Early landowners valued North Tustin’s potential

View showing the citrus crops grown in the lush hills of Lemon Heights, c1925.

As you drive through the North Tustin area of Lemon Heights and Cowan Heights, admiring the beautiful homes that line the streets, it is hard to believe that this was once raw, undeveloped land.

C.E. Utt and Sherman Stevens, who formed the San Joaquin Fruit Co. and planted citrus on 1,000 acres of flat land purchased from James Irvine in 1906, recognized the possibilities of the hill property in 1910 and acquired 600 acres, which would become known as Lemon Heights because of the citrus they planted.

George E. Marcy, a wealthy Chicago businessman who often visited this area, later bought a large portion of the Utt/Stevens property as well as other property in the area, reaching a total of 17,000 acres.

He then established the headquarters for Marcy Ranch on the west side of Newport Avenue, just north of today’s Barrett Lane.

Most of the land purchased for the ranch was unfit for cultivation, but Marcy had other plans for it. One of his goals was to develop a large park of about 300 acres, similar to Smiley Heights in Redlands.

Since the area had only one well, water for irrigation was brought from wells in Tustin and stored in a large reservoir on the very top of the hill.

Giant trees, shady walks with an abundance of green planting and a lake with swans were among the attractions developed in the area. Access roads and scenic drives were established.
Many visitors drove up the hill to enjoy both the view and the park when it was completed. The roads were popular test sites for those considering the purchase of an automobile. A vehicle that could maneuver the steep inclines was considered powerful.

Today what remains of the park is bordered by Cowan Heights Drive, Skyline Drive and Equestrian Drive. Utt kept about 200 acres south of the park for growing citrus, grapes and peanuts.

Soon others were acquiring land in the area. Samuel Armor’s “History of Orange County, California,” published in 1921 by the Historic Record Co., Los Angeles, lists former Chicagoan Robert M. Simons as owning 90 acres of oranges and lemons and Dr. and Mrs. Bartholomew with 65 acres, as well as local residents, including Arthur Lyon, who reportedly refused $108,000 for 39 acres of citrus, and Dr. Wilella Waffle, a well-known Santa Ana physician, who owned 30 acres of lemons.

Describing the “fine view of the valleys and plains, constituting the central and south portions of the county” that could be seen from the heights, Armor predicted “doubtless many palatial residences will be erected there in the near future, whose occupants may thus perennially enjoy the beauties of nature enhanced by the arts of civilizations.”

His prediction came true when Walter Cowan purchased a large chunk of the Marcy property with the intention of using it for agricultural purposes, but developed Cowan Heights after deciding the area would make a wonderful residential area. Others followed suit and Lemon Heights, which had only a few homes including that of Utt, was also developed.

(Originally published on November 17, 2009 in the Tustin News. Reprinted with permission courtesy of Southern California News Group/The Orange County Register.)