Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Lemon Heights in the 1950's and 60's

Lemon Heights is a small unincorporated community located off of Skyline Drive and Foothill Blvd, just north of Tustin. When I grew up in Orange County, Lemon Heights was known to us an upscale community, where the "rich folks" lived, to get away from the noise and commotion of the city. It apparently was a much different place decades earlier.

An OCThen reader named Steve (no, a different Steve), submitted his memories of growing up in Lemon Heights during the 1950's and 60's. Eventually, he moved away from Orange County, and then just recently returned for a reunion, only to find a Lemon Heights that looks much different than what he remembered...

Hi Steve!

Tustin California was a very small place back then, the year 1956! My folks had bought a new home in a small secluded neighborhood right in the middle of an orange grove! The area was Lemon Heights.

I went to Tustin Elementary for seven and eighth grade and then to Tustin Union High School. The area was pretty much "laid back" to say the least! Seventeenth Street was a two lane road running east and west from Newport Blvd all the way to Santa Ana, alot of it covered over with giant fir trees. The area smelled of lemon and orange blossom, eucalyptus and weed oil! The sound of bees filled the air no matter where you might go.

Saturday nights would be filled with dancing at the Wanger Studio on Main street in Santa Ana or get togethers at some classmates house, this was the norm!

After graduation, I joined the Navy and was gone for several years. I could not beleive how fast the area had developed into housing tracts upon my return just three years later, 1961-1964!

I married a gal I went to Tustin High with and we moved into the Viking apartments off of Tustin Ave and Seventeenth street. This was a small village of sorts as there was Walkers Market, Hahns Hardware, Village Cleaners, Lemon Heights Realtors, Market Basket, Fathers Bar(really great sandwiches and ice cold beer) and several other little shops and places of business.

It didnt take long for the growth pattern to take off like a wild fire and destroy the charm of a different time and place! I moved out to Huntington Beach and lived on Grove Circle, this little spot was just off of Warner Road and about a mile from PCH and the state beach. Truck farms were up and down Warner road with vegetable stands offering the best fresh produce around. Needless to say that area became another enity of packed home sights shopping malls and thousands of people all with in a very few short years!

Years went by and I had long sinced moved away from Orange County, I went to a couple of high school reunions and attended a getogether in 1987 with some classmates at the home Mr. and Mrs. Knaack of Cowan Heights. The house was located on a bluff over looking the Redhill and Skyline Ranch neighborhoods. The evening was filled of talk about Tustin, Newport Beach, Corona Del Mar, Santa Ana, Orange County history and rememberance.

The next morning I drove to my old neighborhood and very slowly made my way from one street to another the houses were freshly painted for the most part, beautiful lawns and close cropped shrubs, everything looked as if it were from another era! There was not a person on the street or in a yard, almost as if it was deserted, stone quiet! I lingered for a while and finally drove out and headed for home, McCammon Idaho.

One thing for certian, having lived in "that time and place" always brings back the most pleasant of memories, what a time and what a place, Orange County back then!

Best Regards!

If you have memories of Lemon Heights, click on "Post a Comment" at the end of this article, and share them with us.


  1. I lived on the Cowan Ranch when very small, and I believe it's the area that became Lemon Heights. My parents divorced and I grew up in South Santa Ana, attending Edison Elementary, Lathrop Jr. High and graduating from Santa Ana Valley High School in 1962. As a sophomore we opened Valley High with only sophomores and juniors that first year. The seniors were allowed to stay at Santa Ana High.

  2. I'm jealous of Steve, who lived in Lemon heights back in 1956. We moved to Calif. from Ohio in 1969, living in the "flatlands" of 92705. We were on one of our real-estate dreaming drives a couple years later and somehow found Skyline Dr., only to have a flat tire a few blocks from 17th St. I looked around as I waited and was astounded - there were the trees up in the hills that I had been missing ever since Ohio. (Different trees, but still TREES.) I was gazing up at Lemon Heights, so beautiful to me, (even) in 1972.

    A couple years later, we were fortunate to move to Cowan heights - a different hill north of Lemon Hts. but I will never forget my first glimpse of the "foothills".

  3. In the early 1970's i lived near los angeles and used come to play in basketball tournaments at the tustin boys club 1-2 times a year. i remember thinking that tustin was in the sticks and who would want to live there. In 1975 my family moved to lemon heights so i could attend Mater Dei high school and play basketball. It was a fantastic move. Even in the 70's and 80's the tustin hills was so tranquil and yet there was plenty of shopping and entertainment just minutes away. I remember walking to the tustin hills tennis club and meeting friends, playing tennis, bbQ's, parties at our house. still lots of empty fields around so it felt like living in the country to some extent. Late 80' and 90's brought a big housing boom and developement all around with tustin ranch and orange hills. still a great place to live but i often remember how enchanting and fun and simple those teenage years in tustin hills was.

  4. I grew up at the top of La Loma. We moved there when I was just a few months old, in 1959. The Knaack's were good friends of my parents. We had horses and I also had rabbits in 4-H. Deer grazed on our lawns and I heard the scream of a mountain lion, in Little Peters Canyon. Skyline had very few cars and we also had another road connect to ours. Wilding, off of Skyline. My parents lived there just a few months shy of 40 years. I can't even begin to explain all the changes that occured. I can't go back, it hurts too much.
    Many an hour did I spend in Big and Little Peter's canyons, also a part of Cowan Heights. We had Tangerine Trail, the Swim Hole, Bob and Jean's (before Crawford Canyon/Newport went through) There was still a town by the name of El Modena, now considered Orange.
    My Dad belonged to a club and I learned to fish on Big Peter's "lake". We were even there when the last alligator(someone's pet set loose) was shot! We'd spend our Easters at Rattlesnake Lake with a large family gathering. I'm not even sure were that was. Somewhere out of the old El Torro.
    I moved in the 70's and enjoy living in a small town. What my parent's enjoyed and could never except had changed.
    Beth Keeler

  5. Can anyone tell me about a fire in the Lemon Heights/Cowan Heights hills in the mid-to-late 60s?

    1. Maybe you're thinking about the Paseo Grande Fire in 1967.

    2. Yeah.. there were a few houses destroyed.

      We lived off of Browning and I remember being on roof of our house with with my Dad and watering the shakes to keep them from catching fire. I would have been 8 y.o.

      I also remember going through there in the mid 70s and there were still foundations of houses that had been destroyed.

  6. I don't know about anyone else but us dudes in Garden Grove used to come up to Tustin Heights and "park"by backing up into the brush and doing some kissing and some rum and coke around 1967...I was good friends with Skip Hall whose parents lived up there...Mike Floyd

  7. My parents moved to Lemon Heights in 1954, when I was three years old and I spent my childhood years roaming the orchards. They built a ranch style house (of course!) up on Foothill Blvd and planted avocado and lemon trees around the house. I spent my childhood picking the fruit and earning "lemon money." We sold the fruit to a local non-chain market in an area surrounded by bean fields. I still remember the scents and sensations of living in the orchards, of the incredible taste of white peaches that I took from a neighbor's yard as the fruit was ripening. There weren't that many kids in our neighborhood so we became fast friends with who was there. I went to three different elementary schools because of the fast growing development and baby boom. I actually walked though the orchards to my last school, passing by the weeping willow and the "scary house." When I was about 7 or 8 they started building the large tract development at Newport Ave and Foothill Blvd.
    Summers were hot and we couldn't afford a pool, so I spent every summer swimming at the Red Hill Tennis Club.

  8. I was stationed at MCAS El Toro from 1971 to 1975 and again from 2003 to 2008. I was part of the Presidential Support Team for President Nixon. Over the years we would support AF 1 and Marine One. I have several photo's of Nixon, Kissinger, President Thieu (South Vietnam 73) and President Brezhnev (73 Russia) as they arrived at MCAS El Toro.

    I was there, and shook Nixon's hand, on his last flight (Aug 74.)
    In 1973 I crashed landed a T-28 on the Golf Course at El Toro after and E-2 (Navy) pulled in front of us during landing.

    I also had the pleasure of meeting, over the years, Colonel Greg “Pappy” Boyington and Bruce Peterson (you may not know his name but he was a former Marine Corps Pilot.) The TV series $6 million Dollar Man was based on his crash (the beginning of TV show, shows his plane crashing.)

    I have over 2,500 flight hours from MCAS El Toro and have fond memories of the base as well as personnel who were assigned there.

  9. Guess I should have given you my e-mail address in case you wanted more history of MCAS El Toro


    Please not for publication


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