History of Orange
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.
California Ceded to the United States
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.
Rancho Lands Divided
In the early 1860s, 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.
Chapman & Glassell
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.
Early City Development
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 a recorded map of the town and to open a post office, they were required 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 rename 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:
In 1873, the farmers began planting orange groves.
Railroad Competition Sparks a Boom
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 (and for Orange, too). Thousands of visitors came from the East, and many of them bought land in Orange County.
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.
Incorporation of the City
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 had a population of 600, and was a 3.1 square mile city bounded by:
- Batavia Street
- Collins Avenue
- La Veta Avenue
- Santiago Creek
County Seat Contender
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.
Premier Crop: Oranges
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.
The Great Depression
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.
World War II 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.
Population & Area Growth
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.
Careful City Management
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.
Areas Old & New - Continued Growth
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.