Tustin was established as a real estate venture by a Petaluma carriage maker,
Columbus Tustin. He and his partner, Nelson O. Stafford, purchased 1300 acres of
the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana in 1868 when the old Spanish land grant was
Between 1868 and 1872, Tustin set about establishing "Tustin City" on his
share of the parcel. He laid the streets out through the wild mustard and
sycamore trees that covered the area. He moved his wife, Mary, and their five
children (Mary Jane, Martha, Ella, Fannie, and Samuel) here. He started selling
lots and established the school district and the post office. When many people
failed to buy homesites, he offered lots free to anyone who would build a home.
In 1877, Tustin competed unsuccessfully with William Spurgeon in Santa Ana
for the southern terminus of the Southern-Pacific Railroad, thereby sealing the
fate of his "city" -- Tustin would remain a small town, Santa Ana would become a
city. Columbus Tustin died in 1883 a bitterly disappointed man.
Then, during the land boom of the 1880's, Tustin's prospects brightened.
New construction included three churches, a 50-room hotel, a bank, and a
horse-drawn tallyho, which connected Tustin to Santa Ana. Many new residents
built homes and planted groves.
The 1890's saw Tustin well established an agricultural community. Groves of
apricots and walnuts gradually were replaced by Valencia oranges.
John "Zeke" Zeilian reigned over the public school. His students later
organized as "Zeke's Bunch" and held annual picnic reunions in the 1960's at
The new century brought many changes here, as elsewhere. As early as 1903, there
were two telephone companies. Electricity became available in 1906. And, of
course, automobiles became so common that the State Highway (101) passing
through town had to be paved.
The 1920's ushered in a new period of growth. Tustin built its own high school
in 1922. By 1927, the population topped 900 and the voters deemed it was time to
incorporate. The new City Council elected Byron Crawford the first mayor and
hired "Big John" Stanton as the police force. The volunteer firemen continued to
serve, using Sam Tustin's converted 1912 Buick fire truck (now on display in the
Tustin Area Museum).
The impact of World War II was magnified in this area by the establishment of
three military bases on nearby bean fields: the Santa Ana Army Air Base, the El
Toro Marine Corps Air Station, and the Navy's Lighter-Than-Air Base (where the
huge hangers housed coast-patrolling blimps).
It was not until the mid-1950's that Tustin's growth began in earnest.
Freeways, quality schools, and post-war industries attracted thousands of
people. The "quick-decline" disease, which decimated area orange groves, and
rising land values induced the orchardists to sell their land to builders and
developers. By 1970, the population had jumped to 32,000.
Almost all the orchards are gone; now the surrounding landscape sprouts houses,
schools, and shopping centers instead of trees. But Main Street, though
sandwiched by elements of progress, will take you back through the years of
Tustin's development, revealing, like a tree's rings, its boom years, its lean
times, its changing tastes, and its gradual metamorphosis decade by decade.