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Tenacious workers finally ‘give birth’  to resurrected Vail Ranch historic site  

About 500 people gathered at a Temecula historic site July 16 to mark a feat that one speaker likened to giving birth after a 50-year gestation period that was punctuated by daily bouts of morning sickness.

And, much like the pain-laced emergence of a newborn child, the work and the wait paid off, said Temecula City Councilwoman Maryann Edwards.

“It’s spectacular,” Edwards said as she scanned the newly-opened Vail Headquarters, which has finally emerged as one of Riverside County’s most historic and iconic sites. “It’s amazing.”

Other officials were equally agog by the achievements of a tight-knit group of historical activists and the public and private partnership that coalesced around the preservation effort.

The 4.5-acre site houses an adobe building and the other vestiges of a sprawling, nearly forgotten cattle ranch. It existed as a patch of weeds and tumbledown buildings as waves of growth roared throughout the region.

The site is comprised of a handful of buildings, some of which have been moved or altered, that were built from 1867 through 1920.

It is flanked by big box and chain stores not far from Temecula Parkway, one of the busiest streets in the fast-growing city of about 105,000 residents.

A descendant of the Vail family, which was once synonymous with the Temecula Valley, said it was a moment he thought he would never see.

Nathan Vail said he figured all remnants of the ranch would be bulldozed at some point after it was sold to developers in the 1960s.

“To me, it’s an incredible recreation of something I thought would be gone forever,” he mused to a reporter at the July 16 public unveiling.

Five members of the Vail family traveled from as far away as Santa Barbara to participate in the colorful ceremony and its afterglow.

Dozens of attendees showed up in western wear. Spurs and cowboy boots clicked a time-worn tune as they echoed off wooden sidewalks.

About 10 rough-looking cowboys saluted the moment with their six-shooters. Dynamite Dick, who goes by the name of Tim Kimble in real life, stood in the middle of the pack of Old Town Temecula Gunfighters.

Kimble was decked out in black boots with spurs, a black vest and a black 10-gallon hat. His belt sagged from the weight of a pair of revolvers and a long knife encased in a leather sheath.

A stagecoach ferried guests around the property. The scent of barbecue filled the air. Andrew Masiel, a leader of the Pechanga Indians, was flanked by his family beneath a vast tent that shaded onlookers from the sun.

Rebecca Farnbach, a founder of the nonprofit Vail Ranch Restoration Association, was quick to praise and thank everyone who played a role in preserving the place and setting the stage for its future.

“This has always been about the community,” she told the audience.

Farnbach also saluted others who fought for the site’s survival but didn’t make it to the proverbial promised land. They included Jimmy Moore, a longtime community leader who died recently.

Moore was a key figure in Temecula’s successful push to become a city nearly 27 years ago. He repeatedly served as president of the Temecula Valley Historical Society, and was the board secretary at the time of his death. Moore’s wife, Peg, served on the first City Council after Temecula incorporated in December 1989.

“There are people who began this project who didn’t see it come to fruition,” said Farnbach, who has authored a series of community history books and now serves as the Historical Society’s president.

Farnbach’s husband, Darrell, also played a key role in the site’s preservation and restoration. He suffered a heart attack in the midst of the project, but bounced back and helped guide it to completion.

The site’s history dates back thousands of years, and it has been a silent witness to Temecula’s aboriginal, pioneer and boom town eras.

Luiseno Indians lived throughout the area – hunting, fishing and collecting acorns – until they were ejected and isolated as a result of lawsuits and a harsh treaty.

The Wolf Adobe, which is believed to date back to 1867, primarily served settlers who were traveling west. The store was named after Louis Wolf, an immigrant who alternately served as a store owner, postmaster, road commissioner, labor contractor and landowner. The property was at a crossroads of the Southern Emigrant Trail and several local stagecoach routes.

Wolf married Ramona Place in 1862. The area’s pioneer setting and many of its characters were believed to have been incorporated into Helen Hunt Jackson’s “Ramona,” an 1884 novel that exposed many of the abuses that had been inflicted upon California Indians.

The adobe and its cluster of nearby buildings became the heart of the 87,500-acre Vail Ranch by the early 1900s.

By then, the town of Temecula had shifted west to the banks of Murrieta Creek, which at one time was flanked by a railroad line that linked San Diego to San Bernardino.

Until it was sold for development in the 1960s, the ranch covered a vast area that stretched from Vail Lake to the Santa Rosa Plateau. At the time of the ranch sale, Temecula consisted of a few Old Town streets surrounded by ranch land and, at a distance, the Pechanga Indian reservation.

Growth soon gobbled up most of Temecula.

The developer of a shopping center project that surrounded the cluster of surviving ranch buildings initially set aside just the adobe and the land it occupied for historic preservation.

That prompted the Farnbachs and a cadre of other historical preservationists to sue Riverside County, which at that time was overseeing the development of the unincorporated Temecula area.

The lawsuit was settled out of court in 1998 after the developer agreed to set aside 4.5-acres that included the adobe, a ranch bunkhouse, an office, a cook’s house, an implement barn and other buildings.

That legal action protected the site from development, and a modest amount of work was initially done to prevent further deterioration.

In February 1999, county supervisors allocated about $170,000 to help shore up and spruce up the historic adobe building and other structures there. The center that had engulfed the historic site changed hands, and it became part of the city in 2005 when Temecula annexed the Redhawk and Vail Ranch housing tracts.

A special account was created about that time to set aside sales tax revenues to help pay for the eventual renovation of the ranch headquarters complex.

The historic site was then spun off by the shopping center owner. Its redevelopment shifted to Arteco Partners, a Pomona-based company that specializes in revitalizing historic buildings and districts.

Temecula planning commissioners approved Arteco’s development plan in May 2008. Arteco was in the process of wrapping up its financing and moving ahead with its construction plans when the so-called ‘Great Recession’ hit. Bank loans evaporated, unemployment soared and land values plummeted.

After many fits and starts, work finally began on the restoration and renovation project. About that time, Jerry Tessier, president of the company, estimated that the work would cost about $5.5 million.

Tessier eventually moved to Temecula, and he and one or both of the Farnbachs worked at the site on an almost daily basis.

Plans call for portions of the rehabilitated buildings to show how people once lived and how the ranch operated. Special events, historic recreations and school group tours will be held there.

Other portions of the site have been rented to an array of business that will begin to open in a few weeks. A certified Farmers Market, which will be held every Tuesday, will be one of the first arrivals.

A June press release identified the following businesses as tenants at the site: Augie’s Coffee Roasters, Project Pie, Nectar Clothing, Winchester Western Saddlery, a la Minute ice cream shop and Cheflavor curated provisions.

In his remarks at the July 16 ribbon cutting, Tessier noted the historic connection created by a tack shop locating at the site. He also urged area shoppers to patronize the cluster of business that will now anchor and maintain such a storied location.

“Thank you, everybody, who believed in our vision,” he said. “This is really your Vail Ranch. Temecula is an amazing community.”


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