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October 04, 2023 5:21PM
October 04, 2023 17:21PM

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IRWD Windmill a Longtime Irvine Landmark

The iconic wooden windmill that has greeted visitors to IRWD’s Michelson Water Recycling Plant since 1988 has a long and storied past.

Visitors driving past the plant are probably not aware that what they are seeing is not the rustic structure that sat there for 20 years, but rather a wooden tower and wheel erected in 2009 that looks very much like the original.  The wind vane is the only piece of equipment that has survived the rigors of time.

The original windmill was probably built between 1916 and 1932 by Aermotor Windmills of San Antonio, Texas. It was one of about 1,200 such windmills that dotted the vast Irvine Ranch before modern water pumping devices were available. All but a few had fallen to progress over the years.

In the late 1970s, the windmill became a landmark at the old Irvine Ranch Market on Myford Road and the Interstate 5 freeway in Irvine. The windmill’s fate was in jeopardy when the market was bulldozed in 1983 to make way for the realignment of the road.

That’s when IRWD stepped in to preserve the windmill as part of the area’s water history. Long-time Irvine Ranch employee Jim Olson, first moved the windmill to an IRWD storage yard at the recycling plant and then to its permanent home in front of the facility in 1988. Interestingly enough, the windmill was once again moved by Olson, who by then was working at IRWD as the construction and repair manager.

In 2005, the windmill was dedicated to Olson, who passed away in 2002. A monument sits at the base of the windmill, with a plaque telling its story.

In March 2008, the windmill was damaged during high winds. An IRWD employee discovered blades dangling from the wheel and others lying on the ground. Two days later, the 600-pound wheel was removed while IRWD officials pondered whether to fix the vintage structure or replace it.

Ultimately, the old wooden tower made the decision to retire. It was riddled with dry rot and deemed structurally unsafe to support a new wheel, so it was demolished. Rock Ridge Windmills, based in Cloverdale, California, provided the new wooden tower and wheel mechanism. A year later, the windmill was reborn with a combination of old and new parts, in keeping with the historical spirit of the original.

The windmill, located at the entrance to IRWD’s Michelson Water Reclamation Plant on Riparian View Road, can be seen by visitors coming to the IRWD San Joaquin Marsh and Campus.  For more information on IRWD, our historical preservation programs, and the San Joaquin Marsh and Campus, please visit