The history of Rancho Santa Fe, a great town 120 miles from Los Angeles and 20 miles from the Mexican border. With a population of approximately 3,100 people, the town was originally called Rancho San Dieguito and dates back to 1840 when the area was still a part of Mexico.
Mexican Governor Pio Pico gave the land to Juan Osuna, the first mayor (alcalde) of San Diego. The land remained in the Osuna family — even after California became the 31st state in 1871 — until the turn of the century. However, the town underwent many transformations early in its history.
Railroad Comes to Town
In the early 1900s, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad bought the land and planted eucalyptus trees on it to supply lumber for the railroad. However, the eucalyptus wood split when pierced with rail lines. In 1920, the railroad began planning a rural residential community and build the Lake Hodges Dam on the San Dieguito River. The dam is still in use today.
Designed by a Female Architect
In 1910, Lilian Rice was one of the first women to earn an architecture degree from Berkeley. She was assigned to oversee the design of Rancho San Dieguito. Rice later became famous for her vision, and she brought Spanish Colonial Revival architecture to the village. Her influence is still visible in the Rancho Santa Fe Inn and the RSF Historical Society, as well as several still-standing private residences of the period.
Private owners bought most of the land by 1928, and the railroad transitioned management activities to a nonprofit entity. In 1927, the Rancho Santa Fe Association became official and the town had a new name.
Bing Crosby’s Clambakes
The railroad donated 220 acres of land for locals to build a golf course. Dreamed up by renowned designer Max Behr, the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club opened June 1929, and golf course estates became available alongside the town’s original gentleman farmer concept.
Starting in 1937, Bing Crosby hosted “The Clambake” at the golf course at the end of the annual horse racing season. Even after the official clambake moved to Pebble Beach, locals kept the tradition alive and continue to do so today.
Recognition as a Historical Site
The luxury era of the town slowed in the late 1930s and the 1940s due to the deepening depression and World War II. However, the town continued to prosper afterward. In 1989, the State of California designated Rancho Santa Fe’s Covenant neighborhood as a State Historic Landmark.
In 2004, the state amended the Landmark with a Cultural Landscape Amendment for the unique character of its landscape. The Covenant is seen as a model for planned communities, with strict adherence to the theme through many decades. It’s widely considered the oldest planned community with broad-reaching powers in California.
Rancho Santa Fe Today
Today, the average home sells for $2.5 million, an appreciation of 42% since 2010. Renters make up 18% of the demographic and high occupancy puts available inventory at 1.6%. The area remains a sought-after community that remains true to the vision of the original designers and affords all the luxuries modern amenities bring. Click here for the “Things to do in Rancho Santa Fe” article.
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