Olive Through the Ages

Historical overview of Olive: Boundaries

Historical descriptions | Maps and photos | Olive boundaries

When I first began studying the history of Olive, I believed Olive only existed around the Olive Heights area. But historian Gordon McClelland enlightened me to the fact that during the citrus growing years Olive once extended out to "Batavia Street on the east Anaheim side, Taft on the Orange side, Santiago on the Villa Park side, the Santa Ana River on the Yorba Linda side, and out a little into Santa Ana Canyon Road this side of the Santa Ana River, up to where the Santa Ana Canyon Road meets Imperial Highway."

Historians Chris Jepsen and Susan Berumen of the Orange County Archives, and Orange County historian Phil Brigandi helped further my knowledge about Olive's boundaries. Chris showed me where landowner James R. Toberman's Olive Tract existed in 1883, and Phil identified the location of the nearby St. James town tract of 1887. Susan located the oversized books containing these historic maps and let me photograph them.

After doing some analysis of all three tracts and their closeness in proximity, I came to better understand how and why Olive progressed in the manner and direction as its history played out.

My thanks to Gordon, Chris, Susan, and Phil for sharing this vital information about Olive's history. Thanks also to Tom Pulley for sharing Mary McClelland's 1920s post card showing a view of Olive looking north of Santa Ana Canyon Road.

I would like to add that Chris inspired me to create map overlays showing a particular location at two or three different points of time, in one image. These map images are accessible by clicking/tapping the thumbnail images in the section below to view larger images in a separate browser window or tab. - Daralee


Olive boundaries from 1876 to present times

Olive Tract overlay, 1883  
1883 Olive Tract  
Olive Heights tract map, 1887  
1887 Olive Heights tract  
St. James map, 1887  
1887 St. James tract  
1880s maps of Olive Tract, Olive Heights, St. James  
Olive tract, Olive Heights, and St. James  
1888 map of St. James,  Olive  
St. James & Olive, 1888  
Olive map, circa 1945  
Circa 1945 map of Olive area  
Olive and Orange map, 1948  
1948 map of Olive and Orange area  
Olive boundaries, 1910s - 1960s  
Click/tap the image to view a slide show of Olive's boundaries from the 1910s to 1960s with a narrative by Gordon McClelland  

Along with its changing definition as a town, the boundaries of Olive also changed considerably throughout its history.

On March 10, 1876 landowner James R. Toberman—who at one time owned most of the land between present day Olive Heights and Katella Avenue—established Olive tract a half mile south where Olive Heights tract would exist 11 years later. In May 1883 Olive tract was roughly bordered by the following streets we recognize today: St. James Avenue and Lincoln Avenue to the north, Orange-Olive Road and Northumberland Road to the west, Heim Avenue and Cumberland Road to the south, and Tustin Street to the east.

Olive tract ceased to exist when Toberman sold his land at the end of December 1888, about a year after Olive Heights tract was established by the Olive Milling, Land & Improvement Company. The new tract, a half mile north of Olive tract, was insured a measure of success with its profitable Olive Milling Company flour mill having been in operation since 1882.

Still Olive Heights stakeholders felt threatened by the neighboring town of St. James which also sprung up in 1887. And no wonder; the area of St. James was twice the size of Olive Heights and St. James was constantly being touted by Pacific Land Improvement Company developers in glowing—if not highly exaggerated—press advertisements. However, as the sub-divided plots of land were being auctioned off, The Los Angeles Times correspondent J. Franklin reported on July 21, 1887 that these two boomtowns were equals:

These new towns are as closely joined together as the Siamese twins. Therefore there need be no jealousy on the part of either, as improvement in one is a benefit to the other and vice versa. Olive Heights is at the mouth of Santa Ana Cañon, and has most beautiful residence as well as good business locations, and will undoubtedly retain the postoffice, while the depot, which is half a mile away, will be located at St. James.

Though Olive had an edge over St. James with its profitable flour mill being advertised as the most important manufacturer in Orange County, Olive Milling, Land & Improvement Company took extra measures to ensure its town's survival and secured the railroad depot in 1890. In 1893 they had the grammar school moved from Olive tract to Olive Heights. By the turn of the century, St. James no longer posed a threat to Olive Heights when landowners realized St. James' water supply was not as they had been promised.

Around 1900 the climate and soil in Olive was becoming known for producing superb crops, and in the early 1920s citrus fruit growing became the dominant industry in Olive, eclipsing that of the now fading Olive flour mill. As ranchers purchased acres upon acres of land for planting and cultivating citrus groves and other crops, the boundaries of Olive began to expand far beyond the Olive Heights tract. Within the next decade a patchwork of groves covered the area then known as Olive up to the Santa Ana River, across to Imperial Highway, down to Villa Park Road, and over to Main Street.

By the late 1950s real estate became increasingly more valuable in Southern California and ranchers began selling their land to developers. In the early 1960s citrus groves began to disappear, replaced by housing tracts. While the Southland was changing from a rural to a suburban environment, much of the acreage between Olive and Orange was annexed to the City of Orange. By the late 1960s the boundaries of Olive were significantly reduced, having been scaled back to the original Olive Heights tract area.

Today Olive is a residential island within the Olive Heights tract area of 1887, with pockets of that area now a part of the City of Orange.

Sources: All maps courtesy Orange County Archives, except 1948-49 Jay Gee Business Directory map courtesy Orange Public Library HIstory Center; "Olive Heights and St. James" article by J. Franklin from the July 21, 1887 edition of Los Angeles Times, ProQuest Historical Newspapers; "New Block Is Planned For Olive" article from the February 25, 1923 edition of Los Angeles Times, ProQuest Historical Newspapers; "Lost Cities: Swallowed up like Atlantis, they yet linger in memory's heart" article by Philip Hindley, published in December 1980 edition of Orange County Illustrated.


Views of Olive from 1883 to 1945

1913 Olive views

Oil well and fields in Olive (Source: Santa Ana Daily Register, 1913)

Taft's loquat groves, 1913

C.P. Taft's loquat groves in Olive (Source: Santa Ana Daily Register, 1913)
1920s post card of orange groves Post card photo of groves in Olive from the 1920s (Source: Tom Pulley)   Mary McClelland's post card, 1920s Reverse side of post card with note from the mid- to late 1920s written by Mary McClelland (Source: Tom Pulley)
1938 map with 1985 street overlay 1938 U.S. Geological Survey aerial map of Olive with 1985 map overlay (Source: OC Archives)   1883, 1945, and 1985 maps 1883 Olive tract map and circa 1945 Renié Atlas map overlays over 1985 map (Source: OC Archives)

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