Arcata Real Estate Data Inc: Orange County Aerial Photography Atlas
The innovative capture of a California under rapid development: Orange County as seen from the air in the early 1970s
An extremely rare aerial photography atlas, produced by Arcata Real Estate Developers in the early 1970s, this impressive and well-preserved volume consists of 68 pairs of aerial photographs juxtaposed with matching custom-made maps, held in a black faux leather binder. The atlas covers the entirety of Orange County (CA), including at the time less built-up areas, such as eastern San Juan Capistrano or San Clemente north of the San Diego Freeway.
Published in Miami in 1974, the photographs were all taken in the late spring of 1971 and 1974 respectively. The photographs have been scaled in order to align smoothly with the matching maps, allowing every inch on the map and/or photo to represent 800 feet in reality. At the time, it was still unusual to be drawing on aerial photography for real estate purposes, but this atlas effectively demonstrated its broad usefulness in that regard. The photos include iconic aerial images such as Newport Bay (no. 47) or the San Clemente coastline (no. 68).
The maps provide the reader with a great amount of detail, including data such as street and place names, plot numbers and subdivisions, important patronages and relevant ordnance numbers. Naturally, the many US Army and Navy facilities are only represented by general outlines on the maps, if that. Yet interestingly, they have not been redacted in the photographs, providing extremely fine resolution images of the bases as they appeared in the midst of the Cold War.
The complete geographical depiction of Orange County in this manner (i.e. the juxtaposition of aerial photographs with detailed custom-made maps) came at a crucial time in history, just before the massive demographic growth of the 1970s. In the twenty years from 1960 to 1980, the population of Orange County more than tripled from c. 700,000 to almost 2,500,000. This atlas captures the essence of that growth, both in its depiction of heavily settled areas near the coast, but perhaps especially in its rendition of a still pristine natural hinterland. It is, in other words, a form of geographical time capsule: literally a fixed moment in time, during what can only be characterized as one of the most dramatic and explosive urbanization processes in American history.
In the exceptional images, we still see remnants of a time gone by: fields and small farms occasionally dot the coastal landscape, as if refusing to yield to the rapid development of the area in this period. That this development was well underway when this atlas was produced is nevertheless evident from the sheets covering well-known towns and cities, such as Santa Ana, Anaheim and Huntington Beach. Aspects such as densely inhabited urban sprawl, city lay out, and the balance between mobility and settlement all play out in these incredible photographs and their matching maps. Yet on other sheets, such as those depicting Irvine Lake and Irvine Regional Park (no 22) or parts of Rancho Lomas de Santiago (no 37), very little development seems to have occurred over the past 50 years, demonstrating the effects of conservational efforts.
A note on use
The atlas starts in the northeastern part of the county, on the border of Fullerton and La Habra, and then proceeds gradually south through a defined grid system that moves the full length from west to east (left to right), before dropping one grid cubit south and repeating the west-east sweep.
Consequently, some places that are geographically adjacent can be less so in the atlas numbering (e.g. while maps 1 and 2 show Fullerton/La Habra and Brea, Richard Nixon’s hometown of Yorba Linda is not represented until the next row, on maps 7 and 8). The documentation is so comprehensive that some map sheets appear almost blank, while the photos depict mass settlement (e.g. no. 15). The reason for this is the border to Los Angeles County, which naturally is not included on the maps.
The producers of this extraordinary photographic atlas, Arcata Real Estate Data Inc, were prominent real estate dealers in California during the 1960s and 1970s. Following a merger in 1972, the company became part of the still existing Real Estate Data Inc. Although their jurisdiction at the time was in California, the company’s base remained in Florida, which explains why their publications were produced there.
The rarity of the volume is, in part, due to a very limited production and circulation. REDI operated with a sort of a print-on-demand concept (outlined in the atlas itself) for real estate developers and brokers. This meant that often businesses or authorities would order only the particular sheets they needed, and not the full set. In light of this, it is not strange that we have been unable to locate another intact example of this atlas.
We were unable to locate any other examples of this atlas.