Inside the Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park
Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park is a hidden gem in the community with such a rich history. The 27-acre canyon hosts hand-crafted adobe buildings, antique windmills, a reflecting pool, a modern Visitor’s Center and Theater, and many historical structures where visitors can explore and experience California history. Whether you are a nature lover, a scout ready to earn a merit badge, a family who wants to discover the five miles of trails, a bride looking for a lovely place to be married or a fan of Pancho from the favorite TV sitcom, Cisco Kid, there truly is something for everyone at the ranch. Charles Balteria, the Recreation Supervisor for the City of Carlsbad, shared with us the history of the ranch, events to put on your calendar and the reasons how and why the ranch is now designated as a historic national landmark.
92009: What is the history behind Leo Carrillo Ranch?
Balteria: In the late 1800s and early 1900s the site currently known as Leo Carrillo Ranch was a working ranch owned by the Kelly family. In the 1930s, the ranch was bought by actor Leo Carrillo (best known for his role as Pancho on the Cisco Kid television series). Rancho de los Quiotes (Ranch of the Spanish Daggers) represented a man’s dream to connect with the proud memories of his past. Mr. Carrillo conceived the buildings’ designs by drawing them in the dirt. Carrillo built the structures you currently see at the ranch between 1937 to 1940. He preserved the original walls of the 1880s Kelly family adobe and incorporated them into the newly designed main hacienda.
The City of Carlsbad acquired the property in 1978 and has since stabilized, preserved and restored the property. The park opened to the public in 2003.
92009: Who is Leo Carrillo and why was the park named after him?
Balteria: As a child, Leopoldo Antonio Carrillo traveled frequently from his parent’s home in Santa Monica, California, to visit the nearby Rancho that belonged to his Tío (Uncle) Machado. These early visits made a profound impression on the young Carrillo; the warm and inviting feeling of the thick, sun-dried adobe brick walls, the handmade red tile roofs, the aroma of wood smoke emanating from the fireplaces, and the sights and sounds of the brightly colored peafowl that freely roamed the property fueled his dreams. Carrillo’s fond recollections persisted into adulthood and eventually inspired him to create a rancho of his own, a special retreat from the hectic pace of life on a Hollywood movie set.
For Carrillo, Rancho de los Quiotes was not simply just a reconstruction of an authentic Spanish Rancho, it was a continuation of the proud California traditions that embodied and perpetuated the spirit of his ancestors. Through the construction of the ranch, Carrillo could surround himself with the memories of flagstone patios and towering California pepper trees, and share the hospitality and warmth of early California with his family, friends, and the many hundreds of visitors that descended upon the ranch for his legendary fiestas.
92009: How did the Park gain status of being a historic park?
Balteria: After moving to Carlsbad in 1985, Alan Kindle and his wife, Joan, took a special interest in the former home of Mr. Carrillo. Mr. Kindle hoped that the ranch might one day be opened as a public park. His vision led him to form the Friends of Carrillo Ranch, Inc., to generate community awareness and support for preserving and protecting the ranch. Kindle was successful in getting the Ranch designated as a California State Historic Landmark as well as being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
92009: How long has the historic park been open to the public?
Balteria: The City of Carlsbad acquired the property in 1978 but the park did not open to the public until August, 2003. By the late 1970’s the property had fallen into a state of disrepair and was unsafe for visitors. With the help of the Friends of Carrillo Ranch Inc., the City of Carlsbad developed the Carrillo Ranch Master Plan in 1997, which has served as the guiding document for the restoration and operation of the ranch as a park. The master plan broke the development of the park into three phases.
Phase I took place in the early 1990’s and included the structural stabilization of the most important buildings to preserve and protect them for future restoration work.
Phase II was completed by the City of Carlsbad just before the Park open to the public in 2003. Projects completed during this restoration phase included the addition of important infrastructure such as roads, parking, walkways, building stabilization and renovation, landscaping, signage and many improvements to accommodate public use.
Proposed Phase III projects will include the restoration of the cantina, equipment shed, blacksmith shop, carriage house and water tank. A botanical garden, picnic areas, trails and restroom facility are also planned to enhance the visitor’s experience of the ranch.
92009: What are some of amenities the park has to offer to visitors?
Balteria: Carrillo Ranch offers guests:
• A free self-guided walking tour of the historic Rancho
• Free guided walking tours of on Saturdays and Sundays
• Picnic areas set amongst magnificent landscape
• A new Visitor Center inside the recently restored hay barn featuring a 13 minute orientation film
92009: What is unique about the park compared to other historic parks?
Balteria: Mr. Carrillo’s tenure on the property provides a unique local history connection to Hollywood. Carrillo Ranch is a registered California State Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Ranch also hosts several popular community events, including the Wild West Fest each May, a popular film series in the summer and Holiday at the Ranch each December.
92009: Tell us about the Rancho Carrillo Trail and its connection with the citywide trail system.
Balteria: The City of Carlsbad has an extensive public trails system, with more than 46 miles of trails throughout the city. The entire length of the Ranch Carrillo Trail is approximately five miles and is divided by Melrose Drive with two closed loop routes; one on each side of Melrose Drive. The trail to the east of Melrose Drive connects to the city of San Marcos trail system in the open space corridor at Carlsbad’s eastern border. The trail west of Melrose Drive connects with the future trails of Bressi Ranch, Villages of La Costa and future trails planned at Alga Norte Park. The trail is unpaved with gentle slopes.
92009: What is your role as the Recreation Supervisor?
Balteria: As the Recreation Supervisor for the City of Carlsbad, I oversee a majority of the programing at the park including: educational tours, weddings and special events.
92009: What is the most rewarding part about your job?
Balteria: As the city nears the time when most of the major development is complete, open and historic places like Carrillo Ranch are critical to preserving our community’s culture and quality of life. I hope that by building an appreciation for local history with our guests, they too will take an active role in helping to preserve and protect other historic places for future generations to enjoy. Mr. Carrillo also cared very deeply for his native State of California. For 17 years, Mr. Carrillo was a member of the California State Parks and Beaches Commission where he was instrumental in setting aside thousands of acres of land for parks that we enjoy today.
92009: If you could enhance the park in any way, what would you like to see happen?
Balteria: I am personally looking forward to seeing the phase III improvements, which likely will include a native botanic garden and some additional walking trails on the western side of the park. Currently this area is not accessible to the public. Once these enhancements are completed in the coming years, guests will be able to learn more about the native plant and animal species that call the ranch home as they explore one of the most captivating sections of the park.
92009: Tell us about the tours that are offered to visitors.
Balteria: Our guided tours are led by one of our friendly staff members or docents. From the parking lot, guests stroll down Palm Lane towards Leo Carrillo’s Hacienda. Along the way, they will be introduced to local and California history. At the Hacienda, guests will have the opportunity to tour inside the rooms and view our exhibit “Leo Carrillo’s Life and Legacy. “ After visiting the Hacienda and surrounding gardens, guests will visit Leo’s wife’s private art studio followed by the Cantina, Carriage House and stables. Tours conclude at the Visitor Center inside the recently restored Hay Barn for an opportunity to view our expansive collection of vintage movie posters and purchase some unique souvenirs from the gift shop.
Scheduled guided tours are 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturdays and noon and 2 p.m. on Sundays, or by reservation. Tours may be modified without notice due to special events, weddings, conservation or maintenance issues.
92009: What is the most popular thing visitors come to the park for?
Balteria: For most guests, the most popular reason for visiting is to see the home of one of their childhood idols. Even though Leo Carrillo played the role of the sidekick on the Cisco Kid, his unique style of humor stole the show away from Duncan Renaldo who stared as the Cisco Kid in the popular series. Most of these guests are shocked to learn that Leo’s appearance on the Cisco Kid was one of his final roles. When production of the series started in 1950, Leo was already in his 70s.
92009: Tell us about the Barn Theatre Restoration Project and how that came to be such a successful endeavor.
Balteria: This project was a joint effort of the City of Carlsbad, the Friends of Carrillo Ranch, Inc., and Save America’s Treasures. It is an outstanding example of the city working in partnership with outside groups to preserve an important part of Carlsbad’s history. Restoration began in 2008 and was completed in 2011. Visitors are now able to gather and watch videos of Carrillo’s life and learn of his importance to national, state and local history. Brightly colored movies posters line the walls of the theater, highlighting some of Carrillo’s roles in nearly 100 movies.
Carrillo’s original barn, a 30’ x 40’ wood structure completed in 1943, stored hay and grain and was central to Ranch operations. It was constructed on a partial stone and concrete foundation, with an earthen floor sloping to complement the contour of the hill. Before stabilization the leaky roof, wood rot, and complete absence of most foundations threatened eventual loss through building collapse.
The Barn Theater Stabilization/Restoration Project was supported in part by a Save America’s Treasures Grant administered by the National Park Service. The stabilization for the Barn included new foundations, roofing, bracing, concrete flooring and other improvements to strengthen and prepare the Barn for further restoration. Work was complicated by the uneven plane of the original barn; the contractor had to lift the walls to install foundations and partially correct the difference. New doors and hardware, a new cupola and an exterior stairway completed that phase in 2009.
The second phase of the restoration, begun in 2010, saw its transition to “adaptable reuse” of the structure with the addition of interior walls, heating and cooling systems, a restroom, office and storage space. Cedar wood panels that were constructed to mimic the previous barn siding hide insulation and structural elements. A modern theater sound system and special lighting were added to make the transition to the “Kindle Theater” complete. In November 2012, the City of Carlsbad Parks & Recreation Department received a Governor’s Historic Preservation Award for its work to restore the Barn.
92009: Do you provide opportunities for students and/or scouts to earn credits, patches, etc..?
Balteria: The ranch is a popular destination for scouts to visit to earn their patches for local history. Several scouts have additionally completed their Eagle Scout Projects on site.
92009: How does one volunteer or contribute to the park?
Balteria: Volunteers assist in the daily operations by leading tours, greeting guests at the Visitor Center and by assisting with the up-keep of the grounds. Anyone one interested in volunteering at Carrillo Ranch or elsewhere in Carlsbad can contact our City’s Volunteer Coordinator, Sue Irey, at 760-434-2929.
92009: How is the park funded?
Balteria: It is owned and operated by the City of Carlsbad. It is funded out of the city’s General Fund, which is also used to fund everything from public safety services to libraries. In 1990 the Carrillo Ranch Trust Fund was established to receive donations to be used exclusively for educational programs and improvement projects at the Ranch.
92009: Do you have any unique or interesting facts about the Park to share with our readers?
• The proper name of the Ranch, Rancho de los Quiotes, means Ranch of the Spanish Daggers in English.
• Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were among Leo’s celebrity friends that stayed at ranch.
• Recently we received a Governor’s Historic Preservation Award for its work to restoring the Barn and converting into a modern Visitor Center and Theater.
• The ranch caught the attention of actress Diane Keaton who featured Leo’s Hacienda in her book California Romantica in 2007.
Carrillo Ranch Film Festival
On Friday evenings during August and September, the City of Carlsbad Parks & Recreation Department presents the Friday Night Film Festival at Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park. Exact dates and movies to be screened are determined on an annual basis. Attendees are invited to bring a low back chair, flashlight, and a blanket to watch rare historic films from the Golden Age of Hollywood featuring Leo Carrillo. Visitors may bring a picnic, or refreshments are sold on site to benefit the Carrillo Ranch Trust Fund. The Hacienda is open for tours, and admission to the event is free of charge. Advanced reservations are required for this popular event. Films start promptly at sunset, beginning with a showing of an episode of the popular Cisco Kid television series.
Wild West Fest
In May, the City of Carlsbad Parks & Recreation Department presents the Wild West Fest at Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park. The event is designed to bring families and communities together to enjoy Leo Carrillo Ranch. The goal is to provide a fun and safe atmosphere in which families can learn about different cultures and to provide quality family entertainment. Activities include salsa tasting, food vendors, cultural demonstrations, crafts for kids, guided tours of the historic Hacienda, refreshments and entertainment.
Holiday at the Rancho
On the first Saturday of December, the City of Carlsbad Parks & Recreation Department presents the Holiday at the Rancho. Beauty, nostalgia and family fun have always been a part of the annual Holiday at the Rancho event. Families flock to Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park to stroll amongst a gorgeous landscape of brilliant peacocks, romantic hand-crafted adobe buildings decorated in the spirit of the season, antique windmills, and reflecting pool while reveling in a unique variety of holiday festivities.
Activities include a handmade craft sale, holiday tree lighting, vendors, crafts for kids, a holiday themed movie shown under the stars, guided tours of the historic Hacienda, food and entertainment.
Full Name of Park: Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park
Location: 6200 Flying Leo Carrillo Lane Carlsbad, CA 92009
Hours of Operation: Tuesday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Closed on Mondays and City holidays
Tours: 90 minute guided tours: Saturdays 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., Sundays 12 p.m. and 2 p.m.