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Packing 'em In

January 27, 1990|Clipboard researched by Susan Davis Greene / Los Angeles Times, Graphics by Doris Shields / Los Angeles Times

Orange County is one of the wealthiest agricultural counties in the nation. Although oranges were not the first crop harvested here, the Valencia is probably most emblematic of local agriculture. Oddly enough, the crop was started by accident. County pioneer A.B. Chapman sent away for navel seedlings and through an error received Valencias instead. The rest, as they say, is citrus history.

With the growth of the citrus industry came the rise of the packing houses. The first house here was established in 1881 by Andrew Cauldwell in the city of Orange. At one time, more than 100 such houses dotted the county; today there are but three.

This is not to say there's no gold in oranges, though. The 1988 Valencia crop was valued at

$20.6 million, making it the third most valuable agricultural commodity in the county. This from a fruit that, less than a century ago, was not even considered fit for consumption.

Here's a short history of what remains of the county packing industry: 1--IRVINE VALENCIA GROWERS ASSN. 13242 Jeffrey Road, Irvine

The association was organized July 21, 1926, and for the first two years packed citrus at the Frances Packing House (demolished in 1977), just one mile north of the junction of Yale Avenue and the now non-existent Shop Road. The Frances Citrus Association, formed in 1921, was named for Mrs. Frances Anita Plum Irvine, wife of James Irvine II.

Construction of the current building began in December, 1928, and was completed by harvest time, 1929. The facility serviced 2,000 acres of Valencias on the Irvine Ranch and in the El Toro area.

Due to Valencia popularity, the plant underwent several enlargements. By 1968, Irvine Growers was processing 5,600 acres of Valencias on the Irvine Ranch, then the single largest citrus grower in California.

The association expanded in 1967, taking over the operations of Goldenwest Packing House, the last of four packing houses in Tustin.

By 1973, Irvine Growers was servicing only 4,000 acres of the Irvine Ranch but still reached peak production, processing 3.5 million field boxes from the ranch alone.

Today the plant handles 2,800 acres of Valencia oranges and 350 acres of star ruby grapefruits.

Estimated % Shipped Average Cartons Shipped to Asian Market Price Year (Millions) Market per Carton 1988 1.3 87 $8.00 1987 1.7 87 7.90 1986 1.9 83 8.72 1985 2.5 73 8.08 1984 1.7 80 10.33

2--VILLA PARK ORCHARDS ASSN. 544 N. Cypress St., Orange

Local ranchers, with an eye toward forming their own association, purchased 200,000 board feet of lumber from an old Huntington Beach cannery in 1911. In 1912, 48 growers formed the Villa Park Orchards Assn. in the east Orange area.

In its first year, 1913, the association, without its own home, packed in a fruit and vegetable shed belonging to the Southern Pacific Railroad, located near a depot on Wanda Road.

The association's first plant, located at the corner of Wanda Road and Santiago Boulevard, was built in 1914 at a cost of $9,765--thought at the time to be an outrageous price.

After leasing the Santiago Orange Growers plant in Cypress, the Villa Park Association purchased the facility in 1970.

The Santiago plant was the oldest orange growers association in Orange County. It was formed in 1893 and is today Villa Park Orchards' location.

DOMESTIC/FOREIGN MARKET SHIPMENTS (in cartons)

Year Foreign Domestic 1988 1,842,964 986,356 1987 1,545,831 1,130,779 1986 1,965,509 1,792,503 1985 2,238,009 1,132,785 1984 1,637,035 801,396

3--YORBA ORANGE GROWERS ASSN. 1500 N. Lakeview Ave., Anaheim

Created in June, 1944, by renaming and reorganizing the Associated Anaheim Growers, which in turn was descended from the Anaheim Orange Growers Assn., itself incorporated in September, 1911.

Fire destroyed the plant at the corner of Lincoln and Manchester avenues, and for a time the Yorba growers used the Fullerton plant of the Placentia Orange Growers Assn. The current Yorba packing house was erected in August, 1944.

Estimated % Shipped Average Cartons to Asian Market Price Year Shipped Market per Carton 1988 715,000 75 $10.70 1987 525,000 72 $9.80 1986 690,000 61 $9.10 1985 620,000 59 $8.60 1984 404,000 36 $10.30

Sources: Individual packing houses, historian Jim Sleeper, Santa Ana Library and Orange County Agricultural Commissioner

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