The Citrus State Historic Park was founded on land that Cahuilla tribes called home, and where neighboring Luiseño, Gabrielino-Tongva, and Serrano tribes also lived and traveled for thousands of years. The landscape was transformed by Anglo settlers to support large-scale agriculture in the late 19th century. Water, diverted to Riverside from the Santa Ana River, was essential. Matthew Gage, an Irish watchmaker, took up this engineering challenge, and built a canal with financing by British investors, who also developed the site of the Park and adjacent Arlington Heights with citrus. They ran their groves in the mode of a British colonial plantation, building packing houses to process citrus, hiring a diverse set of laborers, and building on-site camps for them and their families.
Mockingbird Canyon Arroyo
The arroyo (dry riverbed) that runs through the Park was both a travel route and source of sustenance for indigenous peoples. It still serves as a wildlife corridor and includes plants that Native people respectfully harvest for food, medicine, and other uses.
Becoming a Citrus Empire
British investors formed the Riverside Land Trust and transformed
their 3500 acres of land to support citrus groves, which they owned until 1928. They created irrigation standpipes that can be seen at the Park today and created at least three work camps: Windsor, Osborne, and Balmoral. A diverse group of laborers including Native American, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, and Mexican workers transformed the citrus landscape with their labor, as did African Americans, who also helped clear the land and build irrigation systems.
Citrus acreage in Southern California began to be replaced with housing tracts and industry after World War II. Beginning in 1955, many Riverside residents and grove owners began advocating for the preservation of the citrus landscape, as a way to stem sprawl, save jobs in agriculture, and maintain the aesthetic appearance key to the region’s identity. In 1979, thanks to the combined efforts of Riversiders for Reasonable Growth and lawyer (later, Judge) Dallas Holmes, Proposition R rezoned land along Victoria Avenue and portions of Arlington Heights (from Washington Street to the city limits) as a “Greenbelt.” The preservation of the land for Citrus State Historic Park came about, in part, due to these efforts.
Proposition R rezoned the area between Washington Street and the southern limit of the city to limit growth and housing density and foster agricultural use.
Opening the Park
Entangled in the debate over the value of the citrus landscape and the benefits of land development was Riversiders’ desire for a park in Mockingbird Canyon. In 1969 the Riverside General Plan designated this land for park uses and in 1981 a State Parks task force was created. After many debates, surveys, community meetings, and workshops the general plan for the Park was completed in 1988 and the Park opened its gates in 1993.
Victoria Avenue Forever
Matthew Gage, who helped bring water to the groves of the area, envisioned the tree-lined scenic parkway of Victoria Avenue (named for the British Queen) to promote land sales in the newly formed Arlington Heights. Created in 1892, it runs nearly 9 miles and is a local and national landmark.
The California Citrus State Historic Park was founded to preserve and tell statewide stories of citrus. For 25 years, Park staff, docents, and volunteers have offered tours, public programs, and exhibits that interpret citrus from varying perspectives. They also reimagine how to engage audiences as new resources emerge. Even now, the staff is working on expansive projects such as opening visitation to the other side of the Park, where the recently restored Western Engine Water Pump is housed.
The Bannister House
In 1995, the Bannister House was relocated to the Park. Half of the house served as the Park’s first visitor center and the other half continues to serve as the permanent residence of the onsite caretaker. This1920s remodel of an 1899 Victorian home fits with the Craftsman aesthetic of the nearby Sunkist Center, and conjures the experience visitors might have had upon entering a middle-class grove owner’s estate.
The Visitor Center
The Park’s central interpretive space is the visitor center and museum with exhibits tracing the beginnings of citrus cultivation until today. Although the permanent exhibition was created in 2003, a new exhibit “Finding Ourselves in the Groves” is on view in the center’s entryway.
Western Engine Water Pump:
Since 2013 Park staff and the Western Engine Restoration Team continue to restore the engine and prepare it for display. This engine pumped water at 2000 gallons per minute to thirsty groves in Highgrove, Grand Terrace, and Riverside between 1931-1961. The 17-ton gas powered engine is one of two in existence today.
The personal research and family histories of various community members have informed our knowledge of Riverside and Inland Southern California history. Frank Taylor and his organization 1900 in Black have unearthed the history of African American small grove owners in Redlands. Conversations with the Adams sisters about their grandfather’s involvement in grafting the parent navel tree have reoriented how we tell the origin story of citrus in Riverside. The continued participation of Cahuilla tribal members and the Sherman Indian Museum have illuminated multifaceted stories of migration (told through Bird Songs and Dances, for instance), resistance to citrus labor in previous centuries, and continued indigenous uses of the land. The role of Mexican and Mexican American laborers continue to be informed by members of Tesoros de Casa Blanca and the Riverside County Mexican American Historical Society. Our knowledge of the formative influence of Chinese immigrants on citrus development has come from members of Riverside’s Save Our Chinatown Committee. These partnerships enable the California Citrus State Historic Park to evolve and thrive.
- Riverside County Mexican American Historical Society
- Save Our Chinatown Committee
- Riverside Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League
- Dora Nelson African American Art and History Museum
- 1900 in Black
- Native American Community Council
- Malki Museum
- Sherman Indian Museum
- Tesoros de Casa Blanca
- Riverside African American Historical Society
- Asian & Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation
- Riverside Art Museum
- Multicultural Council
- UCR YOK Center for Korean American Studies
Shaping the Future Together
Many generations have shaped the landscape that the Citrus State Historic Park preserves. It is up to the present and future generations to continue to interpret and preserve this landscape through storytelling, volunteering, advocacy, and continued curiosity. Riverside’s landscape continues to change. Since the 1950s, agricultural land used for citrus in Inland Southern California has been replaced by housing, industry, and, most recently, warehouse and distribution centers. The devastating Citrus Greening disease threatens the future of citrus in the Park and in California. Despite these changes, the stories of visitors and community members will continue to preserve the legacy of this land.
From An Orange Empire to a Logistics Empire
Just as the citrus industry altered the existing landscape, agricultural lands have been cleared to make way for 21st-century logistics centers. Distribution and fulfillment centers for companies such as Walmart and Amazon stand on former citrus-growing land. This new industrial growth is sure to transform Riverside once again.
Stories and storytellers keep history alive. From Cahuilla Bird Songs to contemporary oral histories, we can learn about citrus in the region and state through stories. Share your stories as part of the Citrus State Historic Park’s Relevancy and History Project partnership with UCR to document migration and immigration in the region.
The Asian Psyllid spreads the Huanglongbing or Citrus Greening disease. The disease has killed the majority of Florida’s citrus and there is no cure. To prevent the spread of the disease scientists and residents are working to protect California citrus. Visit Californiacitrusthreat.org to learn more.