The Irvine Company: Making Orange County What it is Today

With its headquarters in Newport Beach, the Irvine Company is a name that has earned respect in Orange County. Founded by the Irvine family in 1864, the company has gone on to plan many communities throughout the area. The most notable of these is Irvine, California, which is a planned city of 250,000 that was largely designed by the Irvine Company.

The Irvine Company is Born

The Irvine Company was founded by James Irvine I, Llewellyn Bixby and Benjamin and Thomas Flint in 1864, at which time the partners began putting together a 185-square-mile ranch from three adjoining Mexican land grants. These purchases included the Rancho San Joaquin, which the partners bought from Jose Antonio Sepulveda after a drought killed his livestock and forced him to sell in 1864. Two years later they purchased the largely unfarmable Rancho Lomas de Santiago from William Wolfskill, who had primarily used the steep, hilly land as a sheep ranch. The partners acquired additional land as one of the claimants of a title lawsuite that divided Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana in 1868.

Following the death of James Irvine I, his son James Irvine II incorporated the lands as the Irvine Company. At the time, the land was used primarily for agricultural production. This continued from the 1800s to the 1970s, with the Irvine Company engaging primarily in cattle operations. The Bommer Canyon Cattle Camp served as the center of these operations

Land Development Begins

Most of the major development of the land owned by the Irvine Company began when the National Scout Jamboree was held on Irvine Ranch in 1953. Jamboree Road, which ran from Newport Beach to Orange, was built to allow people to travel from nearby train stations to the area that is now Fashion Island Shopping Center. The Irvine Company later donated 1,000 acres and sold 500 acres of land near Newport Beach to the University of California so the school could construct its new UC campus. The company then went on to work with the university and architect William Pereira to design the Irvine Ranch Master Plan for developing the surrounding area. This included the city of Irvine, which grew around the campus and was officially incorporated in 1971.

The Irvine Company Switches Gears and Owners

By the late 1970s, the Irvine Company ceased its cattle business. In 1977, the Irvine family began selling its shares to developer Donald Bren. The Irvine Company then went on to sell the Bommer Canyon area to the City of Irvine in 1981. By 1982, Bren was the majority owner of the company. In 1996, he purchased all of the outstanding shares of the company to become the sole owner.

The Irvine Company Today

Today, the Irvien Company develops suburban master-planned communities throughout central and southern Orange County with the 93,000-acre Irvine Ranch remaining the core holding of the company. 44,000 acres of the ranch has been retained for development, while the remainder is preserved as a wilderness and recreation area collectively known as the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. The ranch encompasses nearly one fifth of Orange County.

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