Community spirit gets Costa Mesa started

June 28, 2013|By Bradley Zint
  • Pictured is a section of Newport Boulevard in Costa Mesa in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
Pictured is a section of Newport Boulevard in Costa Mesa… (Courtesy Costa…)

If Costa Mesa didn't become its own city 60 years ago, the border between Newport Beach and Santa Ana might have been right around Wilson Street.

It's a theory that Art Goddard, lead volunteer at the Costa Mesa Historical Society, surmised Friday at the society's Anaheim Avenue headquarters, in the hours before the city began its three-day celebration to mark the 1953 cityhood milestone.

The historical society has been busy lately, fielding questions from interested parties as civic leaders commence a 60th birthday bash that's turned out to be much bigger than the one 10 years ago.

To Goddard, Costa Mesa's narrow incorporation success in 1953 amid the "annexation threats" from Santa Ana and Newport Beach demonstrates a self-determining character still seen decades later.

"That community spirit couldn't really be satisfied by annexation by Santa Ana or Newport Beach," Goddard said. "It was a little more independent than that."


At the time, those in favor of cityhood said that the change would give more local control and prevent things like oil drilling, while those against incorporation said taxes would go up.

Cityhood won — by about 400 votes. The initial city of Costa Mesa, mostly comprised of what had been known as the village of Harper around present-day downtown Costa Mesa, eventually got bigger through annexation efforts. It eventually combined the former communities of Paularino and Fairview and today is about 8,000 acres — "not even big enough to be a decent cattle ranch in Montana," Goddard said with a laugh.

Before cityhood, however, when Costa Mesa was unincorporated Orange County, the chamber of commerce played a big role.

"People did want local control. We know that from history. To fill the void, the chamber of commerce actually provided a lot of local governance," Goddard said. "They had a lot of committees for things that local government would do today."

He called Costa Mesa a consistently fiscally conservative city guided by pro-business sentiment.

The Segerstrom family, who founded South Coast Plaza and the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, have been extremely influential on the city's development, Goddard said. Their acres of farmland — a portion of which remains off Fairview Road — would eventually be transformed into the selling place for designer handbags, the performance home of orchestras, hotels, high-rise business towers and fine dining.

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