From burg to boon: O.C. marks 125 years

berry-stand-original-park
Walter and Cordelia Knott stand in front of their “original berry stand” at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park. In reality, several versions of the “original” berry stand were built over the decades. The license plates on the car in the foreground are from 1920, the year the Knotts came to Buena Park.

By ERIKA I. RITCHIE / STAFF WRITER

WHAT ELSE WAS BIG IN 1889?

• Around the World: Coca-Cola Co., Columbia Records, the USDA, the Oklahoma Land Rush, the Eiffel Tower, the Moulin Rouge, the first cable cars in Los Angeles, the zeppelin and President Benjamin Harrison.

• New states: Montana, Washington, North and South Dakota.

• In O.C. these opened:First American Title Co., Orange County Medical Association, Willella Howe-Waffle House, the first Fullerton Grammar School and Pacific Creamery Co.

Source: Chris Jepsen, president of the Orange County Historical Society

Bill Gross gets animated when he recalls that his was among hundreds of young families vying for one of the coveted new Mission Viejo homes in the early 1970s.

Homes built by the O’Neill/Moiso family and Dean Homes on 10,000 acres of Rancho Mission Viejo ranchland became the first master-planned developments in South Orange County and sold like hotcakes. Hopeful homebuyers threw their names into a barrel and waited for hours on a huge dirt lot to be called to buy a home. The lottery drawings were such big events that the Saturday nightly news would broadcast the week’s winners.

“When your name came out of the barrel, it was like a birthday, anniversary and Fourth of July all at once,” said Gross, founder of Newport Beach-based Pimco, the world’s largest bond trader.

Gross, his wife and children left behind an apartment in the San Bernardino Valley and lucked out, getting a 1,600-square-foot home near Marguerite Parkway in the newly created community. Each weekend they worked on the landscaping, putting in a lawn, bender board and a sprinkler system. On Saturdays, they’d drive to a nursery on El Toro Road and get marigolds, the flower of choice in Mission Viejo.

“It was all fresh and brand-new. I couldn’t ask for a better beginning to a career,” Gross said.

Gross, now 70, recently moved Pimco to a new, 21-floor tower at Fashion Island – a location once part of the 100,000-acre Irvine family’s cattle and sheep ranch. Gross, named Morningstar Fund Manager of the Decade for 2000-09, said Orange County contributed to the success he and Pimco have made in the financial world.

“When people think of sunshine and beaches, those are positives,” Gross said. “It all sort of works together. If you’re surrounded by a fresh, thriving county, it gives feedback to (new companies) as well.”

Gross is among the visionaries with pioneering spirits who pursued unique and innovative endeavors that in 125 years have helped transform O.C., an area once known as southern Los Angeles County.

In 1889, O.C. seceded from Los Angeles County, and this year celebrates its 125th anniversary.

A real estate boom in the 1880s and a campaign advertising a “Mediterranean-like lifestyle” helped the county explode from its rural roots to its urban and suburban makeup. The county that began with 13,589 residents and three incorporated cities – Anaheim in 1878, Santa Ana in 1886 and Orange in 1888 – is the nation’s sixth-largest with 3.1 million residents and 34 cities. Aliso Viejo, incorporated in 2001, is the newest.

Home to world-renowned Fortune 500 and 1,000 companies such as Ingram Micro, Allergan, Broadcom and Edwards Lifesciences and privately held Pacific Life, Kingston Technology and Vizio, O.C.’s image is no longer that of the “little spot between Los Angeles and San Diego.”

With no megacity, there are cultural centers such as the tech world in Irvine and Newport Beach that lead some to dub the county Silicon Valley South. It’s a place where Teslas are sold in malls and where the Oculus Rift developers just sealed a deal to sell for $2 billion.

Surf City USA – aka Huntington Beach – is home to the U.S. Open of Surfing and is known as the birthplace of surfing. With 42 miles of beaches, Orange County is known worldwide for its surf breaks – Dana Point’s Strand, Newport Beach’s Wedge and Trestles near San Clemente.

Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm are huge tourist draws and are key in the county’s $9.5 billion tourism sector, which includes whale-watching tours, ritzy destination resorts and large harbors for vessels like sailing boats and motor yachts.

THE EARLY DAYS

After nearly 20 years of fighting for secession, O.C. separated from Los Angeles County on Aug. 1, 1889. Separation was spurred by increasing frustration among residents in the Santa Ana Valley – still dotted with dirt roads and a lack of infrastructure – that taxes weren’t being used to improve their area. On Aug. 5, Orange County’s Board of Supervisors held its first meeting above Beatty Bros., a dry-goods store at Fourth and Sycamore streets in Santa Ana…

 

MAKING A LIVING AND CREATING A VISION

Marion Knott, Walter and Cordelia Knott’s last surviving child, remembers what it was like in the beginning. Her father, a sharecropper who came to O.C. from San Luis Rey, didn’t come with the vision of pioneering what is now the 13th-most-visited amusement park in the nation…

 

THE DEPRESSION, MILITARY BASES

During the Depression, growth slowed in O.C. The population in 1950 was 216,000. With World War II came Marine Corps air stations in El Toro and Tustin and other military bases in Los Alamitos, Costa Mesa and Seal Beach. Shore defenses were set up at Bolsa Chica. In the postwar boom, the population in the county more than tripled between 1950 and 1960, hitting 700,000. In 1941 about 122,000 acres known as Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores and part of a 200,000-acre ranch owned by Richard O’Neill Sr. and James Flood was absorbed by the Marine Corps and became Camp Joseph H. Pendleton…

 

LATINO IMMIGRANTS

Throughout O.C. history, many of the immigrants came from Mexico.

Rueben Martinez, son of immigrants from Mexico who came to Arizona to work the copper mines, remembers going to a segregated school in Arizona. The teachers would quench his thirst for reading – something that later would change his life. He moved to Los Angeles and went to barbering school while working at Bethlehem Steel. Then he struck out for O.C.

“My friends would say, ‘Why are you moving to Orange County? It’s a mostly white community,’” he said. “But I looked at it as opportunity.”

He opened a hair salon called Design I at 2nd and Broadway in Santa Ana in 1975. Fourth Street was already a hub for Latinos. On weekends it flourished with families buying furniture and clothes and eating popular Mexican foods…

 

LITTLE SAIGON, POLITICS

Immigrants also came from places like Korea and Vietnam. Westminster and Garden Grove are home to the largest concentration of Vietnamese outside Vietnam. The community, with Little Saigon as its cultural center, sprang up in the late 1970s. Bolsa Avenue is dotted with strip malls. There are cybercafes, specialty coffee shops and Vietnamese and Chinese grocers and restaurants. The community has its own TV and radio stations and Vietnamese-language newspapers…

 

MEGACHURCHES, SPORTS AND CULTURE

Internationally influential spiritual leaders such as the Rev. Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa and Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest found a community served by many religions and many people thirsty for evangelicals. The Trinity Broadcasting Network founders Paul and Jan Crouch started their vision for a national religious broadcasting network in Costa Mesa in 1973. It is now the nation’s largest religious network…

… The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, in the meantime, has grown to be the 10th-largest diocese nationwide, with 1.2 million members. Catholic missionaries established the county’s first residential community around Mission San Juan Capistrano. Catholics still celebrate Mass daily within the oldest standing structure in California, the Serra Chapel at the Mission San Juan Capistrano.

When professional sports teams like the California Angels (in 1966) came to O.C., the community’s identity began to grow. The Los Angeles Rams brought the excitement of the NFL to Anaheim, where they played from 1980 to 1994. In 1993, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim brought professional hockey.

Mike Scioscia played for the Los Angeles Dodgers for 13 years. He became the Angels’ manager in 1999 and brought O.C. its first World Series championship in 2002.

“I remember countless fans stopping me at Starbucks or pulling their cars over and saying, ‘Thank you, you don’t know what this means to my father or my grandfather,’” Scioscia said. “When that happened, I gained perspective of what a ballclub means to a community. When we won in 2002, I got a sense of accomplishment from people in the community. It opened my eyes to how Orange County has bonded with the Angels.”

Scioscia said baseball builds community across races and demographics. It gives people something common to be passionate about.

“I see Angel hats all around Orange County now, and it wasn’t always like that.”

TV-DRIVEN IMAGE

O.C. is one of the best-known – and yet least understood – counties in America, Brigandi wrote in his latest book, “Orange County Chronicles.”…

 

By 2035, O.C. is expected to reach a population of 3.4 million…