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
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
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.)