Ray Watson, right, remains one of the most influential people in Irvine history. As Irvine Company’s original planner, he was the first to implement the Master Plan to build the new city of Irvine.

Meet Ray Watson, the ‘Architect of Irvine’

The job of building Irvine from scratch went to a visionary named Ray Watson

by TOM BERG

Look around.

This master-planned city of tree-lined villages, parks and schools can be traced to a man raised in the Great Depression – who felt it his duty to provide a better way of life for people.

His name was Ray Watson.

Called a “Renaissance Man” and “the architect of Irvine,” he became one of the most influential people in Irvine history.

It was famed architect William Pereira who created Irvine’s Master Plan in the late 1950s. But it was Watson’s job, as Irvine Company’s first urban planner, to build a new city – from scratch.

CITY OF VILLAGES

Central to Watson’s vision was the concept of residential villages, each with its own character, often defined by natural features, and connected to schools, parks and shops.

“Our villages were built to be part of one large necklace, with each community being its own gem,” the late Watson once said.

Ask any Irvine resident today where they’re from, and they’ll likely say something like Woodbridge or Turtle Rock. That is due to the “architect of Irvine.”

When Ray Watson became Irvine Company president in 1973, he said his No. 1 goal was to ensure the Master Plan continued to guide the “new model city” of Irvine.

RAY OF HOPE

A man of humble beginnings, Watson walked among giants in his life.

He worked closely with Pereira, UC Irvine’s founding Chancellor Daniel Aldrich and Walt Disney, where he served as chairman of Walt Disney Productions.

In 1973, he became Irvine Company president. Three years later, the world witnessed his success as a city builder.

On a sunny June morning in 1976, more than 10,000 people lined up for the chance to buy one of the first 350 homes in the newly opened Village of Woodbridge.

It made national news.

“We always challenged ourselves by asking, ‘How can we make this even better?’” he once said. “That’s how you make successful communities.”

And that’s why he is memorialized on a monument at UC Irvine.

“Ray Watson … Modern Renaissance Man.”