In 1769, Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola spent a July night in what would become Brea. He reportedly found the native Indians "dirty," but didn't realize they frequently smeared themselves with crude oil as medicine.

In fact, while Portola slept at the mouth of Brea Canyon on his way to Monterey Bay, Brea's future bubbled beneath him.

Brea's early reliance on the oil industry has waned since the "black gold" rush began less than 100 years ago. But back then, the villages of Randolph - Brea's first name - and Olinda grew as oil-riggers and their families came to town.

Today, Brea officials consider the city one of Orange County's most prosperous, with new housing, an expanded shopping mall and a large downtown redevelopment project.

Brea's future began in 1894, when landowner Abel Stearns sold 1,200 acres on the western edge of what then was Olinda village to the Union Oil Co. The first well was drilled a year later, and soon the surrounding hills were thick with wooden oil towers, according to "History of Brea, California: From Early Oil Field Days to 1950" by Purl Hardy.

Randolph was built to the west of Olinda in 1908 for oil workers and their families. It reportedly was named for Epes Randolph, an engineer for the Pacific Electric Railway, which stopped at the little township on its Los Angeles-Yorba Linda route, Hardy wrote.

In 1911, the town's name was changed to Brea, Spanish for 'tar'. By 1917 there were 732 people in Brea, and they incorporated as Orange County's eighth city.

Brea now covers 10 square miles and has almost 40,000 residents. A $120 million expansion was completed a few years ago at the Brea Mall along with many other redevelopment projects.

Historical Site:

Olinda Townsite - 4442 Carbon Canyon Road
Oil was discovered about 1896 in what is now Carbon Canyon Regional Park. A town called Olinda was built. But the town dwindled and in 1965, 114 acres were set aside for a park.

Brea Museum and Heritage Center - 495 S. Brea Blvd
The museum occupies the renovated HAmerican Legion Hall which was built in 1920 at the corner of Elm and Pomona Ave. 
There are numerous exhibits in the museum which reflects the area's history.

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