Irvine, California a wonderfully planned city

Richard Basch

Irvine, California has the lowest crime rate of any city in the country and is California's fastest growing city.

In 1864, Jose Andres Sepulveda lost his property, The Rancho San Joaquin, largely because of gambling debts. This event would have huge, unknowable consequences. It would spawn 3 cities, create the home of a major university and create space for a military airport. The land which would eventually total 170,000 square miles was bought by James Irvine and some financial partners; the Bixby and Flint families.

Jose was notorious for his love of betting on the ponies. "It has been said of Don Jose Andres Sepulveda, one of the most picturesque figures of the post-Gold Rush era, and the owner of two grants which made up the Rancho San Joaquin, that he ‘won romantic distinction for his great landholdings, fast race horses, reckless wagers, openhanded hospitality, and the elegance of his costumes'" Robert Glass Cleland, "The Irvine Ranch"

There was a secondary group of properties, The Rancho Azusa de Duarte, Rancho Santa Anita, Rancho Rio de los Putos, Rancho Lomas do Santiago and Rancho San Francisco which Irvine and his partners also bought. These properties were owned by William Wolfskill, a California wine maker and the man who began the orange growing industry in California.

James Irvine and his partners bought 120,000 acres the terrain of California, between Los Angeles and San Diego. Thus begins a story about a piece of property, which would later encompass a city, a university and a Marine air base.

James Irvine had been born in County Down, Ireland and left because of the Potato Famine in 1845. He became a prospector during the gold rush but didn't remain so for long. Irvine realized that the lure of gold had drawn many to California but that few found much of the mineral. Instead, realizing that creating a business to support the farmers, he became a grocer and prospered. He became so successful that he began buying real estate around San Francisco. He was one of the most successful of the merchants, who supplied the miners.

The Civil War was being fought when Irvine bought the Rancho San Joaquin. Following the principal, which had made him rich in the gold rush, he decided to supply the troops in the Union Army with wool for uniforms and once again he prospered.

In 1876, James Irvine bought out his partners for $150,000. Now, he owned the entire Rancho San Joaquin. Years passed Irvine continued to be a master businessman. He kept the Rancho intact and passed it on to his son, James Harvey Irvine. James H. Irvine proved, like his father, to be a wise businessman, who loved the Rancho and used the land as farmland and grew lima beans, improved the property and allowed tenant farmers to farm it.

In time, during the Second World War, the US Marines built El Toro Marine Air Base on the Rancho. James Irvine died in 1957 at nearly 80 years of age. He had been a kind man and a wise businessman. Stories of his wisdom and kindness abound. He had a sign in his office that read, "Often the best way to show warm sympathy is with cold hard cash"

He lived by this principle. He often cancelled debts without canceling them fully. He was much beloved. He never kicked a tenant farmer off his land throughout the depression of the 1930s.

After his death and because of the population boom in the period following the Second World War people in Los Angeles and began looking for housing between Los Angeles and San Diego.

The Irvine company, which had been created in the 19th Century, saw this development as inevitable. Ray Watson, one of the first heads of planning, called this the "oozing of molasses" from LA to the north and San Diego to the south. This meant that it was unrealistic that the land could stay as farmland and open space. So the Company's board and family members decided it was in the best interest of the region to allow for orderly development of the land.

They hired a city planning firm and the firm created a master plan. For the city of Irvine. In the early days, the Irvine company sold land to homebuilders and commercial developers who built according to the master plan. In other cases, the Irvine company acted as master developer, hiring contractors to build projects for it. Tye Company also built some homes itself with Irvine Pacific, a homebuilding unit that was active until the 1980s and was restarted last year. The move helped to avoid debt financing.

The plans began to be applied to the city of Irvine and the Irvine Company donated 1000 acres of land for the creating a branch of the University of California in Irvine.

As other cities in nearby Orange County began to appear, The Irvine company decided to do something planned which, really only an organization like the Irvine could do, make a planned city, with open spaces, neighborhoods and a sense of wholeness.

Words like community began to become important. Irvine would succeed where the rapid pace of development in other communities had defeated a sense of wholeness in other nearby places. In 1964 the University of California at Irvine as inaugurated, Lyndon Johnson delivered the opening speech. Governor Pat Brown, the father if the current Governor was glad, he felt that with a university come liberals, Democrats.

In the early days of Irvine, emissaries were sent to older planned communities, like Reston, Virginia and Columbia, Maryland to learn from their missteps. Clearly, the result of the planning has been successful for Irvine, California has been named the safest city in America for the last seen years in a row. Irvine is also the fastest growing city in California.

So, what can we learn about what needs to be in a city in order to create peace and safety and harmony? Irvine has a highly educated population, there are residents of all economic classes there, although most of them are certainly prosperous, open space seems very important, community appears to matter. These are all qualities, which Irvine has in abundance.