Public History Site Critique

The Kindles Save the Carrillos From Obscurity

A product of 1930’s boosterism, the ranch was constructed in a Spanish style by Leo Carrillo and adobe specialist Cruz Mendoza. Leo Carrillo enjoyed a significant career not only in film, but also in California government. The ranch thus serves as a preservation of a politician, film star and Spanish architecture that was prevalent in 1930’s California.

In 1985, the old adage that is history destined to repeat itself was given a bit more credence when Alan Kindle and Joan Kindle, retirees in the Carlsbad area, began to let their curiosity get the better of them as they wondered about what lay in the lush green valley which was located by their home. Upon investigating, the elderly couple discovered that what remained of the Leo Carrillo Ranch was located within the grounds which were closed off to the public and they “fell in love with it” just as Leo Carrillo had done before them. Having learned about Leo Carrillo and his illustrious career on the silver screen and as the Good-Will Ambassador of California, Alan and Joan Kindle decided to campaign for the preservation of the ranch, which is a reminder of the “Spanish rancho period of the state’s history”.

As part of his campaign to keep the Carrillo Ranch preserved, Alan Kindle wrote an article in The Los Angeles Times that brought attention to the attempt by land developers to build roads from Vista and San Marcos to Encinitas and the I-5, emphasizing and lamenting the added pollution which was sure to replace the lush green valley known as Los Quiotes.

The Kindles managed to help get the ranch recognized as a federal landmark listed on the national Register of historic Places, as well as a California Historic Landmark. Alan Kindle also created the Friends of Carrillo Ranch historical organization, whose members donate and raise private funds for the upkeep of the Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park. The Kindles also developed a historical lesson plan for fourth graders, in order to enhance their knowledge of California history. Emphasizing art by having the children paint for three hours following the lesson, the Kindles also created an entire collection of photographs and memorabilia related to the Carrillo family. Opened to the public in 2003, the park is now the pride and joy of Carlsbad.

The history of the ranch is more than one of the ranch itself; it is a part of Leo Carrillo and functions as a venue for the presentation of a prominent figure in California’s history. Living on the ranch from 1937 to 1961, Mr. Carrillo was a staunch supporter of public recreational and cultural resources, serving for eighteen years on the California Beaches and Parks Commission, successfully protecting them from private ownership. Mr. Carrillo also played a cardinal role in the development of the Los Angeles Olvera Street complex, as well as the Anza-Borrego Desert Park and Los Angeles Arboretum. Despite his status as an actor, Mr. Carrillo was concerned with California’s reputation and did not want film makers or other opportunists to exploit California wantonly for their own goals without regard to the local residents. He insisted on making the film industry explain what a particular film was about before obtaining permission to film in California. While this measure was not passed, he was able to get the film producers to be required to cite the California Park or Beach where it was filmed within the film credits. “We’re being pushed around… the whole world should know when a film is made in a California State Park.”

While touring amusement fairs around California, Mr. Carrillo also visited children’s hospitals and together with his wife Edith, established a trust fund to benefit California State beaches and Parks. In recognition of his selfless services, Mr. Carrillo was made honorary mayor of several cities and a section of Malibu beach was renamed in his honor as Leo Carrillo State Beach in April of 1959.

Of particular note surrounding the literature of the ranch, the main carpenters and construction laborers were the Mendoza family. Cruz Mendoza, an adobe expert originally from New Mexico, happened to meet Carrillo by chance and they struck up a conversation which led to their collaboration. Living in Vista with his three sons, Cruz Mendoza led the construction of the Los Quiotes Ranch, built upon the bones of the ruins which were there when Leo Carrillo had purchased the property. Usually neglected in the telling of history, it is a unique feature of the Leo Carrillo Ranch’s history to acknowledge the work of its Hispanic labor so prominently and proudly. This began with the handprint of Cruz Mendoza alongside the handprint of Leo Carrillo, located on the bunkhouse wall. While most accounts of the Ranch mention the work of Cruz Mendoza and his three sons, it was Dale Baillou who featured an in-depth presentation of Mendoza’s contributions.

As much as Leo Carrillo played an actual role in local government, the phenomena of the ranch within California’s modern history is one of myth and fabricated legend. The Boosters who sold California’s image to incoming residents popularized their own version of the state’s Spanish history. It was a “romanticized identity that became widely accepted at the turn of the nineteenth century as reality.”  Ignorant of the distinction Californios made in maintaining their own cultural identity, consumers bought the image of a Hispanic version of cowboys (vaqueros) and their supposedly easy and genteel way of life. While the truth is that Native American groups still occupied the area, the government’s forceful removal of them in order to make way for development was no doubt left out of the brochures and advertisements.

The preservation of California ranches and the ranchero lifestyle which was “rapidly disappearing” according to Leo Carrillo, was a lasting impression first created by the California boosters of the early twentieth century, the 1930’s in particular. The Anglo boosters needed to create a place where American consumers would want to live, so much as the cities of Philadelphia and New York had their own histories and unique character, and so did southern California also require an image under which it could be sold.

The 1930’s experienced a huge boom in nostalgia, and Americans’ demand for tradition increased. This led to a market for interpretation of history. In California, some people imagined the arrival of Anglo-Americans as a starting point, which led to an increase in pioneering stories centered on the Gold Rush in Northern California. The Boosters of southern California decided to seize upon an image based upon the romanticized Spanish heritage of the region, fabricated and amplified through architecture and an imagined history. The architect Frank Lloyd Wright commented that the immense number of terra-cotta and stucco structures “give back the sunshine stained pink.”

The era of mission colonies and Spanish ranchos were recast from the violence of Native American subjugation and forced labor and religion into a peaceful and serene existence that Americans would aspire to. What had been sold to tourists during the late 1800’s, had become a publicly accepted version of local history where Mexicans and Indians were cast as “pious padres, placid Indians, dashing caballeros and sultry señoritas” as the stars of the re-imagined landscape.

In an effort to avoid repeating the same mistakes as the Eastern cities, the Anglo settlers of California sought to avoid creating what they perceived to be dirty, filthy cities. Unsure of the benefits of modernity, southern Californians took a forward-thinking approach that sometimes resisted development. Retreating into a comforting past which their very presence ended, the new residents of southern California aimed to recreate a time of “apparent romantic chivalry, pre-industrial innocence and harmonious hierarchy”.

There is little doubt that this idyllic history is part of what attracted Alan and Joan Kindle to retire to Carlsbad. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on May 7th, 1927, Alan Kindle died on October 2nd, 2012. His memory was honored via a private memorial service held on Leo Carrillo Ranch. The Kindles’ efforts to preserve the ranch not only memorialized a piece of “Spanish” architecture and Californian nostalgia, it also preserved the memory of a local politician and celebrity who fought to protect public interests and cultivate a positive image for the state as a whole.

Original Paper with complete bibliography at the following link: