The Plaza - History
The city of Orange is often called the “Plaza City,” and indeed it is the only city in the
county that was planned and built around a plaza. Chapman and Glassell donated the center
of the original town site to the public, but the Plaza area was not always a foliage-filled
park. It was basically a vacant lot bisected by roads. By the 1870’s the intersection of
Chapman Avenue and Glassell Street had become a trash-filled eyesore.
Local ranchers herded their livestock through the dusty streets.
A downtown merchant, Robert L. Crowder, planted pepper trees
in the square, as much for use as hitching posts as for shade or beauty.
Merchants supplied water troughs for the animals so the farmers and
ranchers could leave their sheep and horses to shop in the stores. After
this service was discontinued, there was an ordinance on the city books
for decades forbidding any one from watering sheep in the plaza.
An early problem was roaming flocks of chickens that created a hazard
to horse and buggy traffic--this was also eliminated by city ordinance. The
women of the town wanted a more attractive town center and gathered
support and finances to this end. Against opposition from businessmen preferring
a more direct thoroughfare, a group of concerned citizens mounted a campaign
to beautify the Plaza Square. The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors approved plans
for the plaza on May 15, 1887 (Orange County was not as yet incorporated).
Finally the community laid out the first park and surrounded the area with barbed wire.
It was decided that a fountain would beautify the park. Various fundraising activities
garnered the necessary $535 for the purchase of a fountain for the park, including
bake sales and a play. In February 1887 the new fountain arrived. The design
incorporated birds with beaks spouting water. In the following years, trees, shrubs,
flowers and concrete curbing were added.
The Plaza functioned as the center of social and business for Orange for many
years, and was the location for a number of community events. Over the years,
changes were made and some of the original parts were replaced. The gravel
pathways were paved. Plants, the flagpole, the outer perimeter chain railing and
the benches were replaced. In 1937, a new “electric” tile fountain was installed.
The Plaza Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic
Places March 19, 1982.
Today the Plaza has antique stores, food and beverage establishments, featuring an
assortment of business, studio and residential usage. Architecturally, the Plaza Historic
District provides an opportunity to experience a bygone era. It is frequently used as a
movie or commercial location, and still continues to be the site for many events.