History of Irvine, California

2,000+ Years Back

Archaeologists have found evidence that people inhabited the Irvine area at least 12,000 years ago. We know that the Gabrielino Indians were living in the San Joaquin Valley when Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola arrived in 1769. (In that same year, on the other side of the country, colonists first formally opposed taxation without representation in the lead up to the Revolutionary War).

Mid 1800s

Claim to the San Joaquin Valley passed from Spain to Mexico and ultimately to the United States. The land that would become the City of Irvine was divided among large ranches supporting tens of thousands of cattle and horses: Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, Rancho San Joaquin and Rancho Lomas de Santiago.

Ultimately, through court rulings, sales and debt settlements, the ranches became the property of the Bixby, Flint and Irvine families. In 1878, James Irvine bought out his partners for $150,000, creating the great Irvine Ranch -- more than 110,000 acres stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Santa Ana River. (Read our blog post about the Irvine Ranch Historic Park.)


Irvine Ranch Celebrates 150 Years

Late 1800s & Early 1900s

Gradually the Irvine family shifted operations from ranching to agriculture, growing mainly Lima beans, though crops would ultimately include olives, barley, avocados, asparagus, strawberries, and oranges.

In the late 1800s, the Santa Fe Railroad placed the "Irvine" station nearby, James Irvine, Jr. incorporated The Irvine Company, and a town slowly grew up around the agricultural center, what is now the preserved area just off of I-5 known as Old Town Irvine.

Mid 1900s

Beginning in 1942, the great mass of land that had been devoted to ranching and farming for 100+ years began to diversify when The Irvine Company sold parcels of land to the U.S. government for two Marine Corps Air Stations. In 1960, the Irvine Company sold the University of California 1,000 acres for a new "Irvine" campus (UCI) at the hefty price of $1, and Irvine's modern history was born.

1970 & Beyond

Beginning in 1970, the Irvine Company would oversee plans to transform 43 square miles of undeveloped land near the new UCI campus into a master-planned community of 50,000 people. Houses and neighborhoods took the place of crops as Irvine became California's fastest-growing city.

University of California, Irvine in the 70s

And while the city now supports a thriving community of more than 214,000, Irvine will always be graced with a very special legacy of its founding family: nearly 60,000 acres of wild-lands and parks designated as permanent open space throughout Orange County.


Old Town Irvine 

Old Town Irvine stands today as a testament to the rich agricultural past of what has become one of California's most heavily urban counties. Founded in 1887 as the distribution and storage center of the 125,000-acre Irvine ranch, Old Town Irvine was to develop over the years a bean and grain storage warehouse (1895) and granary (1947) known as the Irvine Bean and Grain Grower's Building, a blacksmith's shop (1916), a hotel (1913), a general store (1911), and an employees' bungalow (1915). All of these structures have been rehabilitated for commercial uses and their exteriors have been painstakingly maintained.

La Quinta Inn & Suites
The hotel was once part of the dry-crop shipping center for the entire Irvine Ranch. The hotel houses 101 rooms inside the former Lima bean and grain silos. The original building was a wood structure built in 1889. The wood structure burnt down in 1948 and was re-constructed the next year out of concrete. The new building was built as 32 hexagonal silos in a 3 wide x 11 long configuration. Each concrete silo is 33 feet high. 

In 1986, the silos were converted to the hotel. To preserve it as a historical landmark, the original tin roof was utilized and none of the silos were painted in keeping with accordance with the standards set by the Irvine Historical Society. The center hexagonal concrete silos are now the interior corridors serving the rooms located in the exterior facing silos and the tin shed, kept mostly intact including the original main lift, is utilized as the area where the hotel serves breakfast.

The hotel has a picture display including a brief history and description of "Historic Old Town Irvine."

Location: Sand Canyon Ave and Burt Rd, Irvine Historical Marker Database

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