Peter the Anteater, the mascot of UCI, may have undergone eight makeovers since the 80s, but he can’t hold a candle to the changes Irvin saw since its founding in the late 1880s when James Irvine and his buddies bought the land where the city stands today.
The history of Irvine goes way back than that, though. Before Europeans set foot on the land near Laguna Hills, Irvine was home to the Gabrieleno indigenous people. The first Portuguese explorer to come to the area, Gaspar de Portola, met the natives of the land who were kind enough to allow the foreigners to start missionaries, build forts, and herd cattle in the area.
After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, the land would again switch hands with the Mexican government secularizing the missions built by the Spanish. The Mexican government awarded three patches of land that would later become the Irvine Ranch to Jose Andres Sepulveda and two other Mexican citizens. Sepulveda got Rancho San Joaquin while the other two were awarded Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana and Rancho Lomas de Santiago.
Sepulveda would later sell Rancho San Joaquin, which covered about 50,000 square kilometers to Benjamin and Thomas Flint, James Irvine, and Llewellyn Bixby to settle a debt. The trio would later acquire Rancho Lomas de Santiago, and after the end of the Mexican-American War, they found themselves in possession of Rancho Santiago de Santa following a dispute on land titles. The land wasn’t put to much use apart from tenant farming during this period, but that all changed when James Irvine managed to buy all of the land from his partners.
With now an area stretching from the Pacific Ocean to Santa Ana River, James Irvine and his family could make something out of it. However, he never realized his dream as he died in 1886, well before his son James Irvine II could incorporate The Irvine Company. With the company, commercial citrus and olive production took off.
That would attract the Santa Fe Railroad from San Diego that would name a station after James Irvine. The arrival of the railroad to Irvine only meant one thing – a boom for the fledgling town. By the time James Irvine II passed on in 1947, his son, Myford, had already started urban development on small sections of the Irvine Ranch.
When Myford Irvine died in 1959, the University of California had approached the Irvine Company for land to establish a university campus. It didn’t take long for Irvine to gain cityhood with residents voting for incorporation in 1971.