If Yorba Linda is known for one thing, it’s as the birthplace of disgraced Republican president Richard Nixon. 22 years after his death, the memory of Yorba Linda’s most famous resident continues to loom over the suburb, the main attraction of which is the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum, built on the site of the Nixon family home. Yorba Linda strikes me as an appropriately private place for such a deeply private president, a community characterized by fairly cookie cutter homes and notable for its dearth of public spaces. Although the rest of North Orange County has densified, diversified, and liberalized, Yorba Linda remains one of just two cities (the other being Villa Park) which can uncontroversially still be described as a Republican stronghold.
HISTORY OF YORBA LINDA
Most of Yorba Linda is situated in the Chino Hills and the along the Santa Ana River, which enters the Orange County coastal plain via the Santa Ana Canyon to the east. The rolling hills are covered with grasslands and scrublands dotted with stands of oaks, walnuts, and sycamores. The Acjachemen, Payómkawichum, and Tongva — all three of whom historically spoke related Uto-Aztecan languages — likely arrived between 3,500 and 9,000 years ago and encountered American badger, arroyo toad, bats, bobcat, California sister butterfly, California tree frog, canyon wren, coast horned lizard, common kingsnake, coyote, golden eagle, gopher snake, gray fox, grizzly bear, kangaroo rat, least Bell’s vireo, long-tailed weasel, mountain lion, mountain quail, mule deer, Pacific rattlesnake, ring-tailed cat, speckled rattlesnake, spotted owl, spotted skunk, steelhead, tarantula, western gray squirrel, western pond turtle, western spadefoot toad, woodrat and other animal species. The Native Americans camped in the hills where they harvested acorns, elderberries, walnuts, and other plants, and established permanent villages along the banks of the river below.
Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno claimed all of California for Spain in 1602 but it wasn’t until the 1769 expedition of Gaspar de Portolà and Junipero Serra that the Spanish could truly be said to have conquered the indigenous nations. On 1 November 1776, Mission San Juan Capistrano became the first European outpost in what’s now Orange County. On of the expedition members, José Antonio Yorba, was granted a tract of land known as Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, where he built a home known as “El Refugio.” From 1810 until 1821 Mexico fought and ultimately won independence from Spain. Yorba died in 1825. In 1834, his son Bernardo was granted the 54 square kilometer Rancho Cañón de Santa Ana. His son Teodosio Yorba received Rancho Lomas de Santiago. Bernardo Yorba built his 50 (or 200 — sources vary considerably) room Hacienda de San Antonio (also known as the Yorba Hacienda), on Esperanza Road in 1835. Although the largest hacienda in Alta California, it was nevertheless demolished in 1926 by its then-owner, Samuel Kraemer, who afterward planted the property with barley.
After Mexico was defeated by the US in 1848, most of the ranch lands remained in the hands of the Yorba family. Near the site of the demolished Yorba adobe is the Yorba Cemetery, donated to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1858 (the year Bernardo died). It was used as a public cemetery until 1939 and is today open to visitors on the first Saturday of each month (except May) from 11:00-13:00.
In 1889, Orange County seceded from Los Angeles County. In 1902, the Anaheim Union Water Company completed work on the Yorba Reservoir (drained in 1969). In 1907 a portion of the Yorbas’ land was sold by Jacob Stern to the Janss Investment Company, who named their purchase “Yorba Linda” (meaning “Pretty Yorba”) and subdivided it in 1909. That same year, the Yorba Linda Water Company filed articles of incorporation.
The first citrus groves were planted in 1910, when the town’s population was about 35. 1911 brought construction of the first school (at 4866 Olinda street) and the arrival of the Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Company. The first post office was built in 1912 and electricity arrived via the Southern California Edison Company — as did the Pacific Electric Railway (the historic depot is now home to Polly’s Pies, 18132 Imperial Highway). The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. 1912 also saw the formation of the Yorba Linda Citrus Association. In 1913 the first avocado trees were planted, the first library opened, and the Yorba Linda Chamber of Commerce was organized. Pioneer Street (now Yorba Linda Boulevard) became the first paved road in 1917. That year the town’s first paper, The Star, also began publication. By 1920, Yorba Linda’s population had just surpassed 200. The Yorba Linda Citrus Association’s wood-framed packinghouse (19200 Yorba Linda Boulevard) was destroyed by fire in 1929. The Yorba Linda Citrus Association’s new packing house opened in 1930.
Yorba Linda didn’t immediately suburbanize after the end of World War II like many Orange County suburbs, retaining its rural character for decades afterward. By 1960 it was home to just 1,198 people. After attempted annexations by Brea (in 1958), Anaheim (in 1963), and Placentia (also in 1963), Yorba Linda finally incorporated as a city in 1967. During that decade the population increased by 890%, reaching 11,856 in 1970 and Yorba Linda adopted a General Plan for municipal development in 1972. By 1980 it had 28,254 people. In 1990, it had 52,422 residents. Growth has slowed since, reaching 58,918 in 2000 and 64,193 in 2010.
66% of the population of Yorba Linda is non-Latino white (mostly of German, English, Irish, Italian, and French heritage), 16% is Asian, 14% are Latino of any race, 4% are of mixed race, and 1% are black. 57% of Yorba Linda’s registered voters are Republicans but nevertheless, 45% of voters voted for Democratic president Barack Obama in the 2012 election. 61% of Yorba Lindans are Catholic, 18% are Evangelical, and 9% are Protestant.
Yorba Linda neighborhoods are more often than not, subdivisions rather than neighborhoods in the traditional sense, the product of developers rather than organic formation of identity. They’re often surrounded by walls emblazoned with fanciful names at seeming odds with the modest, anonymous plaster and plywood homes within. Neighborhoods include Amalfi Hills, Avenida Rio Del Oro, Bryant Ranch, Carbon Canyon, East Lake Village, Fairmont Hill, Foxfield, Grandview, Hidden Hills, Kerrigan Ranch, Lake Park Mobilehome Community, Lomas de Yorba, Old Towne, Parkside Estates, Rancho Dominguez, The Preserve, Travis Ranch, Troy Estates, Victoria Woods, Villagio, Vista Del Verde, West Yorba Linda, Woodgate, and Yorba Linda Hills. Yorba Linda’s neighbors are the cities of Anaheim, Brea, and Placentia; Chino Hills State Park the north; and to the east, San Bernardino County (in which Chino Hills and Corona are the nearest communities).
SUSANNA BIXBY BRYANT RANCH HOUSE (aka Bixby-Bryant Ranch House)
The oldest human-made attraction in Yorba Linda is the Susanna Bixby Bryant Ranch House. It was built in 1911 by Susanna Bixby Bryant on a parcel of land that her father John Bixby purchased from Bernardo Yorba in 1875. She built the home after her father’s death, when she assumed management of his property, the ranch’s cattle business, and its citrus groves. Today it houses the Yorba Linda Heritage Museum. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. The museum offers docent-guided tours every Sunday from 12:00-16:00 except holidays. I’m not sure if they are open at other times as I can’t find that information on their website and their hours are unlisted on Yelp. When I got there I found they were closed.
HISTORIC MAIN STREET & (NOT) GETTING AROUND
Reyner Banham famously learned to drive so that he could know the Los Angeles of a half century ago and so I borrowed a car to explore Yorba Linda, which in many ways seems gridlocked in ye olde automobile era. Exploration by car is the least rewarding way to explore a community that I know of but Yorba Linda is, to be frank, not even close to being the sort of walkable, modern city one expects to find in the first world, despite demonstrable but thus far inadequate efforts to enter the 21st century.
Yorba Linda’s Main Street is the showcase of Yorba Linda’s so-called “Old Towne.” Both Historic Main Street and the adjacent Town Center have been part of a city plan to establish something like a recognizable downtown for nearly a quarter of a century and yet on my visit Yorba Linda’s downtown more warranted being labeled “ghost town” than the affectation of a Middle English spelling. That’s not to suggest that it’s without a certain Forsbergian charm which I find in all sorts of uneasily quiet spaces; however, at roughly 320 meters of length it’s hard to imagine it being the vibrant centerpiece of anything but a very small district. Maybe the Town Center will change things — promising as it does “a pedestrian-friendly, high-end retail, entertainment, and restaurant project located in the heart of Yorba Linda” including a market and a commons.
All that seems still in the rendering stages and aside from a bank about the only signs of life that I detected were coming from Main Street Restaurant, where I’d have grabbed a bite and a drink if not for Yorba Linda’s time-eating sprawl which meant that most of my exploration would be spent slogging around town in a borrowed car. For those who still wish to walk, a least recreationally, check out Ginger Krell and Susan Blackburn’s Walk Yoga Linda: 9 Loop Walks in Yorba Linda and Yoga in the Parks (2010).
By contrast, Garden Grove’s Main Street (small but more than twice the length of Yorba Linda’s) has recently been the centerpiece of several open streets events, named Re:Imagine Garden Grove. In the more than half century since the advent of such initiatives, Yorba Linda has still yet to host one and remains firmly in the throes of automobile addiction. Walkscore assigns Yorba Linda a pathetic walk score of just 27 out of 100 and memorably estimates that Yorba Lindans “can walk to an average of 0.0 restaurants, bars and coffee shops in 5 minutes.”
Yorba Linda’s most bikeable neighborhood, Travis Ranch, has a bike score of only 3 out of 100! That’s not to say that one can’t safely ride a bicycle in Yorba Linda, however. There are some dedicated bicycle lanes, recreational bicycle trails including the El Cajon Trail (built atop a former irrigation canal) and the 154 kilometer long Santa Ana River Trail, which connects San Bernardino County to the Pacific Ocean. Bicycles are also entitled to use the same streets as automobiles and Yorba Linda is served by two bicycle shops: Jax Bicycle Center and Fenix Cycling. There are also horse trails, also primarily recreational, but its hard to imagine that more than a minuscule amount of Yorba Lindans ride either bicycles or horses to work or to run errands. I did see a rider heading across a street, into a park, and I saw perhaps a dozen cyclists riding along the Santa Ana trail.
As bad as the situation is for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists, it’s arguably even worse for users of public transit. Metrolink’s Inland Empire-Orange County and 91/Perris Valley lines pass through the city without stopping — the nearest train stations are Anaheim Canyon and West Corona, located outside the city. Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) seems to serve the entire city with just two lines: the 20 and 26.
RICHARD NIXON & THE NIXON LIBRARY
The Nixons themselves had several ties to trains. Hannah Milhous and Francis Anthony Nixon were two Quakers from the Middle West. The couple moved to California after Francis was frostbitten whilst working as a motorman on a streetcar in Columbus. The couple had a modest kit home shipped to Yorba Linda by train where they attempted to grow lemons. The restored home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
The couple produced five children: Harold, Richard, Francis, Arthur (who died in childhood of tuberculosis), and Edward — four of the five were named after legendary and/or historical kings of England. Richard, the future president (not the Lionheart) was born 9 January 1913. The docent told us that young Richard used to listen to the nearby trains and imagine riding them to the far corners of the world. Pacific Electric Railway had only extended service to Yorba Linda in 1911 and built the depot about 200 meters from the Nixon home (today it houses to a location of the chain, Polly’s Pies).
The Nixon family farm ultimately failed and in 1922 the Nixons moved to Whittier in Southeast Los Angeles, where Francis opened a service station for automobiles. The La Habra-Yorba Linda Line ended service in 1938 as its riders increasingly embraced the automobile. In high school Richard proved to be a talented debater and a mediocre but spirited player of American football. After a failed engagement, Nixon hoped to join the FBI, practiced law, and met his future wife whilst a member of the Whittier Community Players.
During World War II Nixon served in the US Navy, became obsessed (like many of his era) with the perceived threat of communism, and entered politics. As vice presidential candidate he showed himself to be adept at manipulating middle American sympathies, deflecting criticisms about a rumored political fund by pointing out that his wife didn’t have a mink coat and redirecting attention to his cocker spaniel, Checkers.
In 1960 he ran for president and lost to a hawkish (and handsome for a president) John F. Kennedy. Nixon lost the race for California Governor in 1962. In 1964, Richard Nixon and Young Republican Hillary Clinton both worked on the losing campaign of Barry “Mr. Conservative” Goldwater. In 1967, Nixon decided to again run for president. Nixon positioned himself as a stabilizing, hippie-hating leader of the “silent majority.” He narrowly defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey and (much more decisively) American Independent candidate George Wallace. He was inaugurated as president in 1969.
Though a Republican, Nixon was far to the left of the presidents which followed him, both neoconservative Republicans and neoliberal Democrats. No isolationist, Nixon restored diplomatic relations with China and the USSR and initiated the Middle East peace process. Hardly a hawk, Nixon lowered the voting age, ended the draft, and pulled the US out of Kennedy and Johnson’s imperialist wars in Vietnam and Cambodia. Nixon even suggested that Israel attempt to make peace with its neighbors. No small government Libertarian tea bagger, Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency, enforced the desegregation of schools, funded cancer research, sent astronauts to the moon, launched the war on drugs, and attempted to establish government-run universal healthcare. The first lady, Pat, was of all things, a former public school teacher!
Nixon was also deeply awkward, contradictory, paranoid, insecure, inscrutable, racist, secretive, self-sabotaging, shrewd, shy, square, strange, and perhaps mentally unstable. His favorite food was cottage cheese mixed with ketchup. His Southern Strategy successfully appealed to the racism and fears of Southern working class whites (previously solidly Democratic) in order to get them to vote against their own economic interests — and the Democrats gave up hope of winning them back by turning their attention to Wall Street and big money.
The hundreds of hours of Nixon White House Tapes which Nixon recorded reveal a man who hated, feared, and was confounded by almost everyone. His foulmouthed opinions on race, ethnicity, sexuality, and youth culture, seem more like the observations of an uneducated Victorian raised in isolation than the leader of the free world in the Age of Aquarius. I suspect that Nixon more wanted to be recognized for his accomplishments than his personality, and perhaps he even shared my view that psychopathy is actually more useful and common amongst world leaders than is morality.
The Nixon administration, not content with winning the White House, continued after victory to engage in a variety of “dirty tricks,” including but not limited to spying on, harassing, slandering and sabotaging political and social opponents — both real and imagined. Nixon compiled an “Enemies List” which targeted ad-men, blacks, Hollywood executives, intellectuals, Jews, journalists, labor activists, Leftists, Liberals, pacifists, philanthropists, professors, progressives, scientists, socialists, Democrats, women, and Paul Newman. The list came to light as a result of the Watergate scandal, which broke when five of Nixon’s dirty tricksters were caught breaking into the Democratic party headquarters in 1972.
Nixon, whether or not he’d known about or ordered the burglary beforehand, was actively involved in the attempted cover-up. Faced with almost certain impeachment, he resigned from the presidency on 9 August 1974. The Nixons then retreated to their private home, La Casa Pacifica, in San Clemente — located like his childhood home near a passenger rail line. Nixon was pardoned by Gerald Ford, who Nixon appointed to vice presidency after the resignation of Spiro Agnew. After his disgrace, Nixon suffered from both a grave illness and a profound loneliness. He dedicated much of his time to maintaining a Coast Guard station and penning his memoirs, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. In 1977 he famously participated in a series of interviews conducted by David Frost.
The Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace opened in 1990, with Nixon in attendance, originally as a private institution administered by the Richard Nixon Foundation. Pat Nixon died of emphysema and cancer in 1993. Richard Nixon died less than a year later, from stroke-related complications. Both are buried on the grounds of the library, in behind Nixon’s childhood home. In 2007 the library was renamed the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum and made one of the National Archives and Records Administration’s thirteen presidential libraries. It’s currently being renovated but parts are open to the public including the Nixon home, the rose garden, the president’s VH-3A “Sea King” helicopter (although it was closed during my visit due to extreme heat), and a replica of the East Room of the White House. In the latter a docent quizzed three young Vietnamese women who were revisiting the seen of their high school prom.
YORBA LINDA CHURCHES
Nixon was raised in the Quaker (or Friends) church. The Quaker tradition began in 17th century England. They opposed war and slavery and advocated plain dress and abstinence from drugs. The Quakers in the American colonies were persecuted by the Puritans, who burned their books and confiscated their property. Their persecution at Puritan hands culminated in the public hanging of the Boston martyrs in 1661.
Nixon’s father converted to Quakerism from Methodism in 1908, when he married Nixon’s mother (whom Richard Nixon referred to as a “Quaker saint”). The first Quaker church in Yorba Linda was built in 1912 at 4845 School Street — now home to the First Baptist Church of Yorba Linda. The current Friends Church was founded as the Yorba Linda Friends Church in 1969. That megachurch has an average weekly attendance of over 4,000 and is the largest Quaker church in the world.
CULTURE OF YORBA LINDA
There are several annual events held in Yorba Linda which are worth mentioning. Every year at the Richard Nixon Library, there’s a community sing-along of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. June sees the Celebration of the Arts Yorba Linda take place at multiple locations across town. Veterans Park hosts the Fourth of July Spectacular. From July to August, Hurless Barton Park hosts Concerts in the Park. The third weekend of September, the Polish Harvest Festival takes place at the Pope John Paul II Polish Center. Every week since 1998, the Yorba Linda Farmers Market takes place on Main Street, Saturdays from 9:00-13:00.
The Yorba Linda Public Library is independent from the Orange County Public Library system, but like all public libraries has more to offer to the public than just books. The Yorba Linda District Library was founded in 1914 and was formerly housed in smaller buildings until the opening of the current library building in 1971. There is at least one highly regarded book store, Books Redux.
Yorba Linda has also been the subject of several written works, including March D. Butz’s Yorba Linda Its History (1979), Don Meadows’s The House of Bernardo Yorba (1985), Dennis A. Swift’s Growing Graciously: An Oral History of Yorba Linda’s Municipal Incorporation (1989), Mary Ruth Erickson’s The Yorba Legacy: A Child’s History of Yorba Linda (1989), James V Granitto’s The Yorba Legacy: A short history of Yorba Linda (2000), Michael A. Miniaci’s Don Bernardo’s cemetery: the Campo Santo on Bernardo Yorba’s Rancho Cañon de Santa Ana (2001), Cindy Tino-Sandoval’s Yorba Linda (part of the Images of America series, 2005), John Reger‘s Yorba Linda Country Club: A History of the First Fifty Years (2007), and Linda Rattner Nunn’s A Place for Our Future: Building a Jewish Community in Yorba Linda, California (2007). If you want to read newspaper articles about Yorba Linda, look for issues of The Star (1917-1922), The Yorba Linda Star (1922-1985), Yorba Linda Star and News-Times (1985-1986), The Yorba Linda Star (1986-present), and the Yorba Linda Voice (2005-present).
Interestingly, Yorba Linda seems never to have supported a cinema — not even free screenings in a park — although the city did appear in the film, Frost/Nixon (2008). There is a cinema planned for Town Center, though. Yorba Linda also currently apparently supports no art galleries, no art museums, no nightclubs, no dance halls, and the only live theater seems to be provided by the Yorba Linda High School Forum Theater and at the Huston School of Music & Theatre. Live music seems to happen only occasionally and is primarily limited to the aforementioned Main Street Restaurant and a sports bar known as Canyon Inn.
YORBA LINDA RESTAURANTS
Besides the Canyon Inn, other places to enjoy (or at least purchase) a drink include OC Wine Mart & Deli, Versai Wine Bar, and Winery At Main Street. If alcohol (or just wine, really) isn’t your thing, there’s also Nekter Juice Bar. Yorba Linda eateries include Ameci Italian Kitchen, Andes Peruvian Grill, Avalon Bagels to Burgers, Bari Bari Japanese Steak House, Blue Agave, Canyon Pizza, Chronic Tacos, Derricks, Duke’s Cafe, El Torito, Epic Noodle, Fantasy Burger, First Class Pizza, Fitness Grill, Ginzaya, Graziano’s Pizza Restaurant, Joaquin’s Mexican Restaurant, La Bettola, Lamppost Pizza, Lettuce Wok & Roll, Maguroya, Main Street Restaurant, Mix Gourmet, Oceans and Earth Restaurant, Pepz Pizza & Eatery, Pink Chopstix, Polly’s Pies Restaurant, Porky’s Pizza, The Ranch Enchilada, Real Tacoz, The Red Thai Room, Stefano’s, Supatra’s Thai Bistro, Sushi Noguchi, Taco’s San Pedro, Tampopo Sushi, Tan’s House Asian Cuisine, Tio Chava’s Mexican Restaurant, Valentino’s Pizza, Wahoo’s Fish Tacos, The Wild Artichoke, and Yoshi’s Restaurant.
PARKS & OTHER STUFF TO DO
Public space in Yorba Linda seems primarily to be limited to the existence of parks and local public, recreational spaces include Arroyo Park, Box Canyon Park, Brush Canyon Park, Buena Vista Equestrian Park, Chino Hills State Park, Dominguez Trailside Park, Eastside Park, Fairmont Knolls Park, Hurless Barton Park, Jessamyn West Park, Kingsbriar Park, San Antonio Park, Shapell Park, Sycamore Park, Valley View Sports Park, and Yorba Linda Lakebed Park. Yorba Linda’s Community Center is also available for receptions, parties, meetings, &c. Quasi-public spaces include The Rinks – Yorba Linda Ice and private recreational areas include the Black Gold Golf Club and the Yorba Linda Country Club.
YORBA LINDA SHOPPING CENTERS
The quasi-public shopping center seems more popular with Yorba Lindans than parks and local shopping centers include Country Club Village, Eastlake Village Shopping Center, Mercado del Rio, Packing House Square Shopping Center, Post Office Plaza Shopping Center, Remax Shopping Center, The Country Club Shopping Center, The Court Yard Shopping Center, Valley View Shopping Center, Villa Yorba Shopping Center, Village Green Shopping Center, and Yorba Linda Station Plaza Shopping Center. The most interesting shopping center is Savi Ranch, a sprawling consortium of shopping centers, anonymous office parks, and vast parking lots which spills across the border into neighboring Anaheim. As I wound my way through I spied what looked to me like residences being constructed in the shadow of the 91 Freeway. Then again, they could be hotels. Currently Yorba Linda’s only lodging houses are Extended Stay America – Orange County – Yorba Linda and Ayres Suites Yorba Linda — both located within Savi Ranch.
SOCIETIES & COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS OF YORBA LINDA
If you’d like to get involved with a community organization serving or operating within Yorba Linda there’s Central Coast International Order of the Rainbow for Girls, The North OC Gardeners, the Richard Nixon Foundation, and the Yorba Linda Heritage Museum and Historical Society.
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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, Boom: A Journal of California, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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