December 14, 2018

Photo Essay: The Ranch of Adolfo Camarillo, Namesake of a Town and a Rare Horse Breed

"Was it a citrus ranch?" I asked the docent attending the upstairs of Camarillo Ranch House for its Christmas tours.

As usual, I'd arrived a bit unprepared.

"Oh it was everything," she said. "Citrus, lima beans, cattle..." And there were horses and mules, too—the latter of which had their own barn and wore bells as they hauled the lima beans (at least until the early 1900s, when mechanical farm equipment came along).

And it must've done good business—because the former residence of Adolfo Camarillo is one of the nicest ranch houses I've seen.

In fact, to call it a "ranch house" is to diminish its grandeur. It's really a Victorian mansion, built in the Queen Anne style by the architecture duo Herman Anlauf and F. P. Ward in 1892.

Although it's undergone substantial renovation and restoration, it still has its original tiled fireplaces... well as a number of historic artifacts, including Camarillo's own silver saddles in the ranch office and throughout.

It's also known as the Rancho Calleguas House, after the former Mexican land grant that dated back to 1837 and that was sold to Adolfo Camarillo's father Juan in 1876.

Along with his brother Juan, Jr., Adolfo continued his father's legacy in land development...

...and eventually founded the town of Camarillo, California (though it wasn't officially incorporated until 1964).

The ranch house displays also pay tribute to Adolfo Camarillo's longtime ranch foreman, Meliton Ortiz—the caretaker for his prized "Camarillo White Horses" (born white with pink skin)—who died at the age of 91 in 2010.

The Camarillo White Horses may be even more famous than Camarillo himself—having descended from the rancher's prized stallion, Sultan, purchased at the California State Fair in Sacramento in 1921.

Their popularity grew as they marched in the Rose Parade and the opening ceremonies of the 1932 Summer Olympics in LA.

Most of their ancestors were auctioned off in the 1980s when Adolfo's daughter Carmen died—but one sire remained and was able to continue the bloodline. Fortunately, you don't want two white horses to make a Camarillo White, and so the breeding program continues today (but with only a couple dozen of the horses in existence).

The days at the ranch weren't all about riding horses and driving cattle—and so some of the displays in the historic house today try to depict daily life of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

From the sewing room... the laundry facilities... the sitting room, outfitted with an organ...

...and a piano...

...and of course another tiled fireplace.

Upstairs, the spirit of the Camarillo children is alive.

This is where all seven Camarillo children lived and grew up, in the nursery and children's bedrooms.

In Carmen's former room, you can still see where she'd taped her horse betting tickets from Santa Anita to the wall.

There are so many details to take in from the family's rich history under those 12-foot ceilings, throughout the house's 14 rooms and multiple barns and stables... requires a return visit.

Preferably during the day, and when the horses are there.

Honestly, I'd like to take a bath there and wander through the walk-in refrigerator (a first among farmers of the time).

For historic photos of the ranch's former exterior layout (including lost structures), click here.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Ranch That Built An Empire of Oranges
Photo Essay: A Silent Movie Cowboy's Retirement Ranch (And His Horse's Final Resting Place)

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