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Ranch House reveals Pendleton's past

If walls could talk, the visitors of Camp Pendleton’s Rancho Santa Margarita Ranch House would be hearing the experiences of the old cattle ranchers’ ways of life.

The Rancho Santa Margarita Ranch House, known on base simply as “The Ranch House,” is located at the corner of Vandegrift Boulevard and Basilone Road.

Many of the base’s occupants know of the Ranch House, but few are aware of its extended history and the important role it played in the development of Camp Pendleton.

Before Marines called this land their own, in 1810 the Pio Pico family began their stay on this land that is currently the chapel on the Ranch House’s property, while construction of the main house took place. Once completed, the family moved to the main structure and turned the other building into a winery. As time progressed, the winery became a tool shed. The property then went through several ownerships before the U.S. government took possession of the land in 1942. It was transitioned into a chapel for Women Marines a year later.

The Ranch House is the oldest structure on base, built with white adobe walls as thick as 9 feet. Its rooms are filled with historical artifacts from previous owners that provide an interactive immersion into California and American history. The house also reveals many special historical moments such as several U.S. presidential visits.

One room, known as “The Presidents Room,” is where several U.S. presidents have rested during their visit to Camp Pendleton. Several photographs of the presidents’ visits line the walls of the room, which include Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.

The Ranch House is now a museum, but at one time it was the base generals’ residence.

Since the 1940s, every commanding general of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and their family have called the Ranch House home. However, in 2007, Maj. Gen. Michael R. Lehnert and his family were the last to reside there before the entire facility was opened to the public.

Since then, tours of the Ranch House grounds have been available to patrons on a request only basis. Starting Jan. 20, the Ranch House staff will conduct regular open house tours, in which docents will guide visitors through the historical site every month.

“This will enable those who want to come and visit Camp Pendleton the opportunity to learn about a historic landmark,” said Faye Jonason, director, History of Museums, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. “Patrons will learn that the Ranch House is not only a historical significance to the U.S. military but to California as well.”

For more information about the Ranch House, or to find out about an upcoming open house, call (760) 725-3146.

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