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Spectrum: A Slice of Orange County's Rich History

The Irvine Spectrum is becoming the crown jewel in the Irvine Company’s vast portfolio of prime Orange County Real Estate. Some are calling Spectrum Orange County’s new downtown, as a new skyline takes shape just 9 miles south of the John Wayne Airport. 

The area is attracting some of California’s largest companies including Broadcom, Blizzard Entertainment, Cylance, Mazda and others because they see Spectrum as the place to be if they are to be able to attract and retain top talent to fuel growth and innovation.


While the Spectrum began the development phase in earnest back in 1985, the story really began in 1864 when James Irvine and three partners assembled and purchased over 120,000 acres of ranch land through Mexican and Spanish land grants. Little did Mr. Irvine know that his namesake ranch would one day become one our nation’s finest examples of master-planned development.  In 1894, Mr. Irvine’s son incorporated and named his new venture The Irvine Company, the name it proudly operates under to this day.


In 1897, The Irvine Company made its first public land donation of 304 acres to create Irvine Regional Park, which is still in use today. Seven years later, the Pacific Electric Railway was completed, connecting neighboring Los Angeles to Orange County. In the late 1920’s US 5 was completed, further linking the destinies of the two growing regions of Southern California. For the next several decades, growers on the ranch planted, tended and harvested the fruit of nearly 1 million orange trees that was shipped to cities across the United States and Canada.

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In 1960, the Irvine Company turned to famed architect and urban planner William Pereira to create a master plan to guide development of the 93,000 acres that was still a part of the Irvine Ranch. The original plan called for over 10,000 acres to be dedicated to open space. Known for its philanthropy and focus on education, The Irvine Company also sold 1,000 acres to the State of California to build the Irvine campus of the University of California for the bargain price of $1. Other major donations and land sales followed, including 2,700 acres of land along the coast which is now known as Crystal Cove State Park.


In the early 1980’s, the Irvine Spectrum project began to take shape. Slated for development under the company’s master plan, the 500+ acre project was designed to offer a balance of retail and office and residential projects that would attract major employers and entice a workforce with a vision of a high quality of life.


Perhaps what originally defined and continues to drive the success of the entire project is Spectrum Center, the first phase of which opened in 1995. An instant success, the iconic mix of restaurants, retail and entertainment venues attracted local Orange County residents and visitors from around the world. The center was home to the largest movie theater complex in the Western United States, the Edwards 21 Cinemas.



Spectrum Center’s popularity grew beyond expectations and the Irvine Company responded by continuously expanding the project to accommodate businesses anxious to share in the success of the project.


The project continues to thrive and has expanded to over 1.2 million square feet of space. Nordstrom and Target can now be counted amongst it hundreds of thriving retail, restaurant and entertainment tenants.


But, the huge success of Spectrum Center tells just part of the story, a story that has seen some twists and turns along the way. The biggest game changer came as a result of the closing of Marine Corps Air Station-El Toro. A major political battle over how the 4,000+ acre base would be used put the future of Spectrum in question. Orange County voters turned down a proposal to create a major international airport on the site. Had that happened, Spectrum would have looked a lot different than it does today.


Once the decision was made to build the Great Park surrounded by office, retail and residential communities, Spectrum’s plans were adjusted to include more high-density multi-family development around Spectrum Center to make Spectrum a true live-work-play environment, a concept that has gained enormous popularity around the United States in recent years.


The entire Spectrum project is undergoing another major building boom, including the completion of Orange County’s two tallest office buildings, the 21-story towers at 200 and 400 Spectrum Center Drive. These Class A buildings are owned and managed by The Irvine Company. The completion of these signature buildings brings the total inventory of office space in Spectrum up to 14.6 million square feet.


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