A Century Of Citrus On The Irvine Ranch
The article below originally appeared in the May 2006 issue of the COUNTY COURIER, the official publication of the Orange County Historical Society. It recounts a century of citrus farming on what became the Irvine Ranch.
Note the discussion of planting oranges and lemons together in the same grove.
There were three packing house images accompanying the article and these can be seen, with the original article, on this link:
Citrus on the Irvine Ranch
By Tom Pulley
In 1906 C.E. (Ed) Utt of Tustin conceived the idea of planting a citrus orchard on a large scale. A partnership was formed with Sherman Stevens of Tustin with the object of leasing 1,000 acres of land on the San Joaquin (Irvine) Ranch for this purpose. The lease was obtained for a period of ten years with James Irvine, the owner of the property, going in as a partner.
The partnership was named the San Joaquin Fruit Company. Carl V. Newman was hired as manager of the new company and Ed Utt was elected president, a position he held until the company was sold in 1923.
Five hundred acres were planted to walnuts, four hundred to oranges and lemons, and one hundred to apricots. Before the trees came into bearing, different crops such as lima beans, peanuts, chili peppers and nursery stock were planted between the rows to help with the expenses. The walnuts and apricots were later removed and replaced with 206 acres of avocados and 394 acres of lemons which were interset with Valencia oranges. The idea being that they would later remove either the lemons or Valencia's whichever proved the least profitable. The company bought the 1,000 acres from Irvine at the expiration of the lease and leased an additional 260 acres for a period of 15 years.
Initially, the company packed their oranges at the Tustin Hills Citrus Assn. and their lemons at the Tustin Lemon Assn. In 1916 and 1917 James Irvine built two packinghouses on Irvine Company land. Both houses were located four miles south of Tustin on a spur line of the Santa Fe railroad at Frances Station which was named in honor of James Irvine, Jr's first wife Frances Anita Plum. The orange house opened in May, 1916 and the lemon house in the spring of 1917. Present day location of the two houses would be on the north side of Yale Ave. halfway between Bryan Ave. and Irvine Blvd. in the city of Irvine.
The San Joaquin Fruit Company packed the following brands: PRESIDENT (fancy Sunkist), SENATOR (extra choice Sunkist), MARK TWAIN (choice Red Ball), GARLAND (choice non Red Ball), and HUCK FINN (standards).
In January 1921 work was started to remove all the lemon trees from the 394 acres interset with Valencia's. This project was finished on April 22, 1921 . As soon as the lemons were removed the lemon packinghouse was closed and abandoned.
In November 1921 lemon growers in the Irvine area formed the Irvine Citrus Association. James Irvine and C.E. Utt were on the first board of directors and J.H. Bray was hired as secretary and manager of the association, a post he held until 1953. The new association took over the abandoned packinghouse of the San Joaquin Fruit Company. They also obtained permission to use the San Joaquin Fruit Co. brands and also added several new brands. They packed exclusively lemons and used the following brands: PRESIDENT and SENATOR extra choice Sunkist), CONGRESS and MARK TWAIN (choice Red Ball), GARLAND (choice non Red Ball), HUCK FINN (standard), and SILVER PEAK (orchard run). They closed following the 1962 season.
In February 1923 the San Joaquin Fruit Company sold its remaining groves to individual growers who then formed the Frances Citrus Association. Frances Citrus purchased the holdings of the San Joaquin Fruit Company including the rights to their brands. Frances also took over the orange packinghouse formerly used by San Joaquin Fruit. C.E. Utt, James Irvine and Carl V. Newman were on the first board of directors. J.H. Bray, the Irvine Citrus Assn. manager, was hired as secretary and manager. He continued to manage both packinghouses until his retirement in 1953.
Frances Citrus packed exclusively oranges using the following brands: PRESIDENT (fancy Sunkist), CONSTITUTION and SENATOR (extra choice Sunkist), MARK TWAIN and PAUL JONES (choice Red Ball), SANTA CRUZ (choice non Red Ball), HUCK FINN (standard) and RED PEAK (orchard run).
Frances packed until 1971. Their packinghouse sat empty until 1977 when it was dismantled and reassembled on the northeast corner of Red Hill Ave. and Edinger Ave. in Tustin where it served as the Barn Restaurant from 1980 to 2002.
In the 1920s much new orange acreage was planted on the Irvine ranch. On July 21, 1926 twenty-one growers owning between 1500 and 1600 acres of Valencia oranges formed a third citrus association on the Irvine ranch, the Irvine Valencia Growers. Their fruit was packed for the first two years by the Frances Citrus Association. During the winter of 1928 a new 100 x 110 foot packinghouse was built three-quarters of a mile south of Frances station at 13242 SW Jeffrey Road. The Santa Fe railroad extended its spur line to the new packinghouse and called the station Kathryn after James Irvine Jr,'s only daughter Kathryn Helene Irvine. To manage their new packinghouse C.W. Post who had been the manager of McPherson Heights Citrus Assn. for 16 years was hired. In 1932 the packinghouse was enlarged to 110 x 212 feet. In 1938 a 75 -carload capacity pre-cooling plant was added at a cost of $90,000.
By 1938 members of the Irvine Valencia Growers in the Tustin-Irvine-El Toro section owned and controlled 3800 to 3900 acres of Valencias. In the 1950s and '60s quick decline virus drastically reduced yields on the Irvine Ranch. In 1961 the association's largest grower, the Irvine Company, launched a massive replanting program. By 1969 the Irvine Company's orchard department had replaced 553,615 diseased trees with Q.D. resistant trees on Troyer Citrange rootstock. The company continued to expand its citrus acreage by planting 30,000 new trees annually. By 1969 member acreage had increased to 6,338 and shipments were expected to peak at 4,500 rail cars per season.
In June 1988 the Irvine Company ended its nearly century old tradition of active farming when they leased their 5,090 acres of avocados, Valencia oranges, grapefruit and lemons to Treasure Farms. Treasure Farms had been formed in 1986 to take over operation of the Irvine Company's 16,000 acres of row crops, which included strawberries and tomatoes.
The Irvine Valencia Growers packed the following brands: VELVET (fancy Sunkist), LINEN and SATIN (extra choice Sunkist), TWEED (choice Red Ball), MADRAS (extra choice non-Red Ball), SERGE (standard), and IRVALE (orchard run). By the early 1990s most of the citrus on the Irvine ranch had been removed. When the Irvine Valencia Growers closed in 1994 they were one of only three packinghouses remaining in Orange County, the other two being Villa Park Orchards in Orange and Yorba Orange Growers in Placentia.
The article on citrus growing on the Irvine Ranch gave the impression that the San Joaquin Fruit Company ceased to exist in the 1920s. In fact the company continued to farm citrus and avocados on land that was originally owned by the Irvine Company until the area was developed for houses in 1970s.
After the original lease ran its term and the San Joaquin Fruit Co. got title to the land and resold some of it to others, another lease and purchase agreement was made for in 1921 for another 250acres (The Irvine Ranch by Robert Cleland).
The San Joaquin Fruit & Investment Company maintained an office, housing for employees and a base of operation at Irvine Blvd and Shop Road (now known as Yale Ave.) near the Santa Fe station of Frances where the Frances and Irvine Citrus packing houses were located.
Lived on Irvine Blvd, just southeast of Shop Road 1957-1976