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Orange County History: Suburbia and Today

Suburbanization in the Post-WWII era

At the end of World War II, the Santa Ana Army Air Base (SAAAB) was no longer needed by the military and was closed. The buildings soon became used as the campuses for Orange Coast and Santa Ana Junior Colleges. The many servicemen who were trained and stationed at SAAAB came to enjoy the wonderful air and climate of the Orange County region. So after the war, these servicemen brought their families to Orange County to start their new lives. A rapid increase in city population occurred. The growth can be seen clearly in Garden Grove. The city only incorporated in 1956 with a population of 46,000. By 1962, the population was nearly 130,000. In a span of only 37 years, the population of Orange County multiplied tenfold, from roughly 200,000 in 1950 to more than 2,000,000 in 1987 (Kling, Poster, and Olin, 1991:2).

The Red Cars promoted growth in Orange County during the first half of this century. However, with the increase of automobile traffic competing with the Red Car's right of way, the trolleys slowly began to fall out of use. Ridership by the 1940's declined rapidly and by 1950 service was stopped on the last remaining Orange County lines to Santa Ana and Huntington Beach. The last Red Car pulled into Long Beach in 1961. It was the end of the trolley era and the beginning of the freeway era. This tool aided the growth of Orange County during the post-war years. In the early 1950's, US Route 101 was upgraded to a four-lane freeway, providing quick and easy access from Santa Ana and Anaheim to Los Angeles. This allowed workers to be able to live farther away from the central city than was previously possible. After the Eisenhower Interstate Highways Act of 1956, US Route 101 was re-signed as Interstate 5, which stretched from San Diego to the Canadian Border. Another early freeway was US Route 91, resigned CA-91, the Riverside Freeway. Built in the mid-1950's and finished in 1960, the freeway went from the Santa Ana Freeway (US-101, I-5) to about Imperial Highway. Other freeways built in the 50's include the Costa Mesa Freeway (also known as the Newport Beach Freeway, CA-55), finished in 1962. The Garden Grove Freeway (CA-22) was built in the early 1960's, and served to alleviate traffic on Garden Grove Blvd., was finished in 1967. It is one of the few freeways in the Southland that has not undergone lane additions since it was built. The San Diego Freeway (I-405) was built from about 1964-1968 in Orange County. The progress went from north to south. Throughout this time of mass freeway building, the Riverside/Artesia Freeway (CA-91) was extended from the Santa Ana Freeway (I-5) to the Harbor Freeway (I-110, formerly CA-11 and US-6) in the late 60's. There was much less freeway building in the 1970's, due in most part to environmental concerns as well as lack of funds. However, the Orange Freeway (CA-57) was completed in 1976, and the Corona del Mar Freeway (CA-73) was completed in 1979 (the free part, up to MacArthur Blvd.).

For information on Orange County Freeways, follow this link.

More will be added later...
Here are some of the pictures that are up...

Recent History and Developments

Although freeway building had stopped in the 1970's and 1980's, private companies invested in tollways throughout the county. The first tollway was the 91 Express Lanes, which opened in the early 90's. These lanes cost a couple of dollars to speed your way in and out of the Inland Empire, and saved commuters much valuable time. Later, part of the Foothill Transportation Corridor (CA-241) opened to the public in the mid-1990's. The next tollway to open was the controversial San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor (CA-73), which traversed many environmentally sensitive and pristine areas of the county. This tollway opened in 1996 and is meant to serve as a shortcut around the 405 and the 5 to get to South County. Future tollways include the Eastern Transportation Corridor (most of the tollway was opened in October 1998 ahead of schedule), which travels through the hills from the Riverside Freeway (CA-91) at Gypsum Canyon Rd. to a split with the Foothill Transportation Corridor. The Eastern Transportation Corridor will end at the 5 near Tustin Ranch Rd. These new corridors serve mainly the residents of the booming South County cities such as Irvine, Mission Viejo, Lake Forest, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, etc. The southern portion of the Foothill Transportation Corridor is still under study, as there is much controversy over the environmental consequences of running the road through pristine south county wilderness. Refer to the Transportation Corridor Agency's website (found in the LINKS section) for more information on the progress of the tollways in Orange County.

The State and the County, instead of focusing on more new freeways, have shifted towards improving existing freeways. Specifically, car pool lanes have been added to every freeway in Orange County, with the exception of the Garden Grove Freeway (SR-22). That freeway will be widened in the next few years, with construction expected to begin in 2004 and be completed in 2007. The Santa Ana Freeway (I-5) widening and enhancement project is now complete after years of construction and is now able to meet the needs of Southern Californians for the next 20 years. The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) is also looking towards alternative forms of transportation to help alleviate traffic congestion. Among the most promising is rail travel. Metrolink already links Orange County with downtown LA. OCTA is now planning their Centerline light rail project that will improve intracounty transit trips. The current alignment may go from the Irvine Transportation Center in the south to Orange in the north. This project, in conjunction with bus rapid transit planned throughout the County, may help get people out of their cars and onto trains (or at least give people that alternative).

In late 1994, the County of Orange filed for bankruptcy. The county of Orange is the largest entity of government to apply for Chapter 11 protection under law. The bankruptcy was caused mainly by the treasurer's (Robert Citron) investment of county bond funds in risky and high-volatility investments. When these investments failed to perform as they were forecasted, the county lost hundreds of millions of dollars on paper. Since then, the county has appointed a Chief Financial Officer and a new treasurer to manage the county's funds in the aftermath of bankruptcy.

Currently, there are three long-lasting issues confronting Orange County. The first one is the conversion of the El Toro Marine Corps Base into Orange County International Airport (OCX). Thus far, it has passed every legal obstacle against it. Three out of five county supervisors support the plan. However, many local South County residents staunchly oppose this passenger and commercial airport plan. They mainly fear the increased amount of noise, pollution, and congestion that would be caused by an international airport in their neighborhood. On the other side, residents of Newport Beach very strongly support the new airport. They hope the airport will take volume away from John Wayne Airport (and thereby reducing the noise Newport Beach residents experience). The second is the extension of the Foothill Transportation Corridor to Interstate 5. The third is development vs. preservation. This broad issue includes the proposed Bixby Ranch development in Seal Beach, the proposed Bolsa Chica development in Northwest Huntington Beach, the proposed Crystal Cove development by the Irvine Company, and the proposed Headlands development in Laguna Beach. To better understand these issues, I recommend reading local papers, such as the Los Angeles Times or the Orange County Register. I have also archived some articles relating to these issues and other history-related issues in the Links section.

Today, Orange County is a vibrant area with its own culture similar to but somewhat unique from the greater Metropolis of Los Angeles. What began as a sleepy region of orange groves and grape vineyards is now a bustling County of over 3 million residents. Development is the driving force of change in the County as it has for the past half century. Orange County was among the earliest examples of what urban planners term "Edge Cities," a term coined by J. Garreau. People came in the beginning (i.e. the 1950's) to find cheaper housing and an escape from LA life, and Orange County became the bedroom community for LA. As development spread further south, Orange County quickly matured into its own Metropolis with bedroom communities serving it and its own cultural events. As land becomes scarcer and development slowly levels off, it will be interesting to observe what will be the next driving force that will shape the landscape of Orange County.

For additional information regarding the County, please refer to the Links section and to the local papers, the LA Times and OC Register.
Here are some of the pictures that are up...


Orange County encompasses 798 square miles and has a population of over 2.8 million. For detailed population information about the county, please refer to the Census 2000 population table (PDF format). For additional information and statistics about Orange County, please refer to the links page (the UCI annual report), or to the Census website at
Created by Kenneth Kao.