The History of the Rancho Buena Vista Adobe

Two hundred years ago, in this area, Native Americans roamed. As they were gatherers, not farmers, they moved about to find food and water. Actually, Vista is the site of an ancient Indian village. The Luisenos and Dieguenos were the main tribes residing in this area. The land was dotted with mostly shrubs and chaparral and no vegetation grew more than 20 feet high.

In 1769, Gasper de Portola and his group of Spaniards were the first Europeans to traverse this area. Later, Missionaries came and many Indians joined Mission San Luis Rey (1798) run by the Franciscan order. The mission’s goal was to promote Christianity as well as self sufficiency to Indians, including knowledge of farming and raising animals. The intent was to return the land to the Indians once this goal was accomplished.

From 1834 – 36, Pio Pico, the Mexican administrator in charge of enforcing the law, oversaw the breakup of the San Luis Rey land, including what would later become Rancho Buena Vista.

In 1845, Felipe Subria petitioned Pio Pico for the Buena Vista land. He had squatted there for the previous 10 years. In 1846, he received 1184.9 acres that became Rancho Buena Vista. This area was nestled between Rancho Guajome and Rancho Vallecitos de San Marcos. He erected a spartan residence near a small stream of water.

Felipe erected a small adobe and a three-sided barn for his horses. He raised cattle and sheep, and had a small garden. Nothing of that structure stands today. Felipe was older and married. Nothing is known of his wife, but he had a daughter, Maria La Gracia. She married William Dunn, an American soldier on August 22, 1851. After Dunn’s enlistment ended, he had decided to stay in the area and raise cattle. The original D brand associated with the Rancho was from his name. On April 10, 1852 Dunn deeded the property to Jesus Machedo for $3,000. He constructed the first of many rooms to which we now refer to as the Rancho Buena Vista Adobe. They were fashioned so well that they exist to this day. The home was done is a Spanish style. The originals walls are 2 – 3 feet deep, the roof was an overlapping thatch. The floor was pounded flat to minimize the dust from the dirt. Rugs covered the dirt floor. These rooms were used primarily as bedrooms, as cooking was done outside. He also constructed the first irrigation system for the ranch. He dammed the creek so he could have a reservoir of water year-round. He also dug a well. On the land, he grew orchards, and engaged in small scale farming along with raising some livestock.

Lorenzo Soto later purchased and moved into the home Machedo had constructed and added rooms. Instead of adding to the row of rooms already built, he decided to make the residence more traditional Spanish and erected rooms at a right angle to the existing structure. They were fashioned similar to the original rooms but did not connect. The corner was purposely left open as an entrance for visitors.

Cave Johnson Couts, like Dunn, had arrived with General Kearny during the American Mexican war. In 1851, Couts married Ysidora Bandini of the very prestigious Bandini family. Rancho Guajome was owned by Ysidora’s sister and she was given Guajome as a wedding present. When the opportunity arose, he also purchased Rancho Buena Vista. He intended to raise livestock on the property and his cattle herd jumped to the thousands.

Couts spent time and money ensuring the original RBV adobe was kept up. His son, Cave Johnson Couts Jr. spent a lot of time there, often spending the night to guard the horses from bandits. He had one of the best collections of horses, and stabled his prized stallion in one of the adobe bedrooms.

Chalmers Scott, the family attorney and friend, married the Couts’ oldest daughter, Maria Antonia, in 1874. Ysidora Bandini de Couts transferred the RBV property to Maria and her new husband, Chambers Scott on August 21, 1876, who completely settled in by 1879.

Scott and Cave Couts Jr. wished to see the railway come through the area. Scott persuaded Maria to give the railway company land for the rails which included 50 feet on either side of the tracks. In return, Scott demanded that “Vista” be the site of a station or stopping place. This would ensure produce from local farms would have access to the markets. They petitioned for and witnessed the completion of the Santa Fe tracks, between Oceanside and Escondido in 1887.

Couts Jr., on behalf of the estate petitioned to purchase the rest of the land. Ysidora Fuller and Couts Jr. disagreed on the distribution of the land awarded to the Couts family and the land to be purchased, so legal wrangling continued until 1903. Eventually, Ysidora Fuller and Couts Jr. each received one fourth of the land and the rest went to various family members.

The late 1880’s ushered in many changes with a land boom throughout San Diego County. No longer were there wide open fields for grazing. Farms and small rancheros spread everywhere and avocado and citrus trees dotted the horizon. With the population increase, small businesses also grew. Vista, itself, grew with the railway completed in 1887. By this time, a town had been planned next to the ever-important railway station. The first postmaster, John A. Frazier gave the city its’ name when he submitted the name “Vista” to the United States Post Office Department in Washington D.C.

Ysidora Fuller and husband George enjoyed their time at the adobe home and made considerable changes. They tore down an old kitchen next to the last bedroom and put a breeze way in its place. Parallel to the original structure, they built a modern kitchen, pantry and dining room. A bay window in the dining room overlooked the grounds at the northern end. With this wing completed, the hacienda became U-shaped. The materials used for the addition did not include adobe walls, but rather wood and batten. Windows and doorways were larger than the original section. The hacienda now consisted of 12 rooms, and 4,189 square feet.

In 1918, after George Fuller died, Ysidora sold the property to F. Jack Knight and his wife Helen Louise. Helen Knight was an heiress for the Mary KcKinney Gold Mine in Cripple Creek CO. The Knight’s did most of the remodeling of the adobe themselves. They strengthened the walls and roof, and updated the kitchen again. They enclosed the breezeway on the original side of the adobe and made a bathroom. The main entrance was then moved to where it is today. In addition, they installed a boiler and radiators in each room for heat.

The Knights wanted the ranchero to be the social center of Vista. They held a party for the newly formed Chamber of Commerce the day after Christmas, 1923. In 1925, they gave land to the city of Vista to establish Wildwood Park, still in existence today. Easement to Vista continued to Vista Irrigation District and other development access.

Because they hosted many guests, they built a guest house with two walkways connecting to the adobe. The guesthouse had three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms and a kitchen (1880 sq. ft.). When Helen passed away, Knight remarried. In his 60’s, he decided to sell the estate, but before he left, he gave additional land to developers in Vista. Knight and his new wife sold the property to Harry Pollard and Margarita Fischer Pollard. Harry was a producer for MGM and owned Pollard Pictures that produced several silent films. Margarita was a well known actress in silent films and they often worked together.

The Pollards invested $150,000 to upgrade the interior of the adobe. Tiles from Mexico were laid in many rooms, and tiles from Italy were imported for the bathroom remodel. In each bedroom wall, they fashioned clothes closets, in the form of cupboards. Heavy wooden doors were hung between each room. Expensive furnishings, Spanish tapestries, silver crosses, iron, brass and gold plated pieces, antique furniture, and items gleaned from churches throughout Europe decorated the home. The composite roof was replaced by hand-hewn shingles, concrete filled damaged adobe bricks, and professional landscaping including a badminton court completed the atmosphere. A new three car garage housed luxury vehicles.

On July 6, 1934, Harry Pollard died and Margarita continued to live in the adobe until 1951. In 1944, she sold part of the land and then sold the rest of property unfurnished, including eight and a half acres for $85,000 to Mr. and Mrs. Fredrick Reid. Although Margarita loved the adobe, it was too much maintenance. She had a new home built in Vista in a similar hacienda style and eventually moved there, living there for the rest of her life. She remained active in Vista Society and became the founding director Vista Rancheros Historical Society.

Several more owners followed, most making minor changes to the structure but upgrading and modernizing the plumbing and electric. The final owner offered to sell the adobe to the City of Vista. The city council began hearings and voted to approve escrow on July 10, 1989 buying it for $1 million, with a loan of $2,150,000. After the purchase, a core of volunteers built a museum from scratch. It was proposed to use the property as a wedding venue, and other events, for most of the income to offset maintenance costs. To this date, the Friends of Rancho Buena Vista, a volunteer non-profit group manages the gift shop and museum for tours.