Western History & Genealogy Blog

Community Tuesday: The Mission Viejo Neighborhood in Aurora

Mission Viejo Sign

This week we are featuring Colorado’s only true California inspired master-planned community on Community Tuesday.  The Mission Viejo Community shares the history of the neighborhood with photos and resources. If you ever lived in the neighborhood please share your story! Thanks to the Mission Viejo Homeowner's Association for creating the community and sharing your history.

The Mission Viejo Aurora story begins in California with a large cattle ranch known as Rancho Mission Viejo, south of Los Angeles, in Orange County. Originally a Spanish land grant, dating from the year 1769, the area was first colonized by Spanish friars with an attempt to establish the first Mission San Juan Capistrano. The attempted church settlement was soon abandoned and the area where this first mission was built became known colloquially as "Mission Viejo" and later was adopted as part of the name of the 52,000-acre Rancho Mission Viejo. 

In 1907, Rancho Mission Viejo was acquired by Richard O' Neill, an Irish cattleman. In 1963, after a study was completed that indicated that a portion of the ranch would be ideally suited for a housing development, the O' Neill family decided to sell 10,000 acres for residential home sales. Soon the Mission Viejo Company was started by Donald Bren, Philip J. Reilly, and James Toepfer. 

In 1965, a master plan was developed that included many innovative ideas in community planning. First they sent representatives of the Mission Viejo Company to Seville Spain and decided that this new city, Mission Viejo, would incorporate many design elements found in Spain. These include "Barcelona" adobe brick entrance walls, Spanish street names, unique company and community signs, greenbelts, parks, recreation centers, neighborhood shopping, a large recreation lake and distinctive "Mission Bell" street lights that were meant to remind residents of Mission Viejo's link to Mission San Juan Capistrano and the El Camino Real. The community's master plan was stringently adhered to throughout construction and the area was enormously successful in terms of home sales. When the development first started prospective home buyers would stand in long lines just to view the model homes. As the community grew and as the development became the City of Mission Viejo, the Mission Viejo Company under the ownership of the Philip Morris Company, the Mission Viejo Company initiated projects outside California.

Through acquaintances, the land where the Mission Viejo Aurora project would be developed was purchased from Jess Kortz (a diamond entrepreneur) and others. On September 22, 1972 Mission Viejo officially opened with nine model homes. As in California, long lines of prospective home buyers made their way through the designer show homes. The homes were accented and marketed with what was called "Western Living with a Spanish flair". Essentially the first few filings of homes had a unique modern architectural style that can best be described as a mix of California Western Ranch House, Usonian and Colorado Craftsman. These new styles soon revolutionized the housing market in the Denver area as many other builders offered their own versions of the "California Contemporary".

The plan for Mission Viejo Aurora, like its big sister community in California, was envisioned with greenbelts, walking paths to a school, shopping and a large community recreation center. Although the home styles changed throughout the building of the development the original plan remained intact. Like California, Mission Viejo Company employed the same types of signs as in California, the unique "Barcelona" entrance walls and implemented their famous "Mission Bell" streetlights throughout the community. Alicia and Marguerite Parkways are named after the two matriarchs of Rancho Mission Viejo in California, just as they are in Mission Viejo California. As the Mission Viejo Company ended the Aurora project, the company then went on to build its largest Colorado project, Highlands Ranch. Today the community of Mission Viejo Colorado continues to mature and is still viewed as a very desirable family neighborhood in Aurora.