Located on a plateau next to the foothills at the tip of Northern
Orange County, Brea was known to Indians and pioneers as a place where
tar seeped out of the foothills, and chunks of tar were used for domestic
purposes and fuel. The word "Brea" means tar in Spanish.
In 1898, the first oil well came in and it started an oil boom
in the hills of Brea and Olinda. The first workers lived in tents;
as the industry grew, settlements spilled down to where the roads
connected to the rest of the county.
The city was incorporated on February 23, 1917 with a population
of 752. For a short time the early settlement's name was Randolph.
The city grew steadily through the years. As oil production declined,
the 40's, 50's and 60's brought many new housing developments and
new businesses. The 70's ushered in an incredible period of development
with the opening of the Orange (57) Freeway and the construction
of the Brea Mall. Industrial parks and retail areas proliferated
in Brea during the 70's and 80's as more and more companies took
advantage of the city's strategic location in the center of Southern
A history of Brea by local historian Esther Cramer titled, "Oil,
Oranges and Opportunity" is available through the Community Services
Department. There is also a video and a commemorative 75th anniversary
book produced by the Historical Society. For information, call 990-7100.
Today Brea is an important retail and industrial center. The Brea
Mall recently underwent an extensive renovation and expansion effort
that nearly doubled its space and added another major department
store - J.C. Penney - to an already-impressive roster. Two other
anchor stores - Macy's and Robinson-May, are currently expanding
their facilities. A full-service 229-room Embassy Suites Hotel opened
in 1990, and attracts visitors, conferences and small conventions
from many domestic and foreign locales. Redevelopment plans for
50 acres in the old downtown area are nearing completion, with the
construction of a 22-acre retail shopping center and the completion
of the Ash Street Cottages residential neighborhood. A pedestrian-oriented
main street development anchored by a 22-screen Edwards Theatre
complex is under construction adjacent to the shopping center on
Birch St. and will be joined by a variety of retail and dining establishments.
The theatres are scheduled to openin two phases: 12 theatres will
open around Labor Day 1997, and the remaining 10 in the spring of
1998. There is also a Farmer's Market planned for the Birch St.
Two "Super Blocks" on Brea Blvd. north of Imperial Hwy. are also
scheduled for development as Brea strives to create a vibrant, people-friendly
downtown. Some of Brea's older buildings will be renovated and preserved
in a "Heritage Block" setting in the area.
A major street improvment project was completed in early 1995,
when Imperial Highway, the major east-west artery in the city, was
widened and improved between Randolph Street and the 57 Freeway.
The city also hopes to obtain funding to expand 57 Freeway onramps
at Imperial Hwy. and Lambert Rd. Brea Blvd. north of Imperial Hwy.
is currently being widened, and several other key intersections
around the city have been widened or improved in recent years.
Many other projects are on the horizon, including Olen Pointe
Phase II, an upscale office and restaurant complex, the expansion
of the Lowe Development/Brea Marketplace properties, and proposed
housing developments in some of the hillside areas near town. Habitat
for Humanity has completed several projects and has more on the
drawing board that will allow lower-income residents to build and
purchase homes through "sweat equity." An ordinance promoting affordable
housing was passed in 1993, an a newly-formed committee is charged
with finding creative solutions to the high cost of housing in Orange
County. Arovista Park recently underwent a major renovation, and
a new 53,000 square foot community center opened in July of 1996,
featuring many recreational and meeting facilities for all age groups.
Brea is planning for the future through community task forces that
discuss open space and potential residential and commercial development
in the city's "sphere of influence" which encompasses 7 1/2 square
miles of unincorporated land in the hills to the north of the city.
Nearly 150 residents participated in a consensus-building workshop
that addressed issues such as environmental preservation and economics.
This pro-active approach to development ensures that Brea will continue
to be a vital, beautiful place to live, work and do business in
the years ahead.