The Community of Anaheim Hills

Stephen J. Faessel
County Courier, March 2001

Anaheim, The Mother Colony, Southern California’s first planned community, had its humble beginning in 1857 with 1165 acres apportioned for city lot, housing and vineyards. As the year 2000 approaches, city of Anaheim has grown to almost 50 square miles, covering most of the North orange County Santa Ana River flood plain and a large portion of the Santa Ana Canyon’s southeastern slope, an area now known as Anaheim Hills.

Anaheim’s progressive growth eastward began in earnest in the post World War II era, as new home development began to replace the now less valuable Valencia orange groves. In March, 1946, the residents voted to annex an additional 225 acres into the community, which extended the city limits from the original East Street out to what is today State College Avenue. This East-Anaheim annexation, on of many to follow in the next five decades would signal the end of Anaheim’s dependence upon agriculture and usher in its future as a modern residential, commercial and entertainment center.

After the opening of Disneyland in July 1955, Anaheim’s cheap land, low housing costs and low interest rates fueled a boom unlike any seen in Southern California before, raising the population from 14,556 in 1950 to over 104,000 by 1960. Anaheim civic leaders attracted modern defense industry to the community by setting aside an industrial zone in the northeastern part of the city adjacent to the new SR 91 Riverside Freeway. Autonetics (later named Rockwell International) moved to Anaheim in 1959 becoming one of the city’s largest employers. Further residential development followed, forcing Anaheim’s limits east to the Santa Ana River by the early 1960s.

Anaheim’s sphere of influence finally crossed the Santa Ana River into the Olive Hills by 1960, when a land swap with the city of Orange permitted Anaheim to build a much needed 60 million gallon reservoir required by the community’s exploding population. This reservoir site, purchased from rancher Louis Nohl would cement Anaheim’s state in the future development of the Nohl Ranch area, a 4,300-acre development that began in 1970.

The area now known as Anaheim Hills was once part of the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana granted to Jose’ Antonio Yorba and his nephew Juan Pablo Peralta in July 1810. The Yorba family used much of this land in the Santa Ana Canyon area to raise cattle, sheep, oxen and mules plus a large orchard and vineyard. Conformation of the Yorba and Peralta grants came in June 1884 by patent decree of the United States District Court. The original Yorba lands were partitioned in 1868 to Andrew Glassell and A.B. Chapman and by 1885 the Jotham Bixby family had also acquired interests in the southeastern side of the Santa Ana Canyon.

On October 6, 1943 Mr. and Mrs. Louis E. Nohl were granted a deed to the Bixby properties in the Santa Ana Canyon area. What was then known as the Nohl Ranch was used as pasture and grazing land for 1,100 head of cattle and also to raise avocados and approximately 23 acres of oranges on the family’s 5,800 acres. The Nohl family was raised in a serene early Orange County farm environment where dips in the Santa Ana Valley Irrigation Co. canal were memorable summer evening events. As North Orange County development began to explode in the 1960’s value of grazing lands diminished compared to the immediate cash value for future home sites.

By the late 1960’s, the Nohl family had already begun to sell small parcels of property for development by the cities of Orange and Anaheim. Anaheim, again seeking more water storage, dedicated a 920-million gallon reservoir and filtration plant in the Nohl Ranch hills in April 1970. Finally, on October 30, 1970, 4,200 acres of the Nohl Ranch were deeded to Santa Anita Consolidated, Inc., with the intent to create a new planned community named Anaheim Hills. The city of Anaheim soon purchased 300 additional acres of the Nohl Ranch for a tournament-class golf course and park site.

A joint venture created by Texaco Ventures, Inc., and the Anaheim Hills, Inc., was deeded the property for residential development purposes by August 1971. The general plan for developing Anaheim Hills called for constructing some of the finest homes in Orange County. The first neighborhood opened was Westridge in July 1972, selling out all 325 homes by early 1975. Residential development continued to grow as new neighborhoods were constructed by a variety of quality developers. Architectural integrity and landscape maintenance became the responsibilities of the Anaheim Hills Planned Community Association, a homeowner association that has oversight of these decisions. By the early 1980’s, the population of this Anaheim community had grown to more than 15,000 residents.

faessel anaheim hills ota
Anaheim Hills, Imperial at Nohl Canyon Road, 2012
Courtesy Daralee Ota

The expansion of these affluent neighborhoods continued with Anaheim annexing the Bauer, Oak Hills and Wallace ranches for development in the mid 1980’s adding another 1,300 acres to the city. Anaheim Hills offers the residents a wide variety of recreational opportunities including a tennis club, saddle club, riding and hiking trains, a variety of parks including a nature center as well as commercial shopping centers and places of worship. Public educational facilities are provided by the Orange Unified School District and include elementary, middle school and high school campuses.

The developers of Anaheim Hills have been dedicated to preserving the natural environment of the ranch as much as possible during residential development. Long standing groves of sycamore, oak, eucalyptus and other indigenous trees have been bypassed during construction. Nearly 1,000 acres of land have already been dedicated to public agencies to insure that this community maintains an atmosphere of natural beauty.

Today, plans are in place for two major residential developments, which will push Anaheim to the Riverside County line. Mountain Park, located between the Eastern Transportation Corridor and Coal Canyon Road will be an Irvine Company development with approximately 8,000 homes. Cypress Canyon, located between Coal Canyon Road and the Riverside County line will be a St. Clair Co. development of 1,100 units. It is estimated that these developments will push the population of Anaheim Hills to over 65,000 by year 2002.

Anaheim, begun almost 150 years ago as a planned community of 50 German settlers, has grown into a multicultural community of over 300,000 residents. The Anaheim Hills development has proven the foresight of these pioneers in selecting the work Anaheim, home by the Santa Ana River, as an appropriate name for their home in 1857 as well as today.