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.