In 1851, Phineas Banning arrived in San Pedro, California. He built his own staging and shipping company, and with investors acquired land adjacent to San Pedro for port expansion of the harbors and docks. In 1874, the “Father of the Port of Los Angeles” acquired 4,077 acres of prime farm and ranch land located in the vicinity of the Santa Ana River for $17,500. Much of the Ranch is present-day Costa Mesa.
In 1943, oil was struck with the Banning Well #1, and an oil boom came to Orange County. Over the past 60 years, Banning Ranch has produced nearly 36 million barrels of oil.
In November 2006, Newport Beach voters approved a General Plan prioritizing the acquisition of Banning Ranch as an open space amenity for the community and the region.
Presently, only 400 acres – one tenth of the original ranchland – remains, comprising wetlands, coastal bluffs, arroyos and mesas situated north of the Pacific Coast Highway between the Santa Ana River and Superior Avenue. Due to its status as a working oil field, it has escaped the high-density development that is characteristic of most of Newport Beach, Coast Mesa and Huntington Beach.
Banning Ranch is the largest privately owned parcel of open space in Southern California, and is home to coastal sage scrub, vernal pool and arroyo habitats. There are at least six wildlife species listed as threatened or endangered: San Diego Fairy Shrimp, Light-footed Clapper Rail, American Peregrine Falcon, Least Bell’s Vireo, California Gnatcatcher, and Belding’s Savannah Sparrow. Other highly sensitive species found on these lands include the Osprey, White-tailed Kite, Burrowing Owl, Cactus Wren, and Loggerhead Shrike.
Banning Ranch is also a link between publicly owned open spaces that are part of the Orange Country River Park: to the South is Sunset Ridge Park, to the West is the Army Corp Wetlands and the restored wetlands Seminiuk Slough, to the North is Talbert Nature Preserve and Fairview Park, and on the other side of the river the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy. In an era where nearly all remaining privately owned open space in Orange County is being developed, Banning Ranch is truly a gem, Nature’s last stand.