Villa Park became Orange County’s 24th city on January 11th, 1962 but there is a rich history to Villa Park which might be best described as a tale of two eras, the ranchers and the developers. Villa Park, prior to incorporation, was as an agricultural area producing apricots, grapes, walnuts, and finally citrus, which was the major crop for about 60 years. Villa Park’s composition of gravel made it great for semi-tropic fruits and winter vegetables. The ground would absorb the heat during the day and retain it through the night much better than clay.
The ranchers helped shaped the community, including the large lot sizes, which was a significant reason towards what forced the area towards city hood. Threatened with annexation by the City of Orange, Villa Park sought incorporation to retain its estate lot sizes, beautiful orange groves and rural atmosphere.
The history of the Villa Park area goes back to around the early 1800s. The city was part of an area known as Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana in its early days. As the ranchers began to buy land from the Californios Villa Park became known as Mountain View. The name Villa Park came into usage when the community petitioned for a post office. The Villa Park name was chosen when the postal service rejected Mountain View as the name since the city of Mountain View in Northern California already existed.
Villa Park’s Incorporation
Facing annexation and worries that Orange would turn Villa Park into low density housing Villa Park residents sought incorporation. However, not all residents wanted city hood and there would need to be a vote. In order to win, 51% of voters AND 51% owners had to vote for incorporation.
Opponents of incorporation formed the Villa Park Against Incorporation led by Hubert Gohres. Proponents of incorporation formed the Villa Park Incorporation Committee led by James Workman. Pro-incorporationists sought to prevent Orange from annexing Villa Park and allowing higher density housing. The dissenters feared higher taxes and loss of flexibility to develop their lands.
In 1962 the proposed city was approximately 1,800 acres with a population of 1,200 and estimated land value of $2 million (not a typo). The proposed city boundaries stretched from Wand St and Santiago Blvd on the west, N Mesa Dr on the north, The Santiago Creek bed on the east and Collins Ave on the south.
Villa Park’s jagged boundaries are also a result of the incorporation. Some land owners opposed incorporation and were carefully left out of the proposed city boundaries. Also, to the east there were very large land owners that opposed restrictions on residential development which ultimately led to Orange annexing those areas and leaving Villa Park completely surrounded by Orange.
On January 3, 1962 Villa Park residents voted 264 for and 134 for incorporation and became Orange County’s 24th City. The original five city council members were Arthur F. Craft (mayor), James T. Workman (mayor pro-tem), Carl G. Hays, Donald Heim and Walter Schniepp.
James Workman has an interesting history and far less celebrated than a contemporary of his, Fred Kelly. Both Workman and Kelly were graduates of Orange High School and Olympic gold medal winning athletes. After OHS, Workman would attend Cal and join the Cal crew team. As a member of the eight-oar crew they won the Olympic trials against Yale and Olympic gold against Britain in Amsterdam.
After the Olympics Workman would go on to be a pilot, City of Villa Park founder and marry Margaret Knuth of Villa Park. The Knuth’s have a long and storied history of ranching and community involvement in Villa Park. Today you can find both Knuth Cir. and Workman Cir. side by side to each other off Santiago Blvd.
Villa Park Historical Timeline
2012 – Villa Park turns 50 and holds 50th anniversary events throughout the year.
2004 – The VPSF and VP Rotary raised a large sum of money to build a new clock tower.
2002 – The annual Halloween Fest was established.
2002 – Villa Park Community Services Foundation (VPCSF) founded when the Foundation by-laws were approved by the Villa Park City Council.
1996 – Villa Park gets its own zip code which changed from 92661 to 92861 alleviating many issues.
1995 – Friends of Villa Park (FOVP) founded in 1995 when the library was threatened with closures due to the Orange County bankruptcy.
1989 – The last significant orange grove in Villa Park ceases operation. There is still one official orange left in Villa Park on Loma St across from El Moro Way.
1983 – The Villa Park Orchard Association packing center is torn down.
1982 – The first Villa Park Dry Land Boat Parade is held.
1978 – The last packing took place at the Villa Park Orchards Association packing house before moving the packing house to the Santiago Orange Grower’s packing house in Orange.
1974 – An office building with a plaza is added to the Town Center.
1972 – The City Hall and Community Center is re-located to the Town Center.
1972 – Interest in the Modern Priscilla’s waned and was dissolved.
1971 – The first Miss Villa Park is crowned, Millicent Strahan.
1970 – Villa Park Shopping center (Town Center) opens.
1969 – Villa Park Women’s league was organized.
1967 – The short lived (closed 1982) Villa Park Country Club at 9661 Windes Dr. opened and featured a horse ring, bridle trails, clubhouse, tennis, stables and shuffleboard.
1965 – Cerro Villa Junior High was established.
1964 – Villa Park High School and Serrano Elementary are established.
1963 – January 4, 1963 the Villa Park Dam was dedicated and began to provide flood control protection to the communities along Santiago Creek.
1962 – The first custom home is built, the brown residence.
1962 – Villa Park Volunteer Firefighters held their first pancake breakfast in order to assist in funding the unit.
1962 – Villa Park was incorporated on January 11th, 1962.
1962 – Villa Park residents voted 264 for and 134 for incorporation on January 3, 1962.
1961 – The Villa Park Property Owners Association starts the push to become a city to avoid Orange’s annexation threat and to preserve the rural life.
1959 – Fire Station 23 was established at Villa Park Road and Santiago Canyon Road.
1955 – The Villa Park Property Owners Association is established to examine the threat of Orange annexation.
1953 – The Villa Park School District merged with the Orange Unified School District (OUSD).
1931 – Santiago Dam and Reservoir (Irvine Lake) was completed. Domestic water service provided to Villa Park.
1926 – Acreage was valued at $2,500 – $5,000.
1920s – The short lived Fairway Country Club and Golf Course was established at Bixby Ranch. It later became a Franciscan monastery.
1921 – Claude T. Ryan starts a flying service.
1920 – Jotham Bixby Co. began selling parcels of land in a 250-acre sub-division named Cerro Villa Heights (northeastern Villa Park) in the Villa Park district.
1919 – New, larger buildings were built for Villa Park School.
1914 – Cerro Villa Heights is established.
1912 – 48 Villa Park growers united to organize the Villa Park Orchards Association (VPOA). The Central Lemon Association was also founded (1912 – 1960) which was once one of the largest Lemon packing houses in California.
1912 – The Modern Priscilla Club was founded for women with children no older than 16.
1910 – Mountain View School changed its name to Villa Park School.
1909 – Adolphus Busch buys a 38-acre ranch and orange groves in the Villa Park district at the northeast corner of Villa Park Road and Tustin Avenue.
1905 – The Villa Park Water Company was formed.
1904 – The first city and community hall was built on the northeast side of Villa Park Rd. and Center Dr.
1890 – The Villa Park Congregational Church was established on the northeast corner of Center Drive and Villa Park Rd. The church closed for good in 1942.
1889 – Orange County separates from Los Angeles County.
1888 – The Mountain View community established a post office but because Mountain View was already a city in California the post office rejected the name. The community settled on Villa Park and eventually everyone called the area Villa Park.
1888 – Southern Pacific Railroad extends line to Tustin with a stop at Wanda Station (Katella/Wanda). It’s a bike trail now.
1881 – Villa Park starts their oldest tradition. The Villa Park community picnic is one of the oldest traditions, dating back to at least 1881 when the community would travel by wagon to Irvine Ranch (formerly Irvine Ranch).
1881 – Mountain View School is opened to what is now present day Villa Park Elementary.
1875 – Villa Park was formed when the Lotspeich brothers purchased 635 acres bordered by Santiago Blvd., Sycamore St., the foothills and Wanda St. The Gray Tract was formed north of Santiago Blvd. to the hills.
1870-1875 – Ranchers begin to buy land located in present day Villa Park from heirs of the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. This included Andrew Glassell and A.B. Chapman and the Jotham Bixby family (Jotham Bixby Family). Oge and Bond created the Oge-Bond Tract south of Santiago Creek and a small portion north of the creek.
Acreage sold for about $25 an acre in the Villa Park district at the time.
1870s – Serrano Water Association began operations.
1868 – The original Yorba lands were partitioned in 1868 and Leandro Serrano’s heir received what is today the Villa Park area.
1810-1860s – Descendants of Grijalva controlled what is now Villa Park including Leandro Serrano.
1810 – Jose Antonio Yorba & Juan Pablo Peralta re-established the Santiago de Santa Ana land from the King of Spain. Yorba was Grijalva’s son-in-law and Peralta was Grijalva’s nephew (Yorba’s cousin).
1801 – Juan Pablo Grijalva petitioned the Spanish government for land that became Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, Orange County’s first rancho. The 63,000-acre rancho is now the site of El Modena, Olive, Orange, Santa Ana, Tustin, Villa Park, Costa Mesa and parts of Anaheim Hills and Newport Beach.
Changes in Villa Park Through The Years
- Some of the first ranchers in the Villa Park District were G.C. Morrow, James Smith, Ray Billingsley, Adams, Collins, the Lotspiech brothers and Victor Montgomery.
- A community hall (also City Hall) was built in 1904 on Villa Park Rd and torn down in 1972 much to the chagrin of many long-time residents.
- The Villa Park Congregational Church was located on the northeast corner of Center Drive and Villa Park Road. It was later moved to Silverado Canyon in 1931 before being lost to a fire in 1961.
- There was a general store on the southeast corner of Center and Villa Park Road before it was moved to the southwest corner .
- The Town Center had to be zoned commercial (from residential) which many Villa Park residents did not want and refused to shop in the center.
- Villa Park originally had no ‘town center’ except for a little store at Villa Park Road and Wanda (northeast corner) called Bruno’s Market.
- The Wanda Railroad station was right next to Bruno’s which was part of the Tustin Branch rail line and used to serve the citrus packing houses. The walking path on Wanda that leads to the trails across Collins are where the Southern Pacific railroad line ran.
- Where Santiago Blvd. dead ends at Santiago Creek there used to be a bridge that crossed Santiago Creek and ended at Villa Park Rd/Santiago Canyon. The street on the other side of the creek is N Santiago Blvd next to Oakridge Private School. The Santiago Creek bridge was washed out by the 1969 floods.
- Loma St, which connects to Cannon, was informally known as Dump Road because it led to a waste dump in the 60s (on Villa Park Rd, northeast corner of Santiago Canyon Road and Cannon Street).
- The Imperial Highway and Serrano didn’t always connect to Anaheim Hills. Cannon St. dead ended at Loma St. and Serrano dead ended at Mabury Ranch.
- Prior to the above two changes, Cannon St was Loma St and Loma St was Mesa and thus it was called Mesa Dump Road.
- The Dunkin Donuts/Chase land was previously Phil’s Union 76, a full-service gas station.
- Villa Park Knowles became the first “park” in Villa Park in 2022.
More Villa Park History
No. 1 – Residence of J. L. Sharar.
No. 2 – Fairway Country Club, overlooking the Villa Park Citrus groves from a hill to the northeast.
No. 3 – First Congregational Church of Villa Park.
No. 4 – Sunkist Orange packing house.
No. 5 – Residence of W. D. Fisk.
No. 6 – Grammar school of Villa Park.