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History of the City

BC - AD

Archeological research establishes prehistoric man in the Irvine area at least 12,000 years ago, possibly even 18,000 years ago. Scattered evidence of early campsites and rock shelters can be seen in the undeveloped parts of the city.

Gabrielino Indians moved into the Irvine area 2,000 years ago, establishing dozens of villages. One village was located near the present San Joaquin marsh and another near the San Joaquin golf course.

The Gabrielinos were of the Shosonean language group. They enjoyed an abundant food supply of shellfish, waterfowl and land animals. They lived in round, woven huts and were excellent basket weavers and makers of seashell and stone jewelry.


Gabrielino Indians were the
original inhabitants of what is
now Orange County.
Photograph courtesy of
The Irvine Historical Society

1700 - 1800

Gaspar de Portola, a Spanish explorer, entered the San Joaquin Valley in 1769, abruptly ending the tranquil life of the Gabrielinos. With the Spanish came forts, missions and herds of cattle. The King of Spain began to parcel out lands for missions and for a few large, private land grants. In 1831, after gaining independence from Spain, the Mexican government secularized the missions, assumed control of land holdings and began distributing ranchos to Mexican citizens who applied for grants.

Three large Spanish/Mexican grants made up the land that later became the Irvine Ranch: Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, Rancho San Joaquin and Rancho Lomas de Santiago. The oldest, Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, an early Spanish grant to the Yorba family, was confirmed by the Mexican government.


The original Spanish and Mexican Ranchos of Los Angeles County.
Photograph courtesy of
The Irvine Historical Society

1800 - 1900


In 1837, San Juan Capistrano mission lands were granted to Don Jose Sepulveda, later becoming Rancho San Joaquin. Rancho Lomas de Santiago was granted to Teodosio Yorba in 1846. In that year, the Mexican army was defeated in the final battle of the Mexican-American War. The Treaty of Guadalupe was signed and California was annexed to the United States.

The Congressional Act of 1851 forced landholders to reapply to the Board of Land Commissioners to get valid title to their ranchos. Original grantees, however, had produced large families who were deeding, selling and trading portions of the large ranchos to family members and outsiders.

Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana fell prey to tangled titles. In 1868, outside investor Abel Stearns was successful in his suit to dissolve the rancho and divide the property among the claimants, four of whom were prosperous sheep ranchers: Benjamin and Thomas Flint, Llewellyn Bixby and James Irvine.

Meanwhile, Jose Sepulveda, owner of Rancho San Joaquin, was heavily in debt. In 1864, the year of the Great Drought, Sepulveda sold his 50,000 acres to Irvine, Flint and Bixby for $18,000. In 1866, Irvine, Flint and Bixby acquired the 47,000-acre Rancho Lomas de Santiago for $7,000. Much of the rancho was not suitable for cultivation, but did border the Santa Ana River on the north, thereby securing valuable water rights.

The Irvine, Flint and Bixby ranches were devoted to sheep grazing, although in the 1870's tenant farming was permitted. In 1878, James Irvine acquired his partners' interests for $150,000. His 110,000 acres stretched 23 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Santa Ana River.

James Irvine died in 1886. In 1893, his son, James Irvine, Jr., came into full possession of the ranch which he incorporated into The Irvine Company one year later. James, Jr. began shifting ranch operations to field crops, olive and citrus orchards.


James Irvine I

James Irvine I bought half interest
in three major Southern California ranchos as a silent partner of
Flint, Bixby & Co.,
a sheep-raising venture.
Photograph courtesy of
The Irvine Historical Society

1900 - 2000


During World War I, agriculture had intensified, and by 1918, some 60,000 acres of lima beans were grown on the Irvine Ranch. During World War II, two Marine Corps air facilities were built on land sold to the government by The Irvine Company.

James Irvine, Jr. died in 1947 at the age of 80. Presidency of the company fell to his son Myford, who began opening small sections of the ranch to urban development. Myford died in 1959.

In 1959, the University of California asked The Irvine Company for 1,000 acres for a new campus. The Irvine Company agreed, and the State accepted the land and purchased an additional 500 acres. The University's consulting architect, William Pereira, and Irvine Company planners drew up master plans for a city of 50,000 people surrounding the university. The area would include industrial zones, residential and recreational areas, commercial centers and greenbelts. The Irvine Industrial Complex West (now known as The Irvine Business Complex) opened and the villages of Turtle Rock, University Park, Culverdale, the Ranch and Walnut were completed by 1970.

On December 28, 1971, the residents of these communities voted to incorporate a substantially larger city than that envisioned by the original Pereira plan in order to control the future of the area and protect its tax base.

By January 1999, the City of Irvine had a population of 134,000 and a total area of 43 square miles. Future plans, however, call for a population of over 200,000 on 46.7 square miles by the year 2020.


Fly past parade at the El Toro airbase Circa 1943
Photograph courtesy of
The Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum

Irvine today and the future

Thirty years ago, the City of Irvine was still in its infancy. Today, Irvine has grown into what many describe as a "total destination," a community boasting state-of-the-art transportation programs and systems, an enterprising business environment, stellar educational institutions and a team-like lifestyle.

Irvine's noteworthy, present-day status didn't evolve from happenstance. It's the outcome of mastermind planners, and those engaged to institute the plan. Each day, the Irvine City leaders and staff work diligently to ensure a quality environment for the City's future.

Using the City's Strategic Business Plan and the General Plan, the Irvine City Council makes decisions, based on fiscal limitations, that will:

  • Maintain and enhance Irvine's physical environment that will prevent community deterioration
  • Secure a safe community by assuring the right balance between public safety services and prevention strategies
  • Encourage economic prosperity by attracting and retaining businesses and sales tax
  • Promote effective government by assuring that the City organization is flexible, market-based and customer focused in its service delivery

For 40 years, residents and businesses have been choosing the City of Irvine because of its dedication to maintaining its reputation as one of the safest, master-planned, business-friendly communities in the country. This dedication makes Irvine the strong community it is today, and what it will be for generations to come.