Inside The Santa Lucia Preserve in California
“No two residences are alike at The Preserve. Each owner has poured their creativity, penchant for living an adventurous life, resources, heart and soul into creating their place,” explained Lisa Guthrie of the Santa Lucia Preserve, a 20,000-acre private preserve in Carmel, California’s coastal foothills offering 300 estates, a Tom Fazio golf course, health spa, stables and 100 miles of trails. In a joint interview with both Lisa Guthrie and Tom Gray of the Preserve, we discussed the rich history of the land, the range of estates on the market, the kinds of amenities available on-site, the importance of conservation and sustainability to the community of residents, and much more.
Tom Gray was the Managing Principal Partner in developing the Santa Lucia Preserve community. In 1990 Tom led the transformation of the historic Rancho San Carlos into the “Santa Lucia Preserve” where 297 home-sites are interwoven throughout 20,000 acres of which 90% is protected opens pace managed by the Santa Lucia Conservancy, which was endowed with $25M from the developer. Today, Tom and his wife, Alayna, reside at Santa Lucia Preserve where their passion for the land, the people and the lifestyle continues.
Lisa Guthrie was a member of the original development team alongside Tom Gray, as Director of Clubs & Services, Real Estate Broker, and Director of Marketing. Today, Lisa owns and operates Santa Lucia Preserve Realty which serves The Preserve community exclusively and is the Director of Sales & Marketing for Santa Lucia Preserve.
Tell me a little bit about the history and location of the Preserve, and how in many ways, the history of the land parallels the history of the United States.
Tom Gray: Settlement begins with the land – the primitive sense of a place of safety, abundant basic needs and community. We have been drawn to settle this place for over 1,500 years. It is a time capsule of California history from its earliest native settlers to today’s internationally renowned destination of the Monterey Peninsula. It has influenced and been influenced by every major transition in the region. From the first village of native people, the Spanish exploration of the New World, Junipero Serra’s founding of a chain of 21 mission along the Alta California coast, the culture and political seat of Spanish, then Mexican power in the region, the revolution that separated Mexico from Spain, the Mexican-American War that created a US territory, Statehood, the Gold Rush, the westward movement, cattle ranching, seafood, agriculture, WWII and finally tourism, golf and hospitality. During this evolution it has carried only three names: “Echilat” during the 6-17th centuries; “Rancho San Carlos” for the 18-20th centuries; and, the Santa Lucia Preserve, for the 21st century and beyond.
The Rumsien people settled here in 500 AD and created their village of Echilat. They were hunter-gathers. They were drawn to the protective 500-acre basin in the center of the property where the climate is mild and away from the fog, oak trees shade the creek and provided both acorns and water, the grass supports a growing deer herd, the forested ridges protected their back and anyone advancing across the grasslands would be seen. Well-constructed homes have replaced the reed huts, but not much else has changed.
After 1,200 years the Rumsiens were dispossessed of their land by Father Junipero Serra’s advancing system of Catholic mission marching up the coast of Spain’s Alta California during the 1760s. The Spanish influence is present in the regions architecture, the seafaring, fishing, ranching and agricultural traditions and the cuisine derived from this bounty. Monterey was Alta California’s major port and its center of church and state. The Spanish Dons were the richest and most powerful residents along California’s coast. The Dons’ allegiances changed in 1821 when Mexico became the ruler of Alta California, but little else. To cement these relationships Mexico issued rancho grants in roughly 4,000 acre increments to the influential citizens of Monterey. Two of these grants, Rancho Potrero de San Carlos and Rancho San Francisquito, comprise 12,000 acres of the Santa Lucia Preserve today.
In 1848 Alta California become a territory of the United States as tribute from the Mexican-American War. Monterey continued as the territorial seat until the Golf Rush and westward expansion shifted the population and political power northward to San Jose and finally Sacramento. With more mouths to feed, the hide and tallow business on the ranchos of the Spanish and Mexican Dons was replaced by the beef cattle business on the ranches of the new Californians who bought, tricked or stole the land from the Dons. Rancho San Carlos was a product of this westward land rush. The four Sargent brothers ventured west from New Hampshire. In 1856 they bought Rancho Potrero; in 1858, Rancho San Francisquito; and then began to assemble their 12,000 acres with about 125 parcels created by President Lincoln’s Homestead Act of 1862 to encourage Union Civil War veterans to move west and stop any spread of slavery. Rancho San Carlos began its period as a western cattle ranch.
In 1922 the Ranch entered the Roaring 20’s as the estate of the Gatsbyeque George Gordon Moore, who build the grand hacienda in almost the same location of the Rumsien’s Echilat and converted the grass lands into his polo empire with stick and ball fields and barns. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the script – gay parties, high-goal polo matches, great hunts of the Eurasian boar that he imported for sport and the depression. Whatever the source of Moore’s money, it ran out in 1939 and his grand lifestyle ended with foreclosure of his beloved Rancho San Carlos. He never sold so much as a piece of the land to save his skin.
A wealthy family from Piedmont, California, picked up the pieces of Moore’s estate on the steps of the Monterey courthouse and created a family compound. They ranched the land some; they held family gatherings; but for most of the next 50 years Rancho San Carlos faded into obscurity. The family presented the County with a few development proposals from 10,000 homes in the 1960s to 2,000 in the 1980s. They were rejected and finally ended in litigation between the family and the County. Disagreements about the ranches future led them to put their 20,000 acres on the market in 1989. Tom Gray and Peter Stocker lead an investment group that purchase the land in early 1990 with a vision for the Santa Lucia Preserve. Peter was killed in a helicopter accident at property 3 months later. In 1998 the County approved the plan for the creation of the Santa Lucia Preserve and the settlement and permanent protection of these 20,000 acres. Sales began in 1999. The Dot-Com boom made the Preserve at instant success.
In a discussion with one of the residents, the Preserve was described to me as “one of the most unique, privately owned parcels of land in the United States if not the world.” Why do you think that is?
Tom Gray: The simple answer is scale. The mere size of the unique confluence of complex, diverse ecological zones. We just cannot resist the beauty of this natural tapestry of biodiversity. The topography rises from 90 to 3,000 feet above sea level through valleys, flats, ridges, creek beds. The vegetation transforms back and forth from coastal chaparral to grasslands, oak savannas and woodlands, redwood forests, riparian corridor. The place is a complex of micro-climates. Its transect runs east from the marine environment of the Monterey Trench through the warming foothills of the Santa Lucia Range to the rich alluvial soils and warmth of the Salinas Valley. When this exquisite landscape is overlaid by conservation deeds and supported by a $25 million permanent endowment. The result is unique—historic, timeless, irreplaceable and priceless.
With regard to the property itself, what kinds of estates are available, and what are some of the most-valued facilities and amenities on-site?
Lisa Guthrie: The Hacienda, built-in the 1920’s by George Gordon Moore is the heartbeat of the community. Moore envisioned Rancho San Carlos as a gentleman’s sporting estate and he created The Hacienda to entertain his family and friends with lavish polo parties and celebrations. He brought hospitality to a new level and left that legacy for the community to enjoy today. The Hacienda seems to come alive when there is a big gathering, as if the walls could speak.
The Sports and Fitness Center with bocce, horseshoes, croquet, tennis, a ball field and most importantly the Polo Pools, built-in the center of the historic horse shoe-shaped polo barn with a two-story slide, toddler pool with sprinklers & bubblers, a water garden, lap pool and Jacuzzi would be argued by anyone under 12 years old as the most important facilities.
It is hard to compete with the Equestrian Center where horses are treated with great care, enjoying daily pasture time, cozy bedded stalls and a nice run to hang out and shoot the breeze with their neighbors. Happy, relaxed, and well cared for horses make for safe and happy riders. The carrot feeding is very important to the younger set as well. When the kids get to The Preserve they run down to feed all the horses a carrot, checking to see if there is a new resident at the barn. The equestrian team enjoys guiding trail rides, walking little ones on a pony and giving lessons. The summer months heat up with opportunities for cattle sorting and team penning which puts everyone to the test. This creates great team building skills and is a unique opportunity for family, friends and some residents bring their companies down to work on team building.
Tom Fazio designed the golf course so naturally that the land does not look much different from its original state. It called out to be a course, and today, with the new Bermuda, Santa Ana Hybrid turf on the fairways, it is a year round challenge, testing one’s shot making skills with a fast, firm playing surface while maximizing water conservation. The course has been among Golf Digest’s America’s Greatest 100 Courses since it opened.
No two residences are alike at The Preserve. Each owner has poured their creativity, penchant for living an adventurous life, resources, heart and soul into creating their place. Overtime, as lives change and time creates a new focus or interest, some residences have become available for sale.
Today, there are ten unique custom homes for sale. 4 Rumsen Trace boasts masterful craftsmanship and design. It is located just across the street from The Hacienda with 3 bedrooms, 3 ½ baths, beautiful pastoral views over The Hacienda meadows where cattle graze peacefully part of the year.
16 Vasquez Trail is 11,500 s.f. of family fun and entertaining, set on 52 acres with a sport court, home theater, infinity pool, bocce court, billiards, guest house and caretaker cottage. It can easily sleep 22 on a big holiday gathering.
6 Via Vaquera sits up on a quiet knoll just above all of the activity at the sports center – designed as a rustic farm-house with a contemporary interior that delights in mature gardens, an orchard and flowers on a perfectly manageable scale.
We cannot forget 2 Touche Pass, a classic contemporary ranch house with 5000 s.f. of tiled patios wrapping around the views with a pool looking at the 18th green of The Preserve Golf Club. 8,200 s.f. includes the 4 bedroom/4 bath caretaker cottage with bay views. Stunning view, light breezes and a great location.
6 San Clemente Trail is a golfers dream. Located just across from the 4th green, you can just walk on and play some holes to unwind – a Mediterranean design with 5 bedrooms, 5 ½ baths surrounded by peaceful terraces to enjoy sun or shade anytime.
It’s clear to me that privacy, peace, conservation and environmental stewardship are all important pieces of the puzzle, if one were to put together a portrait describing the community that lives at the Preserve. How would you describe this self-selecting group of individuals, couples and families?
Lisa: The answer is in the question – “self-selection”. The security, privacy, protection, certainty and beauty of this draws people to it. However, this land picks its settlers. Certainly they have a degree of self-made wealth in common. There is wealth and then there is wealth, but on the Preserve its somewhat difficult to tell the difference. The families that are attracted by Preserve’s culture and ethic are “inner-directed”. They are comfortable with themselves. They feel little need to prove their importance. Most are long marriages; most to the first wives. They tend to be non-ego-expressive. Some build estates. Estates, however, that no one can see, except for their families and invited guests. Family and generation legacy are important. Grandparents, parents, kids, grand-kids, brother, sisters, cousins, nephews and nieces, they gather here for holiday traditions, family celebrations, weddings, birthdays. A house at the Preserve is a family home. Since they share similar values, friendships are easily made. Organized and informal get-together are shared. A community is created that cares about and for its people and its place.
Looking ahead 5, 10 or 20 years— though perhaps that timeline is a mere sliver relative to its history—what does the future hold for the Preserve in terms of development, community and the environment?
Lisa: In 50 years the Santa Lucia Preserve will be one of the world’s few historic, timeless, irreplaceable and priceless places to live. You will not be able to buy a home on the Preserve. One never reaches the market. It is either passed down to the next generation or as a friend you are invited to purchase a home.
For more information, www.santaluciapreserve.com