Then and Now: Big Canyon – Landfill to Luxury


By Duncan Forgey, Prudential California Realty

The three Bandel brothers were the best “box sliders” east of the Back Bay. These three were well known for their ability to accumulate speed and maneuver down the slopes of the canyon walls. Like commandos on a mission, they passed through barbed wire, dodged Irvine Company security and found the best of the hills in today’s Big Canyon to “surf” on large flattened boxes. Every day was a Saturday for these kids in the warm days of the early 1960s.

Long before these childhood exploits, were several thousand years when local Native Americans roamed the hills around Big Canyon. With its mild weather, abundant food and laid back lifestyle, Southern Californian Indians, lived one of the best and most peaceful existences of all the North American tribes.

The hills and canyons around the Back Bay were home to the Gabrielino Indians. so named by the Spanish for their proximity to the Mission at San Gabriel. Using the hills as protection from the constant onshore winds, the Gabrielinos created villages up and down the coastal areas of Orange County. One such clan hunted, fished and traded with other Indians from Newport’s Back Bay and its accompanying “big canyon.” Life was quite good for these earliest of settlers.

With the Spanish incursion, the Rancho de San Joaquin and Rancho Lomas de Santiago extended from north of Newport Harbor south to Laguna Beach and eastward to the foothills. This large cattle ranch supported a growing European population that would populate the area until the mid 19th Century.  Among its 47,000 acres was the big canyon and bluff top now known as Fashion Island.

In 1866, Benjamin Flint, Thomas Flint and Llewellyn Bixby bought these lands for $7,000. Over the next 20 years, James Irvine and his son were able to clear a clouded title and purchase what was to become the Irvine Ranch. The Irvine Company became a reality in 1894 and Big Canyon started its newest role as grazing land. Early in Newport Beach growth, residents took their waste to the canyon.


In the 1970s, the canyon and neighboring hillsides, with its tranquil cow pastures, were transformed from an early Californian “plein air” landscape to a highly complex real estate development spearheaded by the Irvine Company and some of the best builders in town.

The Big Canyon Community was Newport Beach’s opportunity to join the “establishment” of finer neighborhoods of the Los Angeles basin. Its developers created a golf course neighborhood sculptured after the finest of Los Angeles clubs –very exclusive and very expensive.

Destined to be a landfill, Big Canyon’s ultimate role was to play home and host to some of the most powerful people in Orange County. Many a business partnership came together while putting for par or buying a “round” at the 19th Hole. The residents of Big Canyon and its membership roster of the exclusive golf course reads like a Who’s Who in Orange County business and finance.

The original developers were Richard B. Smith, McClain Development, Deane Development Company and Broadmoor Homes. Between them, they built a high blend of apartments, condos and single family homes. Additionally, lots were offered for custom home sites that ringed the golf course allowing for views of the various holes.

The whole package, which included guard gates and a since remodeled clubhouse with stylish amenities for its members and their guests became one of Southern California’s premier addresses.

Noted Newport Beach real estate broker Marion Buie was an early pioneer of the development in Sept. 1, 1971. He and his family were the “first” to move into the new project among the noise, dust and temporary electricity. Little did he know what a great choice he had made in the first year of Big Canyon.

The development hit the local real estate scene with a bang. People from other parts of the city “moved up” to Big Canyon. Prices ranged from $71,000 to $81,500 for a Broadmoor home. The 104 original custom home sites sold for $120,000 and up. The Deane homes were priced from $65,000 to $80,000 for what was marketed as “luxury condominiums.”

In the 1990s, like many other developments, Big Canyon sales were negatively affected by the then new Newport Coast. Because of a great marketing campaign and its diversity of product, Newport Coast became popular among many newcomers to Newport Beach. Big Canyon, Harbor Ridge, Belcourt and others languished as a result.

It did not take long, however, for buyers to see the value of the mature nature of the golf course and the development as a whole when contrasted to the starkness and newness of the Newport Coast. This along with its Mello-Roos and higher assessments made Big Canyon attractive by price and lifestyle standards and it prospered well into the 2000s. Many new families came into the Big Canyon fold and to this day are quite proud of their community.

Today’s prices have grown exponentially with the rest of the city. Among the limited inventory there are just seven custom homes available for sale ranging from $2,795,000 to $6,895,000. Among the most popular properties are the original Broadmoor Homes which can be bought and rebuilt to the standards of a custom home. Currently, there are no Broadmoor Homes on the market creating a bit of a supply and demand issue for both buyers and sellers. There are 7 Deane Condos (which are clustered throughout the development and all begin with the French word Rue) on the market ranging from $965,000 to $1,799,000. The overall real estate market is slow due to the recession with an average time on the market for these homes of 98 days. It is a good time to reinvest in one of Orange County’s finest neighborhoods.

Today, Big Canyon’s 390 acres have become a new playground for a new group of kids. These kids can be seen hitting golf balls at 9 a.m., eating sandwiches at the Club at noon, swimming at 1 p.m., and playing tennis at 3 p.m., all within the confines of Big Canyon. They then walk across the street to Fashion Island for dinner and a movie.  Not a bad way to live a life in Newport Beach.

Reach Duncan Forgey, Broker Associate with Prudential California Realty at the Corona del Mar office, 3301 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar. Call him directly at 949.548.4800 or email him at