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The French Park Historic District and Neighborhood

by Diann Marsh, from Santa Ana, An Illustrated History, 1994 Heritage Publishing.
Excerpt used with permission.

The French Park Historic District is a 20-square-block residential district northeast of downtown Santa Ana. Its streets are lined with large homes built during the late 1890s and into the 1920s by some of Orange County's most prominent citizens.

Eight years after the founding of the city, some of the town's businessmen began to talk about expansion. In 1877 William Spurgeon, J. H. Fruit and James McFadden, three of Santa Ana's most prominent citizens, formed a corporation called the Western Development Company. The three persuaded the Southern Railroad to extend its line from its terminus at Anaheim to Santa Ana. By the time the tracks were laid in 1878, the company had plotted a 160-acre tract called Santa Ana East. It was located parallel to the railroad tracks, at an angle to the original townsite.

During the 1890s, George Wright purchased a triangular-shaped area from this subdivision for his new home. The property eventually became Flatiron Park (now known as French Park). Mr. Wright's home was moved from this new park to the southeast corner of Minter (then G. St.) and Vance Place. When the house was moved, the neighbors donated the vacated land to the city for a park, with the stipulation that French Street be opened to its full width.

The turn-of-the-century brought wealth and prosperity to Santa Ana. When Miles Crookshank built his large, beautifully-detailed Colonial Revival house at 802 North French in 1900, it set the standard for more Colonial Revival and Craftsman Bungalows to be built along the street lined with live oak trees. The area soon became known as the Nob Hill of Orange County. By 1905 the lots in the north end of the neighborhood were beginning to fill up with superior versions of the Craftsman Bungalow style.

By 1910 there were 8,429 persons living in Santa Ana. During the late teens and twenties the few remaining lots in French Park were filled with large Spanish style four-unit apartment buildings. The 900 block of Lacy still contains several of these graceful buildings.

The 1940s brought the arrival of thousands of military men from all over the country. The large houses in French Park were spacious enough to be divided into apartments for the wives of these young military men. The conversion of many of these fine old homes to rooming houses provided the first California living experience for many people arriving in Orange County to start a new life.

The movement to preserve and restore the French Park neighborhood began in the late l970s. A new group of people with an appreciation for old houses began to move into the neighborhood. They organized the Historic French Park Association in 1980 with the goal of working together to solve problems and enhance the historical features of the French Park Historic District. In a positive step toward preservation of the area, the association began working with the City of Santa Ana's Housing Services Division to upgrade the neighborhood.

The establishment of the new historic district did not produce a miracle overnight. The neighborhood has taken on a new look as restoration has occurred house-by-house over the past eight years. The French Park Historic District is being resurrected and has taken its place as one of the most exciting and interesting historic neighborhoods in Orange County. In the process French Park is once again becoming a most desirable place to live.

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