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SANTA ANA CIVIC CENTER/FRENCH PARK : FOCUS : Downtown Santa Ana Mixes Old and New

December 08, 1988|Clipboard researched by Susan Davis Greene and Dallas Jamison / Los Angeles Times. Graphics by Thomas Penix / Los Angeles Times

More than 20 years before the Santa Ana Civic Center existed, city officials, community leaders and concerned residents talked about the possibility of a government complex housing federal, state, county and city offices--all intertwined in one huge compound. Today the Civic Center complex covers 79 acres--bounded by Broadway, Civic Center Drive, Flower Street and Santa Ana Boulevard--and is the county's governmental hub.

By the year 2000, it is estimated that 9,000 people will be working at the downtown center. Unfortunately, a working population that large is expected to create another problem--parking. Fortunately, Santa Ana and Orange County had the foresight to expect the center's growing pains and are doing something about it.

Several projects are in development, but most do not have start or completion dates:

* Civic Center Parking Expansion Phase I--two garages and two renovated surface lots. Completion date: 1989.

* County Forensic Science Tower--six or seven stories to be built at 6th and Flower streets.

* County Environmental Management Agency Building--proposed for Ross Street and Santa Ana Boulevard; will have its own parking structure.

* County Criminal Court Project--a 1-million-square-foot expansion of the court facilities, still in the stage of seeking design and development. Construction is planned for Civic Center Boulevard and Flower Street and is tentatively scheduled to go up for voter approval next November.

* City of Santa Ana Public Safety Building--a facility to house Police and Fire Administration at Ross Street and Santa Ana Boulevard, a site now occupied by the Police Annex Building. Construction of the building and parking structure may be completed by 1991. Upon completion, a City Hall agency relocation plan will be implemented. It will return to the Civic Center some agencies that had been relocated to other parts of the city.

The evolution of the Civic Center and the downtown area took a distinct turn 40 years ago. After World War II, the downtown district suffered a huge decline in shopper support. To lure shoppers back, merchants "modernized" their buildings with aluminum, stucco and plastic storefronts, yielding a smorgasbord of design.

But city officials and property owners finally recognized the economic potential that the district could gain with historic status. The Heritage Orange County and National Register did research, with an eye toward securing historic status. With the assistance of the Santa Ana Community Redevelopment Agency's rehabilitation loan program, property owners collectively began to undertake major renovations in the early 1980s, removing the '50s look. Almost $30 million has been invested so far.

In 1984, Santa Ana's downtown district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 36-square-block area is home to more than 13 major architectural styles represented in more than 100 buildings. A pamphlet outlining a 2-hour self-guided walking tour is available from the Chamber of Commerce.

In 1986, Santa Ana city officials heard the call from the community to revitalize again, this time the retail area along 4th Street. Working jointly, the City Council, Civic Center Committee and the community created the Fiesta Marketplace on 4th Street between Bush and French streets. The Marketplace, emphasizing Latino-themed restaurants, theaters, shops, street vendors and artists, is intended to promote pedestrian retail traffic.

Just off the Civic Center, but still at the heart of the city, is a small residential section known as the French Park Historic District. It consists of 150 single-family homes, duplexes, apartments and carriage houses. All the streets run perpendicular to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad tracks, which cut diagonally through the city. Scattered throughout French Park are a few modern apartment buildings. Most homes are Victorian, Mediterranean or a turn-of-the-century style, and are situated around a triangular park (in fact, French Park). The park contains a bronze plaque explaining that the land was donated to the city of Santa Ana by residents of the area in 1895.

Building a home in the French Park sector in the late 1890s called for upper-middle-class, professional stature--that of a doctor, lawyer, banker or such. Today there is no occupational stricture.

The Historic French Park Assn. has been a pioneer in preserving and restoring homes that are at least 50 years old. The organization, formed 10 years ago, has between 175 and 200 members. It has inspired other groups to pressure the city to force landlords to maintain their properties.

One of the association's accomplishments was getting the City Council to pass zoning restrictions and architectural guidelines that stopped apartment construction in French Park in 1984. All major renovation plans must be submitted to the Santa Ana Planning Commission, which will recommend that the association be consulted.

The association is trying to move the Brown Street Church, which was built in 1911 and sits between 5th and 6th streets and Lacy and Garfield streets. The area is to be renovated and an elementary school built on the church site. And the church itself? The city would like to move it to 9th Street, to a spot between Spurgeon and Bush streets. Negotiations continue.

Thus, the heart of Santa Ana serves both the modern need for government edifice and the continuity afforded by the historic past--the Civic Center and French Park. Population Population: (1988 est.) 12,814 1980-88 change: +12.1% Median Age: 26.5 Racial/ethnic mix: White: (non-Hispanic) 12 % Hispanic: 86% Black: 1% Other: 1% Population by sex and age: MALES: Median age: 26.2 years FEMALES: Median age: 26.9 years Income Per capita: $6,560 Median Household: $16,036 Average Household: $18,889 Household Distribution: Less than $25,000: 71% $50,000-74,999: 5% $25,000-49,999: 24% More than $75,000: 1%

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