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You Must Remember This: a reminder of our agricultural roots

By NANCY GARDNER

Think of the area between Newport Beach and Santa Ana. Eliminate UCI and the City of Irvine. Remove the freeways and parks. Erase the jets at JWA, and return it to an airstrip for small planes, so low key that drag races are held there on Sunday. Reduce MacArthur to a rambling road. You now have a lot of open space which, at one time, was all farm land. Much of it was farmed by John Hubbard who leased the land from the Irvine Company. He wasn’t simply a farmer, however. He was a dirt farmer, according to my father. Since my father was the source of all knowledge, I hardly dared question him, but this particular clarification seemed redundant (if I had known the word). “All farmers are dirt farmers,” I pointed out. “Everything grows in dirt.” This I knew, because my father had a vegetable garden in our small backyard, right next to the clothesline. He further clarified. A dirt farmer didn’t irrigate his crops. Ah, so. From then on...in my mind it was always Mr. Hubbard, Dirt Farmer.

The reason I knew Mr. Hubbard, Dirt Farmer, was that I played with his daughter, Suzie. The reason we played together was because we lived two blocks from each other. This will be surprising, but there was a time when parents figured children could amuse themselves. This meant parents didn’t make play dates and didn’t drive their children all over the place to interact with other children. Because of this, childhood friendships tended to be formed on the basis of proximity, rather than shared interests, which is how I became friends with Suzie.

You Must Remember Nancy Patty and Suzie

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Nancy Gardner

(L-R) Nancy Gardner with her little sister Patty peeking out, and Suzie Hubbard

I was completely into horses, and she wasn’t, but we were within easy walking distance of each other, so we became friends. Suzie liked dolls, so when I went to her house, I would usually bring a storybook doll. These were small dolls, about five inches tall, with ornate dresses, and were a popular gift for little girls. I mention the gift aspect because I never asked for dolls, storybook or otherwise. I always asked for horse statues, but some people gave me dolls anyway, so I had several. However, when I went to Suzie’s with my doll, I would also take one of my horse statues so we could work an equine angle into whatever plot line we came up with that day. Then my family moved to Shore Cliffs. That put an end to proximity to Suzie, and since neither of us felt strongly enough about the other to walk the much greater distance, our friendship faded away. Since we went to the same middle and high schools, we remained congenial, but we ran in different circles, and after graduation I lost all contact until 1985 when Jon Hubbard, Suzie’s younger brother, opened the Irvine Ranch Market in Fashion Island.

Using his father as a supplier, Jon started a produce stand in the mid-sixties.  It was on Myford Road, and he ran it during his summer breaks from college.  The stand was so successful that he built upon it, eventually establishing a small chain of upscale markets. As a competitor said, “Jon was one of the first to realize maturing and increasingly affluent baby boomers would buy high quality fruits, vegetables and meat at higher prices.” And it wasn’t just high quality products he wanted to provide. He wanted to provide a high quality shopping experience. Compared to the average supermarket of the day, his stores were positively opulent. In 1985, he brought Irvine Ranch Market to Newport Beach with a $4 million, 63,000-square-foot operation on the bottom floor of the Fashion Island atrium. I remember the opening. I don’t know why I was there – probably my father had been invited and I tagged along – but it was quite impressive, with all of the wonderful produce and everything else. Of course the Hubbard family was there, so I went up and said hello to Suzie, and then, much to my surprise,  Jon came up and said hello. I didn’t expect him to recognize me, a long-ago friend of his sister’s. About all the contact we’d ever had was something along the lines of, “Go away, Jon. Stop bothering us.” Never the less, he remembered, and it was interesting to see him after all those years – confident, successful – a far cry from the kid we used to shoo away – which is maybe why he spoke to me, just to underline the difference.

Jon certainly had his finger on the pulse of grocery shoppers. The Irvine Ranch Markets, all 11 of them, were very popular. Unfortunately, only one turned a steady profit, primarily because of high lease rates and too much debt in the construction of the markets. In 1988, the company filed for bankruptcy, most of the stores were closed, and about a year later the company itself was sold. The name still lives, however. Irvine Ranch Market seems to be thriving on Irvine Avenue, successful enough that it is taking over the old Hershey’s Market on Balboa Island. Even if Jon is no longer associated with it, it’s nice that the Irvine Ranch Market name remains, reminding us of our agricultural roots, even if they have been paved over.

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Nancy Gardner, former Mayor of Newport Beach, long-time resident and daughter of Judge Robert Gardner, is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.