Los Peñasquitos Rancho has an exciting history.
In 1823 one league (4243 acres) of land was awarded to Captain Francisco
a Commandant of the San Diego residio. This one league was at the eastern
part of the Canyon and extended into Sabre Springs and up to Rancho Bernardo.
Ruiz spent many years in loyal service to Mexico, and this splendid canyon
was his reward. Ruiz built a one-room adobe casa in 1824. You can
see three of the remaining walls of his house in the main ranch house conference
room. When you visit it, you will be standing in the oldest private standing
structure in San Diego! Ruiz was not entirely pleased with this first
land grant. He stated that parts of his rancho were covered with brush
and were useless for cultivation or grazing cattle. He requested another
league of land to the west called El Cuervo. In 1834 Ruiz received his
wish and El Cuervo became part of Los Peñasquitos.
In 1837, Ruiz gave Peñasquitos Canyon to his grandnephew, Francisco
Maria Alvarado. Ruiz never married and Alvarado and his family cared for
their uncle during his declining years. Alvarado was politically active
in Old San Diego. He served as councilman (regidor), Town Treasurer,
the Peace, and Coroner. The main highway between Old San Diego and Yuma
ran through Los Peñasquitos
Canyon (the long way around by our standards!). This road ran right by
which at that time was called Alvarado’s Place. The army used
this road to transport supplies from the Port of San Diego to Yuma. In
same road was used by Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny and the
half-starved remnant of his Army of the
West after their defeat in the Battle of Mule Hill in San Pasqual. This
road was designated the first County Highway, and was a segment of the
In 1857 Alvarado shifted ranch operations to his son, Diego, who built
the adobe ranch house in the west end
the canyon. And in 1859 Alvarado’s daughter, Estephana, married
Captain George Alonzo Johnson. Captain Johnson was an entrepreneur who
the first steamships to the Colorado River. These steamships were
used to move supplies up and down the Colorado River for the US Army,
the people coming to
California across the Southern Emigrant Trail.
Johnson loved Los Peñasquitos and built a spacious house. The
house was known throughout San Diego County as an elegant home; and the
were renowned for their generosity and hospitality. Diego Alvarado and his
bride, Rudicinda Osuna, were married at Los Peñasquitos,
and children from many surrounding families were baptized here.
Capt. Johnson experienced a series of setbacks (including the fact
that the Federal government owed him several hundred thousand
paid) and in 1880 he lost his marvelous Rancho Peñasquitos.
Colonel Jacob Shell Taylor, founder of Del Mar, eventually acquired the entire
canyon for about $15,000. He installed a telephone between Del Mar and
Peñasquitos so he could conduct
business. Taylor was an early developer. He subdivided Peñasquitos
and attempted to sell lots for $250 each! However, Taylor lost his property in the recession of the late 1880’s.
F. Mohnike paid more that $100,000 for the ranch and extensive grazing
areas in 1910. Mohnike originally
in Chula Vista.
He and his
family of nine children used Rancho Peñasquitos as a summer home
until disaster struck. A fire in 1912 burned some of the ranch buildings.
It was followed by a serious cold snap, which wiped out Mohnike’s fruit business. He built the adobe
at the Equestrian Center and turned Los Peñasquitos ranch house
into a bunkhouse.
George Sawday and Oliver Sexon, two of San Diego’s best
known cattlemen, bought the ranch and stocked it with cattle. The ranch
continued as quarters for cowhands and their families.
1962 Peñasquitos ranch spread over 14,000 acres. A major developer,
Irvin Kahn, who planned to make the canyon into golf courses and fairway
homes, bought it. He was persuaded to sell the canyon to the City and County.
In 1974 the County acquired Los Peñasquitos
Ranch House and began its restoration. Volunteer organizations, like the
San Diego County Archaeology Society and Friends of Peñasquitos
work closely with City and County Rangers to preserve and protect the restored
rancho and the beautiful canyon.