Historic, Abused Ranch House Demolished in Silverado Canyon

Times Staff Writer

The 90-year-old matriarch of Orange County's Silverado Canyon has long said she would rather see her family's century-old home demolished by bulldozers than kept standing as a deteriorating wreck.

On Wednesday, Elvira Holtz got her wish.

"I would rather see these structures removed and enjoy my memories of them than see them remain in their current state," Holtz, the oldest member of the area's founding family, said in a prepared statement released on behalf of developers who knocked down the historic Holtz Ranch house, barn and garage to make way for residential-equestrian lots.

The home's "only value is sentimental to the family -- it's just an old farmhouse," said Marice White, a spokeswoman for CCRC Farms, which is developing the rustic site. That wasn't always so.

Back in 1904, when the wooden, two-bedroom, 1,700-square-foot house and 3,300-square-foot barn were built by French-German immigrant Joseph Holtz about nine miles east of where Tustin now lies, the place was home to Silverado Canyon's original family of settlers. Among other things, they raised chickens on a large scale and are credited with bringing the canyon electricity as well as establishing a post office and its first general store.

Elvira Holtz, who married one of Joseph Holtz's sons, lived in the house with her husband until the 1950s, when the family moved to Orange. The poultry operation -- it later added turkeys -- remained active until 1963. A developer's plan to buy the site in 1987 for a proposed housing project fell through because of community opposition.

Abandoned, the old place spiraled into disrepair.

"It's been trespassed on continually and all sorts of things have been removed," White said. "There is tons of graffiti inside and out; numerous fires have been started by people drinking and doing drugs on the property; and they even tried to steal a claw-foot iron tub through a window but were unable to lift it out."

CCRC Farms, managed by Marnell Properties of Las Vegas, bought the old ranch four years ago as part of a larger parcel on which it will create 12 custom lots. But with "all the vandalism and fires," White said, the place became "an ongoing liability."

Enter the bulldozers, which began working at 7 a.m. Wednesday.

Holtz, now a widow in Riverside, could not be reached directly for comment. White, who has talked with her on the subject, said Holtz thinks it's OK.

"She is very upset with the way the property has been mistreated," the company spokeswoman said. "She is very sad at seeing the family home being treated with so much disrespect, particularly as that family gave so much to the canyon."

The site is dear to Holtz. She "has very fond memories," White said, "of raising her children there and dating her husband before they were married and he lived there with his parents."

Sometimes it's better, White said, to live in the past.

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