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Packing fruit in the groves, circa 1880
photo courtesy of

The city of La Habra lies in a fertile valley between the Puente Hills to the North and the Coyote Hills to the south, in the farthest northwest corner of Orange County. "La Habra," which in Spanish means "pass through the hills," is one of the oldest names in Orange County. It dates from the days of Spanish exploration and the subsequent mission period. The Portola' expedition crossed through La Habra Valley on July 30, 1769, leaving through the natural pass close to the present Fullerton Road. During the mission period, La Habra Valley and the surrounding hills were part of the extensive lands belonging to the San Gabriel Mission. They were used for grain and livestock production.

In 1839 the Mexican government granted the 6,698-acre Rancho Canada de la Habra to Mariano Reyes Roldan, who continued to use the land for agriculture and livestock. In the 1860's, this and many adjacent ranchos became part of the vast holdings of Abel Stearns, who used the land to graze his extensive herds of cattle. However, disastrous seasons of floods, freezes, and droughts in the mid-1860's took a heavy toll of the herds, and Stearns was forced to sell and lease much of his property.

In the early 1870's, the La Habra lands were leased to Basque sheepherders. One of the Basques, Domingo Bastanchury, later purchased much of the property in the southern part of the valley and in the Coyote Hills for a sheep ranch, and another Basque, Jose Sansinena, purchased the foothills north of La Habra for his ranch. During this period thousands of sheep grazed all of the valley and surrounding hills.

It was not until the 1890's that many American, English, and Swiss settlers arrived in La Habra. They planted walnuts and deciduous fruit trees on acreage purchased from the Stearns Ranchos Company.

The "father" of La Habra city is considered to be Willets J. Hole. As the land agent for the Stearns Ranchos Company, he promoted sales of the La Habra Lands near the center of the valley. One the south-facing slopes near the present Citrus Drive, Hole established a model 100-acre ranch, planted with many varieties of citrus and deciduous trees. Hole also set up a water pumping station near Coyote Creek to irrigate his groves, showing how water could make the rich soil produce abundant crops. Surface waters were limited to the seasonal flow in Coyote and La Mirada creeks.

The year 1896 is commonly chosen to be the founding date of the La Habra community. In that year the post office, a store, and the grammar school were started in the village, largely through the efforts of W.J. Hole.

In 1903 Robert Hiatt bought property near the village center and sold town lots. The streets were named by the women of the Ladies Mutual improvement Club, but many of the original names have been changed through the years.

Water had always been a problem for farmers with irrigated crops. In 1903, water was finally brought from the Bassett area by the East Whittier Land and Water Company through a cement gravity-flow pipeline. Later, these earliest pipes were replaced with redwood lines, and pumping stations were established. With the assurance of a reliable water supply, much citrus acreage was planted in the upper valley and on the south-facing slopes. This area had a near perfect climate and soil for citrus production, and La Habra fruit became well known.

In 1908 the Pacific Electric Railroad was brought to La Habra to meet demands for hauling the citrus fruit as well as the walnuts growing in the southern part of the valley. The railroad was also used to haul equipment to the newly-developed oil lands in this area.

In 1913-14 the large Sunkist packing houses were built. At one time, La Habra Citrus Association controlled more citrus acreage that any other in the state. During the period 1914-19, many new oil workers came to La Habra for employment in the highly productive Murphy-Coyotes oil lease of the Standard Oil Company (now Chevron). At the same time, several new business blocks were built in downtown La Habra. Home-building was also brisk. In 1916, the Sunkist Citrus association erected housing in the southwestern part of La Habra for the newly-arriving Mexican agricultural workers.

The foothills north of La Habra proved to be an ideal growing area for avocados in the years since the first commercial grove in Orange County was planted on North Cypress Street in 1910. La Habra Heights became the center for avocado production as a result of promotion by land developer Edwin G Hart. The original "Hass" avocado tree in La Habra Heights was planted 1926, and survived until 2002. This variety has become the most popular summer avocado in the world.

The 1920's were boom years in La Habra. The First Bank of La Habra was chartered in 1920. The city of La Habra was incorporated January 20, 1925. There was much expansion in the downtown area along Central Avenue (now La Habra Boulevard) in response to the needs of the growing population. However, the economic depression of the 1930's hit La Habra hard. Among the businesses of this period in downtown La Habra was former President Richard Nixon's first law office, established in 1939. There was not much other building until the late 1940's, after World War II. Large businesses, such as the Alpha Beta Company and Beckman Instruments, moved into the valley in the 1950's. Chevron Research, part of a company that first came to the valley in 1912, continued to expand its operations with La Habra as its research headquarters until it closed in 1999.

La Habra has maintained its prosperity in recent decades. In 1975, it was honored by being named an "All American City" in recognition of its many community improvement programs for youth, seniors, and minorities. The La Habra Depot Theatre is the transplanted Pacific Electric Depot. Between these two important buildings is the Children's History Caboose, an old-time railroad car which displays many historical artifacts from La Habra's past. These exhibits are provided by the La Habra Old Settlers' Historical Society, which has been active since 1898, only two years after the community's founding.

by Esther Ridgway Cramer
Contributed by the La Habra Area Chamber of Commerce


La Habra Historical Sites:

La Habra's Birthplace - Southeast corner of Euclid Street and La Habra Boulevard
This is the original site of the town of La Habra's store and post office. La Habra was founded in 1896. The site now is that of a statue, which contains the bell of the first Catholic church in the area.

La Habra Pacific Electric Depot - 301 S. Euclid St
The site is that of the earliest railroad line in the La Habra area. The depot was moved from its original site across the street to complement a museum. The depot has been refurbished and now is used as a community theater.


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