Historic Packing Houses and Other Industrial Structures
in Southern California

Virtual Tour of Tustin
Orange County

Copyright 2002, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2013 by James E. Lancaster

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Tustin (ATSF, SP)

This virtual tour of past and present packing houses in Orange County begins in Tustin, CA where I have lived for more almost 30 years. Unfortunately the packing houses in Tustin were torn down many years before we moved here so I have no photographs of my own.

Tustin was at the east end of the Southern Pacific's Tustin Branch. The branch left the SP's Santa Ana Branch in Anaheim, went east to Villa Park, then continued south across Santiago Creek and through the eastern part of Orange to Tustin. At one time there were packing houses at Villa Park, McPherson (where the track crossed Chapman Ave), El Modena (where the track crossed La Veta) and Tustin.

I have photographed parts of a large aerial photo of Tustin taken in the 1940s that hangs on the wall of the Tustin Area Historical Society. Figure 1, looking from west to east, shows the Tustin Hills Citrus Association.

Figure 1. Tustin Area Historical Society Photo

It was located on the SP Tustin Branch near the current intersection of Irvine Blvd and Newport Avenue, just east of Holt Avenue.

Figure 2. Tustin Area Historical Society Photo

This area is now full of commercial buildings and apartment houses, and is surrounded by urban sprawl that began in the 1950s. Here are two close-up views of the packing house complex: one of the south building and one of the north building (Figures 3 and 4). The latter had large Sunkist signs painted on the south and west sides.

Figure 3. Tustin Area Historical Society Photo

Figure 4. Tustin Area Historical Society Photo

About a block away as the crow flies, but miles apart by railroad distance, was the Goldenwest Citrus Association located on Newport Avenue (see previous aerial photo) at the end of a Santa Fe spur that left the mainline at Venta.

Figure 5, looking slighty southeast, shows the Goldenwest Citrus Association packing house complex surrounded mostly by orange groves.

Figure 5. Tustin Area Historical Society Photo

This area is now a typical Southern California strip mall anchored by a Ralphs Market. Irvine Blvd now runs along what was the northeast side of the packing house. A close-up view (Figure 6) provides a better look at the packing house and the two Santa Fe sidings, one with at least four refrigerator cars (reefers) waiting to be loaded. There is also a Sunkist sign on the front of this packing house.

Figure 6. Tustin Area Historical Society Photo

The Tustin Area Historical Society has a number of old photos taken in and around the Tustin packing houses. These two samples (Figures 7 and 8) were taken on site in the 1940s showing some of the typical structures.

Figure 7. Tustin Area Historical Society Photo

Figure 8. Tustin Area Historical Society Photo

Figure 9 shows a panoramic view based on the two previous photos laid side-by-side.

Figure 9. Tustin Area Historical Society Photo

Figure 10, from the 1930s, shows a fleet of Sunkist trucks loaded with crates of oranges.

Figure 10. Tustin Area Historical Society Photo

Note the unusual fenders and cowling over the cabs on the four trucks on the right (plus the unusual cab on the truck at the far right). The extra sheet metal over the wheels and the cabs enabled the trucks to drive through an orange grove and push branches aside rather than breaking them off by getting caught on the truck.  On the side of the truck at the far right it says:




Some tractors were similarly equipped for orchard service as shown in Figures 10a and 10b.

Figure 10a. Vintage McCormick orchard tractor in the 2013 Rose Parade. Jim Lancaster Photo.

Figure 10b. Vintage John Deere orchard tractor in the 2013 Rose Parade. Jim Lancaster Photo.

Bill Rupp has provided a copy of page 100 of a 1952 AAA map showing a part of Orange, El Modena and Tustin.

Starting from the top of the map it's possible to follow the Tustin Branch south from just below the Santiago Creek bridge, between Orange and El Modena, past El Modena Station and into Tustin. 

As of 2011 it was still possible to walk the former right-of-way from La Veta Ave, just north of El Modena Station on the map, to Fairhaven Ave.  Warren Ave in Tustin. The location of El Modena Station and the David Hewes packing house was still visible - a wide, weed-
grown field along the ROW, surrounded by houses.

From Fairhaven Ave. south to Warren Ave. in Tustin the former ROW is now a maintained walking path.

The 1952 map also shows the Santa Fe spur that served Tustin. It left the main line at Venta and ran NE to Browing where it split to go to Tustin and Irvine. The last vestige of the spur was removed when Interstate 5 was widened through Orange County in the early 1990s. For more information on the Venta spur, see the Irvine section of the packing house web site.

When the Tustin Branch reached Newport Ave. it turned SW and ran along the NW side of the street  to Laguna Avenue (now El Camino Real). A third Tustin packing house, the Santa Ana-Tustin Mutual Citrus Assn, was located along this section of the branch south of Main Street.

Bill Messecar located a photo of the Santa Ana-Tustin Mutual Citrus Assn packing house in the archives of First American Title Insurance Company in Santa Ana. 

Figure 11. First American Title Insurance Company Photo

The street in the photo above is Newport Avenue looking NE. The Tustin Branch ran behind the packing house.
Cliff Prather provided this additional information: "The Santa Ana-Tustin Mutual was the association that my father and grandfather were members of. It was located on the SP along Newport Ave. , just south of Main Street. It was built around 1940, when the SP depot was moved and may have been on or near the site of the depot. It was the first orange association to close in modern times, i.e., the late 50s or early 60s. The packing house was used as a catholic church for a time after it closed."

Steve Donaldson helped pinpoint the location: "I have an SP SBE drawing showing the building at roughly between San Juan and Walnut Streets." Steve also provided the photo below showing the intersection of Newport Ave and US 101, the main highway between Los Angeles and San Diego.

Figure 12. Steve Donaldson Collection

The photo was probably taken in the 1940s. The Santa Ana-Tustin Mutual packing house is at the top. The street running from top to bottom is Newport Ave with US 101 (today's El Camino Real) running left to right. The Tustin Branch ran behind the packing house then curved across Newport Ave to an oil dealer.  The branch ended behind the trees at the right of the photo.

Cary Wilson provided the following photo of the Santa Ana Tustin Mutual packing house employees from July 1941.  Cary's mother and uncle are  in the photo.

Packing House
Figure 13. Cary Wilson Collection 

Cliff Prather photographed SP trains in Tustin in 1968. Figure 14 shows a weed sprayer train behind the Santa Ana-Tustin Mutual packing house in January 1968 and Figure 15 shows a switch engine moving along Newport Ave near Larwin Square in December 1968.

Figure 14.

Figure 15.

Figure 16 was taken from the Larwin Square parking lot and shows an Alco S6 on the track that paralled Newport Avenue.

Figure 16.
Cliff Prather Photo

The SP Tustin Branch was severed at Santiago Creek in the spring of 1969 when a bridge was washed out. The section from Santiago Creek to Tustin was not used again and was torn up in the late 1970s. 

Lee Gustavson photographed the tracks behind the Santa Ana Tustin Mutual packing house in July 1969, after the Tustin Branch had been severed by the flooding at Santiago Creek.

Figure 17. Lee Gustafson Photo

Finally, Cliff Prather photographed the salvage work along Esplanade north of 17th Street in January 1978.

Figure 18. Cliff Prather Photo

Last Update: 4/15/13

To tour other Orange County cities, or other counties, return to the Virtual Tour of Orange County Page.

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