Ronaldo del Valle, a fourth-generation descendant of Ygnacio del Valle, founder of Rancho Camulos, spent Cinco de Mayo with 150 other family descendants amid the gardens at the historical home for its dedication ceremony as a National Historic Landmark.
"Today is overwhelming, to see how large the Del Valle family is," Del Valle said. "It is not only an honor to be here for the dedication, but also to want to see this place preserved and improved to what it once was."
Right off Highway 126, or "The King's Highway" as it was called almost two centuries ago, lies Rancho Camulos, known as one of the best surviving examples of an Early California rancho in its original rural environment. The rancho stands as a reminder of this state's Hispanic and Mexican heritage. Established by Ygnacio del Valle in 1853, Rancho Camulos was once part of a 48,000 acre Mexican land grant deeded in 1839 to Ygnacio's father, Antonio del Valle.
Since its founding, Rancho Camulos has maintained a vital agricultural tradition. The first oranges grown in what is now Ventura County were planted at the rancho in 1853. Vineyards were also cultivated for the production of wine and brandy, and became one of the largest vintners in the region during the late 19th century.
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What probably brought the most fame to Rancho Camulos, and consequently many tourists to the state of California, was Helen Hunt Jackson's novel "Ramona," first published in 1884. As the setting for Jackson's romantic tale of a young girl raised by a Hispanic Californian family, tourists and settlers flocked to the region in huge numbers.
James Sandos, professor of the American Southwest at University of Redlands and keynote speaker at the dedication, described this as one of the first examples of the growth of American popular culture.
"People came to here to see the home of Ramona, and it brought people of every stripe to California," Sandos said.
Rancho Camulos remained in the Del Valle family until 1924 when it was sold to August Rubel, whose heirs have worked to protect and preserve the site.
Shirley Rubel Lorenz, President of Rancho Camulos Museum Board of Directors, who was born and raised at Rancho Camulos accepted the National Historic Landmark plaque presented by Arthur Eck, superintendent of Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area National Park Service.
"National Historic Landmarks are reserved for the nation's most important cultural resources," Eck said. "Rancho Camulos illustrates both the history and pre-history of our nation. We recognize and encourage owners of these landmarks to preserve them. Only those who preserve and understand the past can see the vision of the future."
Lorenz said her father August instilled in her a sense of trust and stewardship over Rancho Camulos. With more grants and a continued effort to restore what was lost in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, Lorenz hopes to see a new roof added to the chapel and electricity put into the main building.
"Today is just super," Lorenz said. "It's been a true joy to have everyone here, not only the Del Valle's but three generations of the Rubel family, too. This is what we need to get people enthused about this place."
Rancho Camulos is one of 2,300 properties across the United States dedicated as a National Historic Landmark. Of those properties, 129 are found in the state of California.