It all started because James Irvine wanted to save the trees.
James Harvey Irvine, also known as “J.I.”, was an avid outdoorsman who loved the wide open spaces of his ranch. One of his favorite spots was in the northern portion of the property; a grove of old live oak trees at the mouth of Santiago Canyon.
When J.I.’s father bought the land in 1864, the grove was already a popular recreational destination with members of the Anaheim Colony who called the shady retreat The Picnic Grounds.
The 1872 Fourth of July Celebration was attended by over 500 citizens who gathered for a reading of the Declaration of Independence and a luncheon under the trees
The popularity of The Picnic Grounds brought challenges for the old oak grove. Unregulated traffic and camping in the area was beginning to endanger the trees. James Irvine worried that the historic oaks and sycamores would become fuel for a campfire and decided to take action.
In 1897, Irvine gave what was described as a “Gift Munificent,” setting aside 160 acres of oak grove to the County of Orange. On October 5th, the County treasury paid $1 to J.I. and the Orange County Park was born.
Irvine had a few requirements for the new park. He insisted that a full-time caretaker be hired to monitor activities in the park. He also made sure that a fence be built around the perimeter to keep out sheepherders and woodcutters. There would be absolutely no harvesting of the trees and the park was to be kept in as natural state as possible. He also requested that the park remain open to the public free of charge.
A devout teetotaler, Irvine also insisted that there would be absolutely no liquor sales within the park. The first summer after the park opened, the German colonists of Anaheim showed up for their annual picnic with a wagonload of beer. The party was almost cancelled until the bartenders figured out a way around the rule and began giving away the beer for free.
On June, 1 1926, Orange County supervisors passed a resolution changing the name to
Irvine Regional Park. It was the first regional park in the State of California.
Today, visitors to Irvine Regional Park can still enjoy the natural setting that James Irvine loved. An 8 foot, bronze statue of Irvine stands guard near the ancient oak trees that he sought to protect over 100 years ago.