Brea Museum & Heritage Center

Like most places in California, Brea’s history is one of resource development – namely, oil. Here is a brief overview of Brea’s history, its growth and development, and some of the highlights of this city’s storied past. Brea’s history is unique and interesting and is just one of a few of the reasons as to why it is an enviable place to call home.

History – Early Years

The original inhabitants of the area, the Tongva or “people of the earth,” used the Brea area and surrounding valleys to hunt and gather. The area of Brea was first visited by Europeans when a Spanish expedition led by Gaspar de Portola was exploring the inland areas of Alta California.

It was on this expedition that the Spanish made contact with the Tongva people and noticed that the Tongva covered their bodies in a type of oily medicine (crude oil). There is a historical marker just north of the city of present day Brea that marks the area where this expedition camped.

After Mexico had won its independence from Spain in 1822, the area became part of a vast 35 000-acre ranch. It remained this way until California was acquired by the United States in 1848 by treaty.

Early in the nineteenth century, entrepreneurs began to come to the area looking for “black gold” or oil. In 1894, the Union Oil Company of California purchased 1 200 acres of land from a local rancher and by 1898, there were wooden oil drilling towers scattered throughout the area. This area, rich in oil, was coined the Brea-Olinda Oil Field.

This newly discovered oil rich area created a boom in the population and in February 23, 1917, with a population of 752, the 8th official city of Orange County – Brea was created. The newly founded city of Brea had taken its name from a Spanish word meaning natural asphalt or tar.

Boom and Bust

The oil boom that had put Brea on the map was short lived and by the 1920’s, agricultural development began to replace the once abundant wooden oil drilling platforms. Lemon, avocado and orange groves began dotting the landscape and Brea quickly became known as the city of “Oranges, Oil and Opportunity”.

This change from an industrialized boom town to a more balanced and diversified economy brought in additional services and families and by 1950, the city had grown to over 3 200.

Modern Growth

As the population in the area quickly grew, so did the opportunities for both residential and commercial development. These development opportunities quickly replaced the once abundant orange groves as well as the original oil fields.

One of the first Carl’s Junior hamburger chains opened in Brea in 1956 and the opening of the Orange Freeway and the Brea Mall in the 1970’s saw major development and another large growth in population.

In 1975, the city introduced its public art program which is now an integral part of the city. Finally, in the 1990’s Brea underwent a huge redevelopment which created a shopping and entertainment area complete with movie theatres, cafes, restaurants and a farmer’s market.

These developments all helped attract residents to Brea and helped spawn new business and retail development and opportunities.

Brea Today

Today, Brea boasts a population of over 40 000 and is a thriving and bustling community; a nice blend of small town charm and big city opportunity. Its wide selection of public art as well as its bustling retail market highlighted by the Brea Mall and its newly redeveloped downtown core have all helped to make Brea a coveted place to call home.

Its unique history and attention to detail have helped make Brea one of the top suburbs to call home in the Western United States.

Whether you are looking for the perfect place to retire, or relocate, Brea has some spectacular homes for sale and truly has something for everyone. Remember, that when you are looking for that ideal family home or that perfect starter home, Brea offers a wide range of affordable real estate options all wrapped up in a safe, welcoming community oriented city.

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