Downtown Garden Grove, 1957 (Courtesy the Orange County Archives).

Downtown Garden Grove, 1957 (Courtesy the Orange County Archives).

The Incorporation of Garden Grove

The town of Garden Grove dates back to the 1870s. A school district was formed in 1875, giving the area its name, and a post office opened in 1877, confirming it. But was a pretty small place until the arrival of the Pacific Electric’s “big red cars” in 1905. By 1916 it had grown to about 35 businesses, including a bank, a newspaper, and two doctors.

The first incorporation drive for the City of Garden Grove began that same year. The Garden Grove News began the call. They proposed a city of only about one mile square, centered around Main Street and Garden Grove Blvd. The first petition was presented to the Orange County Board of Supervisors in September 1917 seeking an incorporation election. But then the Garden Grove Businessmen’s Association took a straw poll and decided there just wasn’t enough support and the petition was withdrawn.

In 1922, when Dr. C.C. Violette was president of the chamber of commerce, he revived the idea. A new petition was sent to the board of supervisors who set the city’s first incorporation election for September 26, 1922.

From there, things went rapidly downhill. The local farmers opposed incorporation, and even the proponents split into two camps (which seem to have been the old timers versus the newer residents). Both sides nominated their own slate of city officers.

With the community split in so many different directions, it’s not surprising the vote went down to defeat – 186 for incorporation and 227 opposed.

The next incorporation drive began in 1928. They presented their petition to the board in November 1929, and an election was set for January 31, 1930. A week or two before the election an informal poll around town suggested the measure would pass. Instead it failed by an even bigger margin – 262 for and 359 against. It was clearly a hot topic; they got a 90% voter turnout. Some of the opponents argued that Garden Grove didn’t need to be a city. They had special districts for street lighting, sanitation, and fire protection. Some said it was a plus – they had most city services without city taxes.

And there the matter stood for the next 20 years, through the Depression and World War II. By 1951, some folks around town had started talking incorporation again, and by 1953 they were hosting public meetings to debate the idea.

It was not long after that when the post-war housing boom hit Orange County – and it hit Garden Grove especially hard. Residential tracts began to flood the county, with tract homes going up in every direction. New cities were being born, and older cities started annexing everything in sight. This was part of the reason for the new push to incorporate Garden Grove. They worried that if they waited too long, Anaheim, Orange, and Santa Ana would annex so much territory there wouldn’t be anything left for them.

As a result, in 1954 residents proposed a city of 23 square miles, north to Anaheim, east to the Santa Ana River, and far enough south and west to even make Westminster a little nervous. The complaints started up immediately – from the folks north of Katella, and out west in places like Sun Gardens, a little community out near Newland and Garden Grove Blvd. (The irony was that Harold Ansell, the chairman of the chamber of commerce’s incorporation committee, was from Sun Gardens.)

When the proposal finally reached the board of supervisors, they cut Garden Grove’s boundaries down to just under nine square miles. The election was held May 10, 1955. They got a 74% turnout and lost in ten of 14 precincts.

Not long after the election, the top five vote getters among the city council candidates started a new petition drive. They called for a 12 square mile city, including Sun Gardens (which had now swung around into the yes column). But other areas were still fighting the proposal, especially the areas that were still largely agricultural.

As the protests continued, the Orange County Board of Supervisors set the date for an incorporation three different times – on February 20th, March 6th, and finally April 17, 1956. This time the vote was decisive – 2,346 votes against incorporation and 5,780 in favor. After 40 years of talk and trying, the City of Garden Grove was finally born.

Or was it?

Even before the election, the opponents had gone to court to stop the incorporation. Several lawsuits followed. One of them got all the way to the 4th District Court of Appeals, which finally dismissed the final case in December 1958, two and half years after incorporation!

During its first year as a city, Garden Grove added 17,000 new residents, taking them to a population of 58,000 (the third largest city in Orange County at the time, trailing only Santa Ana and Anaheim). They also made 25 annexations that first year, adding a lot of those agricultural areas that had wanted out just a few months before but now were being plowed up for tract housing.

After 42 years, six attempts, four votes, and two and a half years in court, Garden Grove had one of the toughest incorporation battles of any Orange County city.