When Ray Watt set out to develop San Diego County's newest land of gentry, he had at least two things going for him.
For starters, the 1,240 acres he purchased east of Del Mar, just across the San Dieguito River from Rancho Santa Fe, already had received celebrity status as Rancho Zorro, where Douglas Fairbanks and wife Mary Pickford entertained their Hollywood friends.
Nice touch for any sales brochure. But what the place boasted in legend it lacked in trees.
No problem. Watt also owned the Irvine Tree Farm.
So he sculpted his hillsides and shipped in his trees--93,000 of them, give or take. They line the private streets and they line the private golf course--which was the site of an equestrian event during the 1984 Summer Olympics.
But it is not the trees that one notices when driving along San Dieguito Road--one of the few public thoroughfares to bisect the community.
It is the homes--the kind of palatial country estates that beg the question, "My, my, who lives there?"
Hamburger queen Joan Kroc does, for one. And million-dollar-a-year pitcher Eric Show and an opinionated sportscaster, Ted Leitner. Wealthy business executives and industrialists, too, and physicians and lawyers. Among the first residents were 17 persons who themselves were contractor-builders and who decided this was the appropriate place to personally strut their stuff.
The Drug Enforcement Administration suggests that a few drug traffickers live here, too--and the agency has seized a home or two that was purchased with illicit money.
Privacy is a marketable commodity at Fairbanks Ranch, where guards and gates and private patrols are as much a hallmark as Jaguars and Lincolns and quarters for servants and secretaries. Not even the postal carriers drive these streets; just like across the river in Rancho Santa Fe, mail here is left at a small mailbox postal annex down the street at the commercial plaza.
Fairbanks Ranch, in an unincorporated nook of the county just outside San Diego city limits, features 618 home sites; more than half have been developed. The only thing average about a house here is the average price for one, and Realtor Gary Driver Sr., manager of Fairbanks Ranch Realty, puts the figure at $1.9 million. Want to buy an acre lot to build your own home? That'll cost a million or so, even before you pour your slab.
So it might stand to reason that this is a place for folks who have invested the better part of their lives making their fortunes. Therein was one of the early surprises as Fairbanks Ranch was marketed.
"There's really a mix of people," said Jill Bronk of Fairbanks Assn.--the local homeowners group. "There are a lot of retired-age people, but there are a lot of families with young children, too."
Of the first 329 buyers of lots at Fairbanks Ranch, nearly a third--102--had children. Of those, 45 had children younger than 5 and an additional 59 had children between the ages of 6 and 11.
If family demographics don't fit into a stereotype, neither do the homes themselves.
There are no cookie-cutter, mass-produced homes here. An architectural control committee scrutinizes and approves landscaping and home designs. They reflect an architectural fantasyland of stucco and wood and stone: of rambling ranch estates and Mediterranean haciendas with arches and cooling fountains; three-story monoliths interspersed with multiterraced castles and French chateaus.
If the indoors are oooh-and-aahhh places, the outdoors don't exactly reflect tract development mentality, either. Consider the two private, man-made lakes for fishing and boating--one, 9 1/2 acres; the other, half that size and a pleasant backdrop for the 17 homes that flank it. The lakes are fed by wells and storm run-off and they, in turn, provide water for the landscaping.
Bridle paths wind through the project, and if basketball is on the day's menu, there's the wonderfully maintained and secluded court nestled down alongside a creek with a nearby restroom finished in fine ceramic tile.
Not far away is an old pump house, just below the dam of one of the lakes, that today serves as a reading room and lounge for residents. Sit on the porch, and one's world is of shade trees and the sound of water trickling down from the dam and along a creek where surely a tadpole or two have been captured for show-and-tell.
The rolling hills that were first known as Rancho Zorro, for the popular screen character portrayed by Fairbanks, were purchased by Fairbanks and Pickford in 1926, providing them a hideaway when they traveled between San Diego and Beverly Hills.
After Fairbanks died in 1939, the land remained as the Fairbanks Ranch Co. until 1952, when it was purchased by Larry (Hotel del Coronado) Lawrence. He in turn sold it in 1960 to businessmen Robert O. (Jack in the Box) Peterson and Richard T. Silberman, the San Diego financier now standing charges of money laundering. In 1978, they sold it to Watt Industries, and a year later development began.
If Watt tried to trade on the Fairbanks legend, who could blame him? But part of that legend is in what does not remain here.
One of the wooden steps leading to the dam is covered by cement. There's a reason.
Young and in love, Fairbanks had the words "Doug Loves Mary" carved into the step. But when he and Pickford were divorced in 1935, Fairbanks had the carving obliterated.
Total housing units: 6.8
Median age: 31.8
Racial/ Ethnic mix
Black: less tha 1%
Sex: 51.3% female; 48.7% male
Median household income: $44,423
Less than $25,000: 16.5%
College graduate: 37.7%
Some college: 29.2%
No high school diploma: 7.7%
High school graduate: 25.4%