Placentia’s rich history began in 1837 when the governor of Mexico granted the Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana to Juan Pacifico Ontiveros. This land grant included the area that today comprises Placentia, Anaheim, Brea, and Fullerton. In the early 1860s, a long drought brought an end to the ranchos and their cattle raising economy.
In 1865, Daniel Kraemer, a native of Bavaria who farmed in Illinois, purchased 3900 acres previously owned by Ontiveros. Three years later, educators William McFadden and his wife, Sarah Jane, acquired 100 nearby acres covered with wild mustard plants. Many other settlers arrived who built churches and schools as the community slowly developed.
The school district’s original name was the Cajon School District. In 1878, at the suggestion of Sarah Jane McFadden, the name was changed to the Placentia School District. Placentia is derived from the Latin meaning "a pleasant place." The city name came from that change.
Oranges and the Santa Fe Railroad
Placentia earned a place on the map in 1910 when A.S. Bradford, Samuel Kraemer, and others persuaded the Santa Fe Railroad to re-route their track through Placentia in order to handle agricultural shipments of local farmers. A station was built and packing houses were established for the area’s growing citrus industry. Placentia was the first to market the Valencia orange. Discovery of oil by the Standard Oil Company added to the income of the city.
Incorporation and Growth
A.S. Bradford and Richard Melrose laid out the main streets of the town and, in their honor, Bradford Avenue and Melrose Avenue bear their names today. The town’s 500 citizens voted to incorporate the City on December 2, 1926, and for many years Placentia was the smallest city in Orange County. The area of the city has expanded from .16 square miles in 1926 to 7 square miles in 1972 as a result of annexations. Smaller pieces have been added since then.
In 1960, Placentia’s population had reached only 5,000. However, a phenomenal growth period was just beginning. By 1970, the population had increased five-fold to nearly 25,000. In 2020, Placentia had 51,569 residents, with nearly 40% Hispanic, 40% non-Hispanic white, and 20% Blacks, Asians and others.
In 1972, Placentia was one of nine cities in the nation and the first in Orange County to win the All-America City Award, which recognizes areas with a high degree of citizen participation in solving community problems. Signs on the water tower still proudly proclaim this honor. Various other issues have been resolved through discussion and cooperation including early school segregation, disruptive railroad whistles, park upgrades, and traffic congestion.
Parks, streets, and buildings named throughout the city recognize individuals who have served the City as mayors, councilmembers, educators, and business owners. In 1988, resident Janet Evans was a triple gold medalist in the summer Olympics.
Placentia became a Charter City in 1965. Its present government is the Council-Administrator type provided for in the city charter. Council members were elected at-large until the State redistricting in 2019 required cities to establish council districts.
Did you know, we are not the only "Placentia" in the world? A check of the world atlas reveals a Placentia in Newfoundland, Canada. Placencia Peninsula is a geographical feature and small beach resort town on the coast of Stann Creek District, Belize. Carthaginian Commander Hannibal (247- c.183 BC), his army, and their warrior elephants camped in Placentia (Italian: Piacenza) in Northern Italy before crossing the Alps.
The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) has released its "Local Profile" reports, including newly available census and economic data. The information is provided for each city, county, and unincorporated area within the SCAG region. The reports cover current and historical demographics as well as socioeconomic, housing, transportation and education data gathered from a variety of sources. View the City of Placentia’s Local Profile report (PDF).
For More Information
For more information about Placentia, either contact the City’s Development Services Department at (714) 993-8124 or visit the Placentia History Room in the Placentia Public Library.