Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Staycation" Drive to Ramona

Friday, January 8, 2010

We decided to make Ramona our destination for today’s “staycation” road trip. Our friend Jack Brandais suggested taking the Pomerado Road turnoff eastbound from Interstate 15. Turn left at the first light onto Highland Valley Road. This narrow two-lane road took us through San Pasqual Valley and along the flanks of 2,140-foot Starvation Mountain, to hook up with State Routes 67 and 78 to Ramona. The good rains we had during December 2009 had already greened up the countryside. Note: Highland Valley Road is steep and windy, especially the climb from San Pasqual Valley and Highland Valley to the Starvation Mountain highlands. Do exercise caution on this portion of the drive.

Photo of Starvation Mountain courtesy of Summitpost.org.

Our objectives were to browse the antique shops, have lunch, and visit historical buildings in the old stagecoach stop town.

We arrived in the unincorporated town about 10 a.m., to give us ample time to browse the shops. But our first stop was the Ramona Chamber of Commerce, 980 Main Street. We were hoping to find a map of historical sites much as Fallbrook’s Historical Museum had done for Fallbrook, but no such luck. However, there are several significant buildings we were able to identify through on-line research and in the field. These were the focus of our afternoon wanderings.

Ramona is another case where suburban strip mall development, mostly to the west, has adversely affected the old downtown. Many storefronts were vacant and available for lease. The Great Recession of 2008-9 had exacerbated the economic situation wherein some historical preservation projects had been halted due to the lack of funding.

Only some of the antique stores along Main Street were open, but the ones that opened their doors were well worth visiting.

We enjoyed browsing the Ramona Antique Fair, also known as the Squash Blossom Trading Co., 738 Main Street. It offers an extensive selection of antiques offered by sub-lessees, as well as Native American and Mexican art. Adjoining the Antique Fair was Old Town Candy Co., 734 Main Street. As the name implies, it is an old-fashioned candy store with cylindrical buckets filled with stick candies.

Across the street was Victoria Supply Co., 711 Main Street, a seller of stoves, decorative glass and other hardware. It seemed to specialize in reproductive decorative arts of the Victorian, and Arts and Crafts eras. Looking at the store’s façade, we can tell this business occupies a former bank building and several commercial storefronts dating back to the 1920s.

It was time for lunch, so we decided to go Mexican at La Cocina (the Kitchen in Spanish), located across from Victoria Supply Co. at 681 Main Street. They offered combination plates of enchiladas or rolled tacos, Spanish rice and beans at a cheap $4.95. The food was good and authentic, and popular with Anglos and Latinos alike. (Note: this place is small and quite popular, so one should try to be seated about 15 minutes before noon). The café occupies what appears to be a 1920s or earlier commercial building with a tin ceiling that has been preserved to this day.

After lunch, we sought out several historical attractions located in the 600 and 700 blocks of Main Street. One of the most significant individual buildings is the Ramona Town Hall, 729 Main Street. This imposing Romanesque/Mission Revival adobe building, finished in 1893, was designed by one of San Diego’s most famous architects, William S. Hebbard. The building has been under restoration following a 1995 arson fire. As of this writing, the Great Recession has essentially halted work on the building. Do peruse their excellent Web site for its history and the 2009 dedication of the structure as a historically significant site by E Clampus Vitus. Note: the building is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a California State Landmark.

The Town Hall served as the only movie theater in town until 1947 with the opening of the Ramona Theatre, 626 Main Street. This well-restored Retro Art Deco building is now the Ramona Mainstage, currently a live performance house and nightclub. As of this writing, it appears to be on sound economic footing after years of decline as a cinema.

Our last stop was the Guy B. Woodward Museum, 645 Main Street. Hours: Friday-Sunday, 1-4. Admission $4 for a guide-led tour; $3 for a self-guided tour. The Amos Verlaque House, built in 1886 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the most noteworthy building in the museum complex. It is the only adobe house in existence in the United States designed in the French-Provincial style. The second-generation museum director, Ken Woodward [with Doug in the upper left photo], took us on a complete tour of the premises, which took about an hour and a half. The house is furnished in Victorian period. Note the beautiful dining room and the French Provincial kitchen.

A couple of unusual features are a wine cellar (reflecting the Verlaques’ French heritage), now the museum store; and a north-facing veranda painted in light blue, allegedly to fend off flies and other insects.

Other buildings and exhibits, some of which were moved on-premises, include a one-room schoolhouse (left photo), blacksmith, cowboy bunkhouse (above), an extensive hat collection and a one-cell jail. The Woodward Museum is a fun place to visit and we would recommend it highly.

Note: the Ramona Pioneer Historical Society (RPHS) has archived an extensive collection of historical materials at the Museum. The fee for a four-hour research session ranges from $25-100, plus the cost of duplicating materials. Obviously, this service is intended only for the serious researcher. The RPHS produced a book, Historic Buildings of the Ramona Area by Russell Bowen, printed in 1975. Copies are available in the San Diego City Library System. When we have a chance to review this book, we will update this blog posting.

Amos, the son of prominent San Diegan Theophile Verlaque, ran the adjacent general store that also served as a stagecoach stop on the stage line between Old Town San Diego and Julian. The general store, in somewhat modified form, exists today as the CATT Farm and Ranch Supply, 629 Main Street.

This row of rural mail boxes lies just west of town.

We headed home by way of SR 78 and 67 to Scripps Poway Parkway, I-15, SR 52 and I-5. Round trip from Pacific Beach was about 80 miles.

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