by lyle e davis
You’re Invited to be part of the Exclusive, Elegant, and Historic
Bandy Canyon Ranch Tour
all for just $25 per person!
Proceeds to benefit
The Escondido History Center Endowment Foundation Serving as both a working ranch and a site of many lavish parties, and visits from many Hollywood celebrities!
Come! See these historic buildings, the lush
gardens, the magnficent design of both nature and architects! Wine, cheese, and plenty of
beautiful history included!
Call 1.760. 743-8207
It was mighty hot back in the ‘good old days.’ Mighty hot. A contraption like ‘air conditioning’ hadn’t even been thought of yet.
No, one just had to plod along, going about his business, and enduring the hot sun beating down mercilessly. Sometimes, even the winter months could be mighty warm. One was always on the lookout for cool, refreshing water. Spring fed water was the best. It was always nice and cold. Cold and refreshing. And, often, the difference between life and death.
It was under these circumstances, and this kind of hot weather, even late in the year, that John D. Bandy sought out land on which to stake a homestead. A search of the records shows there was a John D. Bandy who was born in Georgia in 1853. If this is our John D. Bandy he was around 27 years old when he discovered this beautiful property, sometime around the late 1870’s, a canyon that was serviced by a lovely stream of nice, clear, and cold creek and spring fed water. The land was suitable, the canyon itself offered protection from many of the elements; it was roomy, plenty of land upon which to build a home and the necessary outbuildings. Plenty of land to corral the livestock - just what he was looking for. Here, John D. Bandy, staked his homestead by filing for 80 acres of land in the mouth of the canyon, and perfected his claim on December 12th, 1882, at age 29. The falls that fell into the canyon came from Santa Maria Creek. (Source: San Diego County Place Names A-Z - by Leland Fetzer)
Bandy had been attracted to the area from Northern California because he was an Adventist. He had heard of John B. Judson’s Seventh Day Adventist movement in San Pasqual. Judson and his wife and four children had moved into the valley in 1875 to be the second white family who settled there, living peacefully among the San Pasqual Indians. Their son, Herbert, was the first white child born in the valley.
John B. Judson House - c. 1880's. Lost in the Withces Creek Fire. This elegant home served as a focal point for the community
and acted as an informal post office for a time
The first white family to settle in the area were the Clevengers, who arrived in 1872. The Bandy homestead was on the east side of Santa Maria Creek close to what is now called Bandy Canyon Road. Later on, Bandy sold his homestead to William H. Thompson, from Nova Scotia. Thompson eventually developed the property into a 450 cow dairy and a 1,000 head cattle ranch.
John D. Bandy died in Coronado, California, in 1924, at the age of 71. Thompson had a cook, Emma Fenton, a widow from Iowa, who had three children. She was unable to care for them so was forced to put them in a San Francisco orphanage. Emma and her frail and ailing daughter, Laura, moved to San Pasqual, where she hired on as a cook and housekeeper on the W. F. Thompson ranch, which was then about 1,000 acres. When Thompson needed another ranch hand, at the urging of Emma, who assured Thompson her son could earn his keep, he sent to the San Francisco orphanage for Emma’s son, seven year old Henry. (Having been born on July 22, 1872, Henry would have arrived on the ranch in 1879, at age seven. Several other accounts, including Henry Fenton’s own account, claim he came to the ranch on July 18, 1881. If his account is accurate then he came to the ranch when he was nine years old, not seven.)
Eventually, his other sister, Musie, would also join Henry, Laura, and their mother at San Pasqual. Henry worked for “Uncle Bill” Thompson for five years for room and board only. At age 12, he was put on the payroll as well, at a whole $5 per month, plus room and board.
Young Henry would augment his income when he was assigned to drive a team of four horses, hauling grain from the valley to San Diego. A load of grain was a thousand pounds per animal or, two tons for his his team, and eight tons for the two other men and their two teams that accompanied him.
It took three days to make the trip which, today, could be made in a couple hours. Henry has said that he didn’t think there was any more difficult job for a young man than hauling grain to San Diego from the San Pasqual Valley.
Entrance to the Grand Lodge - made of locally produced adobe and timbers from San Diego
Mr. Thompson had arranged for the teams to camp in Murphy Canyon; this was so the other men driving the teams wouldn’t go into town and get drunk. The other teamsters, however, paid young Fenton a quarter a piece to feed and water their mules, while they went into town to party. So, Fenton made another dollar a week there. He was now making nine dollars a month.
Back in those days W. F. Thompson acquired more and more land, and more and more livestock. He made money raising cattle, horses, hay, and grain and was able to pay for a thousand acres of land. A good horse was worth from five to fifty dollars, and a cow from five to fifteen, mostly five and ten dollar cows.
During the 1880’s a land boom had begun. Thompson had big ideas about building “San Pasqual City,” and getting rich. He took out a $25,000 mortgage on the ranch to finance the development when, suddenly, in 1887, the land boom went bust. And so did Thompson. The bank took back the property in foreclosure.
Young Henry Fenton had saved his money from his $5 a month, plus the money he earned from looking after the other teamsters mules. But, when Thompson lost the ranch to foreclosure, young Mr. Fenton, at age 15, had to go elsewhere to find work.
He did pretty well.
During the years approaching 1900, even though the valley was rather sparsely populated, with only a few families, each of whom had ranches, there were parties a’plenty. The ranchers, their families, their staffs, and their neighbors would get together periodically for a party.
One notable party celebrated the 4th of July, 1890. A couple of ranchers contributed a beef each for barbecue, others would contribute a couple of sheep for the grill, others would provide the vegetables and others produce, someone would play an accordian, or fiddle, and they would commence to have a good old fashioned party. Families would come from miles around and all would chip in, some cooking, some serving, some just having a good time.
Collectively, there would be as many as 700 vehicles counted: carts, buckboards, spring wagons, lumber wagons, and a few buggies and carriages, all ferrying up to 3000 souls to the party which was held on the Bandy ranch on July 4th, 1890.
There were people from Highland Valley, Poway, Escondido, Santa Maria (Ramona,) Valley Center, San Marcos, Twin Oaks Valley and from San Pasqual. The event began in Escondido with a flag raising, a 21 gun salute, a number of patriotic speeches and singing, followed by a journey to the San Pasqual ranch.
Food was eaten, music was played, games got underway, wrestling matches held, flirtations commenced, all the things you’d expect, and some you didn’t, in a huge community party. Parties might be held once or twice a year and participants went all out to ensure everyone had a good time. But this particular celebration, it is said, was the largest ever and has never been equaled in San Pasqual.
Our pioneers were not at a loss for fun ideas. Another event that would occur from time to time would be to go on camp-outs. They would camp in the mountains, or they would camp at the ocean, on the beach. In August 21, 1893, the Escondido Times wrote of such a group - “A crowd of young people of San Pasqual and Bernardo are now on their way to the coast on a camping trip for fun. The company consists of the younger members of the Judson, Moore, Ward, and Bowen families. Their mode of locomotion is a big hay rack on which is loaded something like a ton of nice clean alfalfa hay, room to ride in comfort, while the driver perched on a high seat cracks his whip over the backs of the four high steppers in front and the outfit glides merrily to the jingle and laughter of the belles.”
After leaving the Bandy Ranch and Mr. Thompson’s employ, Fenton went into contracting on large San Diego projects, eventually amassing a fortune. Shortly after 1900, Fenton had saved his money and, at age 28, he was able to purchase 1000 acres of land in the San Pasqual Valley at just $3 an acre. (Source: Boyhood Days, Henry Fenton, page 165).
Sometime around 1902, Henry Fenton, age 30, married Emily Bowen. They would have one daughter, also named Emily, who was born October 30, 1910. In 1906, at age 34, he had formed a company called the H.G. Fenton Contracting Co. At one point it is said he owned as many as 1,000 mules and many pieces of grading equipment. You can still see that grading equipment on the ranch today. In 1916, at age 44, Henry Fenton bought the former W. F. Thompson ranch, which totaled around 1,000 acres, and which had been his childhood home, when he lived right next door to poverty.
It was quite a rags to riches story . . . this young lad who was beckoned from an orphange, worked for minimum wages, but saved his money, had a keen sense for business opportunities, and responded to them.
He had made a great deal of money with his contracting businesses from the time he was only 15 years of age until he turned 30. Among other projects, his company dug most of the basements and foundations for downtown San Diego buildings and skyscrapers. He also got the contract to build the streets in Coronado.
He loved Bandy Canyon, where he built his country home, and other properties that eventually came close to 4,000 acres. He made Bandy Canyon the center of his ranch operations. A legend had begun to bloom.
The estate was something to see. And hear. All kinds of wildlife abounded. From spotted skunks and racoons to bobcats and gray foxes. Mountain lions as well. One time a deputy sheriff who had killed a mountain lion brought it to the ranch where it measured out at 11 feet, 4 inches, from tip to tail. One of the largest mountain lions ever seen.
Today, the Bandy Canyon Ranch is home to some of the most lush gardens you’ll ever see, mature palm trees, scarred by the Witch Creek Fires, but still alive and healthy, giant eucalyptus trees, cacti, succulents, begonias and dozens of varietals of cultivated flowering plants. A rushing, bubbling stream flows through the grounds, providing the liquid nourishment the plants all need and gladly receive, particularly now after three years of drought.
The rocky areas of the canyon, and there are many, are filled with native chaparral, sagebrush, buckwheat and laurel sumac and oak and manzanita. There may be a few less weeping willow trees than once flourished here . . . but it is still a wonderful example of nature at its most basic beauty.
After Henry Fenton acquired and built onto the ranch, he became known for throwing another legendary party. “The Old Timers’ Picnic” was an invitation only event . . . and anyone who lived in the valley prior to 1900 was invited, together with their family and invited friends. Fenton would host thousands annually at these soirees. The event even gained national attention as LIFE and Time magazines both sent reporters and photographers to cover the event.
The luxuriously rustic adobe lodge was built for entertaining and includes two kitchens, built-in seating, fireplaces, and unique fixtures. Although portions of the ranch burned in 2007, much remains to explore. Jack Haley, he who played “The Tin Man” in the Wizard of Oz, owned a ranch adjacent to the Fenton’s and was often a guest at the massive parties they held.
In 1919, 47 year-old Fenton opened and operated the highly successful Fenton Dairy Ranch where 800 cows were milked.
In 1922, at age 50, Fenton purchased The Western Salt Company, paid off all its loans and saw the company again become successful, under his guidance. He would later acquire the Fenton Material Company as well as the Pre-Mixed Concrete Company.
In the 1930’s, Fenton, now in his late 50’s, created the “Camp” at Bandy Canyon Ranch. Under-privileged boys could enjoy a summer camp experience at this camp.
Emily, Henry’s first wife, and his daughter, Emily, traveled a great deal together. They would go on cruises, on lengthy train rides. They were quite close. Young Emily was still living at home in 1930, acording to the census, at age 20. Then on August 12, 1943, Henry’s wife, Emily, died.
Young Emily would go on to marry Louis Hunte and Henry Fenton would eventually turn his company over to his son-in-law. Louis Hunte and Emily had a son, Henry Fenton Hunte. Eventually, after Louis Hunte’s death in 1981, at the age of 76, Henry G. Fenton’s grandson, Henry F. Hunte, would take over the company, where he is still involved. Louise Hunte’s widow, Emily, would remarry in 1983 at the age of 73, to Joseph Black. She died in 1997, at the age of 87.
Sometime after Henry Fenton’s wife, Emily, died, he met and married Justina Burkhart Smith, a widow, whom he had met at the former Emerald Hills Country Club. Justina Elizabeth Burkhard Smith was born on 24 Jun 1908 in Zanesville, Ohio. Her husband, a dentist, had died and Justina moved to California.
Fenton was about 36 years older than Justina when they married. Indeed, Justina was only two years older than Fenton’s daughter, a fact which did not go unnoticed by the rest of the family. Prior to the marriage, Justina did not have much money. Suddenly, she was a multimillionaire.
In the 1940’s, the Fenton’s built what is now the Verger Dairy on Bandy Canyon Road. In 1944, at the age of 72, Fenton bought and restored his alma mater . .. the Old Adobe Schoolhouse. He had been a member of the “Class of 1886,” and, indeed, had helped make the adobe brick out of which the school house was built. Sadly, this school house was all but destroyed in the Witch Creek Fire, that also destroyed parts, but not all, of Bandy Ranch.
Though, at age 79, he died on August 25, 1951, at his beloved Bandy Canyon Ranch, Fenton’s company continued to grow. By 1982, the Fenton Company had formed a real estate division, focusing on commercial property and, in 1998, began acquiring multifamily residential properties. The company, with 119 employees, now owns and manages a commercial real estate portfolio totaling 3 million square feet of industrial/office space, and a residential portfolio covering 11 apartment communities with more than 2,800 units.
One of the Bandy Ranch cottages that escaped the Witche Creek Fire
When Fenton died, the ranch consisted of about 3600 acres. After Fenton died, his widow, Justina Elizabeth Burkhard Smith Fenton, continued to own, operate the ranch and supervise the estate. She was very active in many charitable and philanthropic causes. (While her given name was Justina, most folks who knew her called her Justine).
In 1952 Justina, at the age of 44, sold approximately 3,300 acres to the city of San Diego for $1 million. That deal secured valuable water rights in the San Pasqual Valley. Much of that acreage today contains the San Diego Wild Animal Park. For some time the Bandy Ranch was rented out for group celebrations such as corporate events, charity functions, and the like. In addition to her well known social functions, however, Justina was also known to be a hard worker and could often be found pulling weeds and gardening. In her later years she would live in Point Loma but at least once a week, usually on Wednesdays, she would journey back up to the Bandy Canyon Ranch.
In 1991, at age 83, she would tell the Union-Tribune: “We owned most of the valley. Up where the Wild Animal Park is, we built the dams and dry-farmed it-oats, barley, and also ran some stock.”
Justina died on December 27, 2001, in San Diego, at the age of 93. A few years after Justina died, Glen Brush of Brush Realty listed the property. It was eventual sold to CGA Properties, Inc., which included John D. Carter, a Pasadena, California real estate broker, Joe Giampolo, and a third partner. In 2006, the present owner, John D. Carter, a San Diego based investor, was born in Canada, grew up in Southern Ontario, near Fort Erie. He came to the United States in 1983.
His background is that of a software engineer for 20 years. “We had venture capital funding and had a successful run in the dotcom days - but then kinda got blown up when everything crashed in the dot.com world. I had always loved real estate and got into real estate after the dot.com crash in 2001. I’ve tried to focus on mostly industrial, and/or commercial properties. I’m strictly an investor, not a broker.”
Another view of the Grand Lodge, a great venue for entertaining
Carter has sold off some of the properties to resolve mitigation issues.. Presently, Carter’s plans are to develop a resort on the remaining 407 acres. He has in mind an upscale resort that would appeal to the corporate world as well as upscale clients. Shuttle service from the airport would whisk arriving clients to the resort where they would find a spa, a winery, a Bed and Breakfast, any number of amenities that would appeal to an upscale market.
While, technically, the property is currently listed for sale, Carter says he’s actively pursuing the idea of a resort and sees a probable two to three year timeline before completion. “Yes, technically the property is for sale. But that’s kind of a philosophy I have. If someone approaches me with the right offer, of course I’d sell. - but we’re really not aggressively trying to sell the property. We are being aggressive in our plans for the upscale resort. Above all, we want to retain the beautiful and natural ambience of the ranch.”
There now exists a rare opportunity to tour the historic Bandy Canyon Ranch on November 7th. An Open House from 1-4pm benefits the Escondido History Center endowment fund. The cost is only $25.00 per person. What’s the incentive for making such a visit?
Well, it may be the only chance you’ll ever have of seeing this historic ranch, its lush vegetation, its beautiful outbuildings, and to learn even more about its history.
If you decide to go, wear comfortable shoes for walking. Call 760 743-8207 for directions.
The Bandy Canyon Ranch Courtyard