The Marcy Ranch headquarters was situated in
the middle of an area planted with hundreds of
young orange trees. The area on Newport north of
Dodge was later developed as Peacock Hill.
Looking down on what could be a Monopoly board of houses and
buildings as you fly over the Tustin area
enroute to John Wayne airport, it is easy to
forget that the area was covered with mustard,
oak and sycamore trees when the first
inhabitants, the California Indians, lived
Hunters and gatherers, they lived off the land
and migrated from location to location to find
game and food. The only buildings were small
thatched huts called wickiups.
Spanish explorers visited the California coast
beginning in 1500, but not until 1769 did the
first white men, Spanish missionaries Fr. Juan
Crespi and Fr. Francisco Gomez, traveling with
Don Gaspar de Portola, governor of Lower
California, and a company of four officers and
63 men entered the area that is now Orange
County. They camped out briefly, but no white
men settled here until 1776 when Mission San
Juan Capistrano was founded.
Spanish soldiers arriving with the missionaries
established homes, spreading out as far as what
is now Olive. Eventually they petitioned the
Spanish government for the properties and the
Rancho Period began. Rancho Santiago de Santa
Ana, which would eventually become Tustin, Santa
Ana, Orange, Olive, El Modena, Costa Mesa and
part of Newport, was granted to Jose Antonio
Yorba by the King of Spain in 1809. After Mexico
won its freedom from Spain in 1821 and control
of Alta California, land grants became more
Years passed, many of the original grantees
died, and the ranchos were divided among their
heirs. They lived luxuriously and were
unprepared for a disastrous two year drought .
Needing funds, they sold their ranchos to
opportunists who later transferred their shares
to men like Columbus Tustin who established
small communities. Outlying areas were
subdivided into small farms and orchards.
Thousands of acres went to big investors
including James Irvine who acquired Rancho San
Joaquin, Rancho Lomas de Santiago and strip of
Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana to form the Irvine
Ranch. The Ranch remained one of the largest
land holders in Orange County for many years
despite selling off land over the years. No
longer farming, the company is now developing
44,000 acres of master planned communities in
addition to setting aside 50,000 acres for
wilderness and recreational preserves.
A very early Irvine sale was a 17,000 acre
parcel, part of the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana
acquisition, acquired by George E. Marcy, a
Chicago meat packer, in 1910. Marcy built ranch
headquarters on Newport Avenue near the present
Marcy Drive and hired Albert A. Leake as ranch
superintendent. Although the Marcys visited from
Chicago at intervals, Leake was responsible for
the property which included both citrus orchards
and grazing land as well as a park with a lake,
swans and peacocks.
The peaceful, agrarian atmosphere of the area
was shattered after World War II as an influx of
ex-service men demanded housing and a blight
infected the citrus orchards. Walter H. Cowan, a
retired oil executive, purchased 822 acres of
barren land from Marcy in 1944 and began
developing Cowan Heights as a residential area.
Later Don Shanahan, a Southern California
builder, bought the Marcy Ranch headquarters and
surrounding citrus orchards to develop as
Peacock Hill. Soon the remainder of the ranch
was being developed as a residential area.
Unable to resist the dollars offered by
developers, others joined the trend to sell,
resulting in today’s wide spread development.