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San Juan Capistrano Real Estate

The City of San Juan Capistrano is a unique community grounded in a history of native American culture, the Mission established by Franciscan missionaries in 1776, and an agrarian past. Officially incorporated as a city in 1961, San Juan Capistrano recently celebrated 40 years of cityhood. A council-manager form of government, with five elected council members elected citywide, direct the city operations and municipal services.

The City has grown from a small community of approximately 10,000 persons in 1974 to a developed city of 36,073 in 2006, with a variety of land uses providing open space, recreation, housing, jobs, shopping and services. The City prides itself on effectively maintaining its open space character by acquiring land to preserve its defining ridgelines, hillsides, and trails. Nearly 40% of the City is in open space and park land. Only about 10% of land suitable for development still remains vacant.

San Juan Capistrano History

San Juan Capistrano is unique in Orange County and a rarity in California, a community whose foundation was laid by the earliest people to inhabit the land, and a community still evolving after more than 220 years. California history, and therefore San Juan Capistrano history, is often divided into five major eras:

Prehistory (Before 1776)

Before the arrival of Europeans in Orange County, the Indians of the area were largely peaceful hunter-gatherers. Tribes had a monarchic form of government, with leadership passing within one family, and a council of men who aided that leader. War was never waged for conquest, but to avenge crimes against family members or leaders. A deity called Chinigchinich was worshiped in religious ceremonies held in a small temple structure located in the center of each community.

Spanish missionaries divided Orange County Indians into two groups based on their proximity to area missions, Juanenos (originally Acagchemem) and Gabrielinos. It is thought there were in reality many small tribes, all belonging to the Shoshone family, sharing common linguistic roots.

Abundant evidence of prehistoric Indian life has been found within San Juan Capistrano and several local families trace their lineage to the Juaneno band.

Spanish Era (1776-1820)

Two factors were essential to Franciscan Missionaries in placing the California missions. First, a site with ample fresh water and arable land, and second, a native population of prospective converts to do the work of the church and eventually become Spanish citizens. The Capistrano Valley offered both and so on November 1, 1776, Mission San Juan Capistrano became the seventh mission in the California chain, beginning the Spanish Era in San Juan.

The success of the San Juan Mission is revealed in records of 1796 that count nearly one thousand Indian neophytes living in or near the Mission compound and working the various farming, herding, candle and soap making, iron smelting, and weaving and tanning operations. Also, 1,649 baptisms were recorded that year.

An increasing population led to the building of numerous adobe homes for the native and intermarried families with ties to the Mission (some Spanish soldiers assigned to the Mission married native women). In 1807, 34 adobes were built or remodeled. Records from 1811 reveal a prosperous year, with the Mission producing many tons of wheat, barley, corn and beans, and thousands of head of cattle, sheep and horses.

Mexican/Rancho Era (1821-1847)

The Mexican independence of 1821 brought a new era to San Juan Capistrano. A Secularization Act was passed in 1833 to divest Mission lands. Instead of going to Indians as envisioned, land grants more often went to political appointees. These land grants began the Rancho system of large ranches owned by a few powerful men and families.

The Secularization Act began an immediate decline of the Mission in San Juan Capistrano and an overall decline in the town`s population. In 1841 the Mexican government declared San Juan to be a pueblo (town), instead of a religious parish. In 1845 the Mission itself was sold to John Forster, an Englishman who had married the governor`s sister and who eventually would own nearly 250,000 acres across three counties.

Statehood (1850-1900)

The American victory over Mexico in 1848 resulted in the acquisition of the territory of California and statehood two years later, which resulted in major changes for San Juan Capistrano. The town initially became plagued by squatters, drifters and bandits as it was one of the few stopping and resupply points between San Diego and Los Angeles. The ranchos also brought cowboys into town on Saturday nights who caused drunken brawls in the streets. Bandits and stagecoach robbers were plentiful and it was said that until the 1920s, San Juan had “one good murder a year.”

San Juan`s location on the road to newly discovered gold fields in northern California led to rapid growth with homes, stores and a hotel being built. A number of board and batten homes were built next to Mission era adobes in the Los Rios area. Part of the Miguel Yorba adobe on Camino Capistrano became an overnight stage stop. Cattle raised on nearby ranchos were driven north and sold at great profit to feed prospectors.

Drought, smallpox and a state property tax led to the decline of the ranchos and began the sale of land to settlers interested in farming. The Homestead Act and inviting travel guides caused an increase in the number of easterners interested in pursuing the California dream.

By the 1880s barley, walnuts and oranges had been planted within the town limits. The California Central Railroad came to San Juan in 1887 bringing access to markets and creating a land boom.

Twentieth Century (1901 – Present)

The years after 1900 were a period of stability for San Juan. The early years saw the community become a tight knit group of farm families and merchants, relatively untouched by the explosion of development to the north and south. The Capistrano Valley, instead, developed into an agricultural center with an orange processing and produce packing plant near the railroad.

During this early period, the Mission languished. Despite an early stabilization effort by the Landmark Club, it wasn`t until 1910 when Father John O`Sullivan came to town, that the Mission was restored to a semblance of its earlier self. San Juan then became a destination for those interested in a glimpse of early California life and visitors included Hollywood stars and tourists from around the world. In 1939 a live NBC radio broadcast spread the fame and legend of the swallows` return to a nationwide audience.

Intense development pressures in the early 1970s caused the citizens to create a new General Plan which preserved historic resources and open space, limited development density, and provided for ridgeline preservation. These measures,adopted in 1974, have proved to be years ahead of many California communities, and have helped assure the perpetuation of San Juan Capistrano`s unique heritage.