Garden Grove

He “Cook-ed” up a new city

DOWNTOWN Garden Grove in the 1950s (Orange County Archives).

Garden Grove was founded in 1874, making next year the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the community. This is the first in a series of articles about the early days of the founding, excerpted from the book by Jim Tortolano.

In Garden Grove, Alonzo Gerry Cook is granted the status of founder of the community, father of his municipal country, as it were. 

An elementary school is named after him. There’s a giant photo of him hanging in City Hall, and a bronze statue in Civic Center Park. He looks a little surprised at all the fuss he’s kicked up.

STATUE OF Alonzo Gerry Cook (City of Garden Grove photo)

But like a lot of city founders in the post-cattle era of what would become Orange County, Cook was more of a speculator than he was a community-builder. He spent only about six years in Garden Grove, and claims that he established the community and invented its name are open to considerable variation of opinion.

There is also some confusion over just when the village was started, although 1874 is usually given as the year. It is certainly true that other American families preceded Cook to the area that would become Garden Grove, and that there were settlers here as early as 1869, by some accounts.

Records and memories are sketchy, but the best information has John Mitchell as the first permanent settler in Garden Grove, arriving sometime in the late 1860s, and securing a deed to an 80-acre site at which is now the southwest corner of Cannery Road and Garden Grove Boulevard, quite a distance from the townsite that would spring up around what’s now called Main Street.

Other families followed and small clusters of homes and farms began to dot the landscape. If Cook was not the literal pioneer of the community, he was certainly the man who helped give it a focus.

Cook was probably born in 1842, although some sources state 1839. “Probably” is a good word to employ heavily in this time and place, as identities, ages and addresses had a way of shifting under pressure in the Old West.

 Garden Grove’s titular founder has been variously described as a medical doctor, an attorney, a farmer and what would certainly today be considered a developer. He ran for the California state Assembly and reportedly worked as a probate judge in Idaho and a government attorney in Washington state, both territories at the time. 

What brought he and his wife Belle to the Santa Ana Valley in 1874 is lost in the mists of time. What is certain is that when he left about a half-dozen short years later there was a crossroads village, a school district and a church – all the yeast and flour of the community that would eventually become a suburban metropolis.

It’s easy to think of Orange County’s boom as having taken place in the late 1940s and 1950s. In truth, the area has long had a series of boom-and-bust cycles. This was just the first. In fact, it wasn’t even an Orange County boom – the partition of this region from Los Angeles County didn’t take place until 1889.

In 1874 he came into possession of a 160-acre (later 200-acre) plot of land in the future Garden Grove. Today the boundaries would roughly be Lampson Avenue and Garden Grove Boulevard north and south, with Euclid (now Main) Street and Nutwood Street east and west.

The land had been purchased by C.E. Palmer, who sold it to Cook for the sum of $2,280. Soon buildings began to rise, although the location of the Cook home is subject to dispute.

 In “The History of Garden Grove,” written by H.C. Head and published in 1939, Cook lived in a brightly-painted two-story wooden frame building a short distance west of what is now Main Street.  

But in “The Village of Garden Grove,” author Leroy Doig places Cook in a one-story “California” house at the southeast corner of Nelson Street and Lampson Avenue. Presumably a man of many vocations and talents had more than one address.

Readers interested in researching the history of the community will receive an interesting lesson on local geography. Garden Grove Boulevard, for instance, has been variously known as The Westminster Road and Ocean Boulevard. 

Euclid was once called The Anaheim Road, not to be confused with Anaheim Boulevard.

 If the names of the roadways offer an interesting study in ambiguity, the naming of the community also allows considerable room for speculation.

Mrs. J.D. Price, one of the community’s pioneers, said that Cook named the newly-planted school district Garden Grove, which applied itself to the village. 

In subsequent years the story has arisen that  some early settlers expressed skepticism about using such a grandiose name for the flat, featureless and largely uncultivated plains that spread out in every direction.

The story has Cook replying, “Then we’ll make it appropriate by planting trees and gardens.”  And Garden Grove did soon become a garden and a grove, serving as an agricultural center for the next 80 years or so.   

Even the suburban sprawl that displaced the orange trees has a verdant look to it. Drive along Lampson Avenue (especially between Brookhurst and Magnolia streets, for example)  and you’ll find yourself traveling under a leafy canopy of many varieties of lush, mature trees. 

Cruise along the Garden Grove Freeway as it rises above the tree-line and it looks like someone scattered a bunch of cars, houses and streets in the midst of an evergreen forest.


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  1. Very wonderful exemplifications of my Home Town;
    Use to cut thru Ol’man Mickles orange grove to Dr.C.C.Violet elementary school, later was a short walk alongside Mr. Mickles sweet smelling citrus to Izacck Walton intermediate or Jr. high school.
    Garden Grove reminds me of Oranges!
    Beautiful Golden Orbs for a wonderful time in my life.
    Thanks for your time, and mine in Grarden Grove, Dan

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