Anaheim has come a long way from the time the Spanish explorers first conquered the land inhabited by the Native Americans in 1542 , to when the Spaniards sold this land to the industrious German colonists in 1857. No one could have imagined that what was once a sprawling land full of orange groves would later become one of the largest and most successful cities in the country. Through this historical series, Anaheim: The City of Dreams, we’ll take you on a colorful tour of Anaheim’s rich history to show you the building blocks of this wonderful city.
The dream that Anaheim’s legacy would rest in the grapes was sucked dry by the disease-carrying leafhopper in 1884. But those stubborn German colonists didn’t let this squeeze all the hope out of them. In a way it was a blessing in disguise, considering the Prohibition Era was just around the corner.
Luckily the colonists had planted other crops alongside the vineyards like walnuts, lemons, and oranges. If you drive around Anaheim today, you’ll see street names dedicated to them: Lemon St, Chestnut St, Sunkist St, and Walnut St, etc.
The Valencia orange proved to be the most successful of the crops they planted because it was super sweet and late-blooming. They made the shift from viticulture (wine) to citriculture circa 1885.
The connection of the continental railroad spurred economic growth in 1875.
Also spurring economic growth was World War I in 1917.
One might think that the Germans, especially the older generation, would be loyalists, but they were entirely supportive of America’s effort against their homeland during WWI. When draft day came, 350 German immigrants signed up to fight for the USA. The war actually accounted for population boom in OC. A lot of the men stationed there during the war fell in love with the land of orange groves and ended up settling down in Anaheim after the war. From 1920 to 1930, the population nearly doubled from 5,526 to over 10,000!
The entire country enjoyed economic prosperity in the 1920s.
As a result of the population boom, businesses prospered and the city’s first park was developed called “Anaheim City Park” which is today’s “Founder’s Park”, located just a short walk from several Twelve Springs vacation homes: the Lemon home, Chestnut home and the Helena home. The first ever Parks Director was Rudy Boysen, the man who created the boysenberry (a cross between a blackberry and a loganberry).
In celebration of the burgeoning culture, on May 17, 1921 the city of Anaheim conducted the first annual Valencia Orange Show, complete with a telephoned speech from President Warren Harding. These juicy little treasures really put Anaheim on the map and people came from far and wide to see where their favorite oranges were coming from. The Valencia Orange Show drew 150,000 visitors annually for 10 years.
The orange groves thrived well into the 1930s, despite the termination of the annual show. In 1936, the chamber of commerce had the idea to “plant” a famous Anaheim Valencia orange tree in a truck and show it off all the way to New York City.
The Packing House, built in 1919, was naturally a hub of commerce in Anaheim. The farmers would bring their hoards of citrus to be washed, organized, and placed into labeled crates to be railroaded across America. In 1938 the orange commerce was at its peak with 68,536 acres, over 9.3 million crates boxed with bringing in a revenue of $16.9 million.
Anaheim weathered the Great Depression fairly well, compared to much of the country, and would soon see yet another population boom in the 40s and 50s. It was the fastest growing city in the in the fastest growing county in the nation. It’s no wonder the soldiers stationed in one of the many bases in Orange County wanted to spend their lives there after World War II. And unlike today, real estate was cheap. Anaheim was transforming from a close-knit agricultural community to an industrial giant!
Much like the grapes, the precious oranges were eventually hit with disease. Alas, the future of Anaheim did not rest in its crops. It would take some magic for the city of Anaheim to stay true to it’s moniker “City of Dreams”… some Disney magic.
Stay Tuned for More Anaheim History:
To read more about the original Anaheim colonists, read the last chapter of Anaheim: City of Dreams. In the next installment, we will trace the origins of Disneyland and the brilliant man behind the happiest place on earth.
- “Early Anaheim” Stephen J. Faessel
- “Anaheim: City of Dreams” John Westcott
- “Dreams to Reality” Geoff Black and Bret Colson