AURORA | When Todd McMahon was 7 years old, he stood in line with his parents to see the very first model homes in the Mission Viejo neighborhood. Bright colors and stripes were thematic in the decor, considered to be contemporary design for the 1970s. The day made a lasting impression on McMahon.
In 1994, lured by the amenities of the Mission Viejo neighborhood including a library, school, recreation center and greenbelts, McMahon moved there with his new wife.
“When you looked at all of what you got from living in Mission Viejo, you just couldn’t beat it for the cost and affordability,” said McMahon, now the president of the Mission Viejo Homeowners Association. “Hands down, it was better than anything else you could find in the metro area.”
The neighborhood, built in 1972 and modeled after Rancho Mission Viejo in Orange County, Calif., is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month. When the development was first built, it cost $108 million to construct and spanned over 640 acres. It included more than 3,000 homes ranging from $17,000 to $45,000.
The Mission Viejo Co., later acquired by Philip Morris, incorporated many design elements in the Aurora project that were similar to a Mission Viejo development in California. Those included “Barcelona” adobe brick entrances, Spanish street names, greenbelts, parks, recreation centers and bell-shaped lamp posts reminiscent of architectural designs in Spain.
“It was one of the most unique, well-planned developments in the area,” said Jennifer Kuehner, executive director of the Aurora History Museum.
What made it stand out from other developments, aside from the Spanish flair, was the intricate master plan that included a school, a library and a recreation center within the development she said.
“Developers thought not just about the homes, but also planned what was going to go around and between the homes,” Kuehner said.
Subsequent neighborhood developments including Dam East emulated a few ideas from the Mission Viejo neighborhood, she said.
The Mission Viejo subdivision, located near South Chambers Road and East Hampden Avenue, has seen many changes during the four decades since it was founded.
Perhaps the biggest of the changes are the cost of the homes. Inflation and time have caused the homes to now range in price from $210,000 to $280,000.
“It’s still a desirable place to live,” said McMahon, who moved from his first 1,000-square-foot house to a house double in size within the neighborhood when his second child was born.
Homeowners of the area have gone through tribulations over the years. When the recession hit, the community was deeply affected by city budget cuts. The Mission Viejo Library was one of four public libraries that closed in 2009 in an effort to close the city’s $15 million shortfall in 2010. The closure drew ire from neighbors and they sued the city for breaking a contract that required the library to be kept open.
“Things like that galvanize the community, and that was a focal point that brought the community together,” McMahon said. The library opened again part-time last year.
The neighborhood also endured a spate of petty crimes in the early 2000s. Tom Tobiassen, the neighborhood watch coordinator, said during that time a few rental properties weren’t being maintained because the landlords were often out of town. That led to a few property crimes in the area, he said. Nowadays, petty crime is about half of what it used to be because those rental properties were eventually bought by homeowners, who are investing more in their properties, Tobiassen said.
“It’s a better neighborhood,” said Tobiassen, who is also a board member for the Regional Transportation District and moved to the neighborhood in 1988.
The demographics of the Mission Viejo neighborhood have also changed over time.
Aurora City Councilman Bob Broom first moved to the area in 1973, just one year after the first homes were built, when there wasn’t a single tree in the entire subdivision. He had just been hired as finance director for the city of Aurora when he and his family moved into their home. His children, both in elementary school at the time, were enamored with the neighborhood. “The kids fell in love with the recreation center,” he said.
Over 40 years, Broom has measured the number of children who live in the neighborhood by the bags of Halloween candy he doles out every October.
“When I first moved into the neighborhood there were tons of kids, and I’d give out three or four bags of candy,” he said. “As the neighborhood grew older, the number of kids went down steadily to where I’d be giving out just one bag of candy.”
These days, he gives away about two-and-a-half bags. Broom has enjoyed living in the Mission Viejo neighborhood and has no intentions of moving anytime soon. His family in Illinois owned their home for 100 years he said, and Broom says he gets nervous whenever he has a fleeting thought about transferring all the contents of his home to another place.
“I’m not the type that moves around a lot,” he said.
Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or [email protected]