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Orange County Great Park History Program

Orange County Great Park History Program

Respect for, and preservation of, the heritage of the land that was once the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro has been a core value since the inception of the Orange County Great Park. The Great Park public history program includes:

  • Walkable Historical Timeline, a 2,604 foot long timeline of 162 significant historical events painted on a walkway that runs through the center of the Park
  • Comprehensive photographic documentation of former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro by Legacy Project members
  • Archival and architectural preservation, such as Historic Hangar 244 and the Palm Court squadron buildings
  • Extensive oral histories of El Toro veterans collected by Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Oral and Public History
  • Gallery exhibitions on historical subjects (Legacy Project Great Picture, Farmers to Flyers, MCAS El Toro and the Nixon Years.)
  • Planned Museum of Heritage and Aviation

Walkable Historical Timeline, 13,000 BC – 1990

Reopened in September 2013, the completely re-imagined and expanded Walkable Historical Timeline features a new aesthetic look and an additional 1,800 feet in length.  Now 2,604 feet long, the Timeline calls attention to 162 significant historical events of global, national, state, and regional significance and serves as a natural and intellectual walkway between the Reflecting Ponds and Viewing Pier at the Park entrance and the Visitors Center Pavilion near the Great Park Balloon.  The Timeline is comprised of three phases:  The Origins of Our Time (13,000 B.C.-1930s), An Age of Global War (1939-1949), and The Cold War (1950-1990). Periods within the three historical phases are introduced with large orange and white painted circles.  Events pertaining to Orange County are highlighted with orange text.

Historical events were selected to highlight social and cultural changes as well as economic, political, and military developments.  The Timeline was composed by Keith L. Nelson and Spencer C. Olin, Professors Emeriti of History at University of California, Irvine.

The Timeline is open daily during regular Park hours.  Admission is free.  The Timeline begins near the Reflecting Ponds and Viewing Pier but can be accessed at any point along the walkway leading to the Visitors Center Pavilion.

Walkable Historical Timeline Handbook

Walkable Historical Timeline Handbooks are available for free in the Visitors Center Pavilion while supplies last. The 52-page, bound Handbooks provide explanatory paragraphs, photographs and images about the events highlighted on the Timeline.  Handbooks are also available for purchase from Amazon.com. Click here to view the Handbook.

About the Authors

Keith L. Nelson
Professor Emeritus, History
University of California

Keith Nelson first came to Orange County in 1965 as one of the founding faculty of the Department of History at the University of California, Irvine.  Nelson’s teaching and research interests lie in the fields of American foreign relations, Cold War history, the socio/economic impact of war, and religious studies.  He and Olin are co-authors of Why War? Ideology, Theory, and History, a study available in paperback.  In 2011 he was named UCI Emeritus Professor of the Year.

Spencer C. Olin
Professor Emeritus, History
University of California

Spencer Olin is also a founding faculty member at UCI, having joined the Department of History the year the campus opened in 1965.  Olin is a specialist in the history of modern America and of the American West.  He is co-author of Postsuburban California, which deals with the transformation of Orange County since World War II and was selected by the Western History Association as the most outstanding book of the year about the 20th Century American West.  Olin is a recipient of the UCI Medal for outstanding service to the university.

Dr. Nelson and Dr. Olin’s commitment to the realization of the Walkable Historical Timeline has spanned more than a decade.  They served as volunteer professional academic advisors to the Great Park and their donated labor to plan and implement the Timeline has resulted in a visionary approach to public history at the Orange County Great Park.