The lands of Early Tustin - including the Marcy Ranch of North Tustin

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

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 there.

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 numerous.

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.


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