Brea (meaning "oil" or "tar" in Spanish) is a city in Orange County, California. The population as of the 2010 census was 39,282.
The city began as a center of crude oil production, was later propelled by citrus production, and is now an important retail center because of the large Brea Mall and the recently redeveloped Brea Downtown. Brea is also known for its extensive public art program which began in 1975 and continues today with over 140 artworks in the collection placed and located throughout the city. Brea's public art program has been used as a model and inspiration for many public art programs across the United States.
The area was visited on July 29, 1769 by the Spanish Portola expedition - first Europeans to see inland parts of Alta California. The party camped in Brea Canyon, near a large native village and a small pool of clean water. A historical marker dedicated to his visit stands in Brea Canyon just north of town.
The village of Olinda was founded in present-day Carbon Canyon at the beginning of the 19th century and many entrepreneurs came to the area searching for "black gold" (petroleum). In 1894, the owner of the land, Abel Stearns, sold 1,200 acres (4.9 km2) to the west of Olinda to the newly created Union Oil Company, and by 1898 many nearby hills began sporting wooden oil-drilling towers on the newly discovered Brea-Olinda Oil Field. In 1908 the village of Randolph, named for railway engineer Epes Randolph, was founded just south of Brea Canyon for the oil workers and their families. Baseball legend Walter Johnson grew up in Olinda at the start of the 20th century where he worked in the surrounding oil fields as a youth.
The villages of Olinda and Randolph grew and merged as the economy boomed, and on January 19, 1911, the town's map was filed under the new name of Brea, from the Spanish language word for natural asphalt. With a population of 752, Brea was incorporated on February 23, 1917, as the eighth official city of Orange County.