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History of Orange

plaza b&wThe Early Days

Originally, the area we now call Orange was inhabited by Native Americans called Gabrielios by the Spaniards.

The first landholder in this area was Juan Pablo Grijalva, a retired Spanish soldier who had marched through California with one of the early expeditions from Mexico. In 1801, he was given permission by the Spanish colonial government to ranch "the place of the Arroyo de Santiago." His land ran from the Santa Ana River and the foothills above Villa Park to the sea at Newport Beach. Grijalva lived in San Diego, but he built an adobe ranch house on what is now Hoyt Hill. (A historical plaque marks the spot at the corner of Hewes and Santiago Canyon Road.)

After Grijalva’s death, the rancho was taken over by his son-in-law, Jose Antonio Yorba, and grandson, Juan Pablo Peralta. It came to be known as the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. Both Yorba and Peralta had nine children, and their children and grandchildren moved to various parts of the enormous rancho. New acreage was added to the property until the family holdings extended from Riverside to the ocean.

In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded California to the United States. The boundaries of the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana were validated in 1857 and the Yorba and Peralta families continued to live there.

In the early 1860’s, one member of the extended family -- Leonardo Cota -- borrowed money from Abel Stearns, the largest landowner in Southern California. He put up his share of the rancho as collateral. When Cota defaulted in 1866, Stearns filed a lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court to demand a partition of the land, so that Stearns could claim Cota’s section.

It took two years to sort out the complicated relationships among the families and to determine how much land each one owned. The rancho was divided into 1,000 units parceled out to the heirs and to the claimants in the lawsuit.

Two Los Angeles lawyers involved in the lawsuit were Alfred Beck Chapman and Andrew Glassell, who took some of their fees in land. They had already started buying other sections of the rancho as early as 1864. By 1870, they owned about 5,400 acres in what is now downtown Orange. It seemed like a good location for a town; the nearby Santa Ana River provided water, the soil was rich and a stage road ran nearby. Chapman hired a surveyor to divide the land into tracts of 40-, 80- and 120-acres. He called the area Richland and began selling the lots.

Although Chapman later liked to call himself the "father of Orange," the development of the city was actually guided by Captain William T. Glassell, Andrew Glassell’s brother. He laid out the downtown area, bounded by Maple, Grand, Almond, and Lemon streets, with Chapman and Glassell streets meeting in a central "Public Plaza." Captain Glassell’s home and office, on the west side of the Plaza Square, was the first building in Richland.

The captain also supervised the construction of the A.B. Chapman Canal from the river to provide irrigation for the farm sites. (Part of the canal’s path may be traced along Canal Street, behind the Mall of Orange.) He was a good salesman, and by the end of 1871, there were a dozen houses in and around Richland. The first school was opened on March 26, 1872, meeting at first in a private home. By August a one-room schoolhouse was opened at the corner of Sycamore and Lemon. The year 1873 saw the opening of the first local store (Fisher Brothers, on the north side of the Plaza), the first civic organization (the Orange Grange), and the first church congregation (the Methodist Episcopal).

In 1873, Richland’s application for a post office was refused because there was already a Richland in Sacramento County. In order to have their town map-recorded and to open a post office, they had to change their name. The story goes that Mr. Chapman, Mr. Glassell and two other men played a game of poker and whoever won the game would get to re-name the town. It was not recorded who actually won the game, but in January of 1875 Richland was renamed Orange.

The town of Orange began as a farming community, although it took several years of trial and error for the settlers to discover the most successful crops. The first crops were grains such as barley, oats, wheat corn and rye. Many of the farmers then planted grape vines, primarily for raisins. Grapes were a major product until the 1886 blight that killed thousands of vines in Orange and surrounding communities. The settlers also tried growing tropical fruits such as bananas, pineapples and guavas, but without much success. In 1873, the farmers began planting orange groves.

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Boom Times and Incorporation

In 1880, the Southern Pacific Railroad built a depot in Orange. Seven years later, the Santa Fe Railroad extended a line into the town. The two competing railroads dropped their passenger fares to attract customers, sparking the "boom of the ‘80s" in Southern California. Thousands of visitors came from the East, and many of them bought land in Orange County.

The 1880s were boom times for Orange as well. To help attract tourists, promotional flyers were sent out across the country and three hotels were built in the downtown area. New subdivisions and town sites were offered for sale. Two local newspapers were founded: in 1885 the Orange Tribune (later renamed the Orange Post), and in 1888 the Orange News (later renamed the Orange Daily News). The first public library was opened in 1885. Asphalt sidewalks and gas streetlights were added to the downtown and two streetcar lines began operating. The town’s first bank, the Bank of Orange, was organized in 1886. That same year a circular park with a fountain was set up in the middle of the Plaza.

The most significant event of the boom years was the incorporation of the City of Orange on April 6, 1888, and the first Mayor was William Blasdale. At the time of incorporation, Orange was a 3.1-square mile city bounded by Batavia Street, La Veta Avenue, Santiago Creek, and Collins Avenue with a population of 600. It is said that the reason for the early incorporation was to prevent a saloon from coming to Orange. Consequently, one of the first ordinances passed was to prohibit the manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages. The following year, the southern half of Los Angeles County was split off to form Orange County. Both Anaheim and Orange had hopes of becoming the county seat, but that honor went to Santa Ana.

By the end of the 1880s, the boom was over. Local farmers were planting orange trees, but growing other crops while the trees matured. Farmers had to cope with the Freeze of 1913 and the Floods of 1916, but by 1920, oranges had become the city’s premier crop. By 1929 Orange County was producing more than $12 million in oranges, with 820,000 boxes of the fruit coming from just one of the packinghouses in Orange. However, citrus prices began falling at the beginning of the Depression, and Orange, like the rest of the country, fell into an economic decline that lasted until the beginning of World War II. The late ‘30s also brought terrible weather, including a freeze in 1937 and the devastating Flood of 1938, which killed 19 people in Orange County. There were no fatalities in Orange, but there was considerable damage to roadways and farmlands.

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WWII to Today--and Beyond

During World War II, thousands of servicemen were trained in Southern California. The 30th Field Artillery Battalion was stationed in Orange while the men went off company by company to train in the Borrego Desert. Many of the servicemen returned to California after the war, often bringing their families with them, resulting in the biggest growth boom in Orange County history.

The city of Orange grew from 3.8 square miles in 1952 to 8.3 square miles in 1960. Between 1950 and 1960, the population more than doubled, increasing from 10,027 to 26,444, and had further increased to 77,374 by 1970. As of 2005, the population is estimated at over 138,000.

George Weimer, a former Orange mayor who became city manager in 1953, had a major influence on the development of Orange during the postwar years. He saw to it that the city did not become overly large and encouraged a mix of residential, commercial, and industrial development to provide jobs and a tax base for the city.

During the boom years, numerous stores, banks, restaurants, gas stations and shopping centers opened in Orange, particularly along Tustin Avenue. The city added a new main library in 1961, a new Civic Center in 1963, and new Fire Department Headquarters in 1969.

The city continued to annex new areas and as of the 90s covered almost 25 square miles with a population of more than 120,000. The city is home to thousands of businesses, ranging from major Fortune 500 companies to family-owned stores. Chapman University, the oldest university in Orange County, is located here, along with the rapidly growing Santiago Canyon College. The charming downtown area, with its antique stores, art galleries and restaurants, draws visitors from many miles around. Orange proudly calls itself "a major city with small town ambiance."

During the next decades, Orange will continue to expand to the east, where it has a 60-square mile sphere of influence extending to the county line. Preliminary plans call for a variety of developments in the area around Irvine Lake, with much of the area to the north of the lake remaining as open space. The city of Orange will continue to strive for a balance of attractive neighborhoods and a strong business base, maintaining a sense of community and the small town values upon which it was founded.

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The Orange Community Historical Society
(From their brochure dated 8/97)

Founded in 1973 to serve as the focal point for those interested in the history of the Orange area, the Society and its 350 membership contribute to many community activities by providing information about our heritage and by supplying a written and photographic resource for those wishing to learn more about our legacy.

The Society established the Florence Smiley Memorial Archives in honor of Florence Flippen Smiley, an esteemed pioneer and founder of the Society, to encourage citizens to collect, preserve and make available materials which document our city's rich heritage. As the collection grew, Orange National Bank agreed to house this valuable collection in their new Plaza office. In 1988 the Society and the City of Orange agreed to place the collection on "permanent loan" to the Orange Public Library where it could be better cared for, and more accessible to the public.

As of this writing (1999), the combined collections of the Society and the Orange Public Library contain over 1,200 books, 2,000 manuscripts, local newspapers back to the 1880's, city and county directories, oral histories, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps and hundreds of historical photographs. In addition, the collection contains well over 1,000 topical files which include material on such subjects as early pioneers, family biographies, architecture, schools and civic organizations. The public is invited to use this material, as well as to donate new items to the collection. To schedule an appointment to use the collection, contact the main branch of the Orange Public Library. Our hope is that in the future an Orange History room will be established with a state of the art facility designed for public research and document preservation.

The Orange Community Historical Society is a non-profit community organization, with a volunteer board of directors which coordinates our ongoing activities. Besides presenting bimonthly programs on local history, the Society has hosted historic home tours and participated in various community anniversary celebrations. Each year the Society presents the Captain William T. Glassell Award to an individual or group which has contributed to preserving our local heritage. Over the years, the Society has published historic post cards, posters, booklets and two collections of pioneer recollections. In 1996 a beautiful historic afghan was introduced, and an annual holiday ornament project was begun. In 1997, we celebrated the completion of the first full-length history of Orange -- Orange: The City 'Round the Plaza by Phil Brigandi.

We invite you to share with us your photographs, documents, maps or ephemera; help us document today and preserve it for tomorrow.

1999 Orange Community Historical Society President is Barbara Resnick. To contact the Society, call (714) 780-8701.

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A Guide to Resources on the History of Orange

Orange Public Library, Main Branch

Holdings include books available for research, manuscripts, ephemera, photographs, local high school yearbooks, maps, artifacts on display, historical inventory of houses in Old Towne area, directories, and a collection of interviews from the California State University Fullerton Oral History Program, described below.

Orange Public Library Local History Collection

California State University Fullerton Library

The CSUF library holdings include books related to the history of the City of Orange. In addition, The Oral History Program at CSUF, established in 1967, is sponsored by the History Department, the University Library, and the Patrons of the Library. Its aim is to record and preserve the experiences of ordinary citizens who had witnessed or participated in significant historical events. Many of these interviews are related to the City of Orange. The Program's archivist is available to assist visitors during regularly scheduled hours. The telephone contact for the Center for Oral and Public History at CSUF is 714-278-3580.

Chapman University

The library holdings include books related to the history of the City of Orange, including Chapman Remembers; A History of Chapman College, written by Arlene Reasoner Sayre, 1969, and A New Creation: The Incorporation of the City of Orange, 1888 by Phil Brigandi.

Paragon Agency

The Paragon Agency has recently released the book A Tour of Old Towne Orange, 1999. The authors, Doug and Jackie Westfall, call it a "heritage", a walking tour of people's lives. It includes listings of houses and buildings, historic trees, and artifacts, with historic photos.

Santiago Canyon College
714-628-4709 (reference desk)

Their current holdings are limited but do include Phil Brigandi's book Orange: The City Around the Plaza. 1997.

University of California, Irvine

This library has fairly significant holdings related to history, politics and government, schools, and statistics of the City of Orange.

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