"Santa Ana is a beautiful city.  Many of its streets are ornamented with graceful pepper and gum trees and its residences models of architectural skill...For after all, the houses we live in are a pretty good index of our civilization and progress."
Craftsman Row
Craftsman Row on French Street between 10th and Washington

from
History of Santa Ana City and Valley,1887.
This 40 page booklet, placed in a time capsule for 100 years, was republished in 1999 by The Paragon Agency
In the following essay, historian and former Historic French Park resident Diann Marsh describes the historical roots and modern-day challenges of Santa Ana's first neighborhood.  Links to maps and photos enhance the text. For more local history visit the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society and the Online Archive of California.

Early Santa Ana Roots...


The French Park Historic District is a 20-square-block residential district northeast of downtown Santa Ana. Its streets are lined with large homes built during the late 1890s and into the 1920s by some of Orange County's most prominent citizens. Its roots began in 1877, when a group of Santa Ana residents were anticipating the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad.  William Spurgeon, J. H. Fruit and James McFadden, three of Santa Ana's most prominent citizens, formed a corporation called the Western Development Company. The three persuaded the Southern Railroad to extend its line from its terminus at Anaheim to Santa Ana. By the time the tracks were laid in 1878, the company had plotted a 160-acre  tract called Santa Ana East. It was located parallel to the railroad tracks, at an angle to the original townsite. 

Wright HouseDuring the 1890s, George Wright purchased a triangular-shaped area from this subdivision for his new home. The property was eventually bought by surrounding neighbors.  Mr. Wright's home, at left, was moved from this plot to the southeast corner of Minter (then G. St.) and Vance Place. When the house was moved, the neighbors donated the vacated land to the city for a park, with the stipulation that French Street be opened to its full width.  Flatiron Park, named because it was shaped like a flatiron, is now known as French Park.

The turn-of-the-century brought wealth and prosperity to Santa Ana. When Miles Crookshank built his large, beautifully-detailed Colonial Revival house at 802 North French in 1900, it set the standard for more Colonial Revival, Victorian and Neo-Classical homes to be built along the oak tree-lined street. The area soon became known as the "Nob Hill" of Orange County. By 1905 the lots in the north end of the neighborhood were beginning to fill up with superior versions of the Craftsman Bungalow style. 

Growth and Decline...

By 1910 there were 8,429 persons living in Santa Ana. During the late teens and twenties a dozen unique Spanish Colonial and Spanish Eclectic Revival homes and fourplex apartment buildings were contructed on the few remaining lots in French Park. The 900 block of Lacy still contains several of these graceful buildings. Large Complex

The 1940s brought thousands of military men from all over the country to serve at the four large military bases in Orange County. Several of the large houses in French Park were spacious enough to be divided into apartments for the families of these young men. Many of the original owners had died and their children were established elsewhere. The conversion of these fine old homes to rooming houses and apartments, coupled with absentee landlord owners, began a period of neighborhood decline.  Some of the great Victorians, including the house of C.E. French, were torn down and replaced by large parking lots, apartment complexes and condominiums.  One that survived, the Dr. Howe-Waffle House, was moved to the corner of Civic Center Drive and Sycamore Street to be restored.

Revival...

The movement to preserve and restore the French Park neighborhood began in the late l970s. A new group of people with an appreciation for old houses began to move into the neighborhood. They organized the Historic French Park Association in 1979 with the goal of working together to solve problems and enhance the historical features of the remaining original buildings. In a positive step toward preservation of the area, the association began working with the City to create the French Park Historic District.  The district was formally established by the City Council in 1984.

On May 12, 1999, Historic French Park was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The honor of inclusion in the nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservtion did not turn back the clock for French Park; buildings which were demolished could not be brought back. Restoration has occurred house-by-house while the Association works diligently with city, state and federal officials to recapture the neighborhood's former glory. During this process, As the city of Santa Ana does it's part to implement urban renewal projects in and around downtown, Historic French Park is attracting new residents who value its historic character and unique urban lifestyle.    - HFPA

Coming soon: A before-and-after photo essay showcasing redevelopment and restoration in Historic French Park!