Rancho Santa Fe History

Prehistory to the 1900's
Santa Fe Land Improvement Company Years
The Adoption of the Protective Covenant
Preserving the History of Rancho Santa Fe

Prehistory to the 1900's
As with many communities in Southern California, Rancho Santa Fe's first residents were Native Americans. For some 10,000 years, the area's rolling hills, the adjacent San Dieguito River Valley and the nearby coastal lagoons served as seasonal home to bands of hunter-gatherers. Juan Cabrillo's discovery of San Diego and Gaspar de Portola's expedition in 1769 opened the era of Spanish colonization and subsequent Mexican rule.

In 1833, Juan Osuna, the Mexican Alcalde of the Pueblo of San Diego, secured a provisional grant of land that included portions of Rancho Santa Fe (then Rancho San Dieguito). The Rancho had previously been administered by the padres of the Mission San Diego. The Osuna family built several adobe structures and raised cattle on the land. In 1845, Mexico's last California governor, Pio Pico, confirmed an 8,825 acre land grant--the Rancho San Dieguito--in favor of Osuna.

Santa Fe Land Improvement Company Years
In 1906, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, through its subsidiary Santa Fe Land Improvement Company, acquired the majority of the original Rancho San Dieguito land grant. Through many of its actions, the Company was to leave an indelible mark on the Rancho. Intent on developing a tree farm as a source for railroad ties, the company planted millions of eucalyptus seedlings on the rambling land grant. Frost, drought and the unsuitability of the wood for ties led to the abandonment of the forestry experiment. However, the eucalyptus plantings forever changed the character of the area. What was once a typical Southern California terrace, sage scrub environment was now heavily wooded, rolling hills. Looking to recoup their losses on the failed timber venture, the Santa Fe Land Improvement Company began the development of a planned community of gentlemen's ranches with a thematic unity of architectural style and an ambiance evocative of the Spanish and Rancho eras.

Towards this end, L.G. Sinnard, a renowned land expert, was hired as manager of the Santa Fe Land Improvement Company in 1921. Sinnard and his staff spent the next five years plotting estate subdivisions and laying out and constructing some fifty miles of winding rural roadways. Also beginning in 1921, all purchasers of Ranch property were required to agree to design controls in the form of deed restrictions.

In 1922, the Company hired the architectural firm of Requa and Jackson to design the downtown Civic Center. Led by architect Lilian Rice, the Civic Center was designed as a mixed use, public/commercial/residential area and developed architecturally in the Spanish Revival style as interpreted by Rice. The architectural tone and style of all future development in Rancho Santa Fe was set by Rice's adaptive creation of a picturesque Spanish village. Rice went on to design many residences in the Ranch and maintained overall design review control on behalf of the Land Improvement Company for many years.

The Adoption of the Protective Covenant In 1926, the Santa Fe Land Improvement Company hired Charles Cheney, a nationally renowned city planner and the author of the Palos Verdes Protective Covenant. Building on his previous work, Cheney modified the Palos Verdes document to reflect the larger estate-sized lots, the Hispanic design motif and the influence of citrus agriculture and horsekeeping found in Rancho Santa Fe.

In 1928 Ranch property owners, desiring to maintain the 1921 deed restrictions and the community's developing architectural theme, formally adopted Cheney's Rancho Santa Fe Protective Covenant. The Covenant formally restricted and controlled the use, development and maintenance of all land and improvements within the Ranch in perpetuity. Its adoption marked the culmination of the process of institutionalizing the planned community concept which had originally begun in the form of deed restrictions in 1921.

Based on the original deed restrictions which were aimed at achieving the unifying goals of an articulated master plan, Rancho Santa Fe became one of the first planned communities in California. Rancho Santa Fe is certainly the oldest active California planned community which continues to function with unique broad-reaching powers and authority.

Preserving the History of Rancho Santa Fe
The State of California recognized Rancho Santa Fe's historical significance in 1989 by designating the community as a State Historic Landmark (#982) and further amending that designation in 2004 with California Cultural Landmark status. Both of these designations were largely due to Rancho Santa Fe's role as a model for planned communities as well as its development of an adaptive thematic design tradition as established in the Village and their strict adherence to the plan and theme through the ensuing years.

In 1991, the Historic American Building Survey, in a partnership of Federal and community-generated funding, completed a survey of Village buildings. The survey documented the architecture, structural characteristics and use history of many of the Village buildings. The results of the survey have been conveyed to the Library of Congress.

In addition, a total of nine buildings and homes within the community have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. While many of these are historically significant Village buildings, there are also several estate homes included on the Register. The Association continues to work in close cooperation with the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society to heighten the awareness of the community's historic heritage and to preserve historic resources.

The Association Board established the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Preservation Committee in 2004, and the Committee has adopted as its mission statement, "To preserve, maintain and enhance the architectural and natural heritage of the Covenant."

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Physical Address: 17022 Avenida de Acacias Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067
Mailing Address: PO Box A Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067