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Behind the Scenes / ORANGE COUNTY

Pulp Fact

September 04, 1997

This is Orange County, right? Ever wonder what happened to the orange groves?

Most gave way to housing tracts (you may be living atop an old grove), but there are still a few--like those at the Historic George Key Ranch in Placentia, a working citrus farm.

The ranch held an open house Saturday where food, craft demonstrations and music brought back the past. Throughout the year, guided tours, school programs, weddings and down-home-style concerts lure 10,000 visitors to the 1898 main ranch house.

"The exterior of the ranch house hasn't changed since 1908," says the ranch's park ranger Michael Miniaci, who has overseen the grounds and groves for six years.

In 1893, George Benn Key, superintendent of the Semi-Tropcal Fruit Co., and his wife, Mary, bought 20 acres on the northwest corner of Placentia Avenue and Bastanchury road to grow citrus.

Smart move.

He made lots of money and became one of the original Sunkist growers and co-founder of the statewide citrus association.

Over the years, as the land became more valuable for development than agriculture, the Key family sold off most of its acreage.

"A lot of orange growers went out of business in the '60s because of 'quick decline' disease," says Miniaci. They lost crops and trees and didn't replant because of the fast cash offered by developers.

The family turned over control of the two-story ranch house--the oldest structure in the city--and its remaining 2.2 acres to the county parks department in 1980.

One acre is retained as an orange grove with 135 Valencia trees, three of which are from Key's original plantings. Also on display are native and exotic trees and turn-of-the-century farm tools.

A fall homecoming, with music, entertainment and a children's show, is set for Oct. 18.

Call (714) 528-4260 for more information.

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