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Historical tours onboard Camp Pendleton celebrate base's 75th anniversary


Last updated 2/24/2017 at Noon

The Ranch House Chapel, as seen today, is one of the stops on the 75th Anniversary Tour. Lauren Kelly-Hill photo

The Docents of Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores

The variations of the docent uniforms are representative of either the Californios or the Rancher periods. They have been worn unchanged since the founding of the Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores Docents in September of 1975.

For women, the docent uniform is a long black skirt or black gaucho pants or loose, long black pants, red vest and colorful sash with a white long sleeved blouse and a "California sombrero" (black fedora hat).

For men, the docent uniform is black pants, white long sleeved shirt, red or black vest, black shoes and a black fedora hat or a western suit with western hat and boots.

The group is looking to add new docents to its roster and will be forming a one day training class soon. There is also a requirement of following three tours to get certified as a docent for the Ranch House Complex and Mechanized Museum.

Interested people should email the History Museum office at for more information and to sign up.

The large plot of land that borders Fallbrook's western edge hasn't always been a military base, having been settled before Fallbrook was established. There are still buildings there from the years when it was the largest Mexican land grant in Southern California, (122,798 acres).

As part of the year-long celebration of the 75th anniversary of Camp Pendleton becoming a Marine Corps base (September 1942), the History Museum Branch is arranging special Saturday tours of the Ranch House Complex once a month until September.

The Santa Margarita Ranch House National Historic Site includes the historic Ranch House, Chapel and Bunk House Museum.

The colorful history of these structures dates back to the romantic California Rancho period of the 1800s.

The docents of Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores, who will lead the tours, are part of the 42-year-old organization that maintains the historic buildings and provides tours to visitors.

The Chapel

Having been built around 1808, the Ranch House Chapel is the oldest structure on Camp Pendleton. It originally served as temporary quarters for the Pío Pico family until the Ranch House quarters were ready for them to move into in 1828. Pico was the last Governor of Alta California.

The structure then became a winery. The surrounding vineyards grew and were harvested as late as the turn of the century in an area that is now an airfield.

After the winery was closed, the building became a tool shed before serving as the living quarters for a blacksmith who had his shop in an adjoining building when the O'Neill family owned the property in the early 1900s.

In 1943, the Marines undertook the restoration of the old adobe building, incorporating it into the present structure. Meant to be a museum, the building ended up becoming a chapel for Marine Corps Women Reservists. By Nov. 15, 1943, there were 32,000 servicemen stationed there without their own chapel.

According to historical records, almost $9,000 was donated by the various Hollywood studios toward the work needed to create the Chapel. During the restoration of the adobe, actor Anthony Quinn, who was on base for the filming of "Guadalcanal Diary", donated many antiques from his collection, some of which were said to have originally come from the John Barrymore estate.

The tour also includes the Ranch House and Bunk House. The Ranch House is slated to close in 2018 to undergo earthquake retrofitting and the updating of wiring and plumbing which dates to the 1930s.

The building will not be open for about two years, so anyone interested in seeing the Ranch House this year should book a tour now or they will have to wait until 2020 to see it.

Santa Margarita Las Flores Docents give tours of the ranch house, chapel and bunkhouse on Camp Pendleton.

Two identical Saturday Anniversary Tours are available at noon and 2 p.m. on the following dates:

  • March 11
  • April 8
  • May 6
  • June 3
  • July 8
  • August 5
  • September 9
Tour sizes are limited but extra tours are currently being added to accommodate demand.

Reservations for these free tours must be made at least seven days in advance by calling (760) 725-5758 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, or between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Fridays, or by emailing Instructions for base access will be given during the reservation process.

The Marine Corps Mechanized Museum is also offering free tours featuring its collection of over 50 vehicles ranging from World War I to the first Gulf War. It will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the same Saturday tour dates as the Ranch House Complex, in honor of the base's 75th Anniversary.


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