FOCUS : An Original Olive in Orange County’s Cocktail

Clipboard researched by Kathie Bozanich and Susan Davis Greene / Los Angeles Times; Graphics by Doris Shields / Los Angeles Times

The small Olive neighborhood, first known as Old Santa Ana and now surrounded by Orange, is the second-oldest settlement in the county; only San Juan Capistrano is older. While time has obscured precisely how it was born, there are at least two tales of how Olive came to be named.

The first and most frequently repeated account is that in 1878 the Yorba and Peralta families settled here and planted a huge olive orchard. Version No. 2 has the Barr and Wakefield families planting 1,500 olive cuttings on their Olive Ranch in 1876. Ergo Olive.

Regardless of how Olive was named, the what Olive could have been is more relevant and interesting today, more than a century later--the “ifs” that might have changed Olive’s standing in contemporary Orange County:

* If in 1771 a mission had been built in Olive (as was first planned), instead of San Gabriel.


* If the many citrus packinghouses that once thrived in Olive were still active.

* If wheat production had not dwindled because of an influx of people, closing and ultimately destroying the Old Flour Mill, which would have been a dandy attraction.

Those three elements spell tourism, or at least could have . . . if.

None of the above occurred, so as attractions they never left the drawing board. In fact, most neighborhood residents do not know that they ever were on the board.


As is the case with some other county enclaves, the exact borders of “Olive proper” are inexact. Some old-timers consider it to be a small unincorporated area roughly bordered by Bixby Avenue on the north, Orange-Olive Road on the west and Lincoln Avenue on the south, with Eisenhower Park at its eastern edge. Orange Redevelopment and Project Manager Jim Reichert lends credence to this view, saying that 90% of Olive is unincorporated county property.

Lincoln Avenue, the major east-west artery for Olive and environs, is also home to three of the neighborhood’s more salient features:

* North Orange Christian Church, at 16561 Lincoln Ave., was built in 1918 for $10,000. Although the original redwood exterior is now covered with brown-and-tan siding, it retains a more original look inside. The original stained-glass windows and wooden pews, plus an old Santa Fe spur track (although barely visible), give the church a worn, turn-of-the-century feel.

* East of the church several blocks, but years away in appearance and attitude, are the giant piles of sand and rock that mark the R.J. Nobel Co. Nobel maintains the piles, which give the illusion of giant anthills, as supply for its asphalt paving operation.


* At the corner of Tustin and Lincoln avenues is the green relief of 22-acre Eisenhower Park. Opened in 1970, the park features a large fishing pond, a small zoo, a meandering stream and a fun-packed playground.

Like most neighborhoods, this one is not without disputes. Here, the Orange Unified School District and residents disagree over whether the district should lease a school site on Magnolia Avenue near Bixby Avenue to a developer. There is now a church and a Christian school on the nine-acre site. Under the district plan, the developer would build 185 apartments, a children’s center and perhaps a commercial center.

Most residents want the site to remain a school, not to become residential/commercial property that will increase people and traffic in the neighborhood.

Some seem to regard the neighborhood’s sections with unpaved streets and no street lights almost as badges of honor and a way of paying homage to the past, while not losing sight of the future. Unincorporated status here also means unpaved sidewalks and no public sewage.


The neighborhood is under the aegis of two governing bodies--Orange’s city government and the county--but that does not hinder a warm residential-family feeling that instantly envelopes visitors. The residents seem to be quite satisfied with the way things are.

Population Total: (1988 est.) 11,484 1980-88 change: +10.8% Median Age: 33.9

Racial/ethnic mix: White (non-Latino), 83%; Latino, 12%; Black, less than 1%; Other, 5%

By sex and age: MALES Median age: 33.2 years FEMALES Median age: 34.6 years


Income Per capita: $14,137 Median household: $41,117 Average household: $40,628

Income Distribution: Less than $25,000: 24% $25,000-49,999: 41% $50,000-74,999: 27% More than $75,000: 8%