With its emerald lawns, themed street signs and annual home tours, Floral Park looks like it was dropped into the wrong city.
The neighborhood is largely white, some homes go for more than $1 million and house hunters take a pass on Newport Beach and South County gated communities for a chance at an address there.
It’s a far cry from the churro vendors, fruit stands and check-cashing businesses that dot the landscape elsewhere in Santa Ana. That contrast has made Floral Park an object of both envy and anger.
“You go to Floral Park and you see nothing out of place,” said Sam Romero, an activist for Santa Ana’s nearby working-class Logan neighborhood. “Some of those folks rub elbows with the [big] wheels. They consistently vote. They are the ‘right’ kind of people.”
In a city that is 74% Latino, with a vast immigrant community, Floral Park’s demographics are nearly the opposite. Home prices are nearly double the median sticker elsewhere in town. Traffic barricades discourage outsiders from passing through.
Fearing noise and traffic, Floral Park residents went to court this year to block construction of a grade school on land marked for upscale development. The opposition is so fierce that school trustee Nativo Lopez believes some of the energy driving the recall campaign against him is rooted in Floral Park.
Said city resident Manuel Diaz, a cabdriver, “You do get the feeling that there’s an immense amount of wealth in just one part of the city. You can hardly figure out a way to get into the neighborhood. It’s like it’s off-limits to certain people.”
City officials say Floral Park takes an unfair rap as getting special treatment in a city where so many have so little.
“It’s assumed, if you live north of 17th Street in Santa Ana, you get something special. I think that’s doubly assumed if you are in Floral Park,” said Pat McGuigan, whose 20 years of service on the City Council ended last week. “The record, however, doesn’t support that.”
Planning Commissioner Chris Leo said Floral Park is simply the best known of the city’s good neighborhoods. “There are old neighborhoods all over Santa Ana that people don’t know about,” he said. “The residents are doctors, lawyers, judges -- people who chose an urban lifestyle instead of sitting in a car.”
Floral Park, residents say, exemplifies how an older neighborhood in an urban setting can retain its charms if residents pull together. They stage an annual home tour, in which visitors pay for the right to ogle the interiors of well-appointed homes. The tour raises about $30,000, of which a part -- usually about $8,000 -- goes to charities and scholarships. The rest goes for neighborhood improvements and block parties.
Other old neighborhoods in Santa Ana do the same. Residents in nearby Park Santiago will hold their second home tour Dec. 8. Residents north of Floral Park like to say they live in North Floral Park.
“People have a negative perception of the city.... The neighborhoods want recognition as being different from what people might think. We all get tired from the people saying, ‘Is it safe where you live?’ ” said Phil Schaefer, a Realtor. “Floral Park has been the most aggressive to try to distinguish themselves.”
Residents in Floral Park have worked hard to preserve the flavor of their community, where homes cost as much as $1.3 million and styles run from English Tudor to Art Deco. Improvements began about 13 years ago with the formation of the Floral Park Neighborhood Assn.
The association paid for the stylish street signs and painted the backs of stop signs black so rust wouldn’t show. The group is now procuring outdoor lights to illuminate the street signs.
Floral Park is an address for the powerful and the connected. They include Mayor Miguel A. Pulido, state Sen. Joe Dunn and Peter and Mary Muth, owners of Orco Block Co. and major benefactors to the Nixon Library & Birthplace and the Bowers museum.
Tom Brotherton, CEO of Children’s Hospital of Orange County, passed on Newport Beach and Irvine in favor of Floral Park, where he can walk to work.
David Seigle, vice president of the Orange County Community Foundation and a founder of the software firm FileNET, spent three years house hunting with his wife, rejecting Old Towne Orange, Hancock Park in Los Angeles and Belmont Shore in Long Beach before buying in Floral Park.
Homeowner association president John Schulte and his wife, Linda, moved to Floral Park five years ago from a tract home in Dove Canyon.
“Once we moved,” said Schulte, “I felt I had turned a corner. It was like I was on the set for ‘Leave it to Beaver.’ ”