Remember when Orange County referred to the orange groves that thrived in this region? Me neither. I always assumed it referred to the spray tans.
But reservationists are applauding a Santa Ana City Council vote Monday night to place a century-old citrus orchard and farmhouse on the city's Register of Historical Properties, something they claim will help retain the "orange" in Orange County, at least on one five-acre plot of northeast Santa Ana.
More than anything, the designation will buy some time for the nonprofit Save Our Orchard Coalition, which is battling the landowners' plan to plop 24 new homes on the Sexlinger farm at 1584 East Santa Clara Ave.
How much time?
That's how long Jeannie Gillett, the coordinator of the Santa Ana-based preservation coalition, estimates they will need to come up with the unspecified millions needed to pay property owners Concordia University of Irvine and Orange Lutheran High School, which are working with TAVA Development Co. on the residential project.
The historical designation for the 99-year-old site should get the donations flowing, Gillett explains in an email.
"By saving the Sexlinger orchard and family home we are preserving a piece of history for Santa Ana, Orange County, and California," states Gillett. "Now we have our work cut out for us, as we begin the process to raise millions of dollars to keep history alive and create a place that will truly give back to our community in so many ways."
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The site includes a modest Craftsman Bungalow built in 1914 and around 230 Valencia orange trees that still produce abundant amounts of fresh fruit. Of course, that output is a drop in the smudge pot compared to what was produced by the entire region's thriving citrus industry from the late 1800s through the 1940s.
"Today, Orange County has less than 80 acres of citrus remaining," Gillett notes. "I know of no other property in the entire county that represents our agricultural history like the Sexlinger orchard does. It's like walking into our past."
The Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society sponsors the Save Our Orchard Coalition, which also receives support from Metabolic Studio, a direct charitable endeavor of the Annenberg Foundation. For more information, visit SaveOurOrchard.org.