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Santa Ana History

By Francelia B. Goddard and Allen W. Goddard


From A Hundred Years of Yesterdays: A Centennial History of the People of Orange County and their Communities, published 1988 by the Orange County Centennial, Inc.

(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.

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