Located on the "coastal tableland" above Newport Bay, Costa Mesa was once grazing grounds for cattle belonging to the Mission San Juan Capistrano. At the beginning of the 19th century, missionaries built an adobe "Estancia" or way-station for the vaqueros who tended the herds. This structure still stands and was recently restored and transformed by the City into a museum at 1900 Adams Avenue.
In 1810, this same area was a part of the Spanish land grant of Santiago Del Santa Ana made to Jose Antonio Yorba. By 1880, settlers had begun buying portions of the rancho from Yorba's heirs and in the same decade established the town of Fairview. A school house and church were built near the present intersection of Harbor and Adams, and a 25-room hotel accommodated visitors to the nearby hot sulfur springs. However, in early 1889, a storm washed out the railroad and brought financial disaster to the community which soon reverted to a farming area.
By this time, the little town of Harper, named after a nearby rancher, had emerged on a siding of the Santa Ana and Newport Railroad. Its first business, Ozmen's General Store, stood on the corner of Newport and 18th Streets and contained the City's first post office, established in 1909. On May 11, 1920, Harper officially changed its name to Costa Mesa, which means coastal tableland in Spanish, and continued as an agricultural community, growing sweet potatoes, corn, tomatoes, strawberries, and apples.
Building and oil drilling industries were just beginning to bring new growth to the City when the depression hit Southern California. Industries collapsed and the local bank closed. More disaster followed when the 1933 earthquake shook the town, damaging businesses and the Main School. But the school was soon rebuilt and continued in operation as the Clara McNally School. These buildings are now used for school administrative and service purposes.
World War II brought many thousands of people to the area for training at the Santa Ana Army Air Base, located on what is now the Orange County Fairgrounds, Orange Coast College, and the present site of the Civic Center. When the war ended, many of these men and women returned with their families to begin the population boom which continues today.
On June 29, 1953, the City was incorporated and City Council-Manager form of government was chosen. The new City had an area of 3.5 square miles and a population of 16,840. Within 35 years, by 1988, the population had risen to 90,000 and the area to 17 square miles.
Today, Costa Mesa is a major commercial and industrial center of Orange County. The 2005 Census noted population at 113,143. The City, which formally adopted the slogan "The City of the Arts” in 1999, is home to a regional symphony orchestra and the South Coast Repertory Theater. The 3,000-seat Orange County Performing Arts Center was completed in 1985. In 2006, both the 2,000-seat Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall and the 500-seat Samueli Theater held their grand openings.
The Estancia Adobe is a historical landmark located in the northwest section of Costa Mesa. The Adobe was originally constructed around 1820 to house the area herdsmen, but it later became the home of Don Diego Sepulveda. With the passing of the Era of the Dons, the property changed hands many times with the Segerstrom family obtaining possession in 1940. In 1963, the Segerstrom family donated the Estancia and its five-acre site to the City of Costa Mesa as a memorial to the early settlers of the area.
Costa Mesa is a general law city. The voters elect five City Council Members at large from the City who, in turn, select a mayor who serves as the Chair of the Council and performs many other duties as head of the City government.
The City Council's function is similar to that of a Board of Directors of a corporation. They decide policy, attend regular City Council meetings where City business is transacted, and appoint a City Manager to manage the day-to-day business of the City. The City Manager organizes City functions through the appointed department directors who assist in the administration of the City.
Each year, the City Manager submits a recommended budget to the City Council. Council Members study, adjust, and finally adopt the budget for the forthcoming fiscal year (July 1-June 30). City services are then performed utilizing the allocated funds available from this approved budget.
For more information, please visit the Costa Mesa Historical Society web site.