It's telling, then, that perhaps the most secure orange trees in Orange County are also the most inaccessible: The 30 acres of orange groves on the Coto de Caza estate of William Lyon, the mega-developer whose homes stand on the soil that nurtured so many oranges.

Their setting is immaculate: along Coto de Caza Drive, behind a white wooden fence, in equidistant rows that surround Lyon's Southern-style mansion. All of the trees are healthy and waiting for hands to pick their crop. Once in a while, middle-aged Latino men poke out of the rows, examining the groves as cars zoom by. But to actually walk among the trees, you must first get a pass to enter Coto de Caza, then another one that allows you to walk onto Lyon's estate.

Lyon doesn't need the orchards—he's made his billions. They're not even native to Coto, which was mostly grassy badlands when development in the community began after the 1984 Olympics. But when Lyon had his 120-acre property built in the late 1980s, he had the orange trees planted. Why? Lyon has never talked about the subject, and he was unavailable for comment on this story.

Ignacio Lujano
Keith May
Ignacio Lujano

So, Lyon's orange trees stand, simultaneously hidden and in the open. A living, breathing, private museum to the chapter of Orange County history that will end when Ignacio Lujano leaves the Swanner Ranch.


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