Earth Day proved to be the perfect spring day for a group of enthusiastic walkers who strode out in a heart healthy tour of the historic village of Rancho Santa Fe.
April 21 marked the date, the village provided the backdrop, and The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe served as host for the inaugural “Diane Welch Celebrity Walking Tour.”
The invitational-only group included County Supervisor Dave Roberts; Diana Cavagnaro, celebrity milliner; Leslie Hoffman, portrait photographer; Carla DiMare, president of the Rancho Santa Fe Senior Center Board of Directors; Rita Orland, founder of Architours; Kim O’Donnell of San Diego Home/Garden; travel writer Elaine Masters, and more.
In the 1920s and ‘30s, as the Ranch was being developed into an exclusive enclave of “Gentleman Ranchos,” it attracted movie stars and directors — superstar celebrities in their day — who sought refuge from the bustle of Hollywood.
The tour’s first stopping point was Wisteria Cottage, now one of The Inn’s many guest cottages, where Lilian Rice called home. As the Ranch’s resident architect, Rice catered to a celebrity clientele. (
Welch is Lilian Rice’s official biographer.)
Movie mogul Joseph Schenck and his wife, actress Norma Talmadge, lived in a Rice-built house in the 1920s, as did silent movie star Pauline Neff, and her husband, aviator Frank Coffyn.
Other celebrities who called the Ranch home were opera star Madame Amelita Galli Curci; King Wallis Vidor, movie producer; John Stuart Robertson, a movie producer who retired and started the Rancho Santa Fe Riding Club; Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Mary Pickford, who purchased hundreds of acres of the former Lusardi Ranch to create their own Rancho Zorro, now Fairbanks Ranch.
More recent stars who lived in Rancho Santa Fe include Victor Mature, George Lewis and Robert Wagner. In the 1930s, Errol Flynn made a movie here, and perhaps the most remembered celebrity to call Rancho Santa Fe home was Bing Crosby.
As the tour group stopped by the Rancho Santa Fe Senior Center, where president Carla DiMare shared information about the center’s vital role for local seniors, it headed back through the village passing Gayle Gilles Travel agency and McNally’s Antiques showroom. Formerly the garage block, it was here that Louise Badger ran the service station along with the Fountain Lunch eatery.
Her son, Eddo Spurr, was interviewed by Welch before he passed away. He had a vivid recollection of being disturbed late one night in his bedroom, located next to the kitchen of the Fountain Lunch. “He heard someone stumbling and rummaging around the refrigerator,” retold Welch. “Eddo was too frightened to investigate, but the intruder was soon discovered the next morning by his note, ‘put the beer on my account’ signed, Bing Crosby.”
Other stops included Rice’s former offices and apartments on the corner of La Granada and Paseo Delicias; the historic row houses; the Joers/Ketchum building; the former school — now home to The Pantry; the Administration block, and The Inn.
The tour group learned a lot of history and local lore during the entertaining tour. “We both had a great time and think the tour is a real hit!” said County Supervisor Dave Roberts who attended with his son, Alex.
“Diane Welch Celebrity Walking Tour” will be offered by demand on Sunday afternoons and are organized in partnership with The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. The cost is $40 per person, with a discount for groups of 10 or more. Refreshments are provided in the Croquet Cottage at The Inn. Proceeds benefit The Rancho Santa Fe Senior Center, a non-profit organization.
Email Diane Welch at email@example.com or call 585-523-1182 for dates and times and other tour information.
Editor’s note: Diane Welch has just been honored with a People In Preservation Award from the Save Our Heritage Organisation, for bringing the important work of master architect Lilian Rice to the community.