A hidden gem at the base of Volcan Mountain
There is a mishmash of buildings on the property
Not one, but two chimneys, because it’s cold in these hills.
Two hundred years ago, California, along with most of what would become the American Southwest, was claimed by Mexico. The newly minted country, which had just gained independence from Spain, found itself with a problem: much of its landmass was wilderness, populated and controlled not by descendants of European blood, but by natives uninterested in Old World ideals. of conquest and empire.
In order to establish control over its territory, Mexico began granting ranchos, or plots of approximately 14 square miles, to its citizens and other Europeans seeking naturalization. Unlike the lifetime land grants that the Spaniards had offered to soldiers to encourage them to stay after their fights in the wars for territory, these ranchos remained the property of the recipients’ families in perpetuity, even after the recipient’s death. origin. Between 1833 and 1846, Mexico created about 270 ranchos in California alone. The boundaries of these original land grants were largely respected when the United States claimed the territory, and in some cases they helped shape development in ways that can still be recognized today. The suburbs of Rancho San Diego and Rancho Bernardo largely adhere to boundaries established over a century ago.
A tree house worthy of unfailing intensity.
Rancho San Felipe was another such parcel in San Diego, one of the last to be awarded by then-Governor Pio Pico in 1846. Originally consisting of just under 10,000 acres in the Laguna Mountains, a little north and east of where the mining town of Julian would eventually arise, it was an important stopover in the 1850s for emigrants arriving from the east, a place where they could rest and recover from the strenuous trek through the desert before continuing on to San Diego or Los Angeles. Later it was a major station along the Butterfield Overland Mail stage route, where coach drivers delivered mail and parcels across the country in the days when the railways could carry out repairs or exchange horses in order to continue their journey. It also housed a major warehouse of grain and hay to supply remote desert outposts along the route.
Today, nearly 1,150 acres of the rancho remain untouched, making it one of the largest private lots in the county. And since this is a chronicle about expensive real estate, you wouldn’t be wrong in assuming that we’re going to end our history lesson here and check out some homes.
There are actually two listings for the property, variously described as 25550 San Felipe Road or 26068 San Felipe. Listing agents Angela Acosta (who took us on a deep dive into backcountry real estate a few years ago) and Tyler Stamets clarified that the rancho is available with or without a “retreat center” — a ‘converted barn with ample event space and 7 guest bedrooms and two kitchens. The price difference is $1.5 million, but let’s assume we’re going for the whole enchilada here.
“A hidden backcountry gem like no other,” the Zillow ad copy opens, “Rancho San Felipe consists of over 1,000 acres at the source of San Felipe Creek at the base of Volcan Mountain in Warner Springs.”
There’s a mishmash of buildings on the property, including a three-bedroom main residence with somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 square feet of living space. Adding the guest residences and other facilities, we will have a total of 12 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms spread over 8200 square feet of total space. (I’m quoting the 25550 listing here because even though it’s the cheaper of the two, it has more photos and better quality. Also, Zillow doesn’t seem to have the 26068 listing, but you can find on Redfin.)
We begin with an exterior shot of what I assume is the primary residence and its all-stone exterior – a refreshing change from the drab beige stucco that coats suburban California homes. Out back there are sun loungers on a stone patio which overlooks a small pond – is this fed by our stream? Tyler says yes. Can we swim there? I feel like it would be very cold and muddy, but I still want to try. From there we walk around the property and visit a handful of smaller cabins, also built of stone. The two closest to the main residence have two and one bedrooms respectively, I am told.
Finally, we are inside the main house. There’s a massive living room with not one but two stone fireplaces (these are also seen on the outside of the house, and it looks like there are cubbyholes that could serve as separate ovens and hearths, all served by a communal fireplace), vaulted wood-beamed ceilings, and what looks like an antler chandelier. Immediately we sense the old-world mountain lodge vibe appropriate for an estimated construction date of between 1930 and 1935, but everything seems well-maintained, and Tyler assures me that the property has been “heavily updated and restored with love over the years.” I will buy this.
The kitchen is spacious if not ostentatious, with a large center island that houses the stove, and more paneling, this time painted white to provide contrast against the polished wood of the ceiling and cabinetry. A closer look at the fireplaces in the living room shows that they are fitted with iron stove inserts, although the fireplaces in the bedrooms appear to be wood burning.
Continuing, we see some interior and exterior shots of some of the other houses on the property. These are a bit more pedestrian, though certainly functional. The most impressive feature is a small living room in a house that appears to have a vaulted, irregular octagonal ceiling with a skylight.
Over email, Tyler promised me a treehouse so AMAZING he felt the need to shout it in all caps, and I flipped through three-quarters of the photo gallery before I got there. Okay, he’s right – this thing looks amazing. The base level appears to be carved out of a massive tree trunk, with a wraparound deck on the second level, and above it a bunch of glazed walls protruding at odd angles. I want to see this place from inside.
Okay, the interior is also good: the stain used on the floor-to-ceiling wood is a little lighter than in the main house, and it combines with the windows to create a bright but still cozy living space. A small office looks out these eerie windows onto the forest from canopy level; it would make a much more conducive writing space than my dining room-office which overlooks the side yard where I store my garbage cans. We can see that the wraparound deck has holes dug out so that the tree this house is built against can grow through it. Tyler figures there’s about 800 square feet of living space here, but given all the angles inside, I understand he’d have a hard time measuring it.
We end with some more photos of the terrain and aerial photos of vast green hills crossed by a dirt road which I assume is how we would access the complex. There is also a well with a large storage tank and a solar panel, as I guess utilities are hard to come by when you are the only potential customer on 1150 acres of land.
Public records list the current owner of Rancho San Felipe as Michael Pinto, a Laguna Beach-based real estate investor. Judging by the tax rolls, this rancho has been in his family for quite a long time. The property first went on sale in late February; it carries an asking price of $10 million or $11.5 million, depending on whether the aforementioned event center is included in the deal. But if you fancy a penny, why not throw in a pound and take it all? You will probably be happy for the company.
- 25550-26068 San Felipe Road | Warner Springs, 92086
- Current owner: Michael Pinto | Registration price: $11,500,000 | Beds: 12 | Baths: 17 | House size: 8200