In the story of Laguna Niguel’s early days, we find a fascinating tale of its first residents. It all began with the Acjachemem Native Americans, who might have lived in a village called “Niguili” near the meeting point of Aliso Creek and Sulphur Creek. These lands were where the Acjachemem and Tongva people’s territories met.
Fast forward to the 1700s when Spanish missionaries came to the Americas. They set up Mission San Juan Capistrano nearby to convert the Acjachemem people (known as the Juañeno to the Spanish) to Christianity. As Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, the Mission lands, which include what we now call Laguna Niguel, were divided into privately owned plots.
In 1842, Juan Avila received a vast 13,316-acre Rancho Niguel, but tough times hit during the Mexican–American War, leading to his bankruptcy by 1865, due to a harsh drought. In 1895, Lewis Moulton and Jean Pierre Daguerre stepped in, buying up Rancho Niguel and surrounding lands from struggling farmers facing persistent droughts. They formed the Moulton Company to oversee these lands, primarily using them for orchards and sheep ranching well into the mid-20th century.
In 1951, the land changed hands again. The Daguerre family sold part of it to the Shumaker Group, and George Capron, a former Major League Baseball player, took charge of an oceanfront portion, creating the Capron Ranch.
The Birth of Laguna Niguel
1959 was a landmark year with the completion of Interstate 5, providing easy access to job opportunities in Los Angeles County. This paved the way for a housing boom in Orange County. Cabot, Cabot & Forbes and Paine Webber came together to establish the Laguna Niguel Corporation. Their goal was to develop one of California’s first planned communities on the Daguerre land, covering 7,100 acres. The original town plan was crafted by Viennese architect Victor Gruen and later expanded by AVCO Community Developers in 1971 after they acquired the Laguna Niguel Corporation. The city’s name, Laguna Niguel, is a blend of “Laguna,” a nod to the tidal lagoon near Aliso Creek, and “Niguili,” the ancient Acjachemem village name.
Unlike typical suburban communities, Laguna Niguel was designed with a focus on providing residents with most of their daily needs and recreational activities right within the community. A significant part of the land was dedicated to parks and open spaces, making up nearly a third of the area. In 1959, the Laguna Niguel Corporation went public, raising $8.2 million from investors. By 1962, the first neighborhoods, Monarch Bay and Niguel Terrace, were completed, boasting a total of 565 homes. Realizing the importance of water supply, the Moulton Niguel Water District was established in 1960 to bring water from the Colorado River Aqueduct. In 1964, Crown Valley Parkway connected I-5 to the Pacific Coast Highway, enhancing transportation within the growing city. By 1965, the population of Laguna Niguel had reached 1,000.
Laguna Niguel’s Continued Growth
In 1966, the Laguna Niguel Homeowner’s Association was formed, serving as an advisory body to the Orange County Board of Supervisors, who governed the unincorporated community. In 1973, the Laguna Niguel Regional Park opened to the public, providing a beautiful green space for the community. A significant architectural landmark, the Chet Holifield Federal Building, also known as the “Ziggurat,” was constructed in 1971 by William L. Pereira for Rockwell International. It was initially meant to bring thousands of jobs to the area but was later traded to the US General Services Administration for industrial facilities elsewhere, changing the course of Laguna Niguel’s history.
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