The Polo Years

The Polo Years

Moore transformed Rancho San Carlos into a gentleman's ranch with all the luxuries of modern life.

In 1924, George Gordon Moore purchased the ranch, which he called Rancho San Carlos, from the heirs of Bradley Sargent. The structures that exist on the San Francisquito Flat are primarily the results of Moore’s effort.

The origins and early life of Moore are something of an enigma, and he apparently worked diligently to keep it that way. He was rumored to be the bastard son of English royalty, a story he would neither confirm nor deny. The source of his wealth was likewise mysterious, although to his account, he was involved in the securities market in England before World War I (Moore 1963).
The Polo Years - Carmel Equestrian Estate, Monterey Peninsula Equestrian Estate

Three years before the war, along with a group of Canadians, he acquired the Investment Registry, the largest independent institution in England dealing with unlisted securities. This acquisition provided him with access to numerous properties in the United States, including 100,000 acres of prime timber in the great Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. He referred to the property as Hooper Bald, the name of a nearby mountain. Here, Moore was able to indulge his passion for hunting and built himself a lodge with six bedrooms and bathrooms having the first bath tubs, he contended, in that part of the state. Through one of his acquaintances in Kent, England, he learned about wild boar hunting and imported from Russia to Hooper Bald three boar and nine sows which he bred in profusion. When Moore acquired the Carmel Valley property, he had the same number of sows and boars trapped in North Carolina and went to California.

Boar hunting was only one of the pursuits at Rancho San Carlos when Moore owned the property. Like entrepreneurs all over the United States, from the turn of the century to the 1920s Moore was able to indulge in any number of expensive fantasies that acquisition of great wealth could bring.

On the East Coast, entrepreneurs and industrialists attempted to outdo each other in extravagance by erecting enormous monuments to themselves in the form of pseudo-Greek temples, Italian villas and English Castles. The West Coast saw similar displays of fancy including lavish productions commissioned by the Crockers, the Ralstons and most notably William Randolph Hearst (Starr 1973). Hearst’s “castle” at San Simeon, with surrounding buildings and landscape, became the most spectacular private building project of its era or perhaps any era in California history. In spite of what many consider its excess, the result was a culmination of the movement to glorify and romanticize California’s Hispanic roots. The re-creation of a mythical land of swashbuckling “Spanish Dons” was especially popular with some of the state’s most wealthy businessmen and the relatively inexpensive cost of California land made it possible to purchase thousands of acres and to live the life of the gentleman rancher with all of the luxuries of modern life and none of the disadvantages that real ranch life presented in the past (Starr 1990).

George Gordon Moore had his own version of the California ranch. Although not on the grand scale that Hearst created at San Simeon or even his “working ranch” at Jolon, life at Rancho San Carlos was, by all accounts, “packed with luxury” (Cooper 1985). Immediately after purchasing the ranch in 1924, Moore instituted a major building project including a home site, dam, artificial lake and polo field, (Cozzens and Moore 1924). The house, while more Spanish eclectic than pure Spanish Colonial Revival in style nonetheless exemplifies the desire of “ gentleman ranchers” to create the ambiance of a Hispanic rancho with its centerpiece “Hacienda” or “Casa Grande.” Reflecting Moore’s other interests, however, this “Grand House” was equipped with a polo field, which played host to visiting polo teams from all over the world.

In addition to the buildings constructed for the comfort of Moore and his guests, other structures were erected for more practical uses. These included stables for the horses, housing for ranch workers and a dairy barn (Hampson 1991). Because of the remoteness of the area, it was necessary for the ranch to be somewhat self-sustaining, thus a need for vegetable gardens, chickens and dairy cows.

Life at Moore’s Rancho San Carlos had much in common with that of his wealthy contemporaries in the Roaring Twenties. In spite of Prohibition, one guest recalls: “The champagne and bourbon flowed until 3:00 am in such quantities that Iris and I were driven to pouring it into the grate’s ashes, the flowering vases, under the sofa, anywhere, because George will not stand for anything abstemious” (Cooper 1985).

The whack of polo balls was often the first sound heard in the morning and visitors outfitted in Western riding regales would spend their days roaming the hills and redwoods. Elaborate barbecues and parties entertained the movie stars, chorus girls and other assorted guests who were perpetually in attendance (Cooper 1985, Rice 1992).

The Depression brought an end to the high times at Rancho San Carlos. Although Moore was able to hold onto the property until 1939, life there took a harder turn. According to Moore’s secretary at the time, he was constantly short of cash. Workers were often paid in chickens, turkeys and eggs. The man in charge of raising poultry on the ranch often was sent to Carmel to sell what he could and return the profits to Moore. One of the secretary’s jobs was to comb the library for first editions, which she suspected, were then sold to raise cash (Rice 1991). Even these measures could not keep Moore’s ranch solvent; he was finally forced to sell.