Long before there was a city, the Cypress area was inhabited by the Gabrieleno/Tongva Indians who occupied the entire Los Angeles basin and the islands of Santa Catalina, San Nicholas, San Clemente and Santa Barbara. From Topanga Canyon to Laguna Beach, from the San Gabriel mountains to the sea, the Tongva (meaning “people of the earth”) lived in what is known today as Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
It was the Tongva who rowed their remarkable Ti’ats (plank canoes) out to meet Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo as his expedition reached what today is known as San Pedro on October 6, 1542 (the expedition later made stops at Santa Monica, San Buenaventura, Santa Barbara and Pt. Conception). The Native American way of life was greatly altered with the arrival of Europeans. Following Cabrillo, Gaspar de Portola led an exploratory party into what now is Orange County in July, 1769.
In 1965, while excavating for the new Cypress Library, a 400-year-old skeleton of a Chumash tribe member was discovered. Similar findings were made at about the same time in Buena Park and Long Beach. When the Cypress Library was moved to its present site at City Hall in 1967, the old site became the Boys and Girls Club of Cypress (10161 Moody Street).
As the Native American way of life was greatly altered by the arrival of Europeans, it was the exploratory party of Gaspar de Portola in July, 1769 that led to the first “ownership” of the Cypress area. While a great deal of the area was flat, grown over with tall grass or under water, 300,000 acres were part of a land grant given to Manuel Nieto, a corporal of the “Soldados de Cuero” during the Portola expedition. It was common practice at the time to give land to soldiers in lieu in money for their services.
Nieto retired to his vast holdings and when he died in 1804 he was the wealthiest man in the California territory. His four sons kept the estate intact until 1833 when they petitioned Governor Jose Figueroa to partition and distribute the land between their heirs. Juan Jose Nieto, the eldest son, received the ranchos of Los Alamitos and Los Coyotes, which included the Cypress area.
Rancho Los Alamitos (Little Cottonwoods) was promptly sold to Governor Figueroa for $5009 (about 2-cents an acre). After the Governor’s death, Rancho Los Alamitos and its livestock were sold to Abel Stearns, a Yankee merchant, for $6,000. This was the first land purchased by Stearns, who would become the wealthiest and largest landowner in Southern California. While Los Coyotes was sold to a French merchant named Juan Baptiste Leandry in 1840, it, too, became a part of the Stearns holdings.
From the 1820s to the 1860s, Southern California was dominated by ranch life with an economy built on the hide and tallow trade. At that time hides became “California bank-notes” and there literally were “cattle on a thousand hills,” as the saying went. With Rancho Los Alamitos as the center, Stearns built up the largest land and cattle empire in the area (200,000 acres) and he easily was the wealthiest rancher in Southern California.
As Abel Stearns built up the largest land and cattle empire in the area (over 200,000 acres) he also became active in the movement for statehood for California. He was one of 13 considered as Californios, a group of Hispanics and Anglos who identified themselves with the interests of the ranchero class. He and Northern California military commander Miariano Guadalupe Vallejo were met by John Sutter and Secretary of State Henry W. Halleck at the statehood convention in Monterey.
The gold rush (1848) and statehood (1850) changed the state and local area landscape. The boom brought by the Gold Rush inflated prices and many ranchers expanded too quickly. Cows that brought $5 for their hides suddenly were worth $60 for beef at the mines. Supply quickly caught up with the demand and by 1860 prices began to fall.
A great flood in 1861 drowned many cattle, causing hard times for many of the area ranchers. It was the ensuing drought that ruined many of the ranchers. Money borrowed at high interest rates could not be repaid as livestock died by the thousands. Los Alamitos, Stearns’ most cherished and valuable rancho, had been mortgaged to Michael Reese for $20,000. Having lost Los Alamitos and now deeply in debt with back taxes due on most of his property, a group of investors organized the Robinson Trust, which controlled Stearns’ land empire. Rancho Los Coyotes was the largest of the eight, totaling 177,796 acres or nearly 278 square miles.
Stearns was able to liquidate his debts and amass sizable assets before his death in 1871. The Trust proceeded to retail 20 to 160 acre tracts at prices from $2.50 to $10 per acre. As the land was mainly fertile and capable of irrigation, sales were brisk. With the influx of people into the state by the completion of the
transcontinental railroad, this initial effort at subdivision in Southern California was a huge success. It was remarkable that Stearns, the great rancher who had been in California since 1829, would pioneer this modern method of disposing of real estate. The first California boom was slowed by the panic of 1873. However, the great boom of the 1880s picked up where the last one left off. Before the frenzy of the real estate speculation had spent itself, it transformed the region again. As one historian remarked, “The great boom was the outstanding event in the history in Southern California’s history. In bringing in a new population, it forced the region one step further away from the mellow Spanish-Californian culture, which had so tinged its early development, and a third and final step in the breakup of the ranchos, completed the transition from range land to an agricultural economy.”
With the influx of people into the state by the Gold Rush (1848), statehood (1850) and the completion of the transcontinental railroad (1869), Orange became a county in 1889. A large number of towns were laid out along the railroad lines, but the area remained rural with agriculture being the dominant industry. The expansion of diversified farming and citrus growing was greatly aided by the development of irrigation and Cypress was especially fertile ground because of the Artesian wells and high groundwater activity. John Bixby and his family, who originally had settled in the central part of the state and once were part owners of the Irvine Ranch, brought
sheep to the area and leased what was the Los Alamitos Ranch in 1878 and then purchased it three years later. In 1888, the famed rancho was divided in three ways as the Bixbys had seen the success of the Robinson Trust in disposing of the real estate accumulated by Abel Stearns. The 1890’s marked the beginning of the modern era in local history with the introduction of sugar beets. The Los Alamitos Sugar Company factory was built in 1896 and employed more than 400 workers. The agricultural land in the area around the factory was subdivided into small farms at $25 an acre. Aspiring residents were offered incentives to grow sugar beets. A year before the first major plant was built, Charles Lee Damron donated land for the first Cypress School, thus helping form the Cypress School District. The one-room wooden building was aptly named because of the cypress trees planted around the schoolyard fence.
In 1899, George Miller, who later would become known as the “Father of Cypress,” and his family moved to the area, bringing his livestock to settle on an 80-acre ranch. He soon built a ranch house and sent the milk from his herd to the Lily Creamery in Buena Park. By 1907 he opened his own milk depot and after the milk was run through a separator, the cream was skimmed off and the finished product was shipped to Los Angeles. In 1910 he founded the Southern California Dairy Association, which had more than 400 member dairies in Norwalk, Artesia, Buena
Park and Cypress. Later, the organization was renamed the Mutual Dairy Company and still later the Dairy Company of Southern California.
While this was happening, the McWilliams Sorghum Mill was processing sugar at what today is the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Walker Street. The factory originally had been located north of today’s city limits, but then was moved to its new location.
Among the notable names of the time, as listed in the Orange County Directory, were Mr. & Mrs. S.O. Walker (well borer), Mr. & Mrs. H. LaRue (general store) and Mr. & Mrs. J.P. Moody (local rancher).
The Santa Ana Line of the Pacific Electric Railway completed an extension of the line from the Watts district near Los Angeles and it was determined there was sufficient population around the business district (vicinity of Walker and Lincoln) to establish a rail stop in what was identified as “Waterville,” due to the abundance of artesian wells nearby.
The railroad was a boon to the fledgling community, furnishing easy access to the larger population centers of Los Angeles and Santa Ana. It was during that time that local businessmen S.O. Walker and Ralph Morgan were able to plot a map which made available a subdivision of 160-acre farms. It is unclear as to the success of the sale of the farms, though smaller lots were purchased as home sites for oil workers. The little village was located midway between the Brea and Huntington Beach oil fields.
Waterville farmers benefited from the Artesian wells which could be tapped at an average depth of 225 feet. The pipes, which were installed 10 feet above the ground level, dominated the unbroken rural landscape. During those times these conspicuous pipes were about all one could see for miles in any direction.
During the first decade of the 20th century, the area population was listed at 475. Transportation proved to be a critical factor in charting the course for future development from an agrarian town to an incorporated city.
Joining the McWilliams Sorghum Mill (Lincoln and Walker) as early landmarks were the Centralia School, La Rue’s Store and H.D. Measor’s Blacksmith Shop. In 1915 a group of businessmen got together to get a road built between Cypress and Los Alamitos. That produced the organization known as the Cypress Chamber of Commerce.
In the years after World War I, the tiny rural community experienced a modest, but steady growth. The business center started to look more like a small town and by 1927 the town had its first post office and enrollment at the Cypress school surpassed 100. It was during that time that there was some interest in naming the school after Charles Lindberg, who recent trans-Atlantic flight had captured the imagination of the world. But the school name remained Cypress.
In succeeding years the school board bought additional land from Roy C. Grindlay (1928) and the construction of the Texaco Tank Farm (1929) helped inflate the value of the school district from $800,000 to $3 million.
While the nation wallowed in the wake of the Depression of the early 1930s, it was a major earthquake that hit Orange County and Long Beach in 1933 that crippled the area. Cypress schools were severely damaged at a time when funds were unavailable for rebuilding or repair. Businesses and private homes also sustained critical damage. It took three years before six teachers and nearly 200 students were out of four temporary tents and back into regular classrooms. In 1937 the library reopened as an official branch of the Orange County Free Library District.
With the exception of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, the Orange County-Long Beach earthquake of 1933 was the most destructive in the nation’s history. Near the end of the decade, a series of storms pushed the Santa Ana River to flood levels. Shortly after midnight on March 3 a wall of water raced from the Santa Ana Canyon and swept across the county, inundating the entire area (along what now is the Riverside Freeway). Nineteen people were drowned and the county suffered millions of dollars in property damage. Most of the Cypress area was under 2-3 feet of water, but damage was mostly physical.
The flood led to the development of the Prado Dam, built to reduce the danger of another major disaster, but through the years Cypress has been flooded many times. Rural communities like Cypress suffered less from the Depression than did the urban areas that featured manufacturing centers. Yet the area had its share of unemployed and hungry people, mainly because of the transient workers. A variety of federal relief programs assisted the needy on the county level. In Cypress the most noticeable need was for hot lunches for school children. Ostensibly, they were supposed the pay five-cents for the meal, but local charitable groups came to the rescue and paid for many of the lunches.
It wasn’t until the 1940s that the dairy industry began to take over the area. The dairymen found Cypress ideal for their trade and real estate agents began to set up offices as the community as a haven for dairies. In the late 1940s, Cypress was the third largest dairy district in the United States. In 1944, the school district started its first kindergarten and Miss Dickerson was elected its first Superintendent of Schools. On August 3, 1947, Frank Vessels, Sr. held a race at his farm on Katella with more than 2,000 paid observers. They watched six races with purses of $50 and $100. Today, the Los Alamitos Race Course runs 51 weeks of the year.
The completion of the Santa Ana Freeway (I-5) prompted real estate developers to continue their drive southward in the early 1950s and dairy herds again were threatened with relocation. At the time of the City’s incorporation the population was listed as 1,616 and the cow count was more than 24,000.
On July 24, 1956, Cypress was incorporated and named Dairy City. The first City Council consisted of Mayor Jacob VanDyke, Mayor Pro Tem Alfred Arnold and Council members Walter Arrowwood, Thomas Bardoli and Jacob Van Leeuweer. In the haste to file for incorporation, however, the city
boundaries were carelessly drawn, leaving out most of the business district. Even the Cypress Post Office and library were not included in the original incorporation. In July 1957, a two-block annexation added 13 business units, the post office, library and church. Residents had their say, too, deciding to change the city’s name to Cypress (which had originated with the school district).
The newly incorporated city grew from 1,616 residents in 1956 to 4,100 five years later. Within its limits Cypress had the valuable property of the Texaco Tank Farm and the Los Alamitos Race Course. Eventually, the famed race course became the largest employer and an indispensable source of revenue for the developing city.
The dairy town, however, made a rapid transition to a suburban community. Escalating taxes, dictated by rising land values, started the relocation of the dairymen to Chino in the 1950s. By the 1960s, the situation for the dairies had deteriorated so much that City Council passed zoning ordinances requiring dairies to be out of town “by sunset.” In Cypress, sunset meant within 10 years. In the 1960s, progress meant dramatic population growth, housing tracts, apartments, office complexes and the building of the other monuments of concrete landscape. In fact, it was not until the 1980s that the pace of development became what modern planners described as “controlled growth.” This progress may have been inevitable, but the fact remains, much of the designation agrarian heritage of Cypress has been lost forever. From Waterville to Dairy City to Cypress, the city began to really expand its presence when the Artesia (91) and Garden Grove (22) freeways were added to the existing transportation network of the Santa Ana (5), making it relatively easy for commuters to reach jobs from several different directions.
The strategic location of Cypress attracted developers to meet the rising demand for new homes. Building began in earnest in the mid 1960s when the Standard Development Corporation, a subsidiary of one of the largest real estate developers in Southern California, acquired a 600- acre tract. The deal was contingent upon 400 acres being rezoned. The purchase price of the property, all of which was being cultivated, was $6,500 per acre. This transaction proved to be the groundwork of the first major housing tract in Cypress.
The founding fathers believed cows and chickens didn’t mix with swarms of people. More housing meant more voters and the agriculture-large land owners faced the possibility of losing control of the city council and their land as well. Prior to the development of the tract, the owners had to convince the city to grant a zoning variance. The planners from Standard Development Corporation presented a formidable case. The company promised to provide a “planned” tract which included sites for schools, parks and recreational areas.
As expected, the City Council and residents debated long and hard on the merits of setting a precedent for rezoning agricultural land for housing development. At first, a majority of those who had an active interest were opposed to any zone change. Statements were made that the city had been incorporated to prevent precisely this type of development. When the Council granted the zoning change by a narrow 3-2 vote in July, 1960, the factionalism exploded with a vengenance. Charges of wrongdoing echoed throughout the Council chambers.
While the housing controversy raged, another land-use change proposal was introduced that involved Forest Lawn. The cemetery company had applied to the county government for a permit to establish a memorial park on land it had previously purchased. Its planned development also would necessitate a zoning variance, along with permission to close Denni Street that ran through the property.
Forest Lawn was well versed in community politics, being one of the largest firms of its type—combined mortuary, cemetery and mausoleum. Originally established in Glendale, the firm sought to extend its land holdings. The County Board of Supervisors refused to grant a zone change or give permission for a street closure. Forest Lawn requested that the Cypress City Council acquire their land under law that governed the annexation of uninhabited territory. After another round of controversy, the Council agreed to the annexation and zoning change.
The rationale behind this land use change was a simple one. A memorial park certainly was compatible with dairying, and although a change in zoning was necessary, neither industry perceived the other as a threat. Further, Forest Lawn had a long tradition of beautifully maintained grounds and well designed facilities.
Yielding to the public outcry, the Council decided to submit the matter to the voters. Both Forest Lawn and its opponents waged a spirited campaign. These controversaries in local politics had many ramifications. The most obvious was that change was the rule rather than the exception. Old Cypress became a new Cypress and within a five-year span the City became a typical all-American city.
Amid the controversies and local elections, Cypress began to emerge as a typical All American city in the early 1960s. The best barometer of this phenomenal growth was the rise in land prices. For example, land which was as low as $3,500 per acre in 1959 reportedly was worth $22,000 an acre in 1963, one year into City Manager Darrell Essex’ 34-year watch. In the late 1960s, that same land was being assessed at $60,000 per acre. The rise in land values brought higher taxes, effectively forcing dairy farmers to relocate
The time also caused havoc with the City Council as incumbents had trouble holding onto their seats. The City had outgrown its civic center accommodations and plans for the present day site (at Orange and Grindlay) were given high priority. World renowned architect William Pereria was chosen to design the new city hall and it was formally dedicated in 1967. The building won many design honors after its construction.
The 1960s also were significant with the influx of many new industries and the opening of new primary and secondary schools (Elizabeth Dickerson School, 1962; Lee Damron and Clara J. King, 1963). It was in 1966, however, that a new jewel was added to the community when Cypress College opened its $25 million campus on a former dairy pasture. Later that year the Margaret Landell School opened, followed a year later by the Christine Swain School.
Growth continued a feverish pace into the 1970s. At the start of the decade the city had a population of 31,026. By the end of that 10-year span the figure was 40,391. The new city plan had been designed to create a “balanced growth” community with an optimal mix of industrial parks and residential tracts. In addition to anchoring institutions of the Los Alamitos Race Course, Forest Lawn and Cypress College, a number of multi-national corporations, such as Yamaha Motor Corporation, Mitsubishi Motors, Panasonic, Sony and Pacific Care Health Systems made Cypress their headquarters in the 1980s. As an aside, Yamaha purchased its property for $76,000 an acre. That same property today has been appraised for more than $1 million per acre.
In the 1990s, as the population climbed to nearly 43,000, the City of Cypress matured into a distinctly “middle market” community, becoming an ideal place for young families raising children. What Cypress lacks in shopping malls and cultural amenities easily is outweighed by its prime location, ball fields and folksy “Midwestern spirit.” Now some 48,000 residents speak reverently when describing Cypress as their slice of the American pie.
A la mode, please.
With the 21st century came the appointment of Pat Importuna as the new Cypress City Manager, replacing Mark Ochenduszko, who moved on to the City of Coronado. Ochenduszko had taken the baton in 1996 from Darrell Essex, who had been the City Manager for 34 years.
Development in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s centered under the leadership of the new city managers centered on sprucing up the public spaces along the Lincoln Avenue cooridor and welcoming a new Home Depot. The focus then shifted to the development of the Costco Wholesale and Cottonwood Christian Center within the Los Alamitos Race Track and Golf Course Redevelopment Project Area. Costco built its 150,000 square foot store on 16 acres of land. The Cottonwood Christian Center developed seven campus buildings with approximately 490,000 square feet on 28 acres.
More development was approved for 74,100 square feet of commercial retail space at Katella and Siboney Streets (between the entrance to the race track and the Residence Inn). This was in response to wishes of Cypress residents and businesses that had been asking for more restaurants, shopping and quality of life amenities within the community. Among the companies located in this center are Office Depot and 24 Hour Fitness.
The advent of the City’s 50th anniversary brought on the project of remodeling City Hall. That project was completed and the rededication happened on the actual 50th anniversary day of the City’s incorporation, July 24. The rededication included many long-time residents and business owners who presented the City Council with plaques commemorating the occasion.
From the earliest recorded history of Cypress, dating back to 1565, when the area was inhabited by the Gabrieleno/Tongva Indians to the exploration of the Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and Portuguese explorer Gaspar de Portola to the subsequent land grants given to Manuel Nieto to the purchase of land by Abel Stearns and later to the John Bixby family to the influx of dairy farmers led by George Miller to the completion of the Santa Ana Line of the Pacific Electric Railway to the development of land for housing and business, there is a rich heritage, one that anyone who lives, works or plays in this place first known as Waterville, then Dairy City and finally Cypress is proud to call home.
Prior to the city’s incorporation in 1956, there were a few existing neighborhood tracts in what was then known as “Waterville.” These early neighborhoods were located close to the Pacific Electric Line station at the northern end of the city.
Soon after the city’s incorporation, Cypress grew at one of the most rapid rates in the state of California and the pace of residential development continued throughout the early 1970s. New neighborhoods began to develop in the area south of Ball Road, between Denni and Valley View Streets. This rapid growth resulted in the need to build streets and roads, and in relation to the construction came the need to name these streets.
Most of Cypress’ arterial streets were given names of the early prominent land owners or politicians who were active in the community at that time. The Walker and Moody Streets serve as prime examples. Moody Street was named after J.P. Moody, a local rancher while Walker Street was named after S.O. Walker, a well borer in the area. Another prominent Cypress resident was George R. Miller, who founded the Southern California Dairy Association in 1910. The original Miller Street today is known as Valley View Street.
For the early neighborhood streets located within housing tracts, the street names were proposed by the developers and then approved by the city. The names of these streets typically followed a neighborhood theme, such as a
common male or female names linked to family members or acquaintances of the early developers, saints, states or geographic locations. One example is the neighborhood located east of Denni Street, just north of Cerritos Avenue.
The streets in this neighborhood bear common names such as Cathy Avenue, Julie Beth Circle, Gregory Circle and Christopher Street. Another example is a neighborhood in the southeast portion of Cypress named for geographical locations such as Grenada Avenue, Barbados Avenue and Aruba Court.
The historical tradition of naming streets after prominent early residents of Cypress continued into the 21st century with the naming of Vessels Circle after Frank Vessels, Sr. On August 3, 1947 Vessels held six horse races in his backyard and began to build the popularity of the sport with local crowds. In 1954 the Los Alamitos Race Course was relocated to its present location. By the 1970s it had become the busiest track in Southern California and remains an important revenue producer for the City of Cypress.
The most recent names in neighborhood developments of Cypress have moved from prominent surnames to those of themes. The 33-home Centerstone development, located near Ball Road and Holder Street, favors Ivy-League names, while current development by Nevis homes near Lincoln Avenue and Sumner Street features streets named after gemstones, such as aquamarine, amethyst and tanzanite.