In 1894, Ferdinand Keifhaber purchased a 2,000 acre farm that was part of an old Spanish land grant known as Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. What later became known as Orange Park Acres was about 800 acres of that farm centered in the first valley at the top of the extremely steep EI Modena Grade. Orange County Park (now Irvine Regional Park), which borders OPA on the east, was the only destination at the end of Chapman Avenue. To get to the Park meant rest stops along the steep grade for the horse-drawn buggies. The same series of stops was also required in the early 1900s for the new Ford contraption that needed copious amounts of water to keep it cool climbing the steep grade. The grade was made much more “machine friendly” during several reconstructions during the 1970s through the 1990s. It now holds only a faint resemblance to the impossibly steep grade it used to be.
OPA is bounded loosely by the tops of the hills as seen from our valley to the west (toward the City of Orange), Santiago Creek to the north, the holding basin behind the dam, the cemetery and Irvine Park to the east, and the top of the hills across Chapman as seen from the valley to the south. In 1911, the Kiefhaber family sold much of the land to C.C. Chapman, a Dr. Randell, Mervin Monnette and Frank Mead Sr. In 1928, Frank Mead Jr and Monnette formed the Orange Park Acres Corporation to develop 640 acres of what is today called Orange Park Acres. One acre of land could be purchased for less than $1,000 – or you could buy 8 acres of less desirable land for $800. That same year the land company drilled wells and formed the Orange Park Acres Mutual Water Company. The area saw little population growth until after World War II, and consisted primarily of orange, lemon and avocado groves as well as egg ranches. One of the first major “social” events in the community was immediately after the 1933 earthquake. All seven or eight of the families that lived in the valley gathered at the home of the Hendricksons and felt safer now they were all together. That first night they stayed warm around a smelly old smudge pot and slept on the floor of the one room cabin. The tremors from aftershocks continued for about two weeks but they felt far more severe down in the flatlands. In the early days the land was planted with barley and wheat, a form of land management called dry farming. In 1936 William (Bill) Sappington, along with his father-in-law, built a larger house next to his original one-room house. It was the only house on Meads Avenue at the time.
Forty years later, Sappington served as Orange Superintendent of Schools. The Henry Ehlen family lived on the site of the Ridgeline Golf Course. They grew wheat, tomatoes and sheep. Several of the streets were named for the Mead family: Kennymead for Frank Jr’s mother whose maiden name was Kenny, Frank for Frank Jr and Lolita for his sister. Clark was named after a man who lived at the corner of Clark and Orange Park Blvd while Morada and Amapola were named by the County. There was a fire station manned solely by volunteer fire fighters until the professional fire department expanded into the eastern part of the County in 1980. Wildfires were many over the years and the area was rife with bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes, raccoons, rattlesnakes, possums, mule deer, tarantulas and bats. In the 40s and 50s the hills were covered in citrus and avocado groves. In 1953, the Orange Park Property Owners Association was formed to meet the threat of annexation into the City of Orange. Residents felt more comfortable being part of the more rural County of Orange designation. In 1960, the present Orange Park Association group was formed. Approximately 150 families lived in the area at that time.
There were few swimming pools here in the 1960s and 1970s but many of the women and children would spend lazy summer days at the Villa Park Country Club pool. The older children would spend time training for horse shows in the nearby riding arena, a raised spit of land divided by Santiago Creek at the bottom of Windes Drive. The one room building was the center of community potlucks and parties for several years. It was owned by a group of doctors who eventually sold it to a developer.
Herman Lenz built and owned the Lazy “B” Golf Course – a rugged nine-hole course. His son-in-law, Norman Brock, built the present clubhouse and subdivided the lots on Ridgeline Ranch Road. Brock also bought Acre Place for a song and subdivided the parcel into one-acre lots. The Younger brothers brought a lot of “move-ons” from the building of the Garden Grove Freeway, sometimes putting two or three together to make one house.
The 1970s also brought the beginning of development in Orange Park Acres. In1972, Grovewood was developed- adding 35 more homes, and Deerfield-adding 80 homes. In 1974, The Wilderness gated community was built with horse facilities and adding 100 more homes. 1975 brought Saddlehill with 36 one-acre equestrian home-sites. 1976 was a big development year with the addition of Broadmoor, which added 202 homes with equestrian facilities and a lake, Pheasant Run with horse facilities and 48 more residences, and Ridgeline with 38 one-acre equestrian sites. 1978 saw the development of Lazy Creek adding 35 more 1-acre equestrian estates, the Kennymead Merkel Development adding 24 half acre equestrian homes and, Orange Hill adding 83 homes. In 1979 High Horse Trails added 140 more homes and an equestrian facility. During this time period, the new developments were annexed into the City of Orange, resulting in today’s mixture of County and City jurisdictions.
In 1983 Bob & Jean’s Cafe was torn down to make room for the first commercial development in Orange Park Acres. A year later, the Orange Canyon Center opened in the early part of the year bringing OPA its own specialty market, restaurants and shops. The late 1980′s saw the last gated community built in Orange Park Acres with the development of one-half acre lots in the gated community of The Reserve. Today you have to look long and hard to find an empty lot in Orange Park Acres. The same acre you could have purchased for $1,000 in 1928 would now cost $500,000 to $750,000, depending on the view – and house not included!
Now that Orange Park Acres has become so attractive because of its large lots and close proximity to the parks and open spaces that surround it, many of the “move-ons” are moving out and being replaced by larger estate homes. Even with all this modernization, Orange Park Acres still strives to retain its rural atmosphere with miles of trails, few streetlights or sidewalks, millions of stars visible at night and actual moon shadows.
Today, Orange Park Acres has one of the finest multi-purpose trail systems in the State of California. It is used by residents and visitors on a daily basis. Handy Creek meanders through OPA alongside trails, through and between various resident’s properties, and is home to ducks, egrets, crayfish and frogs galore. Domestic animals abound in our area, reflecting the heavy emphasis on the rural lifestyle that is the community’s most distinguishing feature and its most effective unifying force. On any given day, you can see equestrians, bicyclists, joggers, runners, walkers with dogs, goats, a calf or even a lady with a duck in a wagon, enjoying the tranquil atmosphere of Orange Park Acres.