Jim Collison knew that the slightly faded bas-relief image of an orange adorning the Mission Revival-style building in his neighborhood held a tale of the city’s past.

After months of research, he discovered that the building at 454 S. Anaheim Blvd. – now a warehouse for hotel furniture – thrived as an orange packinghouse until the 1950s.

Eager to save what he considers an architectural jewel, Collison wrote letters urging redevelopment officials to acquire the property before it meets the fate of other packinghouses. Sitting amid auto body shops and vacant lots, it is the only one remaining in the city and one of the few in the county that survived fire, the decline of the region’s citrus industry and bulldozers.

“It’s really significant and worth preserving,” said Collison, an eight-year resident of Anaheim’s Historic District and chairman of the California Square Neighborhood Association. The association addresses issues within the Anaheim Colony Historic District.

The city this week came one step closer to granting Collison’s wish.
The Anaheim City Council on Tuesday voted in closed session to allow redevelopment officials to purchase the property. The price is in negotiation.

“This is part of our overall plan for Anaheim Boulevard,” said Elisa Stipkovich, redevelopment director. “But we need to combine it with other properties to make this property viable for other uses.”

The city has no immediate plans for the building, because more properties would need to be acquired for parking.

“We’d like to see the use change to something commercial or civic – something that would add to the downtown area,” Stipkovich said.

Some initial ideas include converting the building into a museum, an artists’ loft or a restaurant.

Dubbed the Sunkist Packing House, the building was one of about 13 packinghouses in the city and 50 in the county that flourished before orange groves gave way to suburban housing tracts. It was built in 1919 by the Anaheim Orange and Lemon Growers’ Association for $40,000 and lauded as state-of-the-art for its time.

“It’s been a landmark in the city for many years,” said Gail Eastman, a member of the Anaheim Historical Society. “It ties to the history of the whole region because citrus was such a key factor in the history of Orange County.”

The building is among some 1,100 structures on the city’s historic-structures list. While many packinghouses were made of wood, this one was made of concrete.

Collison hopes whoever occupies the building will do so for a long time and keep the arched windows, wedge-shaped roof lines and orange sign that tell a story of a bygone era.

“My ultimate goal is to see the building preserved as much as original as possible – just as a reminder of the city’s past,” Collison said.