Grateful for the decisions that created my hometown

by Ellen Bell

When I was writing my book on Irvine history, I was repeatedly asked: “Why?

There’s no history in Irvine.” The truth is, Irvine does have a rich history that dates back hundreds of years.

Long before there were master-planned communities, the landscape of Irvine was quite different – covered with citrus groves and cattle ranges.

During the rancho era, the southern portion of the city was called “The Swamp of the Frogs” because the sound of the croaking was an audible landmark to nighttime travelers.

The Irvine Spectrum Center once was covered in acres of lima bean fields.

So why is it important to focus on the past? As the daughter of a history teacher, I would say that the past is the only way we can make sense of the present. It also gives us an appreciation for the decisions of those who shaped our city.

The foundational decisions were made by the family that gave our city its name. Members of the Irvine family were stewards of this land that they owned for nearly 100 years.

Throughout four generations, the Irvines worked hard to keep their ranch intact, making the master-planned city of today possible.

A City of Villages

Our city of more than 280,000 residents did not occur by accident. Irvine is a living, breathing success story of community planning. Decades ago, Irvine Company planners were given a blank slate of land to bring their Master Plan to life.

But the sizable Irvine Ranch also presented a challenge: how to keep residents from feeling lost in its expanse? The answer was the village concept, where smaller “sub-communities” would provide an all-important sense of place. Today, Irvine is a collection of these unique villages that combine the comfort and connection of a small town with the culture and conveniences of a large city. My family has been a direct beneficiary of all that forward thinking. My husband and I spent 25 years raising our kids in Woodbridge, which opened in 1976 as a wonderful example of community planning.

The place that was designed to bring neighbors together has given my family a lifetime of memories and a personal history of our own.

 

Grateful to the forward-thinkers

The history of Irvine is a story of vision. A vision that would turn a water-scarce ranch into California’s most productive agricultural operation. A vision for a new master-planned “city of intellect” designed around a university. A vision for a vibrant city center that would coexist near almost 60,000 acres of preserved open space.

I will always be grateful to the risk-takers, the forward-thinkers and the decision-makers whose vision created my hometown.

Ellen Bell is the author of the history book “Irvine: Images of America” and writes the local travel blog OC DayTripper.