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Rancho Santa Fe Then & Now: Revisiting 1980s series on San Diego neighborhoods

We look into the history of RSF and what it's like today. We revisit The Village— the area's primary commercial district— which includes the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe.

RANCHO SANTA FE, Calif — Rancho Santa Fe is one of the wealthiest areas in San Diego County. It’s been home to the rich and famous, including Bing Crosby, Janet Jackson, Bill Gates and Phil Mickelson.

The white picket fences that lined the streets three decades ago are still very much part of the charm that welcomes you into Rancho Santa Fe today.

"When you drive through the curvy roads getting into Rancho Santa Fe,  and it's like relaxing. It's like you really don't know where you are anymore. You don't realize that you're in Southern California, San Diego,” said Kathy Reese, Director of Sales and Marketing at the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe.

Instead of limousines, these days you'll see luxury SUVs and Teslas are a common sight.

In The Village, the heart of Rancho Santa Fe, memories live on in historic buildings. Gayle Gillies Travel, which we saw in the commercial district in a News 8 story three decades ago, is long gone, but Gayle’s daughter-in-law still works in the exact same office space. 

I'm in real estate and we used to work around the corner, and when I found out we were going to move into my mom-in-law's office, it was amazing,” said Gillian Gillies, adding, “You can still feel her spirit or energy in here, which is a lovely thing.“

There's a lot that has stood the test of time in this exclusive community, often referred to as simply, “The Ranch."

Nestled in lush, rolling hills, the landscape and the lifestyle haven't changed all that much since we featured this slice of San Diego’s North County in 1987. Back then, residents described Rancho Santa Fe as "heaven on earth." Today, people feel the same way.

“We’re the little gem, away from all the hustle and bustle of San Diego,” said Reese. 

Rancho Santa Fe was designated as a state historical landmark in 1989. The community was once called Rancho San Dieguito, a Mexican land grant in 1841. In 1906, the Santa Fe Railway purchased the land grant, and in the early 1920s a planned community with a commercial downtown district, called The Village, was developed.

The Spanish colonial-style buildings in The Village and the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, were designed in 1923 by Lilian Rice, one of California’s first women architects. A bronze statue of Rice was just unveiled this month in The Village green.

"Almost 100 years later, it is still flourishing; the hotel is flourishing, The Village is flourishing,” said Reese, who described the experience at the historic hotel as a timeless retreat. 

“We are the heart of the community. Everybody knows each other. The Inn is kind of like the central meeting place for all the local family friends,” Reese explained.

Only 2,500 people live in Rancho Santa Fe. In fact, there are less than 900 households in the unincorporated area of San Diego County. The sprawling, private estates have always made it a desirable and expensive place to call home.

In 1987, our News 8 report said that a recent study showed Rancho Santa Fe to be the 8th wealthiest suburb in the nation, with an average selling price of $2,000,000.

It's dropped a little since those days; 92067 is now the 13th most expensive zip code, according to Forbes, with a median selling price of more than $4,000,000.

The most expensive property currently for sale in Rancho Santa Fe is a 77-acre estate, complete with a horse ranch, listed in October 2021 for $98.5 million.

“The market right now in Rancho is crazy as it is everywhere else. The inventory is an all-time low,” said Gillies. "Wealthy buyers are paying top dollar for luxury living, prioritizing quality of life."

“You've got more options now. You can work from home... Families are all gathering in the same home but they don't want to be on top of each other. And the square footage of the houses in Rancho Santa Fe make that work well,” Gillies said.

In our 1987 story, one resident said many people have a view of Rancho Santa Fe as being a bunch of elitists. For decades, people who have lived there have worked to break that stigma.

"Honestly, the people in Rancho Santa Fe are very down to earth. I think you'll find them really interesting because they come from all walks of life. And they've done well,” said Gillies. 

With that success, comes a spirit of giving among people in the community. Gillies' mother-in-law Gayle, who owned Gayle Gillies Travel, founded the Rancho Santa Fe Women's Fund in 2004 to give back. 

“The Women’s Fund was founded as a way for members to join together in meaningful and engaging ways and to give back to the greater San Diego community," said Gayle, as quoted on the charity's website. Though she passed away in 2019, she left a lasting legacy.

The Rancho Santa Fe Women's Fund is one of several non-profits that partners with the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation to meet the needs of people across San Diego County.

"In the last year, we've given out over $10 million, much of it in the area of COVID relief, helping young military families, and many other causes,” said Chris Sichel, President and CEO of the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation, which has granted more than $100 million dollars into the community. 

RSFF is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. 

"I think all of us want to have impact. We want to make other lives better. And I think to whom much is given much as expected, and this community really, really embraces that, and the generosity here is unequaled,” said Sichel. 

Most of us will never be able to live in "The Ranch," but you can dine at a restaurant in The Village, enjoy a staycation at the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, or splurge at the Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa, which was just ranked the number four resort in the country by Travel + Leisure Magazine

Rooms during this time of the year start at about $1,000 per night, and rates get much more expensive during the holidays and summer months when there’s higher demand.

You can also enjoy a historical walking tour of Rancho Santa Fe and learn more information about its roots and architectural design of its building by visiting the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society.

CELEBRATE SAN DIEGO SERIES

Celebrate San Diego was a 1986/1987 series about neighborhoods of San Diego County. CBS 8 anchor-reporter Connie Healy and a team of photographers roamed the county and delivered in-depth profiles of several towns and communities in the area. They were history lessons focusing on changes and progress.

Many long-term residents she spoke with reflected on what it was like to grow up in their town and what they thought of all the changes they had seen. One really gets a sense of what the character and personality of the community were like in each profile - and how diverse the county really is. 

Thirty-five years later, we're sending out a team of reporters to see how things have changed or stayed the same in each of the nearly 20 neighborhoods we covered in the mid-1980s.

Connie shares her memories below of working on this fantastic series:  

"I love talking to people. People make the news, not newscasters. They simply report how we live our lives. But sometimes it enriches that picture to add a little perspective by not just looking at where we are today, but how far we've come. In the 1980s, Celebrate San Diego did just that. It painted a picture of daily life that was much different from the one we live today, and a city that many of us wouldn't even recognize.

Talking to people, listening to their stories is what reporters do every day. But these stories of life in San Diego 50 to 100 years ago were amazing. This city has come a long way in the last 30 years but some of the people in these stories saw change at the speed of light. I would encourage you to take some time to take a look into our past, revel in the present and celebrate the wonderful city that we all call home."

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