Orange County’s built environment is made up of historic resources (buildings and landscapes) that date from the late 1700s, when Native American and European people made contact and permanent settlements were established.
Each era since has left us with reminders of who lived here and how they contributed to Orange County’s success. Early on, there was Mission San Juan Capistrano and Los Rios Street, the oldest continuously occupied residential street in California. Many sites in Orange County are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, from the Romanesque Revival Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana to the Spanish Colonial Revival Casa Romantica in San Clemente.
The county has two National Landmarks considered to have significance for the entire nation: Arden—the Helena Modjeska House and Gardens—and the Richard M. Nixon Birthplace. But these recognized sites are just the beginning: Orange County has been in continuous development for 240 years and has hundreds of historic places, most of which are not yet recognized or protected. As California experienced a boom in the 1880s, Orange County became a center for the citrus industry, shipping fruit nationwide from orchards, packing plants, and depots in Orange, Fullerton, and Santa Ana. At the same time, the county’s coastline and bucolic hills became a favored subject for plein air artists and fostered the art community in Laguna Beach.
Just before World War II, El Toro Marine Base became a major air field that saw many historic events. After the war, Orange County thrived as newcomers flooded in to enjoy its beauty and job opportunities; this suburban growth blossomed in innovative shopping centers, mass- produced housing tracts, and the world-famous theme parks Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. The late 20th century saw the maturing of these suburbs with internationally famous master-planned communities such as Irvine, Laguna Niguel, Leisure World (Laguna Woods), and Mission Viejo. The growing economy fostered innovative office parks to house new industries and businesses. In each era, Orange County’s historic places have been models for the nation while nurturing the county’s present and future.
The banner photograph above is of the cactus garden at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. The desert, native and Mediterranean gardens that visitors to the mission now enjoy were originally work spaces during the mission period from 1776 until secularization in the Mexican era. The transition to a pleasure garden landscape at the Mission San Juan Capistrano began in the 1930s.