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Falling for Fallbrook : Tantalizing Spell Still Snags Many


Although the Sleeping Indian Mountain formation looms over Fallbrook's southwest skyline, the Indians encountered by the Spanish missionaries at San Luis Rey and Pala during the late 1700s would not venture into what is now the site of Fallbrook.

According to the legend of the Luisenos tribe, which populated the foothills and coastal plains at the time of the Spanish occupation, one of their members had entered the area and had been bewitched and turned to stone.

Centuries later, Fallbrook continues to cast its tantalizing spell over those who enter its environs. Part of the enchantment is that travelers do not drive through Fallbrook on their way to anywhere else--to visit the town you must decide that this is your destination.

And sometimes, when folks arrive, they decide this country village--billed as the world avocado capital--is where they want to stay.

"I come from an old country town in Massachusetts, and Fallbrook reminded me of it," said Bettina Shaw, who moved to the area from Los Angeles in 1969. "We loved the avocado trees and all the fresh air. The town was so pretty, we decided to retire here."

A former documentary filmmaker, lecturer and self-described "fugitive from a film colony in Hollywood," Shaw was charmed by the downtown, where some original Western-style buildings, as well as some "false front" designs, give the appearance of a frontier town.

"There weren't even any traffic lights when I first came here," said Shaw, who now owns an antique and doll shop.

Fallbrook has long been the favorite of Hollywood types (the Frank Capra home was on 18 acres of Red Mountain Ranch and two sons graduated from Fallbrook High School) as well as the corporate elite, and an enduring group of active and retired commercial pilots who use Fallbrook as their home base. The pilots can take off and land in their private planes at Fallbrook Air Park.

Many of the area's residents live on 5-to-15-acre parcels of avocado and citrus groves.

Rufus and Betty Thompson gradually came to make their home in Fallbrook, and today live with 8 acres of peach, persimmon and avocado trees.

Rufus Thompson discovered Fallbrook when he was stationed at Camp Pendleton during the '60s. After retiring from the Marine Corps, he and his family moved north to El Segundo but acquired a pied-a-terre in Fallbrook for peaceful, getaway weekends. Ten years ago, they returned to live full time.

"The trees keep me plenty busy," said the retired Marine. "I wanted to find something to keep me active that I could also get away from when I wanted. It's really a very enjoyable way of life."

Fallbrook is a roller-coaster of a town, with sinuous roads running up hill and down dale. Most of the homes are not visible from the road--long, gated driveways and dirt roads disappear into thick, green foliage.

Ancient oaks and huge sycamores shade the area, and rambling streams and narrow winding valleys carry the rainfall runoff to the Santa Margarita and San Luis Rey rivers.

Much of Fallbrook's rural charm can be attributed to its insulated location. It's bounded on the north by the Santa Margarita River and the Riverside County line, and on the west by the Fallbrook Naval Weapons Station and Camp Pendleton. Interstate 15 serves as the eastern border, and the town extends south to the San Luis Rey River and California 76.

Fallbrook, with an estimated population of 34,000 if you include neighboring Bonsall and Rainbow, has not escaped the growth affecting all of North County.

Like so many other communities, Fallbrook is struggling to balance the interests of preservation and development. A number of residents have become activists in trying to preserve the rural ambience. Recently, a group came together to form the Fallbrook Land Conservancy, which succeeded in establishing a 43-acre nature preserve on the edge of town. When a stand of live oaks was cut down recently to make way for a housing development, it prompted cries of outrage.

"Fallbrook has changed a lot in the last 15 years. Everybody found it," said Dorothy Norton, who came in 1948 from Santa Ana when her father took a job with the Soil Conservation Corps.

"It seems like the population about doubled in the last 10 years, and a lot of groves are being cut down for subdivisions and houses. But we have a very active planning group, and we're trying to keep it rural."

Even before it was settled in 1869, the area now known as Fallbrook was unique. When the Francisco padres and Spanish conquistadors settled in Southern California, they took over the land in San Luis Rey and Pala, but not in the Live Oak Park area.

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