Nestled in the foothills on a plateau at the northern tip of Orange County, Brea was known as a place where tar seeped from the hills. The word "Brea" means tar in Spanish. In early history, Indians and pioneers used chunks of the oil-soaked earth for fuel and domestic purposes like heating their homes and waterproofing their roofs. Then came the big oil boom!
In 1894, the Union Oil Company purchased 1,200 acres of land to be used for oil development. They struck it rich in 1898 when the first oil well, Olinda Oil Well #1, came in - thus creating an oil boom in the hills of Brea and Olinda and paving the way for the thriving city that Brea is today.
An actual town did not develop until 1911 when businesses and small industries sprang up to serve the oil field workers and their families. The official founding date for the town of Brea is January 19, 1911, when the old map of the town of Randolph was refiled under a new name. The City of Brea became incorporated on February 23, 1917, with a population of 752.
Brea is a thriving city of 39,584 residents. More than 100,000 people visit the city daily to work, shop or play. Brea Mall, conveniently located just off the 57 freeway, has five major anchor stores: Nordstrom, Macy's, Robinson-May, Sears and JC Penney, with over 175 specialty stores and restaurants and Glen Ivy Day Spa. Located adjacent to Brea Mall, the full-service 299-room Embassy Suites Hotel attracts visitors, conferences and small conventions from domestic and foreign locales. Homestead Village, an extended stay hotel, opened in1998.
Brea is also very proud of its new, bustling downtown popularly known as "Birch Street," with over 50 acres of shopping and entertainment. This village-style pedestrian-oriented promenade features Taps Fish House & Brewery, Old Navy, Tower Books & Music, Market City Cafe, Pan e Vino Trattoria, the Improv Comedy Club and Edwards Stadium Cinema Complex, to name a few.
City Hall Park, located on Brea Boulevard, includes a large community plunge and hosts a popular summer Concerts in the Park series, as well as the annual July 4 Country Fair. The Brea Scout Center, housed in the renovated old City Hall at the park, is now open. The renovation project was a labor of love spearheaded by the Brea Lions Club to benefit many community service groups including the Brea Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Monetary donations are always welcomed to offset operating expenses.
The Brea Marketplace, Brea Gateway Shopping Center, Union Plaza and East Imperial Center offer residents extensive choices for specialty retail and services, and create more reasons to "Shop Brea" and keep tax dollars working in their own community. Brea Boulevard and Imperial Highway, both retail corridors, host a number of smaller neighborhood shopping centers, all conveniently located.
Brea's housing market is booming with new developments like Olinda Ranch (662 housing units) located at the corner of Lambert Road and Valencia; Walden Estates (54 single family homes) located on the north side of Lambert Road just east of Kraemer; and Tonner Hills (795 housing units) proposed for an unincorporated area of Orange County just north of Brea that is expected to be annexed into the City in the future.
Brea is committed to responsible growth, which includes protection of nearby open space. The City is bordered by a significant natural wildlife corridor that also serves as a rare scenic break within the area's urban sprawl. Working in conjunction with neighboring communities, Brea has attracted national interest from parks and environmental organizations that recognize the significance of its setting. Nearby hillsides may well represent the best legacy for the future.