The second village to appear on the Irvine landscape was actually designed to blend into it. Instead of altering the natural topography of the hillside, the Village of Turtle Rock and its neighborhoods of terraced homes were created to become part of the San Joaquin Hills, not to compete with them. The result was a village that seemed to be out in the country; a planned community with unplanned and open spaces.
Turtle Rock was intended to be Irvine’s prestigious address. Home sites and roads were laid out to maximize views and preserve the area’s natural beauty. Today, an extensive trail system still winds through the village and pathways link homes to schools. Turtle Rock Viewpoint Trail rewards hikers with stunning sunset views and Strawberry Hills Golf Club is an 18 hole public course right in the village’s backyard.
It began in 1967, when homebuilder Middlebrook-Anderson began construction on hillside view homes. A year later, Builder Richard B. Smith began the first phase of the Broadmoor development. These 200 single family homes used the innovative concept of the “zero lot line,” where a house is built on its neighbor’s property line. This results in one, large side lot rather than two useless, small side yards. The homes were clustered around a central village green and recreational spaces linked the neighborhood. Homes were priced between $27,000 and $32,000. Houses higher on the hill were more expensive.
The plan was well received by the public and the neighborhoods of Turtle Rock soon filled with families. Life in the country, however, had its challenges. Anne Davis-Johnson, who moved to Turtle Rock with her husband Jim in 1970, remembered the days before mail was delivered to their home.
“We had to drive down to UCI to get our mail back then.” said Davis-Johnson. “Neighbors would pitch in and pick up each other’s mail. We probably weren’t supposed to be doing that.”
Neighbor met neighbor at block parties in the street and at picnics in the park. Community Associations organized gatherings like the one that was held on a hot September afternoon in 1971 at Sierra Bonita Park. More than 500 residents gathered that day for a potluck dinner and a chance to meet new friends. Parents visited in lawn chairs while their kids ran in sack races and tossed water balloons. A neighborhood tradition was born and a sense of community spirit was created.
“As a kid, I think it was pretty much kid heaven,” said Arizona resident Keith Beesmer who moved to Turtle Rock in 1970. “We used to go into the hills and play, and more times than not, we’d get chased off by “sheep jeeps” (Irvine Company security in Ford Broncos) They didn’t like us bothering the cattle.”
“I could hear cows mooing and see cattle in the hills,” said Gail Daniels who has lived in Turtle Rock since 1977. “Before the trees grew taller, we could even watch the Disneyland fireworks from our backyard.”
In the early days of the Village, The activity center of Turtle Rock was the recreation center and community pool.
“I felt like I lived at that pool,” said Daniels. “My kids met their playmates and I met friends there. In the summertime, it was the center of our life.”
The only residents who had any complaints were teenagers, who felt that there was nothing for them to do in Turtle Rock.
“Irvine seemed so boring,” said Susi Hess O’Connor. “We had to go all the way to Newport Beach to have any fun.”
Now, as a mother raising her daughters in Atlanta, O’Connor fondly remembers the benefits of growing up in Turtle Rock.
“We always felt safe there. It was a great place to grow up. I would loved to have raised my girls in a community like that.”