the Moulton ranch, and was one of the Orange county men who hastened to the Klondike when the gold excitement was on there. He was successful in his quest for gold and came home with quite a little stake.” He resigned as postmaster in 1898 when he left for the Klondike. He died in Los Angeles in 1915. 

James H. Lucas, 1898-1902 

John L. Gail, 1902-1904

The most lasting reminder of John Gail’s brief stint at the El Toro Store was that his daughter, Nellie Gail, went on to marry famed South County rancher Lewis F. Moulton, the co-owner of the Niguel Ranch. Five months after his resignation, John Gail was appointed postmaster at Moneta, near Gardena.                     

Edward H. Bercaw, 1904-1909

Edward Bercaw owned several stores in Orange County over the years. Besides the El Toro Store, he owned a second store in San Juan Capistrano (1907-1911). In the early ‘20s he owned a store in Delhi, where he also served as postmaster of the Gloryetta Post Office (1922-23). From there he went back to San Juan Capistrano where he ran the local branch of Smart & Final. 

Arthur A. Avery, 1909-1921

A.A. Avery bought the El Toro Store from Ed Bercaw in 1909 and renamed it the Three-A Store. He was appointed postmaster a month later and by 1911 was also serving as local Deputy Sheriff. It is unclear where the store and post office were located after the original building burned in 1917. 

Bennie W. Osterman, 1921-1922

The Osterman brothers built a new store building and opened the El Toro Mercantile Co. in 1921. Ben Osterman originally planned to have active charge of the store and so got the appointment as postmaster. But he very quickly gave up both jobs. 

George D. Osterman, 1922-1947

It was George Osterman who ended up running the store for the next quarter century. It took a little while to transfer the postmastership, but as his son, Joe, liked to point out, he got the job without any tests or interviews. 

Lorie B. La Furgey, 1947-1948

Lorie Furgey was living in El Toro by 1942. He served as acting postmaster, but not got the full appointment. 

William A. Burrows, 1948-1963

William Burrows took over the El Toro Mercantile from the Osterman family and ran the store until his death in July 1963 at age 53. The Post Office Department ledger shows a three-year gap after his death, but the Tustin News (4-29-1965) reports that Bob Nieblas had been appointed (acting?) postmaster. Another source shows Jorgen H. Hansen as acting postmaster in 1966. That same year, the El Toro Post Office moved into its own building. 

Noelie M. Changala, 1966-1976

Noelie Changala, part of an old time South County Basque ranching family, was named acting postmaster at the end of 1966 and got the full appointment in August 1967.

(You can find more about Orange County’s post offices and postmasters here)

Arthur Avery’s Three-A Store, also the site of the El Toro Post Office, circa 1909 (Sleeper family collection, courtesy Nola Sleeper).

Arthur Avery’s Three-A Store, also the site of the El Toro Post Office, circa 1909 (Sleeper family collection, courtesy Nola Sleeper).