Laguna Hills is built on one of the major land grants developed during the Rancho Era. Following Mexico`s independence from Spain in 1821, those who had served in the government or who had friends in authority, were given vast lands for cattle grazing. Rancho Lomas de Santiago, Rancho San Joaquin, and Rancho Niguel covered much of the western portion of the Saddleback Valley. Don Juan Avila was granted the 13,000 Rancho Niguel on which Laguna Hills is located.
In 1874, Lewis Moulton purchased Rancho Niguel from Don Juan Avila and increased the original grant to 22,000 acres. Moulton and his partner, Jean Piedra Daguerre, used the ranch to raise sheep and cattle. The Moulton Ranch was eventually subdivided in the early 1960`s, part of which is recognized as Laguna Hills.
Incorporation efforts began in 1987 and on March 5, 1991, the goal of incorporation was finally achieved with 86% of the residents voting in favor of forming the City of Laguna Hills. On December 20, 1991, Laguna Hills officially became a City.
On November 14, 1995, the City Council approved annexation of the North Laguna Hills area, which became part of the incorporated City on July 1, 1996.
On September 18, 2000, with the overwhelming support from the 1,800 residents, the “Westside” Annexation Area officially became part of the incorporated City. The annexation added 149 acres of residential land, which includes the Aliso Viejo Community Association`s Sheep Hills Park.
Laguna Hills Parks
Existed 50,000 years ago – the last of the Ice Ages.
Over 42 species of Columbian mammoths, mastodons, giant sloths, saber-toothed cats, long-horn bison, camels, dire wolves, horses, and rodents.
Fossils found in the mud of an ancient ephemeral stream.
Discovered by high school students in the 1960s.
A significant fossil site known as the Costeau Pit includes several thousand fossil cranial and skeletal elements of terrestrial “Ice Age ” animals. This site is located and preserved “in situ” beneath Costeau Park at the comer of Alicia Parkway and Costeau Street. Costeau Pit was situated in an old stream channel in which water flowed throughout the year. Today the channel is filled and covered over by Alicia Parkway.
The first bones were discovered in 1965 by two high school students from La Mirada. The bones were identified as those from a Columbian Mammoth, an ancient elephant. A site study was then conducted under the direction of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. The fossils recovered include remains of bison, dire wolves, saber-toothed cats, mountain lions, llamas, rabbits, birds, gophers, rats, antelope, deer, mammoths, turtles, toads, frogs, snakes, insectivorous, giant ground sloths, extinct horses and camels, and muskrats. The fossil bones are older than 40,000 years and are older than those recovered at the La Brea Tar Pit. Most of the bones and teeth at the pit showed some wear from the stream water. Very few jointed bones were found suggesting that the fossils were carried downstream before being deposited at Costeau Pit.
The largest plant eater found at the Costeau site was the Columbian Mammoth. These mammoths grew as tall as 10 feet at the shoulder and had long ivory tusks up to 15 feet long. The Ice Age bison found at the site were larger than the bison we know of today. Although they looked the same, they grew as large as 7 feet tall. Two species of bison were found at the pit, the larger, Long Horned Bison and the Antique Bison. More fossil remains of the Long Horned Bison (5 total) were found at the Costeau Pit than have ever been discovered in any other single place in the world. Both types of bison originally migrated from Asia and became extinct around 70,000 years ago. The horse fossils collected included a complete skull and over 400 teeth. More horse remains were found than any other large animal. Other fossils found from now extinct animals included the giant ground sloth, camel, and dire wolf. The camel remains at Costeau were similar to the modern dromedary camel, however, the Costeau camel was quite large, around 7 feet tall at the back. Dire wolves from the Ice Age have been found over much of the United States, in Mexico, and all over California.
Today, the fossil remains from Costeau Pit are curated at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History and have been placed on display by the City at the Laguna Hills Community Center
“This prehistoric giant ground sloth represents the Ice Age animals that flourished here 40,000 years ago. In 1965, sloth bones and teeth were recovered from this site with the fossils of bison, horses, camels, mammoths, dire wolves and saber-tooth cats. These animals lived by a perennial stream, now Alicia Parkway, in grasslands similar to African savannas. Costeau Park was established to preserve the thousands of fossils that remain buried beneath the surface.”
Historical Monument: Dedicated July 3, 1999.
Costeau Park is located on Costeau Street off of Alicia Parkway.
Fossil Reef Park
Fossil Reef Park is 17 million years old – only preserved portion of Fossil Reef in Orange County.
Tropical shell reef associated with fossil rich beach sand.
48 species of marine fossil vertebrates including shark teeth and Desmostylus.
Extending for six miles north-south across the Saddleback Valley is an unusual limestone deposit called the “Pecten Reef “. The actual extent of this limestone is suggested to be as great as twenty square miles in Orange County and also found on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, San Clemente Island, Santa Catalina Island, and in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties. Its maximum thickness appears to be 300 feet.
When Lake Forest was graded in 1972, a very large limestone formation was uncovered. Many Pecten shells were found at the site and thus the name “Pecten Reef” was given by local paleontologists. The exposures represent the ocean floor, as it existed 17 million years ago. The site was destroyed by a housing project after only a limited time of research. A second exposure of reef was discovered in Laguna Hills in 1973. The Natural History Foundation of Orange County worked with the Orange County Environment Management Agency planning staff and the Affordable Communities land owner to preserve a portion of the reef. The exposed fossil ridge was recognized as a County prehistoric site by the Orange County Historical Commission which dedicated the one acre Fossil Reef Park in Laguna Hills in 1982.
Most of the fossils in the reef are the molds and internal casts of large scallops (Pectens), clams, and snails. The large size of the scallops suggests a tropical environment. The reef is unique, as it is part of the ancient sea floor that has been exposed by tectonic uplift and weathering processes. The uplift took place during the last million years and has formed the Santa Ana Mountains and the San Joaquin Hills. The rigid limestone did not bend during uplift but broke along local faults. A fault extends east-west across the northwest edge of the park and appears to extend in a general direction under the scoreboard on the high school baseball field.
The marine muds, that later covered the limestone, contain plankton fossils, shark teeth, fish bones, marine mammal bones, and seaweed imprints. A large baleen whale was collected between the park and the high school in 1981.
Fossils collected from the reef have been curated by the city and placed on display at the Laguna Hills Community Center
“Before you are the white limestone remains of an 18,000,000-year old tropical shell reef. Formed in a shallow bay, it contains fossils of scallops, clams, and tube worms. Mudstones of the same age, found nearby, hold fossil whales and shark teeth. Later, as the Santa Ana Mountains rose, the rigid limestone buckled and broke along small faults. We can now see evidence that tropical seas once covered the spot where you stand.”
Historical Site No. 28
Orange County Board of Supervisors
Orange County Historical Commission
Donated by AFCOM Development
Fossil Reef Park is located on Via Lomas between Moulton Parkway and Alicia Parkway.
Juan Avila Abode
The 1855 Surveyor General`s Plan Map places an adobe belonging to Juan Avila, on Aliso Creek, just west of El Camino Real, what is now the 1-5 freeway. This adobe was the only one built by Juan Avila on his property titled Rancho Niguel.
Stories remain of lavish fiestas given by the Avila family members; community leaders with the means to observe their family celebrations in a way that reflected the success of Rancho Niguel. Their adobe became a center for such affairs as well as a place where those in need could rely on the generosity of its owners. The Ranchero period of California history reflects that of generous hospitality. The Avila Adobe, located just a few feet from El Camino Real, the main thoroughfare from San Diego to Los Angeles (now the 5 freeway), was very accessible to travelers. At the Avila adobe, travelers were welcomed, fed well, and comfortably slept.
The Avila adobe also served as a historical meeting place. Avila, concerned with American vs. Mexican rule and the results of his land grant should California become a U.S. territory, hosted Commodore Stockton and General Keaney`s men who arrived at Avila`s adobe ill fed in January, 1847. Avila invited them to camp at his Rancho Niguel hacienda near Aliso Creek where he fed them. Avila proceeded then to Los Angeles to convince his brothers to abandon the Mexican side. Thus, Avila was present at the Battle of La Mesa, which confirmed an American victory in California with the reoccupation of Los Angeles.
Juan Avila continued as the “don ” of Rancho Niguel until 1865 when he sold the property to his friend Juan Forster. The Forsters had moved out of the San Juan Capistrano Mission grounds in 1864 just prior to the return of all the California missions to the Catholic Church by a patent signed by President Lincoln. The land, Rancho Niguel, eventually became owned by Lewis F. Moulton.
Avila, a popular, well-liked man, died in San Juan Capistrano in 1889 at the age of 77. Avila`s life spanned the period from the Spanish Franciscans to Mexican dons and American settlers. Juan Avila was a man of the nineteenth century, well remembered for his generosity, hospitality, honesty, and prosperous ownership of Rancho Niguel.
In 1995, members of the Mission Viejo Historical Society, researching the Serrano adobes, visited the site of the Avila adobe. At that time, the adobe foundation was visible and pottery remains were collected and deposited at Heritage Hill Historical Society. Although the actual site of the Avila adobe resides within the City boundaries, it is owned and maintained by OC Parks.