Orange County History

History of Orange County
Pre-History to 1799 A.D.

250-180 million B.C.

During the Triassic-Jurassic Period, the rock formation that would become known as the Bedford Canyon Formation on the eastern slope of the Santa Ana Mountains, the oldest known rock formations in the future OC, begins to form deep beneath an ancient ocean.

65 Million Years Ago

Toward the beginning of the Cenozoic Era, the Los Angeles-Orange County Basin and mountains lie beneath swampy sea-marshes and lagoons, receiving sediment from large rivers flowing out of the low-lying ancestral Nevadan mountains. Dinosaurs are extinct. The San Gabriel and Santa Ana Mountains begin to form.

24 to 5 Million Years Ago

At the beginning of this era, what will become the Los Angeles-Orange County Basin lies beneath a deep, subtropical sea and, before the San Andreas Fault begins its push, is located about 100-150 miles southeast of where it is today. Land begins to emerge, with the local shoreline running along the San Gabriel, Santa Monica and Santa Ana Mountains and the Covina Hills. These ancient hills, ripe with volcanic activity, rise to no more than an elevation of 1,000 feet. Dry land around the submerged Los Angeles-Orange County Basin is subtropical, receiving about 30-40 inches of rainfall a year. It is covered with scrub forest and inhabited by ancient horses, rhinoceros and camels.

5 to 1.8 Million Years Ago

Los Angeles-Orange County area hills are forced upwards in height to become mountain ranges. The sea level drops.

1.8 Million to 10,000 Years Ago

Large mountain ranges now are present and the Los Angeles-Orange County Basin, formed from accumulating sediment deposits, slowly rises from the sea. The shoreline recedes to about where it exists today. The climate is cooler and moister than present, similar to that of present-day Monterey Peninsula, with glacier activity along the peaks of the San Gabriel and Santa Ana Mountains. The basin becomes a large grassy, brush-covered and marshy plain, roamed by Saber-Tooth Tigers (or Saber-Tooth Cats), Giant Ground Sloth, Dire Wolves, Western Horses, Ancient Bison, Short-Faced Bears (Artodus Simus), Columbian Mammoths, American Mastodons and many other now-extinct species. A number of these animals find themselves unwittingly trapped in the tar fields of what will be known as the La Brea Tar Pits.

8,000 B.C.

The Saber-Tooth Tiger (or Saber-Tooth Cat) becomes extinct in Southern California. The Los Angeles Basin is covered in grassy plains with scattered strands of junipers and cypress trees, streams, marshes, small lakes and ponds. The Chumash begin settling in coastal villages in the Los Angeles area. A young women who would later become known as Laguna Woman, dies in the Laguna Beach area of OC.  A portion of her skull is unearthed thousands of years later in 1933 in a Laguna Beach backyard by amateur archeologist Howard Wilson.

200-500 A.D.

The first non-Chumash Indians arrive in Southern California from the Mojave area.

1542

Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo anchors briefly off the coast of what would become Orange County, California.

1769

The expedition led by Captain Gaspar de Portola passes northbound through OC. They name a few geographical features such as the Santa Ana Valley, Santiago Creek and Trabuco (“Spanish for Blunderbuss” – so named for the type of firearm lost there) Mesa, Creek and Canyon. The great river encountered in OC is named Nombre Dulce Jesus de la Temblores “Sweet Name of Jesus of the Earthquakes” (future Santa Ana River). This name also makes mention of the first recorded earthquake in OC. Two priests accompanying the party are Fathers Juan Crespi and Francisco Chlifamia who perform baptisms of two Indian infants believed to be dying in an Indian village in Cristianitos Canyon. The baptisms are the first performed in California.

1770

The Portola expedition again passes southbound through OC on its return leg.

1775

Missionary priests take possession of the original (and still undetermined) site for the Mission San Juan Capistrano. Father Junipero Serra receives permission to establish the seventh mission, Mission San Juan Capistrano. It was named for the Franciscan saint and hero of the 1456 Siege of Belgrade, St. John of Capistrano. Construction on the mission was halted when the soldiers assigned to the mission are recalled to San Diego to respond to an Indian uprising. The heavy iron mission bells are buried and the site is abandoned.

1776

Missionary priests return to the site of the unfinished Mission San Juan Capistrano, abandoned in the previous year. The cross was still standing. The mission bells were dug up and construction was completed. Father Junipero Serra attends the official dedication of the seventh California mission and remains for a month to oversee continued construction. When leading a supply convoy of carretas from the Mission San Gabriel to San Juan Capistrano, his convoy, guarded by a single soldier, encounters a hostile band of Indians. A native interpreter explains to the Indians that Serra is a good man who means no harm. Besides, the interpreter cunningly warns, a contingent of soldiers follows closely behind. After the Indians receive a gift of glass beads and Father Serra’s blessing, the convey is allowed to pass without further incident. Fathers Amurrio and Pablo Mugartegui were left to manage the mission along with a detail of 10 soldiers.

1778

The Mission San Juan Capistrano is moved from its original site to its current location to be close to a better source of water. The original site remains uncertain although it is believed to have been three miles east of the present site. The mission counts 1,562 Indian residents.

1779

Work begins on the great stone church for the Mission San Juan Capistrano.

1781

El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles (“The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels” – future Los Angeles) is founded. It serves as the center of local government for the OC area for the next 108 years.

1784

A young women who would later become known as Laguna Woman, dies in the Laguna Beach area of OC. A portion of her skull is unearthed much later in a Laguna Beach backyard by amateur archeologist Howard Wilson in 1933.

1784

The first land in the future Orange County is given to a soldier, Manuel Perez Nieto. The grant extended from the San Gabriel River (in modern day Los Angeles County) to the Santa Ana River. The second grant and first entirely contained within OC is given to Juan Pablo Grijalva and his son-in-law Jose Antonio Yorba. It is named Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana and includes 62,000 acres of what is now Santa Ana, Orange, Tustin, Olive, El Modena, Villa Park, Costa Mesa and portions of Newport Beach.

 

Orange County
1800 to 1847

1801

The first recorded structural fire in Orange County is accidentally ignited by a boy who overturns a candle in a Mission San Juan Capistrano storeroom.

1803

The first New England frigate Alexander anchors off Capistrano Bay seeking food and water. Their stopover is tolerated but not welcomed.

1806

After nine years under construction, the new stone church at the Mission San Juan Capistrano is dedicated with the governor and president of missions in attendance.

1809

The Russian-flagged vessel Mercury lands off the OC coast to disgorge a gang of Alaskan otter hunters. The Los Angeles pueblo dispatches a government officer to demand the ship’s departure, but not before the crew is able to load 2,000 otter pelts into its hold.

1810

Sergeant Jose Antonio Yorba and Juan Pablo Peralta receive grazing rights to more than 62,000 acres centered upon Santiago Creek from Santa Ana Canyon to Newport Beach. It is the first land grant entirely within OC. The Yorba adobes also form the first permanent settlement in OC outside of San Juan Capistrano. OC suffers its first recorded flood.

1812

An earthquake collapses church walls at the Mission San Juan Capistrano, killing 40 people (including the two unfortunate young bell-ringers) and causing serious damage. The mission claims to have 1,400 residents providing 500,000 pounds of wheat, 190,000 pounds of barley, 202,000 pounds of corn, 20,600 pounds of beans, 14,000 cattle, 16,000 sheep and 740 horses. A flock of cliff swallows begin to build nests in the only wall of the church that survived the earthquake.

1818

While Argentina is in revolt against Spain, Argentine pirate Hippolyte Bouchard raids the California coastline from his vessels Argentina and Santa Rosa. A landing party from his ship approaches the Mission San Juan Capistrano under a truce flag hoping to obtain supplies. The military garrison at the mission threatens to fire upon the party. Bouchard angrily dispatches a larger party of 140 men to loot the nearby town. The military garrison offers a lackluster defense. The mission priests evacuate to the Trabuco Hills with mission valuables, leading to stories of buried treasure.

1821

Mexico wins independence from Spain. Residents in OC don’t receive word until the following year.

1822

The Mexican flag rises over OC, replacing the flag of Spain.

1823

Diego Sepulveda’s Adobe Estancia is built as a stopover between the Missions San Juan Capistrano and San Gabriel.

1825

The Balboa peninsula is formed by a Santa Ana River flood.

1829

Smallpox breaks out at San Juan Capistrano. Fur trapper James Ohio Pattie, imprisoned by Mexican authorities as an illegal immigrant (and suspected spy for Spain), is released because he knows how to administer vaccinations to the outbreak. He vaccinates 600 people at San Juan Capistrano.

1832

A small band of Indians are massacred in Black Star Canyon.

1833

The Mexican government orders that California’s missions are secularized and taken from the control of the church. Although the lands are to be divided among the Indian residents, Mexican rancheros manage to acquire the lands for themselves.

1834

Bernardo Yorba is granted Rancho Cañon de Santa Ana (future Yorba Linda). Juan José Nieto is granted Rancho Los Alamitos (future Los Alamitos, Seal Beach, Cypress, Stanton, Fountain Valley and Westminster). Both land grants were originally part of Rancho Las Bolsas.

1835

The Boston trading ship Pilgrim with writer Richard Henry Dana aboard (Two Years Before the Mast) visits the OC coast.

1837

Juan Pacifico Ontiveras is granted Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana (future Anaheim, Fullerton, Brea and Placentia). Jose Sepulveda is granted Rancho San Joaquin (future Irvine, Tustin and Newport Beach).

1839

Mariano R. Roldan is granted Rancho La Habra (future La Habra).

1841

Capistrano is designated a Mexican pueblo or township rather than a religious parish. It is temporarily renamed San Juan de Arguello after a former unpopular administrator, Santiago Arguello. Arguello was despised for nepotism and allowing the Argentine pirates to loot and humiliate the town. For his trouble, Arguello is granted Rancho Trabuco (future Mission Viejo and Rancho Santa Margarita). Jose Antonio Estudillo is granted Rancho La Paz (future Rancho Mission Viejo). Joaquín Ruiz is granted Rancho Bolsa Chica (future Huntington Beach) after its separation from Rancho Las Bolsas.

1842

A visiting French diplomat, Count Eugene Duflot de Mofras describes San Juan Capistrano as “an establishment which is in a most ruinous condition, despite the efforts made by its Spanish missionary, Father José Maria Zalvidea, to arrest the destruction.” Jose Serrano is granted Rancho Canada de los Alisos (future Lake Forest) and Juan Avila is granted Rancho Niguel (future Laguna Niguel).

1843

Englishman Juan (John) Forster and husband of Mexican Governor Pio Pico’s sister Ysidora, acquires the Rancho Trabuco (future Mission Viejo and Rancho Santa Margarita) from Santiago Arguello.

1844

Augustin Olvera, the Los Angeles judge and close friend to (and after whom the future Olvera Street in Los Angeles would be named), acquires Rancho Mission Viejo (formerly Rancho La Paz).

1845

Just two days after Augustin Olvera takes final title to Rancho Mission Viejo, rancher Juan Forster (formerly John Forster), acquires the rancho. Forster also offers the highest bid of $710 for the property of Mission San Juan Capistrano and makes his home in the mission.

1846

In the waning days of Mexican California, Emigdio Vejar is granted Rancho Boca de la Playa (future Dana Point, San Clemente and southern San Juan Capistrano) and Teodocio Yorba is granted Rancho Lomas de Santiago (future part of Irvine Ranch). Mexican Governor Pio Pico flees California ahead of invading American forces after taking refuge in Santiago Canyon and on Trabuco Mesa. Additional American forces under the command of Major John C. Fremont march through OC towards Los Angeles.

1847

Rancher Juan (John) Forster provides fresh horses to American military forces led by Commodore Robert F. Stockton and General Kearney on their march from San Diego to retake Los Angeles. The force camps in Lake Forest then in Olive along the way.

 

1848

 

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends the Mexican-American War and California is ceded to the United States.

 

1849

 

President James Buchanan restores mission properties (Mission San Juan Capistrano) to the Catholic Church. The Forster family is forced to move out of the Mission San Juan Capistrano. James Irvine arrives in California a few years after landing in New York as an immigrant escaping the Irish potato famine. He enters the merchandising business catering to aspiring gold miners. The gold rush in Northern California pushes up demand for Southern California cattle.

 

1850

 

California is admitted as the 31st state in the United States of America. The future OC falls within the boundary of Los Angeles County. Los Angeles is the county seat to OC for the next 39 years. San Juan Capistrano and Santa Ana are designated townships by the state legislature.

 

1851

 

The U.S. Land Commission is formed and Spanish-Mexican land grants are challenged in court.

 

1852

 

In a much-celebrated horse race, Pio Pico pits his stallion Sarco against Jose Sepulveda’s Australian mare Black Swan in a wagered nine-mile race. Black Swan wins and nets Sepulveda at least $25,000 and 2,000 head of cattle and sheep.

 

1855

 

German settlers arrive in OC with plans to grow grapes.

 

1857

 

Bandits terrorize San Juan Capistrano. Sheriff James Barton responds with a posse from Los Angeles but is ambushed. Barton and several of his deputies are killed. Shortly thereafter, a larger posse organized by veteran Mexican War commander Andres Pico, tracks the bandits into the Santa Ana Mountains where most are captured and two of the most notorious members are promptly hanged in Precitos Canyon. The bandit leader, 22-year-old Juan Flores taken captive to Los Angeles where he is condemned by popular vote and publicly hanged. Landowner Juan Pacifico Oliveras sells a portion of Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana to a group of German immigrants who plan to establish a vineyard colony. The deal is arranged by George Hansen, who represents the German group, and 1,165 acres are sold for $2 per acres to become the new Anaheim Colony. Hansen surveyed the property and, with Indian and Mexican workers, planted 50 vineyard lots each with 400,000 vines (OC’s first master-planned community). A five-mile irrigation ditch was dug from the Santa Ana River. The Mother Colony Home is built as Hansen’s residence and headquarters.

 

1858

 

Pioneer landowner Bernardo Yorba dies.

 

1859

 

The Anaheim colonists arrive at San Pedro on the side-wheeler Senator. The Anaheim Colony lots and vineyards had already been developed and awaited them. The first recorded killing of a grizzly bear by an American in OC is made. By 1908, 49 years later, wild grizzlies were completely extinct in OC.

 

1860

 

The Anaheim Water Company is formed. The U.S. Coast Survey makes its first attempt survey the Santa Ana River estuary.

 

1861

 

Heavy rain begins to fall on Christmas Eve and continues for 30 days. Severe flooding brings heavy losses and damage. Hesperian College (future Chapman University) is founded. The first post office in the Santa Ana Valley opens in Anaheim.

 

1862

 

Despite a month of heavy rainfall that started at the end of the previous year, the year delivers the beginning of two years of drought. Thousands of OC cattle die, bringing to close the era of the once mighty rancheros and local cattle industry. A smallpox epidemic breaks out in San Juan Capistrano, killing 199 Indians and spreading throughout Southern California. The Anaheim Colony doesn’t suffer such high mortality because the community has a resident physician (the first physician to permanently practice in OC, Dr. John Augustus F. Heryemann) who administers vaccinations. Sam Shrewsbury builds a limekiln in the Santa Ana Mountains resulting in the naming for Limestone Canyon.

 

1864

 

The Anaheim Lighter Company is founded to move goods from Anaheim Landing on Alamitos Bay to ships anchored offshore. Its primary purpose is to expedite the shipment of grapes. This is OC’s first seaport. The waters adjacent to the landing, however, are found to be too shallow for cargo ships and ships must anchor offshore and transfer cargo by lighter. Benjamin and Thomas Flint, Llewellyn Bixby and James Irvine form an investment partnership to acquire Rancho San Joaquin and some adjacent properties to start a 109,000-acre ranch raising drought resistant sheep.

 

1865

 

The year opens with only two permanent settlements in Orange County: San Juan Capistrano and Anaheim. After years in private hands, President Abraham Lincoln orders the final restoration of a portion of the Mission San Juan Capistrano property to the Catholic Church. The Forster family is forced to move out of the mission.

 

1867

San Gabriel River floods deposit channel-choking silt that closes off the first Anaheim Landing at Alamitos Bay. The landing is moved to Bolsa Chica near the present day Seal Beach Naval Base. Chinese laborers arrive in Anaheim. A stagecoach stop is established in what would become the city of Tustin.

1868

Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana is partitioned among the Yorba and Peralta heirs and creditors. Among those acquiring portions of the rancho are Columbus Tustin, Nelson Stafford and John Fritsch who purchase 1,359 acres for $2,000. Tustin establishes a city there named for him.

1869

William H. Spurgeon and Ward Bradford purchase 74 acres from Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana at $8 per acres. Spurgeon then subdivides his portion (33 acres) in the east and establishes Santa Ana. Anaheim is the second largest town in Los Angeles County (population 800) and the largest in the OC area. Residents complain of neglect from the county seat in Los Angeles. Anaheim declares itself a city although it is not officially incorporated until 1878. The first Protestant congregation in OC forms as Spurgeon Methodist Church in Santa Ana, named for its most prominent layman and benefactor. The congregation meets in homes until 1876. OC farmer and land developer David Hewes donates the famed golden spike that linked the transcontinental railroads at Promontory Point.

1870

George W. Barter begins publishing OC’s first newspaper, the Anaheim Gazette. Dr. William N. Hardin of Anaheim introduces oranges to Orange County when he extracts seeds from a barrel of rotten Tahitian oranges. Joel Congdon introduces walnuts to Orange County in San Juan Capistrano. Presbyterian minister Lemuel P. Webber purchases 6,500 acres from debt-laden Abel Stearns and establishes Westminster as a religious temperance colony. Max Von Strobel of Anaheim lobbies for a bill in the state assembly that creates a new County of Anaheim separate from Los Angeles County. San Francisco interests support the bill in order to hobble growing competition from Los Angeles. Los Angeles, however, lobbies hard against the bill and it dies in state senate committee. After defeat of the bill, Strobel launches a new newspaper The People’s Advocate to further promote the creation of a new county. The paper folds two years later. Settlers begin to populate the Garden Grove area. Captain S.S. Dunnells lands his stern-wheeler Vaquero at the sand spit-clogged San Joaquin slough that Mrs. B.G. Perkins suggests is named “New Port.” Santa Ana’s first school opens in a private home at Fifth and Main. The teacher is Mrs. Annie Cozad.

1871

After a local hotel burns, the first organized group of firefighters in OC forms a volunteer company in Anaheim. The first proposal of the name “Orange County” is made for a new county separated from Los Angeles County. There are of yet no commercial orange trees in OC.

1872

Los Angeles attorneys Alfred Chapman and Andrew Glassell establish the town of Richland (future Orange).

1873

Semi-Tropic Water Company is founded by William “Uncle Billy” Spurgeon. Spurgeon hopes to extend the Chapman ditch to Santa Ana. Another attempt to push through a bill to create a new “Orange County” is again defeated in committee. OC now boasts 7,000 residents excluding railroad workers. Patterson Bowers of Orange obtains Navel orange seeds from the U.S. Agriculture Department in Washington DC, creating the “Washington Navel.” The name Orange first appears in OC when the new post office for the town of Richland is named the Orange Post Office. The name Richland had already been adopted by a town in Northern California.

1874

Alonzo G. Cook establishes the village of Garden Grove. Lewis Moulton arrives in OC and takes a job as a sheepherder for the Irvine Ranch. Moulton purchases Rancho Niguel from Don Juan Avila and Moulton and his partner Jean Piedra Daguerre establish the Moulton Ranch to raise sheep and cattle. The McFadden brothers acquire a ship landing in Newport Bay, establishing Newport. A posse dispatched by the Los Angeles County Sheriff captures the notorious bandit Tiburcio Vasquez in Rancho La Brea.

1875

Southern Pacific Railroad extends a line to the outskirts of Anaheim. The railroad refuses to bring the rail into town until a fee is paid. Many banks are closed due to an economic recession. Richard H. Gilman plants OC’s first commercial orange grove on the Semi-Tropic Fruit Ranch (future Cal State University Fullerton).

1876

Another effort is made to form a new county called “Santa Ana County” with Anaheim as the county seat. Infighting among towns competing for designation as county seat, however, divides support for the bill that is again defeated by Los Angeles legislators. The local sheep industry is decimated by a drought. Madame Helena Modjeska, the famous Polish stage actress and grand dame of European theatre, arrives in OC with her husband to make a new home in the Anaheim Colony. They try their hand at farming but abandon that pursuit, admitting that they were unprepared for its tedium and hardship. They return to the stage in San Francisco and achieve success in American theatre. They return to OC in 1888. Several thousand people come together in Gospel Swamp to celebrate Independence Day. James Irvine buys out his partners for sole ownership of Rancho San Joaquin for $150,000. His holdings amount to 120,000 acres, making him one of the largest private landowners in the nation at the time. Some newspapers called for the breakup of the property arguing that it is too large for a single owner. OC’s first amusement park, Tivoli Gardens, opens in Anaheim. The venue was patterned after a German beer garden and featured a dance pavilion, bowling alley, shooting gallery and croquet lawn. Garden Grove is founded. The first bank in Anaheim opens. George Hinde founds the “Societas Fraterna” (derogatively called “Placentia Grass Eaters”) as a religious spiritualist commune practicing vegetarianism and, despite accusations of practicing “free love,” engage in sex solely for procreation. “Smudge pots” or orchard heaters are first used to control frost in citrus orchards. Henryk Sienkiewicz writes the first short stories written about OC: A Comedy of Errors and Orso: An American Hercules (about a traveling circus that visits Anaheim). Both stories are actually first published in Poland. The Irvine Mansion is built. The oldest Protestant church in OC, Spurgeon Methodist Church (formed 1869), moves into a permanent church building in Santa Ana.

1877

Santa Ana pays the Southern Pacific Railroad a fee to open a station there. Hundreds of treasure hunters dig into the cliffs of Dana Point after reports circulated that a pirate had buried gold there. Only a silver crucifix was found.

1878

Coal is discovered in Black Star Canyon. Anaheim, with a population of 881, becomes the first community in OC to incorporate as a city. A fire sweeps through Black Star and Harding Canyon. U.S. Deputy Marshal Jonathan Dunlap discovers oxidized silver ore lying on the ground in Silverado Canyon (originally Canon de la Madera or Timber Canyon) in the Santa Ana Mountains while tracking a fugitive. He stakes a claim to the Silverado/Blue Light Mine. Silver mining leads to the founding of the boomtown Silverado. The first painting is made in Laguna.

1879

George Hinde and members of his “Societas Fraterna are placed on trial for the starvation of an infant. They are acquitted but continue to be ostracized and viewed with suspicion. Benjamin Dreyfus is reputed to be the largest grape grower in the Anaheim Colony. It is reported that he cultivates 70,000 vines that produce 87,000 gallons of wine and 15,000 gallons of brandy. James and Robert McFadden build McFadden’s Landing inside Newport Harbor, near the Pacific Coast Highway Bridge. Silverado is declared a township. The oldest Protestant church in OC, Spurgeon Methodist Church (formed 1869), incorporates as Santa Ana Methodist Church.

1880

Anaheim is incorporated as a city. It attains a reputation as a health resort. The mining town of Carbondale booms in Silverado Canyon. A.B. Clark of Orange becomes the first to wrap oranges in tissue paper. The Anaheim Water Company brings a lawsuit against Semi-Tropic Water Company to prevent that company from diverting water from the Santa Ana River to land on the south side of the river. Anaheim Water Company loses case. The Southern Pacific Railroad opens a depot in Orange.

1881

Snow falls in OC. A compromise is made to push through yet another bill to create the new “County of Santa Ana” with Anaheim as the proposed county seat for two years and then a reevaluation thereafter. The bill is essentially defeated after languishing without a legislative vote.

1882

The first successful OC oil drilling at the junction of Tanner Canyon and Brea Canyon hits oil at 100 to 300 feet below the surface. Early rancher Juan (John) Forster dies. The three-story Olive Milling Company flour and feed mill is built by Thomas Dillin and sons in Olive.

1883

The population of Carbondale declines to where the post office is finally closed. OC’s first shipment of citrus heads to Des Moines, Iowa.

1884

Bostonian Dwight Whiting purchases most the Rancho Canada de Los Alisos and develops it as an English village named Aliso City (later El Toro/Lake Forest). Following a terrible flood, OC is hit by one of its worst storms ever. OC grapevines begin dying from a mysterious blight. The blight continues for several more years, wiping out millions of grapevines and completely destroying OC’s grape industry by 1888.

1885

Citrus farmers form the Orange Growers’ Protective Union of Southern California.

1886

James Irvine begins a 120-acre agricultural experiment on Irvine Ranch in “dry farming” to find a crop that requires minimal amounts of moisture and water. He later dies in San Francisco, leaving his holdings in trust until his son reaches age 25. The first OC land auction is held in Santa Ana. Santa Ana, with a population of 2,000, incorporates as OC’s second city. The Santa Ana Valley Mid-Winter Fruit and Flower Festival is held. James Irvine dies in San Francisco. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union forms in Santa Ana. Dr Willella Howe-Waffle, OC’s first woman physician, begins practicing medicine out of her Santa home. Quakers establish the community of El Modena.

1887

Aliso City (future Lake Forest) is established by a group of settlers who bought some of the area’s ranchland and mapped out their own town. James A. Whitaker establishes Buena Park near the Santa Fe Railroad line between Los Angeles and Orange. Edward and George Amerige, H. Gaylord Wilshire, George Fullerton and the Pacific Land and Improvement Company establish Fullerton. Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroads engage in a fare war lowering the price of a round trip between Southern California and Kansas City to $1. Speculative towns and hotels spring up to meet the demand of a rapidly growing population only to later disappear. The Santa Fe Railroad opens a station in Orange. The first Capistrano Bay tract, San Juan by-the-Sea (later named Serra), opens.

1888

The land speculation boom collapses. The OC grape industry, after having suffered from blight since 1884, is pretty much dead. The culprit behind the blight is later identified as a virus carried by a leafhopper. After being away from OC for more than a decade, famous actress Madame Helena Modjeska returns to purchase a ranch in Santiago Canyon. She retires there in 1905. Orange, with a population of 600, incorporates as a city. The McFadden brothers build a wharf in Newport linked by railroad to Santa Ana. Upstart Santa Ana now has three times the population of Anaheim. OC has three incorporated cities: Santa Ana, Anaheim and Orange and a population of 13,000. Proponents of creating a new county manage to convince the state legislature that Los Angeles is neglecting the south county (OC). There is far less investment in roads and bridges in the south county than nearby to Los Angeles (the only bridge over the Santa Ana River was a railroad bridge). County representation and sheriff protection is inadequate in the south county. Santa Ana pushes for creation of a new county bounding at Coyote Creek in the north. Anaheim, seeing itself as the central county seat, pushes for the boundary to be at the San Gabriel River. When state legislators agree to set the boundary at Coyote Creek, furious Anaheim promoters turn into opponents of the new county. After a long dispute with the Irvines, Southern Pacific Railroad attempts to lay track through the ranch without permission during a weekend when courts were closed. The track-laying crew halted their work after being confronted by a party of armed Irvine Ranch hands (the “tracks-to-nowhere” remained in place until 1910). The late James Irvine’s son quickly worked a deal for $4,500 with Southern Pacific’s archrival, Santa Fe Railroad, to lay track through the ranch. The Santa Fe Railroad subsequently completes their tracks through OC. A stagecoach line begins operating between Laguna and El Toro. The OC real estate boom begins to fizzle.

 

1889

County of Orange is Formed!

Attorney Eugene Edwards of Santa Ana is re-elected to the State Assembly on a separation platform. He introduces a bill to create a new county south of Coyote Creek and allow voters to decide between Santa Ana and Orange as county seat. The name “Orange” is adopted for the proposed new county. OC lobbyists pass a lot of money around Sacramento amounting to as much as $50,000 to get legislative approval. The bill is passed in the Assembly with a 64-6 vote and sent to the state senate. The senate further passes the bill with a 28-8 vote. Governor Robert Waterman signs the bill in March and the matter is left to a vote of residents of the proposed new county. That summer, OC voters, 2,509 to 500, approve formation of the new County of Orange. A second election is held a month later to select either Santa Ana or Orange as county seat and Santa Ana wins with 1,729 votes to 775. Most Anaheim voters boycott the vote because their city was not on the ballot. The first OC Board of Supervisors meets on August 5. Among their first official acts is to reject bills from Los Angeles County totaling $11,375, most of which were for a bridge over the Santa Ana River. Los Angeles County fails to secure payment after three lawsuits and appeals. The OC Medical Association is formed. The Pacific Creamery Company opens as the first evaporated-milk company in California and the first industry in Buena Park. The Fullerton Grammar School is built. Modesta Avila of San Juan Capistrano is convicted and sentenced to three years in San Quentin for attempting to obstruct a train. She is OC’s first felony conviction as a new county. She dies in prison after two years. Tom Owens, a farmer, becomes the first male felony conviction. He is convicted of horse theft. After his release, he ends up back in prison for stealing a cow. The highly successful Olive Milling Company flour and feed mill burns down leaving a mountain of stored grain smoldering for days. The first child born in the new County of Orange is a baby boy, Francis A. Edwards, born to William and Ella Edwards of Westminster. Myttle Walls, age 18, of Santa Ana and Frank Benedict, age 27, a Santa Monica constable, are the first couple to wed under the new County of Orange.

1890

The first OC jail is dedicated on Sycamore Street in Santa Ana, the first building constructed by the new county. Its cost was $4,000 and it contained three jail cells. The first Orange County Fair opens. The U.S. Census puts the population of OC at 13,589. Company “L” of the California State Guard is formed in Santa Ana. The Santa Ana Race Track opens. The Olive Milling Company flourmill is rebuilt. French’s Opera House opens in Santa Ana.

1891

The first high school in OC opens in Santa Ana. The McFadden’s launch the Santa Ana and Newport Railway. U.S. President Benjamin Harrison visits OC. The Santa Ana Gas and Electric Company incorporates as successor to Santa Ana Gas Company and Parker Brothers and Harris Electric Plant.

1892

After being dragged out of the lightly guarded OC Jail in Santa Ana, Francisco Torres is lynched by a mob convinced that he was the killer of popular OC resident and Modjeska Ranch foreman William McKelvy. The lynching is the last to occur in California. Oil is discovered in Brea. James Harvey Irvine (also known as “J.I.”) reaches age 25 and gains full control of the inheritance left to him upon his father’s death in 1886.

1893

The Southern California Fruit Exchange, later renamed Sunkist, is formed in Fullerton. The Trabuco Canyon Forest Reserve (future Cleveland National Forest) is created. The quest by the Irvines to find a suitable drought resistant crop leads to the first experiments with lima beans. Lima beans eventually become a leading crop in OC. An oil-drilling project in Carbon Canyon uncovers a flow of warm mineral water.

1894

San Juan Capistrano opens a permanent train station, connecting South Orange County to Los Angeles. The Irvine Ranch incorporates as the Irvine Company. The Ebell Society is founded in Santa Ana. The OC Anti-Saloon League forms. The Union Oil Company (future Unocal) purchases 1,200 acres of potential oil land in the area later known as the Brea-Olinda Oilfield.

1895

The new OC Jail is completed. The original jail was called “Brunner’s Basement” because it was located in the basement of Joseph Hilbrunner’s Santa Ana jewelry store.

1896

The OC jail opens in Santa Ana. Edward L. Doheny discovers oil in Olinda. The Town of Los Alamitos is established as part of the Los Alamitos Sugar Company sugar beet factory complex. Preservation efforts begin at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. OC’s first golf course opens in Peter Canyon. James McFadden acquires the poorly-regard marsh island in Newport bay (later dredged) and constructs Balboa, Lido and Harbor Islands. The first automobile driven in OC is introduced by the visiting Ringling Brothers Circus.

1897

Santa Ana machinist John Leck takes the first automobile built in OC out for a drive. It can do a top speed of 4-5 mph. James Irvine II donates the land for OC Park (future Irvine Park).

1898

The OC State Guard Company L is mobilized for the Spanish American War. The George Key home on the George Key Ranch in Placentia is built as well as the Newland House in Huntington Beach. Both homes continue to exist to through the present.

1899

Fullerton is flooded on New Year’s Day. The Santa Ana and Newport Railroad and Wharf are sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad. Edison Electric Company acquires Santa Ana Gas and Electric Company.

1900

There are only three automobiles in OC. The U.S. Census puts the population of OC at 19,696 with 60 percent of residents living on farms. Swedish immigrant Carl Segerstrom, founder of what will become one of OC’s wealthiest land-owning families, arrives in OC and enters bean growing. Construction begins on the new OC Courthouse designed by Charles L. Strange of Los Angeles. The courthouse cornerstone dedication celebration experiences a tragedy when balloonist Emil Markeburg falls to his death before 8,000 onlookers. The First Presbyterian Church of Fullerton is built. Only three automobiles are recorded in OC. Schools are closed due to a diphtheria outbreak. The OC Medical Association counts 12 physicians in its membership.

1901

The OC Courthouse opens. Henry Huntington of the conducts a personal survey of the La Habra Valley in anticipation of opening up a Pacific Electric Railway Red Car line from Los Angeles to La Habra and Yorba Linda via Slauson. A sensational alleged 21-foot “giant sea serpent” washes ashore at Newport. The “monster” turns out to be a rarely observed Oarfish. The Santa Ana Tin Mine opens in Trabuco Canyon. Philip Stanton founds Pacific City (future Huntington Beach). A group of 10 attorneys meet at the newly opened OC Courthouse to form the OC Bar Association.

1902

Santa Ana Valley Hospital opens, the first hospital in OC. The Santa Ana and Newport Railway ceases operations. Mormon missionaries arrive in Santa Ana from Los Angeles. The Bradford House is built by rancher Albert Sumner Bradford in Placentia.

1903

A male grizzly bear is the last of its kind shot and killed in OC. Another Santa Ana Mountains grizzly, a female named Little Black Bear, continued to survive, but, in 1908, encountered on the San Diego County side of the county line, she too is shot and killed. Philip Stanton founds Bay City (future Seal Beach).

1904

The Pacific Electric Railway (Red Cars) enters OC at Seal Beach then connects to Huntington Beach. Fullerton, with a population of 1,719, incorporates as a city. Huntington Beach holds its first Independence Day parade. Fullerton Hospital opens.

1905

The Pacific Electric Railway (Red Cars) reaches Newport Beach.

1905

The Santa Ana Daily Register (future OC Register) newspaper is founded in Santa Ana. The Pacific Electric Railway (Red Cars) reaches Santa Ana. The Balboa Pavilion built. Orange builds a high school (future Chapman College). Helena Modjeska sells her estate in Santiago Canyon. Contractor George Washington Smith and his crew are laying pipe near Old County Park Road when a worker uncovers a box containing $5,020 in gold coins, none of which were dated later than 1856.

1906

Newport Beach, with a population of 445, incorporates as a city. The $15,000 Balboa Pavilion is completed. Newport annexes Balboa. The Balboa ferry begins operating. Pacific Electric Railway Red Cars begins service to the Balboa Peninsula and Pavilion and La Habra. J.P Baumgartner purchases the Santa Ana Daily Register (future OC Register) newspaper. Fearing rumors of leprosy in Chinatown, the Chinese community in Santa Ana is deliberately burned down as a precaution. Chinese residents, however, are allowed to continue to reside in the city. “Doc” Roberts open the “Electric Theatre,” the first movie theater on Fourth Street in Santa Ana. The OC State Guard unit, Company “L” is deployed to San Francisco in response to the Great San Francisco Earthquake. Methodist Auditorium opens in Huntington Beach. The first EI Camino Real bells are installed in OC.

1907

The Newbert Protection District is formed to re-channel the Santa Ana River. West Newport canals are dredged to create Newport Island. Italian gondolier John Scarpa begins taking visitors on across Newport Bay in a gondola decorated with Japanese lanterns.

1908

The Plaza, the first shopping mall in OC, located at the intersection of Chapman and Glassell, becomes a symbolic center for the county. Italian gondolier John Scarpa begins a tradition when he stages the first illuminated night boat parade through Newport Bay. New oil discoveries are made in Randolph (future Brea). Little Black Bear, the last surviving wild grizzly bear from the Santa Ana Mountains, is shot and killed in San Diego County, just south of the OC-San Diego county line in Trabuco Canyon. Little Black Bear was the last surviving wild grizzly in Southern California and the only grizzly from the Santa Ana Mountains ever photographed. Her remains – a hide – are kept at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt designates the Trabuco Canyon Reserve as a national forest and renames it Cleveland National Forest in honor of former President Grover Cleveland.

1909

Glenn Martin builds and flies the first airplane in OC. The aircraft, the first built in California, is constructed in an empty Santa Ana church and flown over McFadden’s pasture for 12 seconds at an altitude of 8 feet. Huntington Beach, with a population of 915, incorporates as a city. Famed actress Madame Helena Modjeska dies at her home on Bay Island. Lima beans are grown on 17,000 acres of the Irvine Ranch.

 

1910

The U.S. Census counts 34,346 people in OC, 60 percent of whom live in just six communities: Santa Ana, Anaheim, Orange, Fullerton, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. Garden Grove and Tustin are the largest unincorporated communities. California votes for $18 million in bonds to pay for construction of a cement highway from the Mexican border to the Oregon state line. OC’s first school buses begin to roll. Efforts begin to restore the Mission San Juan Capistrano. James Irvine II forms the Santa Cooperative Sugar Company. The Haven Seed Company moves from Michigan to Santa Ana where it creates some of the leading tomato and vegetable hybrids grown in the world. Fullerton’s new high school burns down. D.W. Griffith does the first film shoot in OC at the Mission San Juan Capistrano with Mary Pickford. The McFadden brothers sell Newport, Lido and Balboa Island for $35,000.

1911

Oil is discovered in Placentia. Pacific Electric Railway Red Cars begins service to Yorba Linda. The Red Car line between Los Angeles and Santa Ana includes 20 daily trips in both directions lasting about 75 minutes per trip. In order to avoid becoming a home for an Anaheim sewage facility, Stanton incorporates as a city. OC Women first exercise their right to vote. Southern Counties Gas Company of Los Angeles acquires OC Gas Company serving Anaheim, Fullerton and Orange and Home Gas Company serving Anaheim and Fullerton.

1912

Martin is the first to fly from Newport Beach to Catalina Island. The flight lasts 37 minutes and sets an over-water flight record of 34 miles. A bandit who assaulted a girl on Irvine Ranch becomes the target of OC’s last great manhunt when a posse tracks him down to Tomato Springs and engages in a horrific shoot out. Besides the bandit, OC Deputy Sheriff Robert Squires is killed in the incident. Because the state highway would not pass close to all OC communities, it is proposed that tributary roads be built throughout the county. To this end, OC voters approve bonds for paving 108 miles of OC roadway. The first OC Horticultural Commissioner is appointed.

1913

Temperatures drop below 22 for three consecutive nights. Fullerton Junior College is established. It goes on to become the longest operating junior college in the state and third in the nation. The Pomona College Marine Laboratory opens in Laguna Beach – the first upper division school in OC. The facility closes when its students are called to military service at the start of World War I. John Wheedon plants the first Fuerte avocado grove in Yorba Linda. Future U.S. President Richard Nixon is born in Yorba Linda. His father is a Red Car operator. OC records 3,700 motor vehicle registrations. The first OC aviation fatality occurs in Olive.

1914

OC General Hospital opens in Orange. A controlled burn gets out of control in on the Irvine Ranch and burns 18,000 acres. Barney Oldfield’s Fiat races and beats an airplane at the Santa Ana Race Track. OC abolishes its poll tax. The first major private residence in Dana Point, the Dolph Mansion, is built.

1915

A new bond issue approved by voters brings 108 miles of good roads to county. Seal Beach, with a population of 250, incorporates as a city. The founder of Santa Ana, William H. Spurgeon, dies. OC hits its peak production of beets with 1.25 million tons. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show performs in Santa Ana for the first time.

1916

Two storms within one month overwhelm OC with floods when the Santa Ana River and Santiago Creek overflow their banks and damage or wash out all bridges. Balboa Island is annexed by Newport Beach. The Seal Beach Fun Zone amusement center opens in Seal Beach with a wooden roller coaster and dance pavilion. It is called the “playground of Southern California.” OC State Guard Company L is deployed to Arizona in pursuit of Pancho Villa.

1917

Brea, with a population of 732, incorporates as a city. 1,600 residents from OC enter the military for World War I. OC records 168 miles of paved arterial roadway, 510 miles of dirt and gravel roadway and 43 miles of state highway. OC State Guard Company L is activated shortly before war is declared on Germany. Camp Kearny is selected over Irvine Ranch to become a boot camp. The OC Farm Bureau forms to assist the war effort. The last coal mine in Santiago Canyon closes. Water and battle scenes are filmed in Back Bay for the silent movie spectacle, Cleopatra, starring Theda Bara. The first OC chapter of the American Red Cross is formed in Santa Ana. Boy Scout troops are formed in OC.

1918

The Santa Ana Cooperative Sugar Company becomes Holly Sugar. The Irvine Ranch boasts of 17,000 acres under cultivation for beans – the largest bean field in world.

1919

A special victory parade is held to celebrate the end of World War I. Held at Orange County Park (Irvine), the governor attends and presents victory medals to war veterans. Charles C. Chapman discovers oil in Placentia. The OC Historical Society is founded. Brea-Olinda has an oil boom. The County Free Library is established.

1920

The U.S. Census puts the population of OC at 61,375. Oil is discovered in Huntington Beach. Walter Knott establishes his boysenberry farm in Buena Park. The Santa Ana River is re-channeled by building the Bitter Point Dam. The river bypasses Newport Bay with a direct outlet to the sea. Standard Oil operates the first successful oil well in Huntington Beach. OC records 14,000 motor vehicle registrations and 721 miles of county roads. Women were allowed to serve on the OC Grand Jury. Mose Gibson is hunted down and arrested in Arizona as the suspect in the killing of a prominent OC rancher. Because of rumors of a plot to lynch Gibson, OC Judge John Cox orders him taken to Los Angeles County Courthouse where he pleas before Cox and is sentenced to death within a matter of hours. He is hanged for murder. Girl scouting is introduced to OC.

1921

The first Valencia Orange Show in Anaheim is opened with a telephone call from U.S. President William Harding. The Delhi Boxing Arena opens. The show continues as an annual event through the end of the decade. The OC Public Library is established. Bebe Daniels, a young silent film star, is caught speeding 56 mph in her Marmon roadster from Los Angeles to San Juan Capistrano. Justice of the Peace John Cox sentences her to 10 days in OC Jail and her incarceration becomes a media event. The OC Health Department is established with a full-time Health Officer and Public Health Nurse. The OC Boy Scout Council unites individual Boy Scout troops in OC.

1922

The community of Midway is founded to provide home sites for oil workers from Huntington Beach. The community is named for its midpoint location between Santa Ana and Long Beach. Clara Cushman becomes OC’s first practicing woman attorney. Her “shingle” is repeatedly stolen as a novelty. Duke Kahanamoku introduces surfboarding to OC at Newport Beach. The Ku Klux Klan attracts a large following in OC. Santa Ana enacts first zoning ordinance in OC. The first Newport Yacht Regatta opens. Radio station KFAW, the first commercial station in OC, begins broadcasting from Santa Ana. It is the only radio station between Los Angeles and San Diego. OC Boy Scouts establish Camp RoKiLi, at Barton Flats in the San Bernardino Mountains. Southern Counties Gas Company acquires the municipal-operated gas system of Newport Beach.

1923

Heavy storms hit OC. Eddie Martin (no relationship to Glenn Martin) begins flying passengers out of a grassy field on Irvine Ranch – without the permission of the ranch. Remorseful, he arranges a five-year lease of the makeshift airfield to establish an airport and flight school. Eddie Martin Airport opens just north of the future John Wayne Airport. Charles Chapman opens the Chapman Building in Fullerton, the tallest building in OC for the time. The Santa Ana Country Club incorporates. Newport Beach annexes Corona del Mar.

1924

OC suffers through the disastrous typhoid epidemic. Dana Point plots are sold off in a grand opening. Newport Beach annexes Corona del Mar. Charles and Ada Bowers leave their property to Santa Ana stipulating that it be used for a museum and that the OC Historical Society have free use of the building. The Phillips Block Building opens in downtown Santa Ana. Stanton disincorporates as a city. Dr. Ralph C. Smedley founds Toastmasters International in the basement of the YMCA in Santa Ana. San Juan Point, the first subdivision in Dana Point, opens. Midway City is founded. Anaheim holds its first Halloween Parade. The last surviving Juaneno Indian, “Old Acu,” dies in San Juan Capistrano. He served as a bell ringer at the mission. Eight drown in Newport Harbor when the launch Adieu capsizes. Legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku saves five people in the incident. The Balboa Yacht Club is founded. OC builds Juvenile Hall “Fruit Street Tech.” A Tuberculosis Health Camp opens in Trabuco Canyon. William Newton Miller and his son-in-law open the La Vida Mineral Springs Resort in Carbon Canyon.

1925

A Santa Fe Railroad train, running between Oceanside and Santa Ana, is robbed of $2,500 by a single robber near San Juan Capistrano. Before the train arrives in Santa Ana, he jumps off the train and vanishes with the money. H.H. Cotton and former Seattle mayor Ole Hansen establish San Clemente as a 2,000-acre “Spanish Village by the Sea” with white stucco houses and red tile roofs. La Habra, with a population of 2,100, incorporates as a city. Samuel Kraemer opens the six-story Kraemer Building in Anaheim, the tallest building in OC for the time. A Newport Beach “bathing suit inspector” threatens to arrest women on the beach caught wearing controversial white “duck pants” without bathing suits underneath or wearing bathing suits that come within ten inches of the knee. The City Council, however, decides not to support such drastic enforcement. The Bernardo Yorba hacienda or ranch house, one of oldest Spanish-era structures in OC, is demolished. The first Air Meet is held in Brea. Nobel Prize winning physicist, Dr. Albert A. Michelson, establishes the speed of light with mile-long experimental tube on the Irvine Ranch.

1926

Placentia, with a population of 800, incorporates as a city. Pacific Coast Highway opens between Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. Screen stars Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, costumed as the god Vulcan and “Spirit of Progress,” attend the opening ceremony. Eddie Martin completes construction of its first permanent hanger. Sydney Woodruff, developer of the Hollywood tracts advertised by the Hollywood(land) sign, acquires Dana Point. Lightning ignites a costly oil fire in Brea. A tuberculosis health camp opens near OC Park.

1927

Tustin, with a population of 500, and Laguna Beach, with a population of 1,900, incorporate as cities. Fullerton Municipal Airport opens. J. Frank Burke of Ohio acquires the Santa Ana Daily Evening Register (former Santa Ana Daily Register – future OC Register) newspaper. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens opens in Santa Ana Canyon (later moves to Claremont in Los Angeles County in 1951). Yet another severe flood prompts the formation of the OC Flood Control District. The Tucker Hummingbird Sanctuary opens. Southern Counties Gas Company acquires the municipal-operated gas system of Huntington Beach.

1928

San Clemente, with a population of 650, incorporates as a city. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) is formed with Anaheim and Santa Ana as OC charter cities along with 11 Los Angeles County cities. The Transpacific Yacht Race launches for the first time from Newport Bay for Hawaii. Lido Isle is named. The block-long Rendezvous Ballroom opens on Balboa at Newport Beach. It could accommodate up to 1,500 couples on its dance floor and featured a 64-foot soda fountain. The first Pacific Coast Surfing Championships are hosted by the Corona Del Mar Surfboard Club, at that time the biggest surf club in the nation. The event features canoe tilting contests, paddling races and a surfboard life-saving demonstration. Edward Doheny Jr. lays out Doheny Park (later Capistrano Beach). Doheny is murdered, but his father, Edward Sr., completes the town development. The La Vida Bottle Works Company begins bottling and selling mineral water from their Carbon Canyon location. The drink is called “La Vida Lemon and Lime.”

1929

The final Pacific Coast Highway link between Long Beach and Dana Point is completed. The Buena Park firehouse burns down. Santiago Orange Growers ships 2,000 carloads of citrus, making it the largest citrus house in the nation. The elegant Santora Building opens in downtown Santa Ana. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange open St. Joseph Hospital in Orange. First Goodyear blimp Volunteer flies over OC. The Academy Award winning film All Quiet On The Western Front is filmed above Corona del Mar. Construction begins on the Irvine Lake Dam. Construction on the Ortega Highway begins. The highway is named for Sergeant Jose Francisco Ortega who first surveyed the area during the 1769 Portola Expedition. The historic Mother Colony House in Anaheim, center for the development of the Anaheim Colony in 1857, is dedicated as OC’s first historical museum.

 

1930

The U.S. Census puts the population of OC at 118,674. Eddie Martin Airport adds runway lights. Pacific Electric Railway Red Car service to Orange ends. The Willowick Golf Course, the oldest 18-hole public golf course in OC, opens in Santa Ana. Dr. Albert A. Michelson establishes speed of light with mile-long experimental tube on Irvine Ranch. Lido Island dredging and filling is completed. The County signs an agreement with the California State Division of Forestry to cooperatively provide county firefighting services.

1931

Doheny Beach State Park opens. The last Valencia Orange Show is held. The Irvine Lake Dam is completed and Irvine Lake is filled. The Doheny family donates beachfront property on Capistrano Beach to the state for a park in memory of Edward Doheny Jr. The park become Doheny State Park. The Peters Reservoir is built.

1932

Artists exhibit at the first Laguna Beach Festival of Arts. The festival also featured the first “Living Pictures Show” (future Pageant of the Masters), created by artist and vaudevillian Lolita Perine. Knott’s Berry Farm opens. Authorities make the largest contraband whiskey seizure during Prohibition when the vessel Daylight is intercepted south of Newport Beach in South Laguna. The Ortega Highway opens to limited traffic.

1933

The Long Beach Earthquake severely damages downtowns in Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Anaheim and causes the deaths of 12 people. The epicenter is determined to be 31.2 miles off Newport. The weakened OC Courthouse cupola is removed as a precaution. The OC Water District is formed. CCC camps are established in Silverado, San Juan and Trabuco Canyons. San Clemente Park opens. The ancient “Laguna Woman” skull, perhaps 17,000 years old or more and the oldest human remains discovered in North America, is unearthed by amateur archeologist Howard Wilson in a Laguna Beach backyard. Severe winds in Santa Ana topple 185 oil derricks. Methodist Auditorium burns down. Martina de la Rosa dies in Delhi at age 128. She born in Mexico in 1805 and has held the record for the oldest person to have ever resided in OC. The battleship U.S.S. Colorado anchors off Laguna Beach.

1934

Cordelia Knott, using her wedding china, begins serving visitors her home-cooked chicken dinners for 65 cents each. The Ortega Highway between Capistrano and Elsinore is completed. OC voters approve bonds to add to federal funds for development of harbors in OC under the OC Harbor District.

1935

The first “Flight of Snowbirds” is held at Newport Harbor. The Ortega Highway is designated a state highway. Howard Hughes sets a new air speed record of 352.46 mph in his $150,000 mono-wing high tech metal aircraft from a bean field one mile north of Eddie Martin Airport. He is forced to make a belly flop landing because he runs out of gas and can’t open his auxiliary tank quickly enough. Aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart is there to witness the event. The block-long Rendezvous Ballroom on Balboa at Newport Beach burns down but is quickly rebuilt as an even larger and better facility. The ballroom becomes known as the “Queen of Swing.” The Red Car service between Los Angeles and Santa Ana declines to nine daily trips in both directions lasting about 96 minutes per trip (by comparison, see 1911). Raymond Cyrus Hoiles of Ohio acquires the Santa Ana Daily Evening Register newspaper and changes its name to Santa Ana Register (future OC Register). Al Anderson purchases an old boat yard next to the Balboa Island Ferry Landing to construct the original Balboa Fun Zone. Roy Ropp expands Lolita Perine’s concept of the “Living Pictures Show” (future Pageant of the Masters) at the Laguna Festival of the Arts and develops the present performance format. The show is renamed “The Spirit of the Masters.” Newport Harbor is dredged.

1936

The Bowers Museum opens in Santa Ana. The first “Fiesta de las Golondrinas” is celebrated, marking the return of the swallows to the Mission San Juan Capistrano. U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt opens the new $4 million Newport Harbor by telegraph key from Washington, D.C. The original Balboa Fun Zone opens on Balboa Island. The “Spirit of the Masters” production at the Laguna Festival of the Arts is renamed “Pageant of the Masters.” The OC Health Department closes San Juan Hot Springs. Citrus workers strike.

1937

Governor Frank Merriam dedicates Imperial Highway through Yorba Linda. The Seal Beach Fun Zone closes. The amusement center had operated since 1916. A damaging freeze causes considerable crop loss. The $75,000 Casino San Clemente opens.

1938

Pacific Electric Railway Red Car service to Fullerton and Yorba Linda ends. The Maharajah of Indore, reportedly the wealthiest man in the world for the time, completes construction on a 12-room, $50,000 “palace” on Heliotrope in Santa Ana. A flash flood down the Santa Ana River leaves 19 dead, 68,400 acres flooded, and 2,000 homeless. U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt visits the disaster area. To celebrate the end of the school year, Radio KEHE disc jockey Al Poska organizes a non-stop week long 24-7 big band dance marathon at the Rendezvous Ballroom on Balboa at Newport Beach. Look Magazine calls the immensely popular Rendezvous Ballroom the “Queen of Swing.” OC records its peak acreage under cultivation for oranges: 67,536 acres.

1939

OC experiences an eight-day heat wave exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit. A severe storm batters the OC coastline, resulting in destroyed piers, numerous drownings and small craft losses. A live NBC radio national broadcast brings fame to the legend of the swallows’ return to the Mission San Juan Capistrano. Eddie Martin Airport becomes publicly owned through a land swap between the County and the Irvine Company.

1940

The U.S. Census puts the population of OC at 130,760. Pacific Electric Railway Red Car service ends to Seal Beach. Walter Knott begins building his “Western Ghost Town” attraction to entertain patrons waiting for their chicken dinners.

1941

James Irvine donates land for permanent exhibition grounds and the Irvine Bowl outdoor amphitheater. The first braceros arrive to work in OC. The Prado and Brea dams are built. The first MWD water arrives from the Colorado River. Irvine Lake opens for fishing. Due to the war, OC experiences its first ordered blackout. California National Guard Company L is mobilized for active duty in World War II. Eddie Martin Airport is renamed Orange County Airport, just before the military takes control of the airport for World War II flight training. Civil aviation is seriously restricted within 150 miles of the U.S. coastline. The Irvine Company wins a lawsuit in OC Superior Court against the California Employment Commission that holds that all employees of a large farm enterprise are still considered agricultural labor and thus exempt from the Unemployment Insurance Act.

1942

The U.S. Navy moves its flight training facility from Terminal Island in Los Angeles County to Los Alamitos Naval Air Station. The Santa Ana Army Air Base opens in Costa Mesa to provide basic combat training for soldiers assigned to the U.S. Army Air Forces. The base had no runways, planes or hangers. It ultimately housed as many as 26,000 military personnel. The Irvine Ranch donates 4,000 acres of land to the U.S. Government for military bases. Irvine Park becomes Camp Rathky. Most of the 2,000 people of Japanese ancestry in OC are ordered removed to the Poston War Relocation Center in southwestern Arizona.

1943

El Toro Marine Corps Base opens on Irvine Ranch. The base includes a civilian fire department that is one of the first full-time fire departments with a paid staff in OC. The U.S. Navy establishes on 1,600 acres in Tustin a “Lighter-Than-Air” (blimp) base from which to conduct blimp antisubmarine patrols. Gigantic 170-foot blimp hangers are built to house the blimps. OC has its peak year for citrus production with 45 packinghouses. The number of citrus orchards, however, begins to decline.

1944

The U.S. Navy Seal Beach Ammunition Depot is built. OC businesses enjoy patronage of large numbers of military personnel stationed nearby. The OC Office of the Public Defender is created with a part-time Public Defender.

1945

Santa Ana Army Air Base becomes a transit center for Army Air Force personnel returning from overseas. More than 149,000 military personnel entered training at the base since 1942. The base is temporarily used by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to house previously interned Japanese aliens awaiting transportation to Japan. Karl and Margaret Karcher open their first full service restaurant in Anaheim. The restaurant becomes the first of what would become the Carl’s Jr. chain.

 

1946

Santa Ana Junior College opens, temporarily using barracks moved from the closed Santa Ana Army Air Base. School segregation ends in OC.

1947

James Irvine Jr. dies in Montana. His son Myford assumes control of the Irvine Company. The yacht owned by Walter and Beulah Overell of Los Angeles blows up in Newport Harbor, killing the couple. Their daughter Beulah Louise Overell and her boyfriend Bud Gollum are charged with homicide, but are acquitted after the five-month trial. The trial is the longest in OC history. As a result of the case, new regulations are enacted regarding the sale and purchase of explosives. James Irvine II dies in Montana.

1948

Orange Coast College opens on the site of the former Santa Ana Army Air Base with 500 students. The Green River fire starts in Santa Ana Canyon and burns 46,000 acres. The first Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race opens. The race goes on to become the world’s largest yacht race. The O’Neill family donates 278 acres of land to OC for use as a park. Geologist E.S. Larsen identifies the Bedford Canyon Formation on the eastern slope of the Santa Ana Mountains. It is the oldest known rock formation in OC, dating back 180 million years.

1949

First snow since 1881 falls in OC. The U.S. Navy ends blimp operations at the Tustin “Lighter-Than-Air” base and decommissions the base. Joseph Edward Prentice donates 16 acres of land for Prentice Park to the City of Santa Ana. He stipulates that at least 50 monkeys, his favorite animal, be kept in the park at all times. The animals become the first residents of the Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park. The Santa Ana City Council passes a resolution defining the official Civic Center as the area between Sycamore and Ross streets and from Sixth to Church Street (later renamed Eighth Street and finally Civic Center Drive). The First Corn Festival is held in La Habra.

1950

The U.S. Census puts the population of OC at 216,224. OC adopts its first air pollution regulations. Oil income in OC matches the income from agriculture. Pacific Electric Railway Red Car service to Newport, Huntington Beach and Santa Ana ends. Construction begins on the “Santa Ana Parkway” (future Interstate 5), providing a highway link between Los Angeles and Santa Ana. The highway roughly follows the old El Camino Real and was seen as an extension of the Hollywood Freeway (U.S. 101) from Los Angeles. Raymond Hoiles founds freedom Communications Inc., as a holding company for his newspaper properties, including the Santa Ana Register. Southern California Bible College (future Vanguard University) moves from Pasadena to Costa Mesa to become the first four-year college in OC. Heavy amounts of oil smoke from orchard smudging prompts efforts to curtail the practice.

1951

The U.S. Navy reactivates the Tustin air base to support operations in the Korean War. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens moves to Claremont in Los Angeles County.

1952

The Los Alamitos Race Track opens. The first scheduled airline service at OC Airport is launched by Bonanza Airlines. The Southern California Fruit Exchange is renamed Sunkist.

1953

Walt Disney purchases 160 acres in Anaheim from the Paul Dominguez family, descendents of Juan Pacifcio Ontiveros, original 1837 grantee of Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana. Buena Park, with a population of 5,483, and Costa Mesa, with a population of 16,840, incorporate as cities. The Third International Boy Scout Jamboree is held at Irvine Ranch. It is the first Jamboree held west of the Mississippi River with 50,000 scouts from all 48 states, Alaska, Hawaii and 16 foreign countries. The California Alligator Farm moves from Los Angeles to Buena Park.

1954

The Santa Ana Freeway (future Interstate 5) opens between Los Angeles and Santa Ana. It was then designed a part of U.S. 101. Newport Beach outlaws oil drilling within its city limits. Hesperian College, renamed Chapman College in honor of its entrepreneurial benefactor, C.C. Chapman, moves its campus to downtown Orange. Ground is broken for the construction of Disneyland. 160 acres of citrus trees and 15 houses were cleared for the new theme park. The OC Philharmonic Society is incorporated.

1955

OC adopts its first water pollution ordinance. Opening day for Disneyland in Anaheim draws 28,000 visitors (many holding counterfeit tickets). The Santa Ana Freeway is backed up with a line of cars approaching the new theme park. At the same time, OC begins baking under a 15-day heat wave with temperatures reaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit that, along with a plumber’s strike resulting in few operating water fountains, brings a very hot experience to Disneyland visitors. Eight weeks after opening, however, the park counts its one-millionth visitor. The City of Dairyland is incorporated, later changing its name to La Palma. UCI opens a 200-acres agricultural research station in El Toro (future Lake Forest). The Santa Ana Register newspaper is renamed The Register. The 115-acre Buffalo Ranch opens in Newport Beach. Aviation pioneer Glenn Martin dies. County takes over administration and operation of Newport Harbor.

1956

Garden Grove, with a population of 42,000, Stanton (for the second time), with a population of 1,500, and Dairy City, with a population of 1,500, (later Cypress) incorporate as cities. Dairy City is a major dairy center for OC and decides to name itself after this industry. The city decides to later change its name to Cypress. The U.S. Army temporary bases the Nike-Hercules antiaircraft missile system at Santa Ana Army Air Base until permanent missile bases were completed in the Los Angeles area. Fiberboard boxes replace the old wooden orange crates and citrus labels are discontinued., the first of the OC electronic-aerospace industry. The OC Office of the Public Defender becomes a full-time office.

1957

The communities of Westminster and Barber City combine to incorporate as the City of Westminster (population 10,755). Fountain Valley, with a population of 597, incorporates as a city to keep developers out and avoid annexation by Santa Ana, naming itself for its natural underground water wells. The Santa Ana Freeway (future Interstate 5) opens between Santa Ana and Tustin. It continued to be designated U.S. 101. An influx of new residents to Newport Beach causes prices of oceanfront lots to rise to $15,000.

1958

The Santa Ana Army Air Base is declared surplus by the military. A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) control tower begins operations at Fullerton Municipal Airport. The first tall ship ever built in OC is the square-rigged Columbia, built for Disneyland. It is a replica of the original Columbia that sailed from Boston in 1787 to trade with the California coast. It was the first American vessel to circumnavigate the world. The Stewart fire starts on Ortega Highway and burns 66,300 acres. Dunes Resort opens with plans to rival Disneyland. The Santa Ana Freeway is completed through OC. O’Neill Park is dedicated. Howard Hughes’ semiconductor plant and Aeronutronics open in Newport Beach, launching the electronics-aerospace industry in OC.

1959

Myford Irvine, the third generation leading the Irvine Company, dies. His death is ruled to be a suicide. Disneyland introduces the first daily operating monorail in the Western Hemisphere. OC State College (future California State University Fullerton) opens in Fullerton with 450 students. The new “San Diego Freeway”(Interstate-405 and 5) is built through San Juan Capistrano. Fairview State Hospital opens in Costa Mesa. The Santiago Girl Scout Council unites the multitude of Girl Scout councils and troops in OC.

1960

The U.S. Census puts the population of OC at 703,925. The Democratic Party is the dominant political party in OC. Los Alamitos, with a population of 1,750, incorporates as a city. The new San Diego Freeway(Interstate-405 and 5) reaches the OC/San Diego County line. The Riverside Freeway (91) is completed through OC. Construction begins on UCI. Wycliffe Bible Translators is established in Santa Ana. Two U.S. Navy destroyers (Ammen and Collett) collide in heavy fog off Newport Beach. Eleven of the Ammen’s crewmembers are killed and the ship is damaged beyond repair. The first Newport Beach high-rise is built. The Moulton Ranch is sold to a syndicate to develop Laguna Hills and Leisure World. The Irvine Company donates 1,000 acres of land a new University of California campus (future UCI). The Newberry (Mojave Desert) to Placentia gas pipeline is completed, bringing a vastly increased supply of natural gas into OC from West Texas and New Mexico.

1961

Robert Schuller and his Garden Grove Community Church move into their walk-in/drive-in church on Chapman Avenue. San Juan Capistrano, with a population of 1,287, incorporates as a city in order to avoid annexation by San Clemente. The first residents move into Ross Cortese’s Leisure World in Seal Beach.

1962

Villa Park, with a population of 830, incorporates as a city in order to avoid annexation by Orange. OC State College in Fullerton is renamed Orange State College. The Costa Mesa/Newport Freeway (55) is completed. The Movieland Wax Museum opens in Buena Park.

 

1963

The community of Yorba Linda files incorporation papers just before Placentia files annexation papers. The effort to incorporate, however, fails and the matter is taken to court. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) begins operating the Diemer Filtration Plant in Yorba Linda. The plant distributes Colorado River water for Southern California. The Douglas Aircraft Company Missile and Space Systems Division opens a plant in Huntington Beach. St. Joseph Hospital in Orange is the site of the first open heart surgery in OC. Movieland of the Air, operated by Tallmantz Aviation, opens at OC Airport. Population hits 1 million; declare O.C. ‘Metropolitan Statistical Area.’ The Mexico bracero program ends. Vi1la.Park Dam is built. The O’Neill family donates an additional 120 acres of land toward O’Neill Park. The estimated population of OC crosses the one million mark. OC U.S. Congressman James B. Utt makes national news by suggesting that “a large contingent of barefooted Africans” might be training in Georgia as part of a United Nations military exercise to take over the U.S.

1964

U.S. President Lyndon Johnson dedicates the University of California Irvine (UCI) site. Orange State College (formerly OC State College) in Fullerton is renamed California State College at Fullerton. The first residents move into Ross Cortese’s second OC Leisure World in Laguna Hills. The portion of the San Diego Freeway (Interstate 405), north of its merger into the Santa Ana Freeway, opens. St. Joseph Hospital in Orange opens the first intensive care unit in OC.

1965

Residents of Rossmoor, while weighing options to incorporate as a city or be annexed by Los Alamitos, delay too long and end up losing a rich tax-base, the Rossmoor Business Center, to annexation by the City of Seal Beach. The City of Dairyland changes its name to La Palma. Classes begin at the new University of California campus in Irvine (UCI). The County approves the master plan for Mission Viejo. Disneyland counts its 50-millionth visitor. The Irvine Mansion is destroyed by fire. A U.S. Air Force C-135 crashes into Loma Ridge nine minutes after takeoff from El Toro MCAS. The plane’s 12 crewmembers and 72 Marines headed for Vietnam are all killed.

1966

The California Angels move into the $50 million Anaheim Stadium. The planned community of Mission Viejo is built. Walter Knott opens an exact replica of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall at Knott’s Berry Farm. The $16 million Dana Harbor construction project begins. A citizen’s group forms to fight OC airport expansion. After 28 years of serving as a dance and music center for young people, the block-long Rendezvous Ballroom on Balboa at Newport Beach is again destroyed by fire but is not rebuilt.

1967

The California Supreme Court rules on Yorba Linda’s efforts to incorporate and directs that residents be allowed to vote on incorporation. Voters agree to do so and Yorba Linda, with a population of 11,433, incorporates as a city. A new 22,000 square foot terminal opens at OC Airport. OC’s first locally based airline, Air California debuts at the airport with flights to San Francisco. Jetliners are introduced to OC Airport. Fashion Island opens at Newport Center. South Coast Plaza opens in Costa Mesa, developed by the C.J. Segerstrom family from their former farmland and dairies. The Anaheim Convention Center opens. The new OC Jail opens in Santa Ana, replacing the old jail on Sycamore Street. The Garden Grove Freeway (22) is completed. Commercial walnut growing comes to an end in OC. The Paseo Grande fire ignites in Wardlow Canyon, burning 48,639 acres and destroying 66 homes. Japanese Deer Park opens in Buena Park.

1968

Robert Battain is elected to the OC Board of Supervisors, triggering a brief revitalization of the Democratic Party in OC. However, because of OC’s emerging vibrant conservative movement, Fortune magazine described OC as America’s “nut country.” The last citrus grower cooperative in OC, the Goldenwest Citrus Association, closes. The final link of the San Diego Freeway (Interstate 405) in OC at Jamboree Road is dedicated. The Bowers Museum discovers that it is displaying a fake Rembrandt. LSD king Timothy Leary, his wife and son are arrested in Laguna Beach for possession of LSD by a future Laguna Police Chief. Individuals residing south of OC Airport begin litigating against the County claiming damage and injury caused by noise and other effects of aircraft operations at the airport.

1969

Santa Ana celebrates its centennial. During heavy winter rains, Marine Corps helicopters lower old car frames to the south bends of Santiago Creek in an attempt to stop the erosion and save homes from the flooding. Storms also batter Silverado, Santiago, Modjeska and Trabuco Canyons, causing the loss of 8 lives and 50 homes. U.S. President Richard Nixon purchases the Cotton Estate at the southern tip of San Clemente to serve as the “Western White House.” The President’s airplane, Air Force One, lands at OC Airport, bringing President Richard Nixon to visit his new Western White House. The last “Flight of Snowbirds,” first held in 1935, takes place in Newport Harbor. The new $22 million OC Courthouse is dedicated, replacing the original 67-year-old OC Courthouse. Architects Richard and Dion Neutra designed the new courthouse. OC Airport ranks as the fourth busiest in the nation.

1970

The U.S. Census puts the population of OC at 1,420,386. South African attorney Harry Shuster opens Lion Country Safari in the rolling hills of Irvine. UCI acquires the OC Hospital complex in Orange. OC voters create the OC Transportation District. Featherly Park is dedicated. “Nootka” the Killer Whale is acquired by Japanese Deer Park in Buena Park and displayed there until being sold to a Texas marine park in 1972.

1971

Irvine, with a population of 14,231, incorporates as a city. Dana Point Harbor is dedicated with slips for 2,500 yachts. The National Municipal League names Placentia as its first “All-American City.” Rockwell International builds its uniquely designed “Ziggurat” building in Laguna Niguel. Aliso Pier built. Jim Sleeper publishes the first Orange County Almanac. Newport voters overwhelmingly reject a freeway through their city. The Fun Zone on Balboa Island is saved from becoming condominiums. A series of torture-murder victims of the so-called “Southern California Strangler” or “Scorecard killer” begin to appear through southern Los Angeles County, Orange County and San Diego County. The victims are adolescents and young men, often Marines. The killer is apprehended in 1983 on Interstate 5 in Mission Viejo after the CHP makes a DUI traffic stop on him. His last victim was found deceased in his car. He remains on death row awaiting execution.

1972

California State College Fullerton (originally OC State College) is renamed California State University Fullerton. The OC Transportation District (later merged into future OC Transportation Authority) is formed. The nine-foot bronze statue of Richard Henry Dana, the famous writer and visitor to the California coast in the 1830s, is erected at Dana Point Harbor. The Anaheim Cultural Arts Center is dedicated. After 104 years, Tustin voters agree to finally build a city hall. The old OC Hall of Records is vacated. Thieves broke into the Monarch Bay branch of the United California Bank and stole $6 million in cash, jewelry, rare coins and negotiable bonds from bank safe-deposit boxes. It was the largest bank robbery in history at the time. Trabuco Camp Grounds closes to keep out Hippies. Newcastle disease infects OC poultry, resulting in $20 million in livestock losses. OC government is hit by election and bribery scandals. After siring 33 cubs, Frazier the lion at Lion Country Safari dies of exhaustion.

1973

The Eugene and Applin Starr Foundation donates 3,900 acres of the immense Starr Ranch to the Audubon Society for a sanctuary. The County acquires 300 acres to become Fairview Park in Costa Mesa. Niguel Beach Park opens. The Newport Beach Christmas Festival of Lights is canceled due to energy crisis.

1974

Rockwell International trades the “Ziggurat” building in Laguna Niguel to the U.S. Government for plant facilities elsewhere. The building becomes regional headquarters for a number of federal agencies. The County acquires the remaining 5,500-acres of the Starr Ranch to become a wilderness area – Caspers Regional Park (named for the late OC Supervisor Ron Caspers). The county also acquires 232 acres adjacent to O’Neill Park’s northern boundary. St. Joseph Hospital in Orange opens the first outpatient kidney dialysis unit in OC. OC Supervisor Ralph “Super D” Diedrich is charged with soliciting and receiving $75,000 in bribes from Anaheim Hills developer Robert H. Grant Corp. in exchange for voting to release the land from its tax-exempt status as an agricultural preserve. The trial had to be moved to San Diego due to immense negative publicity in OC. In 1979, Diedrich was convicted of the charges and sentenced to 20 months in prison.

1975

Construction begins on the Irvine Spectrum business-industrial area. The old Spurgeon Memorial Church and the OC Hall of Records are demolished. El Toro Marine Corps Air Station becomes a gateway for 50,000 Vietnamese refugees fleeing the collapse of the government of South Vietnam. Many are housed at Camp Pendleton. The Federal Records Center opens in the “Ziggurat” building in Laguna Niguel. Upon being released to “sponsors,” many of these immigrants begin to establish communities in Westminster, Garden Grove and Huntington Beach. Carbon Canyon Regional Park opens. The Silverado Fire burns 1,710 acres. The owners of Japanese Deer Park, facing mounting red ink, begin giving lethal injections to their deer, claiming the animals have tuberculosis. Almost 200 of the deer are killed before the authorities stop them, ruling that the massacre was obviously for economic reasons. The surviving deer are donated to UC Davis for use in experiments. The largest fire in Newport Beach history destroys a block of Mariner’s Mile. The Upper Bay in Newport Bay is purchased by the state for its Fish and Game Department’s Ecological Reserve System.

1976

The Orange Freeway (57) is completed. Christ College Irvine (future Concordia University) opens. The U.S. Bicentennial Freedom Train visits OC. A California State University Fullerton employee kills seven people and wounds two in a shooting rampage in the campus library. Serrano Park opens in El Toro (future Lake Forest). The Camp Pendleton fire destroys 15 homes in San Clemente. Beer sales are permitted at the Santa Ana Bowl. Congressman Andrew Hinshaw is convicted on bribery charges from his term as OC Assessor and he loses his seat in congress.

1977

Three OC Supervisors are indicted on corruption charges. The Irvine Company is sold to consortium of A.A. Taubman, Charles Allen, Donald Bren, Henry Ford II, and Joan Irvine Smith for $337 million. The Valencia Hotel in Anaheim burns. The Canary Island plane crash claims 53 residents from OC among those killed in the accident.

1978

Bluebird Canyon in Laguna Beach suffers one of the most destructive landslides in recent U.S. history. The landslide destroys or severely damages 24 homes, associated streets and utilities. The NFL team, Los Angeles Rams, move to Anaheim. A strong movement exists in OC opposed to court-ordered school busing (for desegregation). Political kingmaker Louis Cella and U.S. Representative Richard Hanna are sentenced to prison for fraud. Movie stunt pilot Frank Tallman is killed in an air crash on Bell Ridge in the Santa Ana Mountains. The Carbon Canyon Fire burns 5,600 acres.

1979

Upon the death of famous Newport Beach resident John Wayne, OC Airport is renamed John Wayne OC Airport in his honor. The late actor kept a private plane in a hanger at the airport. The Corona del Mar Freeway (73) is completed. Harriett Wieder is elected as the first woman OC supervisor. A hippo named “Bubbles” escapes from Lion Country Safari and takes up residence in a rain-filled pond. For several days, authorities attempt to coax her out and end up tranquilizing her, only to watch in horror as she descends under the pond waters. Their efforts to pull the tranquilized 4,000-pound hippo out of the water are to no avail and Bubbles sadly drowns. Abortion doctor William Waddill Jr. faces trial on charges that he strangled to death a baby who had survived an abortion. He is acquitted. The state purchases Crystal Cove from the Irvine Company to create a new state park. The OC Fire Department becomes independent of the California State Division of Forestry. The so-called “Freeway Killer” and two accomplices begin a series of kidnap, rape and murder of 14 teenage boys across Los Angeles and Orange Counties (four in OC). The killer is arrested the following year in Hollywood and convicted in both Los Angeles and Orange County courts. He is executed at San Quentin State Prison in 1996. The old OC Courthouse is closed after being declared seismically unsafe. Anaheim Stadium is renovated, changing it into a completely enclosed, multipurpose stadium for both professional football and baseball. The Fullerton Arboretum opens.

 

1980

The U.S. Census puts the population of OC at 1,931,570. The $18 million Crystal Cathedral opens in Garden Grove as the largest religious structure in the state. It is the largest religious structure in the state. The Los Angeles Rams NFL team moves to Anaheim Stadium. Three rafters die in a rafting accident on the Santa Ana River. Floodwaters at the beginning of the year and the 30,000-acre Indian fire later in the year seriously damage the Trabuco-Holy Jim area.

1981

The first Nuclear Emergency test is held in OC. Due to a persistent Mediterranean Fruit Fly (Medfly) infestation, California, along with OC, finds itself facing quarantine restrictions by other states that threatens to cause considerable damage to the agricultural industry. Authorities launch an aerial spraying assault on infected areas across the state. An Air California Boeing 737 crashes upon landing and bursts into flames 600 feet from one of the airport fire stations. All 109 passengers and crew survive. Irvine Meadows opens. The estimated population of OC exceeds 2 million. State Senator John Schmitz is censured for making racist remarks. Walter Knott dies. Newport Beach files a lawsuit challenging the county environmental impact report that would lead to expansion at John Wayne Airport. The master plan for John Wayne Orange County Airport is approved.

1982

Downed by extreme Santa Ana winds, a power line fire ignites the Ball-Euclid Fire in Anaheim, destroying 50 structures and making 1,500 people homeless. The Rancho Mission Viejo Company donates 935 acres of land, known as the Arroyo Trabuco, to OC to add to O’Neill Regional Park.

1983

Donald Bren becomes sole owner of the Irvine Company. The landmark Holly Sugar Factory in Santa Ana is demolished. Restoration begins on the old OC Courthouse, built in 1901. The Airport Working Group is founded to oppose expansion of John Wayne Airport.

1984

The Olympic torch passes through OC to Los Angeles for the XXIII Olympiad. To the lament of many, Lion Country Safari closes when the owners sell off their “Lion Country” properties around the country. The Ritz Carlton luxury hotel opens above the ocean bluffs in Laguna Niguel. Kim Stanley Robinson writes the first of the Three Californias Trilogy (also known as the Orange County Trilogy) titled The Wild Shore. The other two titles, The Gold Coast (1988) and Pacific Edge (1990) follow. The books fictionally depict three different possible futures for OC.

1985

The Center Tower Building is completed in Costa Mesa. At 21 stories, it is the tallest building in OC. OC’s first freeway commuter lane opens on the Costa Mesa Freeway (55). The Irvine Company ends its involvement in the cattle business. The Register newspaper is renamed Orange County Register. The newspaper wins a Pulitzer Prize for its photographic coverage of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Seeking to end years of litigation, the Airport Settlement Agreement between the County, the City of Newport Beach with the Airport Working Group and Stop Polluting Our Newport is approved by the U.S. District Court stipulating mutually acceptable regulations for the development of John Wayne Orange County Airport. The so-called “Night Stalker” commits a series of heinous murders across Los Angeles and Orange Counties. After 13 murders, he is apprehended in East Los Angeles after being beaten by a mob. He currently awaits execution.

1986

The OC Performing Arts Center opens in Costa Mesa. Construction begins on the Rancho Santa Margarita master-planned community. The new version of the original stone church at the Mission San Juan Capistrano is completed. An earthquake destroyed the original church in 1812. After a 25-year absence, buffalo are reintroduced to the Buffalo Ranch in Newport Beach.

1987

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) forms its new District 12 to administer transportation construction and maintenance projects in OC. American Airlines acquires OC-based Air California. OC Airport expansion is completed. Irvine family member Joan Irvine Smith goes to trial in a lawsuit against Donald Bren and The Irvine Company over the value of the Irvine property. The suit is settled in 1991 when Bren pays $256 million to Smith and her mother to settle.

1988

Huntington Beach begins renovating its downtown. Mission Viejo, with a population of 70,293, incorporates as a city. An accidental fire at an obscure TRW test facility hidden in the hills behind San Juan Capistrano reveals its involvement in the government’s secretive “Star Wars” antimissile defense research project.

1989

Dana Point (population 29,972) and Laguna Niguel (population 42,998) incorporate as cities. The Orange County Register newspaper wins its second Pulitzer Prize for specialized reporting in 1989.

1990

The U.S. Census puts the population of OC at 2,410,556. Voters agree to a half-cent sales tax increase for freeway expansion.

1991

Laguna Hills (population 22,938) and Lake Forest (population 56,065) incorporate as cities. Chapman College in Orange is renamed Chapman University. The OC Transportation District is merged into the OC Transportation Authority (OCTA). Movieland of the Air closes at OC Airport, along with its operator, Tallmantz Aviation. The lawsuit filed by Joan Irvine Smith against Donald Bren is settled when Bren pays $256 million to Smith.

1992

Restoration is completed on the old OC Courthouse, built in 1901.

1993

The Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim opens and becomes home to the new Mighty Ducks hockey team. The Laguna fire, started by arson, burns 14,437 acres and destroys 441 structures. Christ College Irvine is renamed Concordia University. The U.S. government announces base closures, including El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. The first segment of the Foothill Toll Road (Route 241) opens.

1994

It comes to light that OC Treasurer Robert Citron had been speculating in stock derivatives with the county’s investment pool and lost a total of $1.6 billion invested by almost every public agency in OC and a few outside the county. OC files for Chapter 9 Bankruptcy, becoming the largest public entity in U.S. history to do so. Artists begin moving into artist’s studios in the refurbished Santora Building in downtown Santa Ana. The building becomes the center of Artists Village. Ground is broken for the new Ronald Reagan Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse. An OC ad hoc group launches the “Save Our State” campaign for State Proposition 187. OC U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is author of the proposition. The proposition proves to be one of the most divisive propositions in state history. World leaders converge on Yorba Linda to attend the funeral and burial of former U.S. President Richard Nixon at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace. An estimated 42,000 people line up to pay their respects as the former president lay in state at the library. Murder suspect O.J. Simpson leads police on a televised car chase from Tustin to his home in Brentwood. The International Surfing Museum opens in Huntington Beach.

1995

One of the largest settlements ever presented to a bankruptcy court, the OC Comprehensive Pool Settlement, is approved to settle approximately $7.4 billion in claims against the County. The Irvine Spectrum Center, a themed entertainment/dining/shopping complex, opens. The OC Board of Supervisors is designated as the re-use authority for the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station when it closes in 1999. The old OC Courthouse is designated a California Historical Landmark (No. 837). It is the oldest existing county courthouse in Southern California.

1996

After only 18 months, the County emerges from bankruptcy. A year later, it again attains investment grade rating with Moody’s Investor Service. The completed San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor (Highway 73) and tollway opens, having created controversy by cutting through environmentally sensitive areas of OC. The OC Board of Supervisors approves a plan for a 38 million annual passenger airport at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. Anaheim Stadium is renovated to change it back to a “baseball-only” stadium. San Juan Capistrano becomes the first city in the nation to adopt a Rodeo Ordinance to ensure humane treatment of rodeo animals. The Orange County Register newspaper wins its third Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. St. Joseph Hospital in Orange opens the first pediatric emergency room in OC. Nine-term Republican U.S. Congressman Robert “B-1 Bob” Dornan is narrowly defeated by Democrat Loretta Sanchez in the 46th Congressional District in 1996. Dornan was reputed to be one of the most incendiary ultra-conservatives in congress, especially when it came to making controversial statements. Dornan charged that illegal immigrants had voted in the election, a charge found to be without basis. Donald Bren becomes sole shareholder of the Irvine Company. The OC Grand Jury indicts Republican Assemblyman Scott Baugh of Huntington Beach on four felony and 18 misdemeanor counts of misreporting campaign contributions in 1995. All charges were later dismissed due to how the District Attorney handled the case after California Attorney General Bill Lockyer had to step in and take over the investigation. After several years of litigation, Baugh ended up being fined by the Fair Political Practices Commission. Voter registration records reveal the fastest-growing party in OC to be “none of the above.” A Vietnamese art exhibit at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana brings a torrent of protest from local Vietnamese Americans.

1997

From a peak of almost 68,000 acres in 1938, OC acreage devoted to commercial oranges is down to 500 acres. Anaheim Stadium is renamed Edison International Field under a $50 million, 20-year sponsorship deal.

1998

The Eastern Transportation Corridor and tollway opens. The Block at Orange “shoppertainment” complex opens, replacing an outdated shopping center called “The City.” In order to respond to protests by communities in the El Toro area, the County alters its airport plan for the former El Toro Marine base to change take-off patterns. Pilots oppose the plan for safety reasons. The 59,000-square-foot Discovery Science Center opens just off Interstate 5 in Santa Ana. Newly elected OC District Attorney Tony Rackauckas hires a full-time public relations manager. This is a first for the OC District Attorney’s office. Robert Dornan attempts to win back his former 46th Congressional District seat from Democrat Loretta Sanchez who unseated him two years earlier after his nine terms in congress. The new 11-story Ronald Reagan Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse opens. Republican Robert Dornan attempts to reclaim the 46th Congressional District seat he lost to Democrat Loretta Sanchez in 1996 only to be defeated by an even wider margin. Anaheim Stadium receives the new name “Edison International Field of Anaheim.” Voters in the Buena Park School District approve a $13.8 million bond measure, the first in Orange County in 20 years.

1999

Both El Toro and Tustin Marine Corps Air Stations close. Laguna Woods (population 16,000) incorporates as the only “over 55” city in California. In partnership with the City of Santa Ana, California State University Fullerton opens the satellite arts facility, Grand Central Art Center, in downtown Santa Ana Artists Village. A Westminster video-shop owner in Little Saigon hangs a North Vietnamese flag and poster of Ho Chi Minh inside his store, drawing throngs of anti-Communist protesters outside his store for seven weeks. The western leg of the Eastern Toll Road (Route 261) opens.

 

2000

The U.S. Census puts the population of OC at 2,846,289. Rancho Santa Margarita (population 47,200) incorporates as a city. OC High School of the Arts opens in downtown Santa Ana. U.S. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez draws a storm of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for scheduling a fundraiser for presidential candidate Al Gore at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. Although she is Vice-Chair at the Democratic Convention, she finds herself without a speaking slot at the event.

2001

Disney’s new California Adventure theme park, the Downtown Disney shopping, dining and entertainment complex and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel open. Aliso Viejo (population 40,200) incorporates as a city. Opponents of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station commercial airport reuse plan adopted by the OC Board of Supervisors gather enough voter signatures to place a measure on the ballot to overture the plan and replace it with a park.

2002

Little Samantha Runyon, age 5, is kidnapped from a gated condominium complex in Stanton in front a playmate and found dead the following day along the Ortega Highway. OC Sheriff Michael Corona vows to apprehend her killer and indeed does so Despite the support of a majority of OC Supervisors, voters in an OC initiative reject plans to turn the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station into a new commercial airport and opt instead to turn it into a park. Voters also agree to vote to turn over the property to the City of Irvine. The property is rezoned for park, recreation, open space and other uses. Edison International Field hosts the World Series baseball championships games. The Anaheim Angels win their first World Series pennant against the San Francisco Giants.

2003

Irvine receives approval from the Local Agency Formation Commission to annex the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. At a Laguna Niguel shooting range and gun shop, authorities make the largest seizure of illegal assault weapons ever made in California since such weapons were banned in 1989. The O.C. drama/soap opera series debuts on television. The new Katie Wheeler Branch Library in Irvine of the OC Public Library is commissioned. The library is designed to be a replica of the original Irvine Mansion, built in 1876 and destroyed by fire in 1965. Construction, scheduled for early 2004, is expected to be completed by the end of 2004.

 

 

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