About The Community
Over the years, Mission Viejo has grown and flourished, becoming a vibrant and thriving community within Aurora. The neighborhood has continued to evolve, adapting to the changing needs and preferences of its residents. Today, Mission Viejo retains its original charm while embracing modern amenities. Its tree-lined streets and well-maintained green spaces continue to offer a serene environment for residents to enjoy. The community’s strong sense of unity and engagement is evident in its active neighborhood associations and various events that foster a tight-knit community.
~This is Mission Viejo~
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, 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 24, 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. Mission Viejo was also the home of Colorado’s 40th Governor, William Forrester “Bill” Owens while he was elected to his fist term in office. Today the community of Mission Viejo Colorado continues to mature and is still viewed as a very desirable family neighborhood in Aurora.
Mission Viejo has it all, with nearby shopping, greenbelts and trails, a library, a private recreation center, a highly acclaimed elementary school, close proximity to golf at the public Meadow Hills Golf Course (1.5 miles), horseback riding, nature walks and boating/fishing at Cherry Creek State Park (2 miles), pioneer living history and natural history at the Plains Conservation Center (3.2 miles), E-470 public toll road (3.8 miles), or the ease of light rail public transportation (2.5 miles) which makes downtown Denver and the Denver Technological Center destinations within easy reach. Mission Viejo really is a community of great faces, places and spaces!
The Year 2023 Marks the 51st anniversary of Mission Viejo, Aurora!
Before it was Mission Viejo
“Mission Viejo” was once near the shores of a vast inland sea during the time of the last dinosaurs of the Cretaceous Period, 65 million years ago.
American Indians first inhabited the area that is today Mission Viejo, Aurora Colorado, some 12,000 years ago. These “Ice Age” hunters made fluted spear points and pursued the big game that once inhabited the area such as wooly mammoth, giant sloth, camels and other now extinct animals.
Indians continued to pass through the area but it wasn’t until around A.D. 1100 to A.D. 1200, that peoples, whom archaeologists call the “Woodland Culture”, built semi-permanent homes in the area. These homes were small “pit houses”. The new residents brought with them ceramic technology, probably from the Midwest. Denver International Airport revealed two of these structures and one was also found at Aurora Reservoir.
The area was abandoned for permanent settlement until around A.D.1600. The area then saw incursions of new Indian groups such as the Ute’s and Comanche’s. Then suddenly starting in the A.D. 1700’s Arapahoe (which is what Arapahoe County is named for) and Cheyenne Indians (both of whom originally came from the Great Lakes region) made Colorado and the areas around “Mission Viejo” their home.
Conflicts soon arose in the A.D.1850’s when gold was discovered near Denver and a new path bringing settlers to the area, the “Smoky Hill Trail” cut through the lands once frequented by the Arapahoe and Cheyenne Indians. The conflicts culminated in the Sand Creek Massacre, which started the Indian Wars and eventual displacement of the Indians.
The land that is today “Mission Viejo” was once a homestead. The corner of Quincy Blvd. and Chambers Rd. was established as the ranching town of “Melvin”. A prominent schoolhouse was located a mile west of Parker Rd. in the current Cherry Creek State Park. It was eventually moved to its new spot on the campus of Smoky Hill High School and Laredo Middle School where you can see it today.
Planning Mission Viejo
From James Toepfer for Mission Viejo Colorado’s 35th Anniversary.
As some background, as we developed Mission in California I was enmeshed in not only the Mission Viejo Community development but also involved in the planning of what is now the new town of Aliso Viejo, a 6000 acre community we planned and developed on the old Aliso Viejo Ranch located about one mile from Mission Viejo, California.
Back in the late 60’s our Company began expanding and became involved in the Lakes Project in Phoenix. We also began a new project in Bakersfield, California.
Our marketing people suggested we consider Colorado as a likely place to start another project. Through friends Of Phil Reilly, we heard there was a parcel of land in the Aurora area owned by Jess Kortz (the Kortz diamond entrepreneur), a Doctor Dinken, and other prominent Denver people. Using Denver attorneys , namely Tom Grimshaw and an associate, Jim Nicholson, now Secretary of Veterans Affairs for President Bush, we concluded negotiations and acquired the property consisting of a square mile.. At a dinner that Phil and I attended where we made the deal, Dr Dinken became so excited he passed out and we had to rush him to the Hospital.
After completing the deal Phil instructed me to plan the development. With an assistant, Phil Charelton, and our chief engineer, Frank Fehse, we began planning the project. I am not sure of the timing but after several months, we finished the plan and submitted it to the Aurora City Council and Planning Commission. Prior to submitting the Plan for consideration and approval. we had prepared a very beautiful slide presentation that told the Mission Viejo Company story of our accomplishments in California . With members of the Council and Planning Commission present in the Mayor’s office we set up our projector and slide carousel. When we went to insert the carousel into the projector it flew out of Fehse’s hands and slides went all over the floor. Phil was always a person who wanted everything to be just right whenever we made any presentation be it to our Mission Board members, the Philip Morris Board or any group for that matter of fact.. This was not a good moment. Recognizing the embarrassment of the situation the Mayor said words to the effect,, ‘Phil, why not just tell us about your Company’. He went on to say,’ Phil, I think this will be the shortest presentation ever made to this City of a project of this size and magnitude’. It was.
Following this meeting we spent the next several weeks completing the plan and development guide. The time finally came where Phil Charleton, Frank Fehse, Tom Grimshaw and I went before the City for final approval. As we sat in the chambers waiting for our time on the agenda there was an older gentleman who was presenting a rather large subdivision project . His plan was on a small 8 1/2 by 11 size piece of paper. As I recall the chairman asked something like, ‘Charlie, what have you got this time?’ . Charlie explained in about 20 words what he had in mind. They approved his plan unanimously. Up comes our time to make our presentation- consisting of several 3ft by 3ft colored plans depicting residential and commercial areas, recreation facilities, parks, greenbelts, etc. After a lengthy presentation we received unanimous approval . I feel sometimes our elaborate plans changed the entire processing procedure in the City of Aurora I’m sorry to say.
The Theme: One of the first things we did was select a basic theme for the project. Since we had such success in California with a Mexican-style theme we decided to carry out our ‘California’ theme in Aurora. We wanted the project to be self-contained and decided to construct an adobe block wall around the entire perimeter of the square mile. At each main entry we built a special entry using the same adobe wall style material as in California. One thing we did in California was work with the Southern California Edison Company to build a special street light fixture denoting a Mission Bell and pleasing Spanish style hangers. With the aid of a San Diego Architect we designed the ‘Bells’ . To obtain approval and use of the ‘Bells’ in California we had to assure the Edison Company that we would guarantee the purchase of about $75,000 dollars of the ‘Mission Bells’, Things were cheap then-maybe $200 each. We wanted an exclusive on the use of the Bells for our Mission Viejo California project. We agreed and we were in business. The ‘Bells’ were fabricated in I believe a GE South Carolina plant. I worked with a Long Beach, California Company to fabricate the arms . We had an exclusive for several years but soon the City of San Juan Capistrano and Orange County began installing them as a Mexican style accoutrement for their City and the new Dana Point Marina respectively..
The Start of Development: When we began production here in Aurora, we had our California people design and merchandise the homes and community ,with the management of actual construction coordinated by individuals officed in California. We hired local Construction Managers. Time proved, however, that we needed to hire or bring California people over to Colorado on a permanent basis. Managing by ‘phone’ , we discovered, was not the thing to do. We were entering a new era for the Company with projects in Arizona (The Lakes), Bakersfield, California, etc. After discussions with our company president, Phil Reilly, Phil approved of bringing Jeff Lodder, one of our chief engineers in our California operations, over to head up the project. Then Tony Natali entered the picture and then Pat Farrell. Pat is dead, I don’t know where Tony Natali or Jeff Lodder are. When I came over from California to head up the Colorado Highlands Ranch Project in January 1978 as President of the Colorado Division , Pat was our lead man for the Aurora project manager.. Things went well under his guidance with continuous input and assistance from our guru’s from California namely Harvey Stearn , Bob Bunyan and Marshall McCain. Additional California people were brought over especially in the construction area. Recreation expertise was provided by Mary Putnam and Dan Bemol, our California Recreation Center experts. By 1975 we were operating in a very positive mode.