The Preserve has undergone many transformations in its rich and colorful history. For centuries, Rumsen Indians called this land their home. Then as part of Old California in the 1800s, these 20,000 acres were given as Mexican land grants and established as two separate ranches. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, this land was owned by a Gatsby-style character who entertained the rich and famous on his Jazz-age equestrian estate. After reverting back to a privately held ranch for several decades, the Santa Lucia Preserve was established in the 1990s.

1700 - 1820

Native California

Echilat Village thrived on The Preserve for 1,500 years.

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Meet the Rumsen

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Echilat Village thrived on The Preserve for 1,500 years

Spanish explorer, Sebastian Viscaino, sailed into Monterey Bay in 1602 and became the first European to have contact with the Rumsen Native American community. In 1770, the Rumsen community welcomed Franciscan missionaries to Monterey. For thousands of years these indigenous people lived in communities stretching from the coast to Carmel Valley. Archaeologists have identified several sites associated with the Rumsen on the Santa Lucia Preserve (Breschini and Haversat 1994). One of their villages, Echilat, thrived for about 1,500 years along Las Garzas Creek, from its wooded, narrow canyon though the Hacienda's site to marshlands near present-day Moore's Lake.

A Mission Indian and a Spanish Alcalde: Just two of the early owners in The Preserve’s colorful past.

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On a Mission

The Spanish established a presence in 1770 by founding Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo and the Presidio of Monterey. In addition to converting the Indians, the Mission also controlled adjoining lands. Mexican independence in 1821 and the secularization of the missions in 1834 opened former mission lands to settlement. For their service, the government rewarded Mexican citizens and some Mission Indians with large land grants (Robinson 1948).

El Portrero de San Carlos

The Santa Lucia Preserve’s 20,000 acres originated with two Mexican land grants. The first, El Potrero de San Carlos, was given to Fructuoso del Real, a Mission Indian. After his death, his widow Ignacia and daughters continued to live on the land. Unfortunately, by the time the land was patented in 1862 to Ignacia’s son-in law, Joaquin Gutierrez, the 4,307 acres had already been sold to a group of Americans (U.S. Land Commission 1852-1892, County of Monterey Deed Books). This was a common occurrence. Because of the long, protracted process of establishing claims, original owners were often forced to sell property before legal title had been established at prices well below its worth (Robinson 1948).

The San Francisquito

The other grant, San Francisquito, was made in 1835 to Esteban Munras' wife, Dona Catalina Manzanellide Munras. In 1837, Esteban Munras served as alcalde, the municipal magistrate. He occupied the land with his wife until he sold the property to Francisco Soto in 1842. The land changed hands several times between 1842 and 1853 and, when finally patented in 1862 to Jose Abrego, the grant consisted of 8,814 acres (U.S. Land Commission 1852-1892b). Although there are no standing structures associated with this time, archaeologists have located remains of adobes that appear to be from this period.

Robert Louis Stevenson regains his health in Wright's cabin on San Francisquito.

The Sargent Brothers

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After coming to California from New England during the gold rush, James Sargent purchased Rancho El Potrero de San Carlos in 1857. He eventually acquired Rancho San Francisquito. He and his three brothers focused on land speculation and cattle ranching. In 1876 after the brothers divided up their extensive holdings, the Carmel Valley ranches went to Bradley Sargent. He renamed his new ranch San Francisquito y San Carlos (Guin 1903, Clark 1991). Bradley and his wife Julia lived on the ranch and had four children. Sargent served on the Board of Supervisors from 1862 to 1865. In 1886, he was elected to the State Senate representing San Benito and Monterey Counties. Sargent’s son, Bradley Jr., returned to the ranch in ill health after receiving his Yale law degree. Evidently the land worked its magic – Bradley Jr. recovered and was elected District Attorney of Monterey County in 1890 (Guin 1903).

A Healing Place

The restorative powers of the ranch also came to the aid of author Robert Louis Stevenson, who found himself on the San Francisquito quite by accident in September, 1879. He had fallen in love with Frances Osborne, a married mother of two, ten years his senior who seemed open to divorcing her husband. Although in extremely ill health from lung infections he had suffered since childhood, Robert traveled from Scotland to meet her in Monterey. After finding Frances unwilling to divorce, Stevenson ventured to Carmel Valley on the spur of the moment to escape the coastal weather torturing his lungs.

Later Robert remembered that as night approached, without food or proper clothing, he fell into a feverish stupor to the sound of bells. The bells, it turned out, were attached to goats belonging to an old bear hunter named Jonathan Wright who lived with his family along San Clemente Creek. Pronouncing Stevenson “real sick,” Wright brought the unconscious man to his cabin. For the next three weeks, Wright and his family nursed the ailing author back to health. Stevenson remembered their kindness in letters to friends. According to biographers, the author’s close brush with death convinced Mrs. Osborne to divorce her husband and marry Stevenson (Nickerson 1982, Osborne 1911).

Rancho San Carlos: A Luxury-laden Gentleman's Ranch

Moore’s Midas Touch

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In 1924, George Gordon Moore purchased the ranch from the heirs of Bradley Sargent and called it his new home, Rancho San Carlos. The current structures on San Francisquito Flat primarily resulted from Moore’s efforts.

Moore was rumored to be the bastard son of English royalty – a story he would neither confirm nor deny. The source of his wealth is also mysterious, although by his account, he was involved in the securities market in England before World War I (Moore 1963). 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. Through the Registry he acquired 100,000 acres of prime timber in the great Smokey Mountains of North Carolina.  After learning about wild boar hunting, he began importing and breeding the beasts. When Moore bought Rancho San Carlos, he had three boars and nine sows sent to California from North Carolina. Boar hunting was only one of the many indulgent pursuits Moore brought to Carmel Valley.

Keeping Up with the “Dons”

Throughout the early 1900’s, East Coast entrepreneurs and industrialists tried to outdo each other by erecting extravagant pseudo-Greek temples, Italian villas and English castles. Meanwhile in California, re-creating a mythical land of swashbuckling “Spanish Dons” was especially popular with wealthy businessmen. George Gordon Moore had his own version of the California ranch. Although not on the grand scale that Randolph Hearst created at San Simeon, life at Rancho San Carlos was, by all accounts, “packed with luxury” (Cooper 1985). Immediately after purchasing the ranch in 1924, Moore began building a home site, a dam, a polo field and a lake (Cozzens and Moore 1924). As a “gentleman rancher” Moore created the ambiance of a Hispanic rancho with its centerpiece “Hacienda” featuring a polo field on which he hosted teams from all over the world.

In addition to the buildings constructed for the comfort of Moore and his guests, he built stables, housing for ranch workers and a dairy barn (Hampson 1991). Due to its remote location, the ranch’s vegetable gardens, chickens and dairy cows helped it to be self-sustaining.

The Twenties Roar at the Rancho

Life at Moore’s Rancho San Carlos embraced the opulent 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…” (Cooper 1985). Polo matches started early in the morning and visitors outfitted in Western riding regales would spend their days roaming the hills and redwoods. Elaborate barbecues and parties entertained movie stars, chorus girls and other assorted guests who were perpetually in attendance (Cooper 1985, Rice 1992).

Hit by the Great Depression

The Depression brought an end to the high times at Rancho San Carlos. Although Moore held on to the property until 1939, life took a hard turn. Since cash was short, workers were often paid in chickens, turkeys and eggs. The man in charge of raising poultry on the ranch was frequently sent to Carmel to sell what he could and return the profits to Moore. He had his secretary 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.

"George, I've bought you a ranch."

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A Rancher’s Dream

Arthur C. Oppenheimer, a businessman from San Francisco, who owned the Rosenberg Fruit Company among many other enterprises, bought the property in 1939. An avid sailor, Oppenheimer met George King at the Alameda Yacht Club. A man of many talents and interests, King had served as a steward at the Club where he impressed members with his ability to repair piers, boats, and whatever else needed fixing. He confided in Oppenheimer that although he loved sailing he would rather be a rancher. According to King, one day Oppenheimer greeted him saying, “George, I’ve bought you a ranch” (Nickerson 1990).

Working Cattle Ranch and Family Retreat

Under King’s management, Rancho San Carlos once again became a working cattle ranch as it had in the days before George Gordon Moore. Brush was cleared to grow oats and hay. Eventually the herd, primarily Herefords, grew to 1,000 head of cattle with about 100 bulls. For nearly forty-five years, Rancho San Carlos became known for producing quality beef. Arthur Oppenheimer did not live at the ranch but took an active interest in it and when he died in the late 1940s, he requested that his ashes be buried there. In 1951, Arthur Oppenheimer II took over but, like his father, spent only short periods of time there. The ranch became a weekend retreat and the site for celebrating special occasions with the extended Oppenheimer family (Blount 1991).

A Magnet for the Entertainment Industry

During the time that George Gordon Moore owned Rancho San Carlos, starlets and chorus girls came to enjoy lavish parties and to play. In the Oppenheimer years, however, members of the entertainment industry came to work. During the 1960s, the ranch was the setting for a weekly TV series called Lancer, commercials were made there and it was used in a number of films including Woody Allen’s Sleeper (Blount 1991).

The End of an Era

In the 1980s, the Oppenheimer family divested itself of its cattle interests and leased grazing rights to other Carmel Valley ranchers. This practice continued until the sale of Rancho San Carlos in 1990 to the Rancho San Carlos Partnership. The Oppenheimers made no major changes to the structures on the ranch. The buildings that remain reflect an opulent lifestyle common to the wealthy of the 1920s while the surrounding landscape recalls the period when – on huge Mexican ranchos – cattle roamed the hills.

The Preserve is a vibrant community that continually delivers on its founding mission of conservation – a natural gathering place.

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A connected, dynamic community.

  • Santa Lucia Conservancy, a non-profit, independent conservation trust established to manage and protect The Preserve Lands in perpetuity
  • 20,000 acres
  • 300 homesites
  • 100 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails
  • 18-acre Moore’s Lake for boating, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding, catch and release fishing, camping, and S’more cookouts
  • Sports Center features fitness classes, a workout room, pools, waterslide, hot tub, tennis courts, croquet, Bocce ball courts, horseshoe pits, and batting cage
  • Equestrian Center with private horse boarding, tack rooms, grooming and wash stalls, two arenas, a dressage arena, round pen, pastures, and track for Western and English riding
  • Lodging at the Spanish-Colonial Hacienda and The Grays' Ranch House
  • Concierge and catering services
  • Private Golf Course designed by Tom Fazio, and starting times are not required
  • Golf Clubhouse with golf shop, mixed grill and lounge, steam rooms and whirlpools
  • A few of our many traditions:
    • The Fandango celebrates the Vaquero traditions of pride of horsemanship skills and community spirit, complete with a barn dance and trunk show
    • The Wild Mushroom Hunt and Lunch is hosted by California’s leading mushroom enthusiasts
    • During the Fourth of July Celebration, neighbors come together and enjoy a variety of competitive and athletic events including stand-up paddle boarding