Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park: A hidden gem

Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park: A hidden gem
The Leo Cabrrillo Ranch Historic Park was once owned and occupied by actor Leo Cabrrillo, and is now a Historic National Landmark in Carlsbad. Photo by Shana Thompson

CARLSBAD — Not every city can boast it has a link to the glory days of Old Hollywood, but Carlsbad can thanks to Hollywood actor Leo Carrillo.

Whether you’re a fan of the Golden Era or not, at the sprawling 27-acre Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park, once owned by former co-star of TV’s “The Cisco Kid,” you can be swept back in time.

If you recall — or can’t — “The Cisco Kid” was a half-hour American Western series starring Duncan Renaldo in the title role and Carrillo as his jovial sidekick, Pancho. You can catch the series on reruns or via YouTube.

A hidden gem, the ranch is cradled in a canyon off of Palomar Airport Road, at 6200 Flying Leo Carrillo Lane. The ranch was a second home or getaway for Carrillo and his wife, Edith Shakespeare Haeselbarth, whom he met backstage at the New York City theater. They remained together until her death in 1953. They had one child, a daughter, Marie Antoinette Carrillo.

A slice of heaven

Actor Leo Carrillo. Courtesy photo

Now owned and maintained by the city of Carlsbad Parks & Recreation Department, Carrillo’s ranch is open to the public. It was partly given to the city by the developer that purchased the land for future homebuilding, via the Quimby Act.

According to Sara Kelly, archivist/education coordinator at the Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park, the ranch is truly a special place and it’s easy to see why. Perhaps it’s not as grandiose as some of the city’s McMansions nowadays, but it is large enough to have a staff, a historian and a curator.

What makes it such a slice of heaven?

“It’s in this little quiet pocket of Carlsbad and it’s kind of all things to all people — a place where mommy and me groups come, and where their kids can run around, and a place for location history lovers. It’s also for “Cisco Kid” fans, and even for those folks who like Western culture and the Old West feel of a ranch. We even have plein air painters and birdwatchers since there are so many peacocks, owls, hawks and woodpeckers.”

Kelly is a descendant of the original owner of the ranch dating back to the 1800s when it was a homestead.

“At the time, it had a good spring and started out as a cattle horse ranch but later it was switched to dry farming such products as soy and pinto beans because of the infrequent rains here,” she said.

A Shangri-La

How did Carrillo find such a Shangri-La? Kelly said according to Carrillo’s book “The California I Love,” he stumbled on it.

“He talks about hanging out with some buddies on a hunting trip,” she said. “They were sitting around one night asking each other what would be an ideal second home for each of them. Leo said he wanted an old ranch that he could restore into a working ranch — close enough to the ocean to get a breeze, a place where there was enough land for cattle, a good spring and maybe an old adobe on it that he could rehabilitate. One person in the crowd was apparently a realtor and later came to Leo and said, ‘I found your dream home.’”

It was in Carlsbad.

When Carrillo owned it, it was a working ranch of more than 1,700 acres with cattle and other animals. He used it mainly as a retreat from Hollywood and had a number of horses and enjoyed riding them on the property. It was not unusual for him to entertain many of his Hollywood friends at the ranch. His other home Los Alisos (The Sycamores) was 5 acres and situated on Channel Road in Santa Monica Canyon.

A truly historic place

Today, Leo Carrillo Ranch is a registered California historical landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Peacocks are plentiful on the Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park grounds Carlsbad. Photo by Shana Thompson

Carol Waffel, a volunteer and a member of the Friends of the Ranch since the fall of 2013, said she became involved with the ranch by fluke.

Her interest in “The Cisco Kid” TV series, and by extension everything else Cisco, began in late 2012 after she captioned some episodes (and eventually was able to watch them all through her employer, RetroTV).

“After reading online about a Cisco Kid exhibit at the Camarillo Ranch near Santa Barbara, I contacted the historian there and that’s how I learned about the Carrillo Ranch,” she said.  

Although she doesn’t live in California, she has visited the ranch three times. She said the actor’s personal touches are everywhere — and that she likes the door knockers and welcome sign with his “Flying LC” brand.

“When Leo came there in 1937, he brought some mating pairs of peafowl (peacocks). There are now about 40 peafowl on the property which are a major attraction,” she said. “I was fortunate to visit in June during mating season when the peacocks were in full finery (and full voice, too).”

When she visited, she was surprised at the existence of the ranch.  

“The ranch is now surrounded by neighborhoods but even so, it’s like stepping back in time (for me). I love the adobe hacienda and the little art studio (called Deedie’s House) Leo built for his wife, the gardens, and the many cacti and succulents, the general ambience of the whole place.”

During her third visit, she was handed a set of docent keys and roamed the place for several hours, taking many photos and drinking in everything. Another standout was “The Cisco Kid” costume exhibit.

More than a movie star

Besides the ranch, Carrillo was also famous throughout California for his conservation and preservation efforts, as well as being active in politics. For instance, most probably don’t realize Leo Carrillo State Park in Malibu is named after the actor, too.

The Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park in Carlsbad. Photo by Shana Thompson

But even if you don’t know about the TV series, it’s OK, you should get a kick out of the ranch and all that is has to offer.

“People should visit to see a beautiful hacienda from the 1930s, the peacocks, the gardens and to take a leisurely stroll on the paths,” Kelly said. “In fact, once I was in the barn watching This is Your Life, Leo Carrillo with a few other visitors, and the (older) lady next to me said she didn’t know Leo was an actor.”

Of course, Carrillo wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the ranch; Kelly said actors Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were frequent visitors as were other Hollywood stars who wanted to get away from L.A.

“Leo wanted to create the glory days of old California — he liked to be the don, and be on the land, ride horses and barbecue,” Kelly said. “There are photos of people singing in a cabana; overall it was a great place to get away and have fun for that crowd.”

Today, the Carrillo ranch remains one of California’s and Carlsbad’s glittering gems for all who want to see and enjoy a bit of Old Hollywood and return to simpler days.

As for Carrillo, he died at age 81 in 1961 of cancer, and is buried in the Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery in Santa Monica.

Come out and visit even if you’re not a “The Cisco Kid” fan.

“It’s one of the last rustically beautiful places in Southern California; so close to the coast,” Kelly said. “It’s not too manicured, but beautiful without being fussy.”

1 Comment
  1. Eric 2 months ago

    They pretty much said it all, Leo loved California and helped keep many of the public beaches open to the public in a time where private property owners were trying to keep the public out, he was an Environmentalist before there were Environmentalists, Leo and his Ranch Foreman did a great job restoring the Ranch, it is a Beautiful place to get away from the hustle and bustle, I am So Happy the City of Carlsbad has stepped up to save this Jewel for Generations to come , Come Visit the Friends of the Leo Carrillo Ranch and The Cisco Kid Fan Club on FB for more Rare Photos and Stories you never heard

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