Planner Had A Vision For The City

Ellen Bell, Irvine World News, February 11, 2014

Irvine’s journey from agricultural ranch to thriving urban community was not an accidental one.

It was the result of an intentional master plan that was developed and defined long before a shovel met soil. The New Town of Irvine required an optimistic vision for the future and a creative master plan for how to get there.

William L. Pereira provided both.

In many ways, Pereira was an unusual choice to design the city. The successful architect had more experience planning structures than cities. But the very things that made Pereira an unconventional choice might have contributed to his success. He was an artist who worked his way through architectural school by painting scenery for the theater department. As a young man, he helped to design the master plan of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. His striking movie theater designs were noticed at Paramount Studios, who hired the 25-year-old Pereira to plan their new studio in Los Angeles.

Pereira’s flair for creativity worked well in Hollywood, and he eventually became Paramount’s art director. He even won an Oscar in 1942 for the film “Reap the Wild Wind,” directed by Cecil B. DeMille. After World War II, Pereira’s architectural practice continued to expand to a variety of projects. CBS Television Studios, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid were among his most iconic buildings.

The Irvine Ranch Project was the perfect blank canvas for an artist like Pereira.

He was given the opportunity to start from scratch, to imagine a new city from the ground up that was based on creating the ultimate, utopian residential experience.

His initial plans were more theoretical than detailed. They described how the plan would affect the experience of living on the new University of California campus and in the new community that would surround it. He spoke of “a sense of place,” a “city of intellect” and a “city for tomorrow.” He expressed his optimistic vision when he described Irvine as “a place in which the majority of people can work, sleep, eat and enjoy the beauty in their surroundings without traveling for many miles to meet any of these daily needs.”

Pereira’s enthusiasm didn’t ensure agreement from the hesitant UC Board of Regents or the James Irvine Foundation, which controlled the land. The regents were unsure of the ranch’s remote location, and the foundation was uneasy about donating its land. Ultimately, Pereira’s belief in the project was the motivating factor.

In his essay, “Irvine Ranch Master Plan,” former Irvine Co. Vice President Ray Watson said that “the Irvine trustees understood that Pereira’s plan offered them a rare opportunity to turn the great rural enterprise they built into a great urban community.” In short, Pereira was “the right man, in the right place, at the right moment.”

Land. Legacy. Life.®