Nestled in between larger cities is a bit of country paradise known as Norco. Residents and city government have fought long and hard for its motto “City Living in a Rural Atmosphere”. Added to the rural atmosphere is the city’s new logo “Horsetown USA” celebrating years of equine ownership.
Homes are built on a minimum half-acre. The city is also home to many larger ranches and training facilities, including Circle D Ranch, a 5.5-acre facility which is the permanent home to the “happiest horses on Earth” – the horses of the Disneyland Resort.
Norco is unique because the city founders traded their sidewalks in for miles of horse trails. Residents can leave their homes on horseback and just about travel anywhere in the city and into the Santa Ana riverbed. Many of the businesses have pens available to tie up the steeds while equestrians enjoy a variety of dining facilities or shopping. Besides children’s playground equipment, many of the city’s parks have arenas to work horses. At each intersection, the signal light poles also have horse-friendly buttons to use to cross the street so riders aren’t required to dismount.
Many gather on weekends at the city’s premier equestrian event center at the base of the Norco Hills. The George Ingalls Equestrian Event Center hosts many shows throughout the year, including pro rodeos, concerts and events supporting other animals. Many residents use the warm-up arena to work their horses.
Norco isn’t just about horses. It is also home to some large industry, hotels and restaurants. City government always requests a western theme when developers build. The city is within 10 miles of Ontario International Airport and five miles from the Corona Municipal Airport. Just north of the city is Silverlakes, a large complex hosting sports teams, equestrian events and concerts.
Norco had humble beginnings. The first true community was known as Citrus Belt, which was home to alfalfa farmers and cattle ranchers. To the south in Corona, citrus groves filled much of the city. Rex Clark purchased the area in 1920 to create
a large standalone township. He named the area Norco, which stands for North Corona and told residents they could turn a 10-acre parcel into paradise by planting citrus trees, but they found the ground rocky and the valley prone to frost. When the Santa Ana winds blew, many trees were knocked over. The farmers didn’t give up and ended up planting seasonal crops that were cultivated before the frost season and were low to the ground to prevent being blown over. Chicken ranches became popular.
Clark opted to pour millions into the famed Norconian Resort, which still stands today, but is not open to the public. The resort was featured in Los Angeles newspapers and brought many Hollywood stars to enjoy the amenities. The Great Depression hit and the California poultry industry was failing. The town was barely alive by 1941. Uncle Sam saved the day by sending the U.S. Navy to the rescue, converting the resort into a major U.S. naval hospital.
The ship that never sails took over the resort grounds and within five years, employed hundreds and saved the town. After the war, many a sailor and Marine stayed in Southern California. Clark’s dream was to stay in the community and keep it rural by not improving roads and water facilities, thus stopping cold efforts by developers to build “cracker box rat cages” as homes. His efforts received a big boost when equestrians zoned out of Orange County flocked to Norco and decided to take a stand in the exact spirit of the Alamo.
So, welcome to one of the last Southern California towns where folks can still find their piece of paradise on a half-acre of land.