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Town House

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Descendants of Adolfo Camarillo, the city’s founder, are close to selling his historic ranch house property--a portion of which may be converted to an industrial park.

Vista Development Co. is negotiating with the family to purchase the 1892 Queen Anne Victorian house at 3771 Mission Oaks Blvd., a large red barn, outbuildings and 65 acres that have been a popular filming site for 30 years.

But as a condition for approval of the proposed industrial park, city officials have required the developer to donate the house, barn and the 4.3 acres they sit on to the city.

“It’s made it difficult to market the house and has presented a few problems, but the city loves this house,” said Gerald FitzGerald, 70, grandson of Adolfo Camarillo. “It’s quite imperative its integrity be maintained.”

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The Camarillo Planning Commission will consider on Tuesday the developer’s request for a zoning change and also review the environmental study of the planned industrial park, which would include offices, restaurants and light industrial or warehousing distribution facilities. The City Council will decide whether to approve the project at its March 25 meeting.

The city wants to ensure that the “general placement of the buildings and physical exterior characteristics are compatible with the ranch house,” city Planning Director Tony Boden said.

When FitzGerald’s grandfather built the house, it sat on 10,000 acres that sprawled across the top of the Conejo Grade. The property now includes about 4,000 acres.

“It was a working ranch in the old days,” FitzGerald said. “The name Camarillo was given to the city because my grandfather conveyed the right of way to the railroad to go through there.”

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Adolfo Camarillo lived on the ranch until 1958 when he died and left it to his four children, who then sold a large chunk to pay taxes. Carmen Camarillo, another of Adolfo’s grandchildren, ended up with the house and then donated the surrounding 15 acres to a seminary, which is also involved in the land deal.

“When I was a kid, my mother and Adolfo had many parties out there with hundreds of people,” FitzGerald said. “We had many good times at that house.”

Carmelita Nicholson, 76, FitzGerald’s sister, recalled that when she was growing up the family grew alfalfa, hay and vegetables on the ranch. They also had a dairy farm for milk and chickens for eggs.

“Those were very carefree days at that time,” said Nicholson, who wrote her 1944 master’s thesis about the ranch. “We just had to worry about getting our horses saddled and taking a picnic off to an isolated place. It was a very old-fashioned lifestyle.”

FitzGerald said that between half a dozen and 20 film shoots take place at the ranch each year, including a current Century 21 television commercial and episodes of “The Pretender.”

Segments of such television shows as “The Fugitive,” “Tales of the Unknown” and “The Incredible Hulk” have also been filmed on the site.

Once in the hands of the city, the property would be assigned to a nonprofit group that would be responsible for restoring and operating it as a place for tours, filming, weddings, banquets and other special events.

One nonprofit organization interested in taking over the Camarillo Ranch House is the Rancho Camarillo Historical Society, which was formed about 1 1/2 years ago in hopes of preserving the property.

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“We started investigating to see what would happen to the house and then became interested in preserving it for the community as a historical site,” said President Pat Distad, who plans to submit a proposal to the planning department after the sales deal closes in April.

“It’s the original ranch of the founder of our city and has been the introduction into Camarillo on the freeway that everyone sees when they come in,” Distad said. “We’d like to preserve this so not only the adults, but the children could see what rancho life was like.”


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