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URBAN HIKE

The Campbell Ranch
updated: Sep 22, 2012, 10:00 AM

By The Urban Hikers (Stacey Wright & Peter Hartmann)

What do a wealthy Englishman, an American heiress, a Goleta ranch, Oak Park's dance floor, a landing spot during the Prohibition, Charlie Chaplin, the future king of England, dashed dreams and a noted female "architect" have in common? The Campbell Ranch.

Roger the Scanner Guy contacted us and asked if we would head out to Coal Oil Point and take a few photos of the old house and Celtic Cross that sit on the property once owned by the Devereux Foundation and now a part of UCSB and the Coal Oil Point Reserve, and we said we would. Little did we know that the property, once home of the 500-acre Campbell Ranch, has a whole lotta very interesting history.

At this point, we'll entertain you with photos of how the main residence, a home designed by James and Mary Osborn Craig appears today. It's not in perfect shape, but you can still see what were the beautiful lines of an elegant "Santa Barbara" hacienda.

We believe the beauty is in the details. Like the bell tower, that unfortunately no longer houses the bell...Where did the bell go?

The doorways, light fixtures, arches, red roof tiles, balconies and tiles.

This is an interior shot of one of the main rooms...The chandelier is a fine example of beautiful ironwork.

And now for some of the fascinating history we've dug up about the place and the people who have called it home: Records show that this property was originally deeded to Nicolas Den by California Governor Juan Alvarado in the 1840's. Den sold the property to Joseph Archambeault, who, in 1912 sold 100 acres to Jack Cavalleto for $10,000. Mr. Cavalleto kept the property until 1919 when he sold those same 100 acres to Colin P. Campbell for a price of $65,000. In 1945 the property was purchased by Helena Devereaux for a paltry $100,000 - which included 500 acres and the manor house built in 1924 by Col. Colin Campbell's widow, Nancy. Considering that was such an amazing buy, we suspect the Japanese attack on Ellwood Beach three years earlier must have had a deleterious effect on the property values in that vicinity.

Some of the most modern monuments on the property include several plaques and markers from the days the property served the students of the Devereux Ranch School. The campus, which was an extension of the Eastern foundation, came into being after outgrowing the original California campus on La Paz Rd. (now the home of Westmont College). The manor house was remodeled into a facility for the students which included residence halls, a dining hall, an infirmary, recreational rooms, a kitchen, a beauty/barber shop, storeroom, offices and a parlor for receiving guests. Over the years, the mansion was further remodeled and added to, to accommodate the growing number of students. Devereaux operated largely on the Campbell Ranch from 1946 until moving to its larger campus north of the old manor house, in the 1970's. It maintained its headquarters at the Campbell Manor House into the 21st century, but now operates completely from its campus adjacent to the location of the manor house. In the 1990‘s the Devereux Foundation sold off the last of the property which is now owned and managed by UCSB.

As we wandered the property and headed to the beach from the Campbell residence we passed the Campbell family cemetery located behind the brick pillars at the top of the cliffs. There we saw the Celtic cross made of Aberdeen granite and took in the awesome views from the cemetery.

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The grander and the uniqueness of the Celtic influence piqued our curiosity and set us on a quest to discover what we could about the people who were, or had been, interned in this gorgeous overlook. And so we set to work... and this is what we found.

In 1904 Nancy Leiter, the second daughter of Levi Leiter (a wealthy Chicago businessman who was Marshall Fields's original partner as well as the owner of one third of the commercial real estate in Chicago) married Major Colin Powys Campbell, an Englishman who was serving as a calvary officer in the Central Indian Horse Regimen. The wedding, held on Dupont Circle a mere five months after the death of Nancy's father, was a solemn affair attended by Nancy's two sisters Mary and Marguerite, her mother and her brother. Older sister Mary had already married her noble husband, Lord Curzon (who would later go on to become Britain's Viceroy of India) and younger sister "Daisy" was entertaining her beau, the Earl of Suffolk, whom she would later marry. So in essence all three American heiresses chose to marry British gentlemen and in so doing one became a "Lady", the other a "Countess" and Nancy became the wife of a military man who liked the weather and scenery of Southern California.

Before you start feeling sorry for Nancy, stop yourself. Colin P. Campbell was quite wealthy and well- connected, and was definitely no slouch. It's just that he didn't enjoy paying the high taxes levied upon him in England...and we suspect that like many others English blue-bloods of his time, he may have been land rich and cash poor...a little like Robert, Earl of Grantham in the series Downton Abbey...and rather than import his heiress wife to dreary old England, he finished up his service in India and headed for the sun, sea and surf of Santa Barbara.

Around 1918 Col. Campbell moved his family and a staff of ten servants from their home in England, taking up residence in "Bonnymeade", the mansion at the Hammond's Estate. From there he searched for a location to build his dream home. He tried to negotiate the purchase of Hope Ranch, but was unsuccessful. Then he happened to see the property at Coal Oil Point, then known as "Sands Beach". He loved the proximity of the property to the sea and the mountain views it offered, but was especially fond of the lagoon. In his imagination he conjured up images of a fine manor house on the banks of a lovely English countryside lake, complete with white swans, canoes and lotus blossoms.

In 1919 Col. and Nancy Campbell purchased 100 acres for $65,000 and set about making it their own. They had temporary living quarters built for their family and staff on the property. The Colonel then leased additional adjacent property and set about drilling for water with which to service his estate and convert the lagoon into a lake. So set in his quest for water was he, that when the drillers hit oil, Col. Campbell ordered them to cap the wells and keep looking for water!

Sadly, Col. Campbell never got to see the scenic lake, or even the manor house for that matter. In 1923, one day shy of his 65th birthday Col. Campbell suffered a heart attack and died. He was laid to rest in a ring of Cypress trees at Coal Oil Point, and a marker, a Celtic cross, was placed as his gravestone. This is the view of the cross as seen by many beach combers from the beach below.

While looking at Col. Campbell's memorial we notice this inscription, which has us somewhat baffled. It's on the Celtic cross and reads: "Ian Drummond Campbell born 2nd October, 1909 died 24th April, 1911." We suspect that Ian was the third child of Colin and Nancy Campbell and that he died when he was less than a year an a half old. But nowhere is he mentioned in published accounts of the family. The only children who we could confirm are Colin Leiter Campbell (1907 - 1962) and Mary Campbell Clark (1908 -?).

But back to the rancho...Following Col. Campbell's sudden and very unexpected death, Nancy Campbell moved forward with the planning and construction of the family residence. Prior to his death, Colonel Campbell had consulted with local designer/architects James and Mary Osborne Craig. Both were well- known designers in Santa Barbara at the turn of the century, and both were self-taught architects.

The Osborne Craigs had moved to Santa Barbara in 1914 for health reasons, and together were instrumental in popularizing Spanish Colonial Revival style ("red tile roofs"), contributing greatly to the design and development of the El Paseo and other notable projects. When James died of tuberculosis in 1922, Mary took over his practice, keeping on his best drafters and architects, and it was Mary who, beginning in 1924 supervised the construction of the Campbell manor house. By the end of 1924 the home was ready for Nancy Campbell, her children and her staff, they began occupying it immediately.

Having seen much of the wonderful architecture in an around the city, we can't help but be proud of Mary Osborne Craig and her contribution to Santa Barbara. Both prior to, and following the 1925 earthquake, she was commissioned to build many important buildings and residences in Santa Barbara including the Open Air School Building, which incidentally was supported by the Anti-Tuberculosis Society ( and we think may be the building that houses Hollister & Brace modernly, or perhaps it's the building that is now Anacapa School - these are guesses, so if anyone knows for sure, we'd love to have your input). Mary Osborne Craig is also credited with designing the Montecito Water District Building, La Casa de Maria (on El Bosque Rd.), a couple of beach houses in Carpinteria, a printing studio, a veterinary hospital and several of the "cottages" on Plaza Rubio, across from the Old Mission. But once again we digress...

The Campbell House was designed around a basic quadrangle - four wings surrounding a central courtyard. At the end of each wing was added at least on other room. It consisted of more than 30 rooms, 18 bathrooms, dozens of closets, several fireplaces and a dance floor - in all the square footage of "living space" added up to 20,000 square feet. The basement consisted of another 12,000 square feet and incorporated modern amenities including an ice plant, boilers, refrigerators, a wine cellar and vast storage areas. The Spanish Colonial Revival home was meticulously designed and furnished and included all the classic elements of that style.

In addition to the main house, the Campbell estate also had an abalone shell encrusted beach house, a polo field, stable & barns, an airstrip, a swimming pool, a dovecote, vineyard, cemetery and well- manicured gardens. Landscaping of the estate was extensive, and included seven acres of trees, flowers and shrubbery that included much eucalyptus, olive and cypress trees, but most importantly, the ranch was primarily a working ranch, producing a variety of crops, livestock and game for the Campbell family's use and trade.

These images show the route from the main residence down to the beach. The little flags denote UCSB's effort to reestablish some of the native grasses and vegetation that have been removed over the years.

And the "beach house", which must have been fabulous back in the day with its abalone shell exterior. Local lore has it that this little abode was not only a beach house, but also a drop off point for bootleggers during Prohibition. The staff reportedly hid the "goods" in a little tunnel if it was necessary to store the booze at the beach temporary, before taking it up to the house where it would be used for the magnificent parties and entertainment of many important guests over the years. Today, the beach house is more like a canvas for street artists and a hang-out for people wanting to drink their illicit booze.

From the beach, this is the view modernly looking up the coast.

These photos show the dovecote as well as fruit from the small vineyard that were used by the Campbells during their residence at the ranch. The dovecote housed pigeons and dove that were raised for culinary purposes, and the grapes, which are still growing on the vines today look to have been from pretty hearty stock to have survived so many transitions over the years.

After living and entertaining lavishly in the grand manor house of the Campbell Ranch for only eight years, Nancy Campbell died suddenly on a trip to England. Gone were the days and nights of the opulent celebrations, dances and feasts attended by celebrities, the Santa Barbara elite and even the future King of England, George VI ( think "The King's Speech"), who came to Santa Barbara to party down with the nobles whom Nancy's sister had married. The Campbell Ranch was truly a destination for the well-bred and the well connected and during the years that Nancy Campbell lived in the manor house she entertained her guests with absolute perfection.

Following her death in 1932, Nancy Campbell's ashes were brought back to the Campbell Ranch and buried next to her husband's in the family cemetery. Their son Colin, and his family remained living in the manor house until the early 1940's when the portable patio dance floor that had been waltzed and jitterbugged upon by so many elegant society types was moved to Oak Park and installed for the summer Sunday dances, and the home and its furnishings were put up for auction. According to historian Walker A. Tompkins, Charlie Chaplin bought the English silverware collection which dated back to the 17th century, probably because he and the Colonel shared the same initials, and Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton bought an autographed, first edition book for $15,000. We found several internet images of Mrs. Campbell's gowns, jewelry and art that were a part of the massive auction, as well as a photos of Nancy Campbell during protracted legal wrangling over her late father's estate...but that's another story altogether.

While many of the family's personal possessions were sold at auction, there were no takers on the real estate, and the house and the ranch remained in the hands of the Campbell family. During World War II, the ranch was used as a Coast Guard radar station. Following the end of the war, in 1945 the property was purchased by Helena Devereaux for a paltry $100,000 - which included 500 acres and the manor house. Later Union Oil Company leased part of the ranch for petroleum exploration and development.

During the1950s and 1960s the Devereux Foundation sold off much of the ranch acreage for commercial use, including 250 acres which became part of the Santa Barbara airport. In 1967 UCSB purchased 220 plus acres, including the Campbell family cemetery . The remains of the Campbell family members were relocated to Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington DC, and the Devereux Foundation was left with the house and 33 acres. Eventually the house was renamed for the school's founder, Helena T. Devereux who had died at the age of 90 in 1975. In 1987, in the months prior to being designated as "Historical Landmark 27", the home was slated to be demolished but the Devereux Foundation instead decided to use it as office space and as a medical facility for students of the school. Some of the foundations residential cottage and other buildings remain today.

Sadly, the once magnificent, "showplace of the Goleta Valley" is abandoned and sorely in need of renovation. UCSB ultimately purchased the remaining property, along with the old Campbell House/Helena Devereux Hall from the Devereux Foundation, which is now located just up the street from the ranch. UCSB is reportedly trying to find both the resources and a purpose for this lovely piece of Santa Barbara history, and we hope that whatever they do with the property they do with the same dedication to style that Colonel and Nancy Campbell showed this amazing piece of the Central Coast.

As always we encourage you to go out and explore our marvelous town on foot, keep your eyes, ears and minds open to all that you encounter, and above all, expect the unexpected.

 

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