Irvine, CA (IRV)
Named for the family that farmed and ranched the area for generations, Irvine grew as a master-planned community around a new campus for the University of Southern California.
15215 Barranca Parkway
Irvine Transportation Center
Irvine, CA 92618
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 450,732
- Facility Ownership: City of Irvine
- Parking Lot Ownership: City of Irvine
- Platform Ownership: City of Irvine
- Track Ownership: Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA)
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
The Irvine station not only serves Amtrak’s famous Pacific Surfliner but is also a stop for commuter rail services. The $13 million Irvine Transportation Center was completed in 1990 as part of a state effort to establish and grow a commuter rail system in southern California. It is located at the southern end of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro which is undergoing conversion to a regional park, and is easily accessible via the Santa Ana or San Diego Freeways to the west.
The station is approached through a great plaza surrounded by stands of trees. A covered pathway leads from the plaza to the tracks, and as the sun streams through the bright-blue louvers of the gabled roof, it throws mesmerizing shadows onto the surfaces of the one storey structures that line the walkway. These buildings feature large floor-to-ceiling windows and house the waiting room, ticket office, and food concessions. The palm-lined platforms are connected by an overhead bridge accessed by stairs and elevator.
The California coast was first explored by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who worked for the Kingdom of Castile. In 1542 he claimed the region for Spain, but no settlements were planned; 60 years later the coast was mapped by Sebastián Vizcaíno. Although known by the Spaniards for more than two hundred years, they did not establish settlements in California until the late 18th century when the Russian Empire began to take an interest in the area.
To secure the coast, King Carlos III authorized the creation of a chain of forts and missions to protect strategic sites that could be of future use to the Spanish Empire in North America. The first “presidio” or “fort” and mission complex was established at San Diego in 1769. Two years later, the Franciscan friars charged with running the missions established a community thirty miles to the northwest of present day Irvine at San Gabriel, and in 1775 another mission was begun fifteen miles to the southeast at San Juan Capistrano. The Franciscans worked toward the conversion of the region’s American Indians to Christianity, a stated goal of Spanish colonization. Each mission was supported by large tracts of land for agriculture and grazing that were worked by the friars and the converts. A portion of these holdings was in the vicinity of Irvine.
American Indians were willingly or sometimes forcibly settled at the missions where the friars provided instruction not simply in religion, but also in crafts and skills such as tanning or woodworking. Those associated with Mission San Gabriel Arcángel were referred to as “Gabrieliño (“of Gabriel”). According to historic accounts, the Gabrieliños had populated the area encompassing present day Irvine, and called themselves Tongva, meaning “people of the earth.”
The Tongva were descended from the Shoshonean Nation and for centuries had inhabited a region stretching from the coast to the mountains. They were one of the few tribes to navigate the coast in canoes that were waterproofed with pine pitch or tar. When Cabrillo sailed up the coast, the Tongva went out by canoe to greet the explorer. Early visitors to the region recalled that the Tongva lived in dome-shaped dwellings made from local grasses. They were noted for their woven baskets and jewelry made from seashells. They gathered acorns, seeds, and wild berries, and hunted for various animals depending on their geographic location.
San Juan Capistrano and San Gabriel Arcángel became large and wealthy missions, and the inhabitants grew grains and beans and raised livestock. Following Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821, the missions were secularized and many of the buildings and land holdings were sold off to private owners, who created large “ranchos” or ranches used primarily for sheep and cattle grazing. Many of the ranchos survived into the American period following the United States’ victory over Mexico in the Mexican-American War of 1845-1848 and the resulting cession of California and much of the Southwest to the United States.
The land that eventually became Irvine is composed of three of those old ranchos: Santiago de Santa Ana, San Joaquin, and Lomas de Santiago. The oldest was Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana whose lands had been requested in the late eighteenth century by Juan Pablo Grijalva, a soldier who participated in the first Spanish forays into the area. Grijalva died before he gained title, but eventually the land was granted in 1810 to his son-in-law José Antonio Yorba and his grandson Juan Pablo Peralta. The two men grazed cattle, sheep, and goats and also grew grains. The rancho was rather rare in that most lands under Spanish rule were assigned to the missions, not to individuals.
In 1854, the Yorbas sold the rancho to José Andrés Sepúlveda who also owned lands formerly held by Mission San Juan Capistrano. Together the three properties were called Rancho San Joaquin and accounted for almost 50,000 acres from the coast to the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains. The Gold Rush of 1849 was especially fruitful as the miners brought appetites which Sepúlveda and other ranchers satisfied by driving their herds north. Sepúlveda was known too for his lavish lifestyle including fine clothes and a home that hosted many a party such as his daughter’s 45 day-long wedding fiesta. A fine equestrian, Sepúlveda won a race in 1852 against a former Mexican governor of California that netted him $25,000 in gold and hundreds of animals.
After the secularization of the missions, José Antonio Yorba’s son received the lands known as Rancho Lomas de Santiago where he also raised cattle. The 47,000 acre rancho was sold in 1860 to William Wolfskill, an American migrant from the east who had arrived in California during the Mexican period. Over the next few decades, Wolfskill amassed property on which he established vineyards and experimented with fruit cultivation. He is often credited as the “Father” of the citrus industry, especially oranges. By the end of the nineteenth century, southern California was the principal orange producing region in the United States.
Wolfskill used Rancho Lomas de Santiago to raise cattle and sheep, but the overgrazed, hilly grasslands were in poor condition and the droughts of the early 1860s only exasperated the problem. In 1866, he sold the land to a group of investors including the Flint brothers, Llewellyn Bixby, and James Irvine. Only two years prior, the same group of men had purchased the neighboring Rancho San Joaquin from José Andrés Sepúlveda. Debts and losses credited to the drought had also left Sepúlveda in a precarious financial situation. Irvine would purchase one-half of the rancho and his partners split the rest. When all the acres were counted, the Flint, Bixby, and Irvine land amounted to 125,000 acres; the property was 22 miles wide and measured nine miles from the coast to the mountains.
James Irvine emigrated from Ireland in 1846 and quickly made a fortune in the California Gold Rush not through mining, but by supplying the gold seekers with foodstuffs and other goods. He then invested that income into property in San Francisco—a booming city where land values shot up as people poured in. The Flints and Bixbys were cousins and experienced ranchers; while Irvine owned much of the land, his partners oversaw the herds. The group began to raise Spanish Merino sheep whose soft, luxurious wool was shipped to the East Coast for processing. In 1876 another drought struck and Irvine decided to buy out his partners.
As Irvine was taking control of the large rancho in the 1870s, Los Angeles and San Francisco came to dominate Californian shipping and railroading. The foremost railroad in the state was the Southern Pacific (SP), which wanted to build a line south to connect to San Diego before the rival Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad (ATSF), then laying track through the Southwest, made it to the West Coast. Unfortunately for the SP, James Irvine despised one of its primary investors, Collis Huntington, and refused to allow the railroad a convenient right-of-way across his property.
From 1880-1882, the California Southern (CS), an ATSF subsidiary, had driven a line northward along the coast through swamps and bogs from San Diego to Oceanside; from there it turned inward, crossing gullies and canyons that required numerous trestles and other infrastructure built by Chinese laborers. After years of building and lawsuits with the SP, the line reached Barstow in 1885. The route soon proved treacherous, as the portion through Temecula Canyon washed out in 1882 within a year of its opening.
Searching for a better path, the ATSF started to build the “Surf Line” that was to run through Orange County to meet the CS at Oceanside. It allowed a safer coastal link between San Diego and Los Angeles that avoided Temecula Canyon which washed out again in 1891 and was abandoned. To get to Oceanside, the CS needed passage through the Irvine Ranch and it subsequently sued in 1887 to obtain a right-of-way. Before the suit went to trial, the Irvines granted the ATSF passage as long as the railroad built a depot to serve the ranch property. A year later, the Surf Line reached Oceanside and was in full operation. It opened up new, distant markets for the cattle, sheep, and varied agricultural products of the Irvines and encouraged them to open up some of their land for tenant farming. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the family permanently moved to the ranch.
Until 1910, those traveling to or from the Irvine Ranch had to use a small shelter and platform near the intersection of the railroad tracks and the present Sand Canyon Avenue, roughly two miles north of the Amtrak/Metrolink station. That year, the ATSF finally erected the promised depot, a two-storey structure with a hipped roof; a one-story freight house was built on the north end. It served the residents of the town of Irvine until 1968, and was torn down in 1970. Around it, the town grew with the addition of a school, general store, post office, and housing for some of the tenant farmers and ranch hands. James Irvine’s son, James Harvey, set aside 320 acres around the depot to accommodate town expansion. Throughout the early 20th century, the Irvine family also constructed a series of trackside warehouses to store agricultural goods.
The Irvine farm became known for its diverse products. The ranch still kept cattle and sheep herds, but had also opened more land to cultivation. Corn, strawberries, asparagus, celery, beans, and grains were raised, and fields of walnut, olive, persimmon, lemon, and orange trees stretched down the hillsides in neat rows. Irvine continued to upgrade the irrigation system and the other infrastructure of the ranch. In 1894 James Harvey founded the Irvine Company to oversee the ranch property.
Great change came during World War II when Irvine had to sacrifice his best lima bean fields to the U.S. Navy for a Marine Corps Air Station. The fields happened to be on a relatively flat piece of land on which runways could be laid. On landing, sometimes the planes would overshoot the runways and damage the remaining lima bean crops. The base, called El Toro, remained in operation until 1999. Post-war, southern California boomed, and the population of Los Angeles sprawled south into Orange County. The third and fourth generations of Irvines understood that the ranch was most likely not going to remain agricultural.
In the 1950s, the University of California system began scouting a location in the southern part of the state for a new campus. After many years of negotiations over a site and total acreage needed, the Irvine Company donated 1,000 acres to the university, and gave the institution the option to buy an additional 500 acres. The campus was seen as the focal point of a new town that would grow up around its edges and provide housing for academics, workers, and graduate students. The Irvine Company subsequently hired architect and planner William Pereira to develop a master plan for the entire ranch.
As a master planned community, the Irvine Company had a great deal of control over how the site should grow. Pereira and his associate Raymond Watson envisioned a larger development composed of smaller “villages” each with their own parks and schools. The buildings in each section were designed according to a specified aesthetic, such as “Spanish Revival” or “Tuscan” architecture, thereby producing visually unified neighborhoods differentiated from adjoining “villages.” Connected by wide roadways, “village” residents could access larger shared shopping areas. Open space would act as a buffer between the developments and preserve some of the unique landscapes found on the property. The size of the Irvine Ranch—one fifth the land area of Orange County—actually accommodated a number of new cities besides Irvine, and these other developments include Anaheim Hills, Tustin, Orange, and Newport Beach.
Today Irvine is still under development but the early neighborhoods have become sought-after addresses. The city is often cited as one of the best places to live in the nation due to the quality of its schools, employment opportunities, and housing. It is home to numerous national and international companies, many of which specialize in the technology and semiconductor fields. Residents appreciate the almost fifty miles of off-road bicycle trails and the access to parks and open space. In 2008, almost 40,000 acres of open space on the Irvine Ranch were designated as California’s first Natural Landmark; included are large zones of coastal and mountain terrain that are host to rare flora and fauna and interesting natural geological formations. One way to see this diverse landscape is by the 22 mile “Mountains to Sea Trail” that can be traversed by foot, bike, or even a horse.
All the new development on the ranch over the last half century has sometimes disguised the fact that parts of the old ranch have survived. Near the Irvine Spectrum shopping center, the remnants of Old Town stand by the railroad tracks. Some of the warehouses and tenant houses have been renovated as offices, shops, and even a hotel. The area is recognized as a California State Historical Landmark and a few of the properties have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Irvine Historical Society, housed in the former cooking wing of the ranch’s cattle and sheep camp, preserves the history of the Irvine Ranch and offers tours of Old Town. Reminders of the ranch are also found on a visit to the Katie Wheeler public library, which is located in a building designed to resemble the former Irvine house which burned down in the 1960s. It sits in Irvine Ranch Historic Park which contains 24 original ranch structures that will be restored.
Amtrak provides ticketing, but not baggage services, at the Irvine station. ThePacific Surfliner service is primarily financed through funds made available by the State of California, Department of Transportation, and is managed by the LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority.
- 1500 Long Term Parking Spaces
- Accessible Payphones
- Accessible Platform
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible Ticket Office
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Accessible Water Fountain
- Dedicated Parking
- Elevator Accessible
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- Metrolink Kiosk
- Pay Phones
- Quik Trak Kiosk
- Short Term Parking Spaces
- Ticket Office
- Wheelchair Lift