THE NEW PIONEERS : Foothills' Chronicles

1882: The 230,000-acre Rancho Santa Margarita y las Flores is purchased by Richard O'Neill Sr. and James C. Flood.

1923: Santa Margarita Co. is established.

1928: Robinson Ranch is the setting for the World War I movie "Lilac Time" starring Gary Cooper. The movie was supposed to give the appearance of being filmed in France; the eucalyptus trees that line Trabuco Road are meant to appear as French yew trees.

1930s: About 17,500 acres (now encompassing Caspers Wilderness Park, Coto de Caza and Dove Canyon) are sold to Eugene Starr and Ernest Bryant.

1942: Santa Margarita Co. dissolves when Flood's half of the interest and half of O'Neill's interest near San Onofre are sold to the Navy and become Camp Pendleton. Remaining 52,000 acres become Rancho Mission Viejo.

1948: O'Neill Regional Park is built; two years later it is dedicated to county.

1967: Eleanor Sherod opens Trabuco Oaks Steak House. Tradition of snipping off ties worn there grows. Celebrity ties tacked to the wall include a cravat worn by Richard Nixon.

1969: Agricultural preserve agreement equaling nearly 30,000 acres established with the county.

1982: A 5,000-acre area called Plano Trabuco is removed from the preserve and zoned to become the planned community of Rancho Santa Margarita.

1983: Santa Margarita Co. is re-established to develop the community.

1984: Coto de Caza hosts the Summer Olympics' pentathlon competition.

1985: Construction begins on the 5,000-acre Rancho Santa Margarita.

1986: First homes built in Portola Hills.

1986: First houses, under construction, are offered for sale at Rancho Santa Margarita in May. First residents move in during fall.

1988: County Planning Commission approves agreement freezing zoning laws, guaranteeing 3,900 homes in Foothill Ranch. In return, Foothill Ranch agrees to contribute about $40 million to a five-year program of road improvements in South County.

1989: First homes built in Dove Canyon.

1989: A 1985 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report surfaces, saying William Lyon Co., developer of Robinson Ranch, was unfairly favored by a key HUD official when property was sold. Report explains property was sold to Lyon even though the company did not submit the highest bid.

1989: Archeologists discover prehistoric cog stones on Foothill Ranch. These gear-shaped artifacts were believed to be used for religious purposes. This is the farthest inland in Orange County these stones have been found.

1990: Tijeras Creek Golf Club in Rancho Santa Margarita opens to public.

1991: Construction of Plaza Antonio in the Rancho Santa Margarita Town Center is underway.

1992: Extensions of Oso, Antonio and Alicia parkways open into Rancho Santa Margarita.

1993: First segment of the Foothill tollway opens. Rancho Santa Margarita Intermediate School opens. Loral Aeronutronic selects Santa Margarita Business Park as its headquarters.

1993: The Times reports in March that Santa Margarita Water District General Manager Walter W. (Bill) Knitz and his assistant, Michael P. Lord, have billed the water district for tens of thousands of dollars in questionable expenses. In May, Knitz retires.

1994: Orange County district attorney's office charges Knitz and Lord with 38 misdemeanors, alleging the two failed to disclose gifts from business interests and then took actions on their behalf.

Source: Times reports; Santa Margarita Co.

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