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DispL.A. Case #2: The Navel Orange

DispL.A. Case #2: The Navel Orange

The history of Los Angeles as told through 232 objects.

Los Angeles was founded on September 4, 1781. Between now and the 232nd anniversary, we are gathering the stories behind iconic objects that help explain our city. Los Angeles is older than Chicago, Atlanta or Washington, D.C. In fact, when L.A.’s founders were gathering at El Pueblo, New York City was still occupied by the British army. We have a long story to tell, let’s take a look back and see where the city came from. Feel free to add to this exhibition. Email your ideas to askchris@lamag.com

When I interviewed him in the 1990’s, McDonald’s founder Richard McDonald was still moved by the overpowering aroma of the sweet orange blossoms that welcomed him to California in the ‘20s. Their pungent allure stretched from downtown to San Bernardino and beyond. Almost fifty million boxes of citrus were pulled from local trees in 1929 and most of them were Navel oranges. The sweet and seedless variety first arrived in America as two saplings obtained from a Brazilian monastery in 1870 and shipped via ship, rail, stagecoach and wagon to Eliza Tibbets in Riverside. Under her careful watch, the trees thrived and spawned an entire industry. Every Navel orange in California has descended from these trees. One of her originals, the “Parent Washington Navel Orange Tree,” alive since Ulysses S. Grant was president, continues to produce fruit in a small park located on Tibbets Avenue in downtown Riverside.