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Whoever 'Wound' Mission Viejo's Roads Got It Right

What separates Mission Viejo from its low-lying suburban counterparts? One thing is the roads.

If, as Mohandas Gandhi said, “there is more to life than increasing its speed,” then whoever “wound” Mission Viejo’s roads got it right. 

In 1976, I copy edited Country Miles Are Longer Than City Miles.  Within its scant 125 pages, Laguna Beach resident Craig Evan Royce described, with simple eloquence and reverence, the “only truly American artcrafts,” created by people who inhabited such places as Kingdom Come, Pippa Passes, Stinking Creek, and Nonesuch in Kentucky and Tennessee.

The message of Royce’s title and text was that life in this Appalachian area is savored rather than rushed. Country miles are longer than city miles because country roads, narrow by nature, curve this way and that, as if they are in no hurry to get where they are going. The journey matters more than the destination.

City thoroughfares are different. Broad, straight and multi-laned, they are engineered to move traffic efficiently from one place to another, increasing the speed in most instances but diminishing the delight and, in some instances, extinguishing the meaning.

In the mid-1950s, completion of the southern segment of Interstate 5 shortened the travel time between Los Angeles and southern Orange County from half a day or more to two hours or less and made the westerly portion of the O’Neill-Moiso family’s 52,000-acre Rancho Mission Viejo easily accessible by car and attractive for development.

But there was one problem. The ranch terrain was not at all like the flat expanses of farmland that had recently been developed with tract housing in Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley. In these cities, the streets could easily be made to travel in straight lines and to meet and cross at square corners.

On the ranch, the untamed earth did not obediently lie flat but rolled this way and that, first rising to a crest and then tumbling toward a creek or an arroyo. In fact, much of this land had previously been thought “undevelopable” because of the extensive grading that would be required to force its ever-rolling hills into flat submission.

One account credits a brash young man named Donald Bren with having been the first to suggest that homes could be built on hillsides and streets could wind their way below and between them. Another account says that Tony Moiso insisted all roads wind, following the graceful contours of his family’s land.

But nearly 50 years after the fact, who first suggested—or insisted on—winding roads is far less important than the unique development this then-novel concept made possible.

In November 1963, the O’Neill-Moiso family joined Bren and a financial partner in forming the Mission Viejo Co. “for the purpose of developing lands in Orange County, California,” and a talented team of architects and engineers began transforming 11,000 acres of quintessential California ranch land into a planned residential community.    

Two years later, people stood in line to buy homes for as little as $19,255 in newly minted Mission Viejo, where the roads meander, curving this way and that, preserving the once-upon-a-ranch feel, delighting motorists with ever-changing vistas and enabling travelers to savor their journey no matter what the destination.

Dan Avery May 23, 2011 at 03:59 PM
Thanks for this perspective, Sherri. One always hears the opposite about how mass transit is impossible because of a lack of a grid. Your perspective is refreshing and suggests we slow down and enjoy the ride.
Love MV June 06, 2011 at 04:29 PM
Thanks for contributing these historical insights... very helpful and positive... how refreshing!
Julie Flores June 06, 2011 at 05:04 PM
Driving on Marguerite this morning, I thought to myself how picturesque this drive is, the streets lined with mature trees and how they perfectly frame the Saddleback Mountain. It is most beautiful in the morning when you are driving North.
Tom Katayama July 19, 2011 at 08:48 PM
The reason that I moved to Mission Viejo 10 years ago was due to the lake, the tree-line streets with landscaped center dividers, the rolling hills, and the Saddleback mountains. I was always getting lost during the early months since the roads were winding and criss-crossing one another. I had to bring my GPS in order to get anywhere. That was a small price to pay to live in such a well planned community.

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