Farmlands Grow Into ‘Big Little City’ : Fullerton: Orange County’s sixth most populous town is home to many cultural, educational and recreational attractions.
By LINDA YUSKAITIS
JULY 8, 1990 12 AM, Los Angeles Times
YUSKAITIS IS A FREE-LANCE WRITER WHO LIVES IN CYPRESS
When a job transfer brought Bjorn Juslin to Orange County from Finland three years ago, he and his wife, Merja, could have settled just about anywhere in the county. But Fullerton stole their hearts.
“The downtown reminded us of Europe, with its big sidewalks and shops. You can window-shop here. That is unusual in America,” Merja said.
The Juslins had rented houses in Fullerton and nearby Placentia before deciding to buy. They shopped for about three months as far south as Fountain Valley, but were drawn back to Fullerton.
An immaculate, 1,800-square-foot, four-bedroom home on Victoria Drive caught their eye, and with their condo in Finland sold, they bought it for $280,000 last December.
“We love it here. This neighborhood is very quiet. Our back yard faces Acacia Park and the children’s school is at the other end of the block. They don’t even have to cross the street,” Merja said.
“And all the neighbors came over to welcome us when we moved in, which was nice because we were used to Texas hospitality,” said Bjorn, who was assigned to a Houston office of Ericcson Business
Communications upon first arriving in the United States.
With a population of 111,749, Fullerton is Orange County’s sixth largest city. It is noted for its cultural attractions, being home to a civic light opera, symphony orchestra, two museums and eight commercial art galleries.
Moreover, it is the hub of higher education in the county with five colleges: Cal State Fullerton; Western State University College of Law; Southern California College of Optometry; Fullerton College, and Pacific Christian College.
Besides educational opportunities, these campuses offer cultural attractions, including an arboretum, art galleries, theater productions and sports events.
For recreation, Fullerton offers 46 parks, 26 miles of equestrian trails, two man-made lakes stocked with fish, numerous youth sports teams and tennis, racquetball, golf and swimming facilities within its 22 square miles.
The Orange (57) Freeway runs like an artery through the eastern side of Fullerton, and the Riverside (91) Freeway borders the city in on the south, making almost all of Orange County freeway close.
Providing yet another form of transportation, Fullerton Municipal Airport is the 19th busiest general aviation airport in California and is home to about 550 private planes.
“Fullerton is really a self-contained city. If you want it, it’s here. We’re only five minutes from any major department store and we have an Amtrak station to take you into L.A. if you want to go,” said Cozi Martinetto, manager of the Century 21 Achievers office in Fullerton and three-time homeowner in the city.
Martinetto and her husband, Ray, came to Fullerton from Alhambra in 1979. “I’ve always liked the feeling of the city and a small community at the same time,” she said.
Fullerton was founded in 1887 by brothers George and Edward Amerige, who sold their Massachusetts grain business and headed west to invest in Southern California land. The region had begun to prosper as railroads brought people to the Southland, and the Ameriges bought 430 acres of what is now Fullerton for $68,000.
Soon after, the California Central Railroad, a subsidiary of Santa Fe, sought land for a right-of-way. George H. Fullerton, president of another Santa Fe subsidiary, Pacific Land and Improvement Co., purchased the land from the Ameriges on the condition that a town site be included with the railway plans. Fullerton agreed, the town was created and its grateful citizens named the city after him.
Railroad construction workers came to the area with their families, creating a need for houses, stores, churches, banks and schools.
But even before the town was established--as early as the 1860s--settlers came to what is now Fullerton. Hearing about Southern California’s favorable weather and soil, people from Northern California and the eastern United States came to the area to farm.
The Bastanchury, Nicolas, McDermott and Ford families were among the pioneer farmers of Fullerton who grew oranges and grain and raised sheep, hogs--even ostriches. The family names live on in Fullerton, as city streets and schools have been named in their honor.
Today, Fullerton is aptly described as a “big little city.” Neither a bedroom community nor one dominated by industry or tourist attractions, Fullerton offers the American dream of friendly neighborhoods, a good school system, in-town entertainment and employment opportunities.
Crime is kept in check by the city’s 150 police officers and 13,000 members of its Neighborhood Watch program, which was established in 1979.
“Neighborhood Watch makes people more conscientious about securing their home. That really does make a difference,” said Mona Dean, Neighborhood Watch president.
Last year, there were 155 fewer reported burglaries in Fullerton than in 1988--an 11% decline--according to statistics compiled by the California attorney general. Robbery and rape were also down, but aggravated assault, murder and motor vehicle theft rose slightly.
For people taking their first steps into the housing market, it can be difficult, but not impossible in Fullerton.
“We don’t have a lot of first-time buyers in Fullerton because of the prices,” said Barbara Kerr, a broker with Re/Max realty in downtown Fullerton.
Single-family home prices in Fullerton range from about $175,000 on the south side to $300,000 and up in the central and north sections of the city.
Data compiled by the North Orange County Board of Realtors shows the median sale price of a single-family, detached home in Fullerton as $210,000 during the first five months of this year. Median sale price of condominiums during the same period was $136,900.
More than half of Fullerton homes are single-family, owner-occupied, and only 9% are condominiums. The remainder, about 36%, are apartments, Chamber of Commerce statistics show.
“The lowest-priced house in Sunny Hills Estates is about $550,000,” Kerr said. “The higher you go in the hills, the more expensive it gets. Homes in Green Acre, Valencia Mesa, Grandview, Richmond [Richman] Knoll and the Rodeo Drive area are among the city’s original most-sought-after properties.
“A lot of Asians from Cerritos and La Palma are moving into these areas. They’re in love with the big trees and the big lots. Some are spending as much as $250,000 refurbishing and upgrading, and so I see that neighborhood rapidly becoming million-dollar property,” Kerr said.
Alan and Jean Fitzwater say they were warned about real estate prices in Southern California before they moved to Fullerton on a job transfer from a small city near Ft. Walton Beach, Fla.
“We came prepared to rent for a year because we were a little anxious about making a commitment so quickly just based on a weekend. But we found Fairway Village, and it just felt right,” Jean Fitzwater said. “It was within our budget, so we bought. It was a quick decision, but a good one.”
Fairway Village is a gated community of townhomes located on Bastanchury Road between Harbor and Brea boulevards. Built by S&S; in the mid-1970s, the quiet complex is set off by green belts and large trees and features two swimming pools heated year-round, a spa and lighted tennis courts.
The Fitzwaters bought their 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bath townhome for $180,000 in spring, 1986. They estimate that it would now sell for $320,000, “but it might have slipped a little, probably about 5% or 6%,” Alan said.
Alan, an engineer with Northrop Aircraft Corp. in Pico Rivera, wanted to look for a home within 45 minutes driving time of his office.
“We knew we wanted to live in Orange County. I said right away that I wanted to be in a real community, and that’s what this is. The people here are really open to new friends and we’ve enjoyed that,” said Jean, who, as a docent of the Fullerton Museum Center, is an active member of the community. Avid tennis players, the Fitzwaters also belong to the Sunny Hills Racquet Club.
“When we drove down the middle of town the first time, we just fell in love with it. Fullerton offers something for everyone,” Jean Fitzwater said. But not all Fullerton townhomes are as pricey as those in Fairway Village.
While selection and price range are limited because condominiums are relatively scarce in Fullerton, a few developments can be found with units selling in the low $100,000s. They include The American Classics on Beach Boulevard and Rosecrans Avenue; Park Ridge and Quail Ridge, on Associated Road; Casa del Amo, near State College and Yorba Linda boulevards, and several on Peckham Street, near the intersection of Orangethorpe Avenue and Magnolia Street.
The Arbors condominium complex, on the east side of the Orange Freeway, has one-bedroom units selling in the high $80,000- to $90,000-range, Martinetto said.
For an affordable single-family home, Doug and Adrienne Boughter looked in the southwest part of Fullerton. They bought their four-bedroom, 1,700-square-foot home on Lambert Drive for $180,000 last September. It is their second home; their first having been a 1,080-square-foot “fixer-upper” in Placentia that they bought for $71,000 in 1987. After investing untold man-hours, they sold it for $135,000.
“We did real well,” said Doug, who, at 31, has lived in Fullerton nearly all his life.
His parents moved to Fullerton from northern Illinois in 1963 to escape the cold weather. Now, Doug and Adrienne are raising their three children only three blocks from his childhood home. The children attend Pacific Drive School, one of the city’s 18 elementary schools and the same one their father went to.
“The schools haven’t changed one bit. Some of the same teachers are still there,” he said.
An audio producer at Sony Corp., Boughter is a graduate of Berkeley College of Music in Boston, Mass., so he knows what it’s like to live elsewhere.
“But when (in Boston) you can only go outside three months out of the year to get a suntan--and then when you do, the mosquitoes kill you--you realize just how great a place this is,” he said.
As for drawbacks to living in Fullerton, Boughter cites problems common to almost every Orange County city: traffic and population density. “And I miss the orange trees. We used to hike through them when I was a kid.”
Time was when much of the city was blanketed with orange groves and grain fields. Even up to the late 1960s, areas that are now parking lots at Cal State Fullerton were orange-tree filled. Today, Fullerton is nearly built out.
“Land is very difficult (for developers) to acquire now in Fullerton. And what is here is very expensive,” said Michael Mastron, sales manager for Trider Corp., developer of the newest housing tract in Fullerton.
Located off State College Boulevard, between Yorba Linda Boulevard and Bastanchury Road, Mendocino at Fullerton Hills is a tract of 16 new homes that opened last November. Three models were available, beginning at 1,900 square feet and $319,900, ranging to 2,300 square feet and $385,000.
“A number of the people who bought in our tract were already Fullerton residents who moved from a different part of the city. It’s as if people who live in Fullerton are addicted to Fullerton,” Mastron quipped.
Another new housing tract, this one by the J. M. Peters Co., is in the planning stages on a 42.8-acre parcel on the northeast corner of State College Boulevard and Bastanchury Road.
The development is scheduled to contain 236 detached homes ranging from 2,766 to 3,562 square feet. In addition, 124 attached housing units will be built, ranging from 1,019 to 2,100 square feet.
Although brand-new homes are rare in Fullerton, there is a good inventory of previously owned homes.
“A lot of Fullerton homes are owned by people who have lived in them for 30 or 40 years, so they are ready for turnover. Some homes are 60 years old, but they have not gone down. Many are custom, on half-acre lots and they’re still beautiful,” Kerr said.
Outsiders, however, might never guess the city harbors such residential charms. Why? Because of the image conjured up by its name.
“It sounds so . . . industrial,” Kerr said. “I was living in Beverly Hills, and I didn’t want to move here because of the name. I wanted something to sound like Mission Viejo or Newport Beach.
“Even West Covina has a better name. Or Santa Fe Springs. Guess it goes to show you, you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
AT A GLANCE
Population 1990 estimate: 111,234 1980-90 change: 9%
Median age: 31.6 years
Annual income Per capita: 18,218 Median household: 39,217
Household distribution Less than $15,000: 15.1% $15,000 - $30,000: 22% $30,000 - $50,000: 25.9% $50,000 - $75,000: 20.9% $75,000 + 16%