FOREWARD:

Santa Ana at 125

by Rob Richardson, from Santa Ana, An Illustrated History, ©1994. Used with permission.

Webster's defines history as a chronological sequence of events. This timeline of events can include an understanding of what caused various things to happen and develop. In undertaking a history for Santa Ana, Diann Marsh and the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society have 125 years of events to cover since William Spurgeon first laid out the townsite that became Santa Ana. In fact, the chronology of events predates Mr. Spurgeon's arrival so that the student of history can learn about Santa Ana in depth.

 

What comes to mind on the 125th anniversary of Santa Ana? One word comes to my mind and that word is opportunity. From the very beginning, Santa Ana has been a place of opportunity. For the early settlers who came to the plains south of Los Angeles where roads were few and poor, the land was rich and offered a chance for farming. Beans, walnuts, and oranges were the staple crops that helped chart the area's future.

 

The crops and the budding farm community gave the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) a reason to push south from Los Angeles in 1887 and Santa Ana became the terminus for the SP in what became Orange County. When the Santa Fe Railroad arrived in Santa Ana in 1887 and continued south to San Diego, the young city's future as a transportation and business hub began to form. Opportunity was shaping up in the form of importance regionally as Santa Ana successfully competed to become county seat of Orange County which was severed from Los Angeles County.

 

With the concrete evidence of prominence demonstrated by the construction of the County Courthouse in 1900, Santa Ana's success and place for opportunity was further enhanced with the 1905 arrival of the Pacific Electric Railway. The vast interurban electric railway system connected Santa Ana with Los Angeles and the Southland and led to the rapid development of West 4th Street along the spine of the Pacific Electric corridor. Additional lines radiated from Santa Ana to Orange and to Huntington Beach. While the town was growing, it was still small. After all, the West End Theater (1815) was located at 4th and Birch streets!

 

Santa Ana's niche as a place for opportunity is best exemplified by institutions that we know today because of their continued national, and indeed, international influence. The Orange County Register, originally the Santa Ana Register; is the flagship of Freedom Newspapers and has grown right along with Santa Ana and Orange County. The county's birth in 1889 led to the establishment of the Orange County Title Company which has become First American Financial Corporation; the firm today is the largest the nation in the field of title insurance and continues to be headquartered in Downtown Santa Ana on the same block where it was founded.

 

Toastmasters International was founded in Santa Ana by Ralph Smedley in the basement of the YMCA Building at Sycamore and Civic Center Drive. California's well-known market chain, Alpha Beta, had two of its first stores on 4th Street and was headquartered at 4th and Spurgeon for a number of years; the owners, the Gerards, built a palatial mansion on Victoria Drive in 1927. Santa Ana continues to be blessed as a place of opportunity for business. As this is written. Ingram Micro, the nation's largest computer wholesaler, has announced the purchase of their corporate headquarters site in southeast Santa Ana.

 

The location selected by Ingram Micro was, until recently, farmed for strawberries and other seasonal crops. Today barely 200 acres within city limits remains dedicated to agricultural use. Alma Plavan Mead, a 1911 graduate of Santa Ana High School told me during Santa Ana High School's centennial in 1989 about the community back its those days. Mrs. Mead's recollections remind us that much of history revolves on themes similar to our own experience.

 

Her family moved out of central Santa Ana back in 1909 to "get out of the hubbub for quieter surroundings." They settled on farmland in the Greenville area (near today's Alton and Greenville intersection). Mrs. Mead told me about taking the Pacific Electric streetcar to go to town for shopping and to finish up high school. She also reminded that some needs go unfulfilled for a long time. As a member of the First Presbyterian Church during those early years, Mrs. Mead asked me (in 1989) if the church had resolved its parking problem - she was very pleased to learn about the church's recent renovation and new parking lot. "I am so happy because we never had a nice place for a good morning out on the sidewalk."

 

While history is definitely local in nature, no one can dispute that Santa Ana's development, especially since 1940, has been affected by national and international events. The onset of World War II probably represents the single biggest occurrence that has shaped Santa Ana and the development of Southern California. The development of major military installations, such as the Santa Ana Army Air Base, funneled thousands of Americans though Santa Ana. After the war, many remembered the pleasant climate of California and before too long they returned in droves. Coupled with the development of defense related industry in the Postwar and Cold War era, Santa Ana and Southern California began the rapid transition to becoming a complex economic powerhouse that no longer placed agriculture as king.

 

Santa Ana's growth pattern demonstrates the impact. From a healthy 45,533 residents in 1950, the City better than doubled in size to 100,350 in 1960, and grew by 50 percent in the next 10 years to 156,601 in 1970. The rate of growth, mirrored by Orange County's own population explosion, has continued into the 1990s and Santa Ana's population today exceeds 310,000 to be Orange County's biggest city and the ninth largest in California. This is a far cry from the dusty farm town of yesteryear.

 

Santa Ana definitely remains characterized by opportunity. It's the cradle of small business in Orange County and has more businesses than any other city. It's also demonstrates the impact of an international pattern of immigration. Ethnic groups constitute nearly 80 percent of Santa Ana's population and have helped create a rich pattern of cultural experiences and diversity. Today, Santa Ana is a major gateway for newcomers arriving in the United States with groups' origins as diverse as El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Cambodia, Laos, and the Philippines. The end of the Vietnam War signaled the mass migrations of thousands of Vietnamese who settled in Orange County; while Westminster is known as Little Saigon, more Vietnamese-Americans actually reside in Santa Ana. This trend of ethnic change is perhaps best charted by 1990 census figures that describe Santa Ana's population as 51 percent born outside the United Stares, with two-thirds of that number having arrived since 1980.

 

This massive change has brought about the need to cope with new social, educational and community changes. Santa Ana's ability to adapt and address this change will, in large measure, tell us about California's future as well since Santa Ana is really a microcosm of the social and demographic changes sweeping the State.

 

What an exciting time and what an exciting place to be. We know that history represents a continuum, an ongoing sequence of events. Each event or occurrence shapes all that follows. 125 years have demonstrated Santa Ana to be a unique, resilient community with opportunity. A snapshot of today's Santa Ana, already on its way to becoming a part of history, shows every indication that opportunity will continue to present itself and will be manifested in new and yet unknown ways.

 

The appreciation of all that has happened-the unique events and everyday history, the great accomplishments that still touch us today suggest a future that will be shaped more and more by national and international trends. The history captured in this book illustrates in rich detail the opportunity that has been Santa Ana's hallmark. Embedded in every moment is a golden opportunity; it is up to each observer of history to see that truth and continue to make our Santa Ana a place for opportunity defined by the involvement in our own home, our neighborhoods, our schools and our businesses.

 

(Rob was born and raised in Santa Ana. One of his areas of interest (and definite expertise) is Santa Ana history. He just recently stepped down after two terms as City Councilperson. This piece was written for the forward of Diann Marsh's Santa Ana, An Illustrated History book.)

Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana
The Grijalva, Yorba, Peralta, and Sepulveda Families

by Diann Marsh, from Santa Ana, An Illustrated History, 1994 Heritage Publishing. Excerpt used with permission. (Updated 9/21/08)

RANCHO SANTIAGO DE SANTA ANA


A Spanish land grant that lay entirely in what is now Orange County, the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, became the location of the city of Santa Ana. The rancho was the home of two of the oldest families in California, the Yorbas and the Peraltas. Consisting of 62,516 acres, the rancho extended along the east bank of the Santa Ana River from the mountains to the sea. Settled early enough to provide homes for the third and fourth generations of the Yorbas and the Peraltas, it was eventually the location of at least 33 historic adobes. C. E. Roberts (W.P.A. Adobe project, 1936) considered it to be one of the very best examples of the California rancho.


The name is derived from two camp sites of the famed Portola expedition which passed through Orange County in July of 1769 on its way toward Monterey. Santiago stands for Saint James the Greater who was an apostle and the brother of St. John. July 29th is Saint James' Day. Santa Ana was named for Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary. Saint Anne's Day is on July 26. The rancho was known by various names before the American Commission decided on its official name in 1868. The petition of Yorba was for the "Paraje de Santiago", which meant Santiago Place. Sometimes the rancho was called just "Santiago" or Santa Ana de Santiago.


The Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana stretched northerly for 25 miles, from the ocean to the mountains. Its western boundary followed the southeast bank of the Santa Ana River. The property was bow-shaped, being two and a half miles wide at the ocean end and six and a half miles wide in the middle. The land comes to a rounded point on the north end. Located midway along the southern border of the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, Red Hill is the point where three famous ranchos come together. From the top of Red Hill you can see lands that once belonged to the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, the Rancho San Joaquin, and the Rancho Lomas De Santiago.

JUAN PABLO GRIJALVA
An adventuresome soldier from Sonora, Nueva Espania ("New Spain"), Juan Pablo Grijalva, and his son-in-law, Jose Antonio Yorba, are thought to have grazed cattle in the Santiago Creek area in the 1790s. (Before Mexico was established in 1820-21, Sonora was part of the Spanish territory called Nueva Espania. The Sonora area is now part of Mexico.) Grijalva is considered to have been in this area as early as 1784. He lived with his family in San Diego, but he is known to have built a house on the banks of the creek in 1796. It was probably used as a base for the Grijalva and Yorba cattle operation in what is now northern Orange County. In 1801 he filed a petition in San Diego, requesting a title to the land. His request read:


"The distance I ask is from the banks of the Santa Ana River toward Santiago, that portion which is along the high road embracing an extension of a little more than a league. The stream being above, from the highway to the house will be about a league and a half; from there to the mountains about three leagues; and toward the south I ask as far as Ranas (Cerritos de las Ranas) which will be about a league and a half."


Grijalva did not get title to the land in his lifetime but he did get grazing rights in 1801. A map filed with the claim shows three houses on the land located in what is now Olive, West Orange and in the El Modena-Villa Park area. The latter adobe is said to have been the adobe of Juan Pablo Grijalva and is considered to have been the first house constructed in the Santa Ana Valley. The foundation stones of the adobe can still be seen at Hoyt Hill, north of El Modena, above Santiago Creek. It is not thought that Grijalva actually lived full time in the adobe, since it is believed that he lived primarily in San Diego. Born in Sonora, Mexico in 1742, he enlisted in the army in 1763 and became a career soldier. He died in San Diego in 1806, four years before Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana was granted to his son-in-law, Yorba and Jose's cousin, Peralta.

JOSE ANTONIO YORBA AND JUAN PABLO PERALTA
Also with Portola in that important expedition of 1769, was a young corporal named Jose Antonio Yorba. He married Maria Josefa Grijalva in San Francisco on May 17, 1782. Their first three children were born in the Monterey area while Jose Antonio was in the army. In 1789 the family moved to San Diego after he had been assigned to the presidio there. Eleven more children were born to the family between 1789 and 1810. Juan Antonio retired from the army in 1797 and, with his father in-law, Juan Pablo Grijalva, he began grazing cattle on the land that was to become Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. When Jose Antonio Yorba, along with his nephew, Juan Pablo Peralta, applied for their land grant they were required to get permission from Grijalva's widow, Maria Josefa. On July 1,1810, Governor Figueroa granted the 62,516 acres to Jose Antonio Yorba and Juan Pablo Peralta.

JUAN PABLO PERALTA
Again, we have the relationships between the first families of California intertwined like a giant wisteria vine. Juan Pablo's father, Pedro Regalado Peralta, married Maria del Carmen Grijalva in San Francisco in 1785. Juan Pablo was born on October 27, 1786, and was named after his maternal grandfather, the aforementioned Juan Pablo Grijalva. A few years after Juan Pablo Peralta married Ana Gertrudes Arce on August 24, 1804, he brought his young family to the Santa Ana Valley, settling along the south side of the Santa Ana River. The small settlement he built on a rise above the river was called Santa Ana Arriba. He and his uncle, Jose Antonio Yorba, were the first to construct an irrigation system using the water of the Santa Ana River. Although the Peralta family had gardens, vineyards, and fruit orchards for their own use, most of their income came from cattle raising.


The Yorba and Peralta families, along with the Indians, dwelt upon the lands and did not seem to mind the communal ownership. There were four informal divisions of the huge rancho. The Peraltas occupied the upper canyon while the Yorbas lived near Burruel Point at the mouth of Santiago Creek. Some of the Indians lived in the area of Upper Santiago Creek. The Mission, along with the Indians attached to it, occupied the coastal mesas. The small clusters of adobes were surrounded by gardens, vineyards and sections of tilled fields. Adobe walls were built and live willow brush fences planted to keep out the wild livestock that roamed the area.

BERNARDO ANTONIO YORBA
Don Bernardo Antonio Yorba is remembered most for his huge adobe he built in Santa Ana Canyon. It was said to have been one of the finest adobe homes in California. Bernardo, the third son of Jose Antonio Yorba I, was born August 4, 1801. He helped to develop the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, but in 1834 received a grant of his own further up the Santa Ana Canyon, where he built a large adobe house. He named his ranch Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana and his new house San Antonio, after his favorite saint. The 13,328-acre grant contained some truly beautiful land. When traveling the Riverside Freeway through Santa Ana Canyon, look to the north to see the meandering Santa Ana River, the trees along the valley floor, and the hills and canyons which rise to the north.

 

This was once Don Bernardo's land.


The spacious two-story adobe housed not only the large Yorba family but also many retainers. Estimates of its size range from 50 to over 100 rooms. Approximately 20 of these rooms were occupied by artisans and tradesmen who worked at the rancho. There were, at one time: four woolcombers; two tanners; one butter-cheeseman who supervised the milking of 50 to 60 cows each day; one harness maker; two shoemakers; one jeweler; one plasterer; one carpenter; one major- domo; two errand boys; one sheep herder; one cook; one baker; two washerwomen; one woman who did the ironing; four seamstresses; one dressmaker; two gardeners; a schoolmaster and a man to make the wine.


Also, there were more than 100 "lesser" employees. Some of these persons lived at the ranch, while most of the Indian workers lived in a nearly village of their own. There were two orchards and some plots planted to wheat. It took an average of 10 steers a month to supply the needs of the people who lived on the ranch. The vineyards and crops were irrigated by water from ditches dug from the Santa Ana river.


Bernardo Antonio Yorba married Maria de Jesus Alvarado, the daughter of Xavier Alvarado of San Diego, on April 16, 1823. In the five years between her marriage and her death, Maria gave birth to one son and three daughters.


A year after Maria de Jesus died, Bernardo married 15-year-old Felipa Dominguez, daughter of Juana and Mariano Dominguez. As Bernardo expanded his home and his rancho thrived, the family grew by 12 more children. Sadly, Felipa died after having given birth to her twelfth child, Filepe, on September 8, 1851.


The next year Don Bernardo took Andrea Elizalde as his third wife. The marriage was conducted by proxy and the 22-year-old bride was 29 years younger than her new husband. He remained at his rancho while a friend traveled to Los Angeles to take the marriage vows at the Plaza Church.

 

Andrea, who was the daughter of Juana and Nicolas Elizalde, and Don Bernardo had four sons, Francis, Bernardo, Xavier, and Gregorio. In 1858, at the age of 57, Don Bernardo died, leaving behind a large and prosperous rancho, including approximately 37,000 acres of land and over $100,000 in assets. Eighteen years later, in 1875, his widow sold the square league she and her children had inherited for $3 an acre to John Bixby. Of the 20 children born to Don Bernardo and his three wives, most survived into adulthood, got married, and had families of their own.


There were hundreds of descendants of Don Bernardo. His influence was felt throughout Southern California.

ADOBES SPRINKLE THE SANTA ANA VALLEY
C.E. Roberts, in the 1936 W.P.A. volume entitled Adobes, divides the adobe on the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana compounds into seven groups:
1. Grijalva Adobe
2. Olive or Old Santa Ana Group (7 buildings)
3. Peralta Group (9 buildings)
4. Fletcher Group (3 buildings) Represented by the T. D. Mott or Fletcher Adobe
5. Jose Antonio Yorba II Group (4 buildings) Represented by the Rodriguez Adobe
6. West Santa Ana Group (5 buildings) Jose Sepulveda (El Refugio)
7. Old Fairview Group (3 buildings) Gabe Allen Adobe


Much of the information about the adobes and the families that lived in them is lost in time. The actual location and physical appearance of many of the adobes is probably the biggest problem to solve because as each family decided where to settle, they simply picked a spot on the 62,516 acres of the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana not already occupied by one of their relatives and built their house and corrals. Probably the most interesting rancho was El Refugio, whose most well-known occupant was Jose Andres Sepulveda. The Bates Adobe, located north of Seventeenth and Bristol, has added significance because it was also the site of an Indian village. The Julian Chavez Adobe, of which we know very little, is shown on the map as being west of the Santa Ana River, and north of First Street, at approximately Fifth Street. The Rodriguez Adobe is important because it was located at a ford of the Santa Ana River and at the convergence of the important trails in the Santa Ana Valley.

EL REFUGIO: THE WEST SANTA ANA HOME OF DOMINGO YORBA AND JOSE ANDRES SEPULVEDA
Some of the most dramatic and exciting events of the rancho days happened at El Refugio, in what is now West Santa Ana. For those who picture the Santa Ana Valley as lifeless and deserted until William Spurgeon purchased the land for his new town in 1869, the legacy left by the Spanish ranchero owners comes as a surprise. Domingo de Ia Resurrecci6n Yorba, born in March 1826, inherited El Refugio from his father, Jose Antonio Yorba II, after his death on January 19, 1849. Five years later, in 1854, Domingo sold his house and his interest in the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana to Jose Andres Sepulveda. the owner of Rancho San Joaquin. Terry Stephenson, in Shadows of Old Saddleback says "The Sepulveda ranch house, called El Refugio...was the gathering place for many a fiesta, many a rodeo, and many a fandango."


Jose Andres Sepulveda, who was living on the Rancho Bolsa de San Joaquin by 1836, seemed to leap from one adventure to another. He had a home in downtown Los Angeles, in addition to homes on the San Joaquin (which became the Irvine Ranch) and, after 1854, at El Refugio. Saddleback Ancestors notes that Jose Andres became famous for the extravagance of his fiestas and the excellence of his race horses. Money from his productive ranch properties flowed into his hands but flowed out again almost as quickly, thanks to his penchant for gambling and unrivaled hospitality. The eldest son among the 12 children of Don Francisco Sepulveda and his wife, Ramona Serrano, Jose Andres Sepulveda spent a great deal of time in Los Angeles, where he was involved politically for several years. By 1851 he was the owner of 102,000 acres of land in Los Angeles County, including his holdings in what is now Orange County. He became very prosperous as a result of the increased need for cattle during the gold rush days. Don Jose's greatest love was horses and horse racing. He owned hundreds of horses and loved to ride. The race between an Australian mare, Black Swan, and Pico's stallion, Sarco, will go down in history as one of the most legendary races of Southern California. Held on March 1, 1852, the race inspired much excitement among early California residents and, according to Thomas D. Mott, almost everyone living between San Luis Obispo and San Diego attended. Black Swan won the nine-mile-long race, which took place in Los Angeles, by 75 yards.


Robert Glass Cleland notes in The Irvine Ranch that "the wagers included twenty-five thousand dollars in cash,...five hundred calves, and five hundred sheep."After the race Don Jose bought Black Swan and took her to San Joaquin. Within a year the mare stepped on a nail, contracted lockjaw, and died. Referring to Sepulveda's purchase of El Refugio, Cleland reports in The Irvine Ranch that "...In 1854 Jose Sepulveda paid Domingo Yorba, one of the largest claimants (to the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana) $6,000 in cash, 100 heifers, 50 steers, and 50 fillies for his share of land and livestock...Domingo Yorba and his wife thus conveyed to Jose Sepulveda 'the land of the Rancho Santa Ana where they, the grantees, at present live to where the River of the said Rancho of Santa Ana runs, including the houses, corrals, and fences to them belonging."
By the time Jose Andres and Francisca moved to the adobe at El Refugio, they were the parents of at least 14 children, ranging in age from three to 27 years of age.

THE END OF AN ERA
Life was not all fun and games for Don Jose. He had to spend considerable time and money proving his land claims before the courts. He went into debt, borrowing money at huge interest rates. The floods of 1861-62 were followed by the drought of 1863-64. The scorched hills and valleys of the Santa Ana Valley were covered with the corpses and bones of thousands of cattle. Even the great swamp, Cienega de las Ranas, was dry.
As a result of these circumstances Don Jose was unable to keep up the payments on his mortgage. He sold his vast holdings on the Rancho San Joaquin to James Irvine, Llewellyn Bixby and Thomas Flint. He kept the 1,000-acre El Refugio, however, spending time there with his horses and his memories. A fire in 1871 partially destroyed the old adobe home. In 1873 he gave El Refugio to his family and moved to Caborca, Sonora, Mexico. He died there on April 17, 1875. In 1876 Mort Hubbard tore down the last remnants of the great El Refugio adobe.


There appear to be no existing photographs of El Refugio. It has been described as el-shaped and quite pretentious. E.P. Stafford recalls, in the W. P. A. book, Pioneer Tales, that the Sepulveda family "lived in one of the adobe houses located about a quarter of a mile east of Bristol Street and about the same distance south of First Street. The main living room was on the north. There was an annex extending to the south which was used first for help and then as a storeroom and a harness and saddle room, and at last a room for horses."


The 1,000 acres upon which El Refugio sat was located west of Bristol and south of First Street; however, historians disagree as to the actual location of the adobe compound. Some accounts place the house at First and Sullivan streets while others claim the adobe and its compound were at Artesia and Myrtle streets. Artesia is now South Raitt. Three old streets upon which several pre-l900 houses survive are Daisy Avenue, Franklin Street, and Artesia (now Raitt) Street. A 1913 map shows them all ending at Myrtle Street. The adobe was supposed to have been on the south side of Myrtle. On the other hand, the southeast corner of First and Sullivan is the location of a General Electric pumping plant which could have been the site of the prolific spring shown on the early map.

William Spurgeon and the Beginning of Santa Ana

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

William Spurgeon was looking for a suitable location to begin a town. He liked the small tract which Jacob Ross had purchased from Ana M. Chaves. Its central location would allow him to serve the farmers that were rapidly settling in the large area to the south of Anaheim, and to the west of Orange and Tustin. A much-traveled man, he planned to settle down and open a store. He paid $594 for 74.25 acres on October 27, 1869. The boundaries were First Street on the south, Seventh Street on the north, West (now Broadway) Street on the west, and Spurgeon Street on the east.


Soon after buying the 74.25 acres, William Spurgeon hired George Wright of Los Angeles to lay out the 24-square-block townsite. This map was plotted on December 13, 1870. Mr. Spurgeon named the new town Santa Ana, after the land grant, Santiago de Santa Ana. Old Santa Ana, located where Olive now stands, was called Santa Ana Abajo. Years later the residents of Santa Ana wanted to change the town's name to Spurgeon, but Mr. Spurgeon resisted the idea.


Starting in 1868 there were a surprising number of settlers arriving in the Santa Ana valley. They were attracted to the rich, cheap lands that became available for settlement after the large ranchos had broken up. The settlers purchased portions of the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana and settled down. There were enough new residents to cause the formation of the Spring School District in 1869 and the Methodist Episcopal Church South in 1870.

A Hundred Years of Yesterdays: A Centennial History of the People of Orange County and their Communities

By Francelia B. Goddard and Allen W. Goddard

(editor's note - The Goddards' history of Santa Ana is a wonderful overview of this dynamic community. For those who live here now, there are several mentions of the 1988 "present" that bring a chuckle when you read it today. Also for the benefit of "non-locals," we have added a few notes to update information.)

Santa Ana is a city of over twenty-seven square miles with a population of 227,400. (editor's note - now approximately 325,000) It is located thirty-three miles south of Los Angeles and twelve miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. The Santa Ana River and its smaller tributary Santiago Creek are usually dry but are unpredictable in wet years.

The land that became Santa Ana was covered with tall yellow mustard when William H. Spurgeon from Kentucky rode through on horseback October 10, 1869. So high was the wild growth that he climbed a sycamore tree to view the land. He liked what he saw and paid Jacob Ross, Sr., $595 for 74.2 acres. Here he built his city.

Ross had purchased 650 acres from the Yorba family's vast Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. The rancho was a Spanish land-use grant that had been awarded in 1810 to their ancestor, Jose Antonio Yorba, who had served with Portola's 1769 expedition. Jose Yorba had later returned to settle here. In 1821 Mexican rule followed Spanish, and ownership by the U.S. in 1846 gradually brought in such pioneers as the Ross family.

William H. Spurgeon started his town with twenty-four blocks of about ten lots each and named it Santa Ana. The boundaries were: First St. at the south; West St. (now Broadway) at the west; Seventh St., north; and Spurgeon St., east. He spent the rest of his life in active service for what became his city. He died in 1915 at the age of eighty-eight.

Spurgeon opened a small general store that was also patronized by families to the south and west of town. In 1870 he became postmaster and kept the mail in a wooden shoe box. He became the first mayor when the city incorporated on June 1, 1886. The population was 2,000. The following March the city was reincorporated under the Municipal Corporation Act; it had already increased by 500 residents.

The history of public transportation in Santa Ana also began with William Spurgeon. He built and paid for a road through the mustard fields to make easier access to Anaheim and to meet the Wells Fargo stage with its mail and passengers. In 1874 Wells Fargo opened an office in Santa Ana. By 1887-88 the Santa Fe trains reached Santa Ana. As Jim Sleeper wrote, "ten horse cars went to Tustin and two trains to Fairview, while 41 trains or trolleys touched Santa Ana each day." In 1906 the Red Car from Los Angeles ran right along Fourth St. on the new Pacific Electric line. By the 1950s the route was given up and the tracks were removed. In 1953 the Santa Ana Freeway opened between Broadway and First St.

The town's water supply also began with Spurgeon. In 1869 his artesian well and small water tower supplied the residents' water. Today, from the I-5 Freeway a high Santa Ana water tower can be seen. It holds very little water and today is mainly a landmark. Now thirty percent of the city's water supply is stored underground; since 1928 the other seventy percent is a blend of California Aqueduct water and Colorado River water supplied by the Metropolitan Water District.

Many of Santa Ana's pioneers were known for their cultural pursuits. The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) ladies early collected books to keep in a downtown office. An Ebell Society was formed in 1894, and their members also worked actively to obtain the Carnegie Library, which was built in 1903 on land donated by Spurgeon at the northwest corner of Fifth and Sycamore streets. Church groups put on various socials and entertainments. From the early years there was an opera house, which often changed location; the most elegant one was built by Charles E. French, who also owned the most elegant house in town. A newspaper would start up, soon to be followed by another. The men had their lodges and took pride in their fast-stepping horses. The quiet Charles W. and Ada E. Bowers left their property to the city in 1924 with the understanding that it would be used for a museum building and "that the Orange County Historical Society should have free use of the building." The Bowers Museum opened February 15, 1936, and plans are currently underway for major expansion. (editor's note - completed several years ago)

Santa Ana's first school room was in a private home at Fifth and Main in 1870. The teacher was Mrs. Annie Cozad. The first school building, called the Central School, was two stories. It was on the site of the present YMCA. The school started with only elementary grades, but in 1892 it graduated its first class of three high school boys who were taught on the upper floor; by 1898 twenty-seven graduated from the high school classes. Later a high school was built at 520 W. Walnut St. In 1915 that school shared a building for junior college classes. Soon the college classes took over an entire building on the campus and then moved to 1010 N. Main. In 1946 Santa Ana Junior College started its own campus at Seventeenth St. between Bristol and College, temporarily using barracks moved from the Santa Ana Army Air Base for library, administration, and classes. Gradually permanent buildings were added, including the Jennie Tessman Planetarium, which was named for the astronomy professor. In 1980 the college developed a satellite campus in Garden Grove called the Garden Grove Center, and in 1985 the Orange Campus was built in Orange. The Seventeenth St. location is now known as Santa Ana Campus and the combined three as Rancho Santiago College, with a total enrollment of 21,397 in October, 1987. (editor's note - the college name recently returned to Santa Ana College)

In 1921 Santa Ana purchased its first fire engine with the powerful Seagrave pump. Previously only comparatively low water pressure from hydrants was available for fighting fires. By 1987 the city owned ten "pumper" fire trucks, three of which have aerial ladders, and five paramedic ambulances. The Police Department by 1987 consisted of 359 officers and 203 civilian clerks.

Santa Ana has always been the principal administrative and political center of Orange County. After several unsuccessful attempts to separate from Los Angeles County, Orange County was finally formed in 1889, and Santa Ana was chosen as the county seat. William H. Spurgeon was elected chairman of the County Board of Supervisors.

The "Old Orange County Courthouse" as it is now called is a tangible reminder of William H. Spurgeon. In 1893, several offers of land for a county courthouse were made. It was his offer that was accepted for the site. The city paid $8,000 for the block east of West St. and north of Sixth St., promising to erect the courthouse within ten years. It was completed, dedicated, and opened for business in September, 1901. Since then many movies have been filmed there. Many politicians, including President Richard M. Nixon, have held rallies or given speeches there. A plaque beside the south steps reads: "Significant and far-reaching court decisions were handed down here, including the 'Whipstock' case which dealt with slant oil drilling, interpretation of farm labor law, and the Overell trial resulting in law regulating explosives." The latter involved a young couple accused of murdering her parents on March 15, 1947, on their boat in Newport Harbor.

The Courthouse withstood the 1933 Long Beach earthquake well, although its weakened cupola was removed as a precaution. In the 1980s the Courthouse narrowly escaped being torn down. It had become inadequate for its purpose. The Hall of Records building behind it could not alleviate the situation. After the failure of St. Anne's Inn just across Broadway during the Great Depression years, that building had become a courthouse annex. (The Inn had been a resort of glamorous Hollywood stars some of whom were married at the Courthouse to avoid publicity.) In 1968 a new courthouse eleven stories high opened on Civic Center Drive (the former Eighth St.). Through the valiant efforts of many, especially Adeline Cochems Walker and the Orange County Historical Commission, the old Courthouse was spared. Totally reinforced and renovated, it now stands as California Registered Landmark No. 837 and appears on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1949 the city council passed a resolution that defined the official Civic Center as the area between Sycamore and Ross streets and from Sixth to Church St. (later to be renamed Eighth St. and finally Civic Center Drive). Eventually it was extended beyond Flower St., where a large jail replaces the one formerly on Sycamore St. opposite the old Courthouse, to Sheldon St. where the Coroners's Office is located. The Civic Center Plaza now has many government agencies.

The new City Hall is also in Civic Center plaza. In 1886, its facilities were in a rented room of the Spurgeon Block. In 1904 it had its own building at Main and Third streets. After the 1933 earthquake, a replacement building on the same spot also included the police department.

Since November, Santa Ana has been a Charter City. It is now governed by a city manager and seven council members. The council members represent the seven city districts but are elected by all the voters. The council elected the mayor from their own group, but beginning in 1989 the mayor will be elected by city vote.

Back in 1890 Santa Ana's men organized Company L of the State Guard. Company L gave assistance to San Francisco after their 1906 earthquake and served through the Spanish-American War, two World Wars and the Korean conflict. In World War II the entire West Coast Training Command operated from a building the military put up at Eighth and Flower streets. After the war they released it for civilian use. (The Red Cross was one organization that used it for some years, and a long one-story building behind it was used for the headquarters of the County Library until their permanent building was opened in Orange in March, 1961.) With the Santa Ana Army Air Base and El Toro Marine Base so close to Santa Ana, and Camp Pendleton within fifty miles, thousands of servicemen had the opportunity to come to Santa Ana for the USO, its library, and movies - but not restaurants, which were scarce then and short on food. When peace came many servicemen returned here with their families to live.

Population expansion has brought changes in the character of the downtown area. By the 1980s huge apartment houses and "high rises" became prolific. Many churches, once numerous in downtown Santa Ana, moved out to the less crowded areas. The few that stayed downtown did so with the intent to help the needy people and transients. There are many organizations such as the Salvation Army, Episcopal Service Organization, Goodwill, various service clubs, LULAC, Laubach, and YMCA and YWCA, all working with inner-city problems.

Santa Ana has had its dramatic incidents. In 1900, a crowd that had gathered for the Fourth of July celebration watched in horror as a balloonist's parachute failed to open and he fell to his death. On May 28, 1906, citizens gathered to watch a municipal fire, deliberately set to burn down Chinatown near Third and Main, because of rumored leprosy. In August, 1909, Glenn Martin's plane, built in an old abandoned church at 200 N. Main, flew eight feet off the ground for a distance of 100 feet. Early in the morning of January 11, 1949, enough snow fell for Santa Ana children to revel in it at recess. During the heavy rains of January, 1969, El Toro marines lowered frames of old cars from helicopters to the south bends of the Santiago Creek to stop the erosion and save homes.

In the early years there were back-yard gardens with fruit and nut trees, even some chickens and sometimes a cow. There were celery fields near today's Warner and Bristol Sts., and August Reiter's raisin vineyard was where The Orange County Register's newspaper building now stands. Today the city's homes are "citified" and its business area is tightly packed with ever-increasing giants like the Segerstrom Buildings at N. Main and Tenth streets.

A few of the many able men who helped William Spurgeon realize his dream are remembered by street names. Eli F. Greenleaf was the first practicing doctor. James L. Garnsey was owner of the first brickyard. Jacob Ross, Jr., was his first and constant supporter. Theo Lacy was the second sheriff. Fruit, Halladay, McFadden, and English were other Santa Ana pioneers.

In the 1980s, a redevelopment program for downtown Santa Ana has been undertaken with federal aid in an attempt to bring back lost business and encourage new business activity. At the same time a huge new mall has been built in the 2800 block of N. Main St. Smaller businesses as well as tenants in the city's expensive high-rise buildings deal in services, finance, and consulting.

After an extensive city clean-up and beautification program, Santa Ana has been designated "the Golden City" by its civic leaders.

For more on this topic, visit the Santa Ana Library's History Room

Santa Ana History Room....Where the past is present


Within the Santa Ana Public Library is a very special facility -- the Santa Ana History Room -- with collections of Santa Ana, Orange County, and California history.


The past is present in the form of books, maps, photographs, oral histories, clippings, scrapbooks, slides, etc. Santa Ana and Orange County crisscross directories and Orange County telephone directories are sources of information on early residents and buildings.


A biography index to Santa Ana and Orange County names, a Santa Ana building and business index, and a non-book material index are available. California and local magazines dating from the later 1800s are shelved in the Santa Ana History Room.


The Library has early Santa Ana newspapers on microfilm in its Periodical section. Bound copies of newspapers are located in the Santa Ana History Room.


The Santa Ana History Room is located in the Santa Ana Public Library, main facility, 26 Civic Center Plaza, Santa Ana, CA 92701 (on Civic Center Drive, a few blocks west of Main St.). Their phone number is (714) 647-5267. 

The History of Santa Ana