The bedroom community of Garden Grove is gradually changing the way it goes to bed.
During the boom years--around the time nearby Disneyland opened 30 years ago--tract after tract of single-family houses were built, many of them on 14,000-square-foot lots.
Now, however, there is little vacant land left and developers have found that condominiums are just about the only way to go. Orange County's fourth-largest city is quietly on a more urban air.
"One of the main reasons for the change is cost and marketability," said James L. Jameson, who is in charge of city building permits. "There simply are not that many single large parcels left that lend themselves to separate, single-family development. If you go back 20 or 30 years, orange groves abounded.
Veteran City Councilman Milt Krieger agreed. During the post-World War II period, up to and including the 1950s, "When you took down an orange grove, you put up a big tract to support the labor force moving down from Los Angeles," he recalled.
In 1957, the first year for which figures are available (Garden Grove was incorporated in 1956), permits were issued for 695 single-family houses and only 53 apartments. The first condominium project project was approved in June, 1965, Jameson said.
The next year, 1580 houses were built, and 617 apartment units. The trend continued in 1959, the biggest year for single-family housing, when 3,084 houses were started.
From 1960 through 1965, the number of new houses averaged 860 annually, and new apartments numbered about 832 each year. The Buena Clinton apartments, since deteriorated into Orange County's worst slum, were built in 1961-62.
In those days, Garden Grove was "really a bedroom community," Krieger said, with zoning that allowed "a myriad of mixed uses that wouldn't work in any community today." That "hodgepodge," he said, gave birth to the popular slur, "Garbage Grove."
"The real transition began in '73 or '74," said Krieger, now in his 12th year on the council. Pointing to physical additions such as the industrial parks in west Garden Grove, Mervyn's Department Store, at Harbor and Garden Grove boulevards and the Brookhurst Street greenbelts, Krieger said, "The aesthetics have changed. Even people who joke by saying 'Garbage Grove' don't mean it."
Garden Grove is becoming a "more balanced city," Krieger said. Today the average acre holds 24 condominiums; the same amount of space supported just six houses in the past. Although there are more bedrooms, there is more of everything else too.
Armando Morales, a property agent for the city, said the price of an acre in Garden Grove now ranges between $200,000 and $300,000. Based on sales at just over $5 per square foot, a rough average might be about $260,000 an acre, he said, "but I've seen higher."
"The condos you see are not there by accident, but by design," Krieger said. "Enticing Mervyn's and these high-rise office structures depended on attracting people." New residents and workers "support the commercial, and the commercial, in turn, support the high-rise offices," he said.
Records are incomplete, but 1967 appears to be the first year that new apartments and condominiums (261) outnumbered new houses (90). The trend took a few years to develop, but the shift to condominiums was on. Again, records are sketchy, but construction of condominiums appears to have exceeded building of new houses in every year during the late 1970s and early 1980s. By 1983, 329 condominiums were going up, compared with just six houses.
"Single-family residences and lots are in a recycling stage. It doesn't make economic sense to put up another R-1 (single-family) home," Krieger said. He said neighborhoods of older houses and the few remaining vacant lots "develop naturally into condos," and the original homeowners often invest in the new condominiums.
Krieger said he expects to see "more of a balance" between condominiums and apartments in the future, due to the current shortage of apartments all over the county.
As in other growing California cities, the average size of a residence has decreased. A three-bedroom house built during the late 1950s averaged 1,500 square feet; today's three-bedroom condominiums and apartments usually has less than 1,250 square feet.
In terms of adapting to the changing economy, demographics and availability of land, Krieger said, Garden Grove is "probably the county's most forward-moving community.
"People don't think in terms of 'I'm proud to live in Garden Grove.' Rather, they say, 'Garden Grove's a nice place to live."'