Santa Ana is a large, ethnically diverse city located in the heart of Orange County. It serves as county seat and covers an area of 27 square miles. With more than 330,000 people, it is the fourth most densely populated major U.S. city. Santa Ana also comes in fourth place on a recent Forbes list of America’s safest cities. The downtown area just underwent a massive revitalization, and the city is now seeing an influx of young professionals and other new residents.
With so much going for Santa Ana at present, it is easy to forget that the city also has a long and intriguing past. Perhaps that is why many people here – including the newcomers – like to spend time reading and learning about the city’s history. We sure do. Below you will find what we consider to be some of the city’s most memorable events, going back nearly 500 years.
We hope you enjoy these glimpses into Santa Ana’s past, and if you find yourself in need of a local attorney with experience handling lemon law cases, we are here to help.
Exploration Gets Off to a Shaky Start
European exploration of present-day Orange County began in 1542. Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sailed north along the Pacific coast that year, purportedly laying claim to the entire California coastline on behalf of Spain. It took Spanish explorers two centuries to return. When they did, it was a coastal expedition led by Gaspar de Portolá that included sea and land travel. The soldiers traveling up the coast by land reached the Santa Ana River on July 28, 1769. Shortly after arriving, they experienced something they probably did not expect – a strong earthquake, followed by several aftershocks.
Finding Refuge at “Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana”
Juan Pablo Grijalva was a Spanish soldier who petitioned the government for a grant of 63,000 acres of land that included what is now Santa Ana. He submitted his petition in 1801. By the time it was granted nine years later, Grijalva had died. Title passed to his relatives, one of which was Jose Antonio Yorba, who built a giant adobe hacienda at a site located near Friendship Park on the west side of Santa Ana. The home served as a gathering place not just for his family, but for ranch laborers and weary travelers as well. Yorba named the structure El Refugio, meaning “the Refuge.”
Mustard Fields for $8 an Acre
On October 10, 1869, William H. Spurgeon came to the area from the Midwest. He arrived on horseback, riding through fields of yellow mustard that came up to his thighs as he sat on his horse. Legend has it that he dismounted, surveyed the land from a tree (which he climbed to see over the mustard), liked what he saw, and bought 74 acres. This land would later become the City of Santa Ana. Purchase price? Just under $600.
The Glenn L. Martin Company Takes Flight
Glenn L. Martin may not have invented the airplane, but he certainly played a role in its development, earning a place in Santa Ana history in the process. In 1909, he rented an abandoned church on N. Main Street and used it as a factory for his prototypes. He gained notoriety among local residents for his barnstorming (stunt flying) during those early years. Later, after relocating his company to Cleveland and then Baltimore, he manufactured military aircraft used in WWII. A series of mergers eventually led to the creation of Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor.
Erecting a Million-Gallon Landmark
Those of us who live in the area have all seen the Santa Ana Water Tower. After all, it is impossible to miss it from I-5, regardless of which direction you are driving. But did you know the tower was constructed back in 1928? Incredibly, the tank still serves the people of Santa Ana. It stands 153 feet high, holds one million gallons, and generates additional revenue for the city by functioning as a cell tower for communications companies. The water tower received a makeover in 2007 and now displays the city’s slogan, “Santa Ana. Downtown Orange County.”