photos by Soul of Photography | historical photos provided by RSF Historical Society

Keeping History Alive


As one of the first planned communities in the United States, Rancho Santa Fe is steeped in rich layers of California history. Headquartered in the historic La Flecha House, where some of the very first Rancho Santa Fe residents once lived, the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society works to preserve the past and educate the Rancho Santa Fe community about this special place they call home. Join us as we talk with RSFHS President John N. Vreeburg about how the organization is connecting and involving the community in celebrating its deep-rooted heritage.

Q&A with Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society President John N. Vreeburg

cv_historicalsoc1Can you give us some of the history of the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society?
The Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society was founded in 1984 with the primary purpose of preserving the history and educating the Rancho Santa Fe community through collecting documents, photographs, and artifacts, and documenting its historic buildings, architects, planners, and residents who kept the vision of the special community of Rancho Santa Fe alive. The five founders were Pat Cologne, Eleanor Shefte, Sandy Somerville, Gwen Whitehead, and Marcia Van Liew.

What is the mission of the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society?
To collect, preserve, research, and interpret the documents, photographs, and artifacts that connect us to Rancho Santa Fe and its past. The organization has developed a plan to be more succinct in increasing the community’s awareness and appreciation of our history, and our historical sites and structures. Efforts are ongoing to include its residents to participate in the future activities of the historical society.

cv_historicalsoc8How does the Historical Society stay connected with the RSF community?
We continue to connect with the RSF community by developing educational programs for the local schools, providing an ongoing series of speakers, and by participating in events such as Rancho Days, the Fourth of July Parade, and unique events collaborating with other groups in the community such as the recent Celebrate Osuna neighborhood party. This year’s Rancho Days will include our Fandango Celebration taking place on Oct. 7. We also have our website, Facebook, and e-Blasts that we send out regarding happenings with the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society. We are famous far and wide for our RSF Home Tours, and more recently our Barn Tour in 2015, with the next tour to take place in July 2017. As a member of the historical society, you receive our quarterly newsletter and discounts to the many events, along with knowing that you are supporting an important organization within the community given the responsibility of being the keeper of the community history.


How does the Historical Society fund its programs and projects?
We receive funds to operate on a regular schedule through our memberships and sponsors. We ask for donors to assist with special programs we hold each year, and we offer lectures and local trips to both members and non-members. These lectures and trips are related to our history and developments within our community and surrounding area. Our building, La Flecha House, is cv_historicalsoc9nearly 100 years old and requires some careful attention in order to maintain it. In addition, past programs such as the digitization of the archives, maintenance of the La Flecha House, etc., have been primarily provided by the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation and the San Diego County Community Enhancement Grant Programs. We continue to look for additional support to ensure the sustainability of the organization.

Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society At-A-Glance

President: John N. Vreeburg
Facebook: Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society
Phone: 858-756-9291
Address: P.O. Box 1/6036 La Flecha, Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

cv_historicalsoc4Do you have any specific events coming up soon that the community should know about?
Our major fundraiser for this year, Fandango, will be held on Oct. 7 during Rancho Days. It will be located at the beautiful La Flecha House. Fandango will include dinner, dancing to a live band, margaritas, door prizes, and additional special events. We do have other events – some that are for only members or sponsors – throughout the year, notably during the spring and Christmas season.

Does the Historical Society need volunteers? If so, what kinds of positions are available and how can people get involved?
We are always looking for volunteers and in increasing our membership and sponsors. We could use members that will get involved with our docent work at the museum, and to help with the cataloging and digitizing of our archives. It is our hope to develop a docent list that will enable us to keep the museum open on the weekends in addition to our regular weekly hours. There is a period of learning about our history before taking that responsibility, but once you work at La Flecha House you can’t help but love it. Those interested should contact our administrator Sharon Alix at 858-756-9291.

Besides volunteering, what other ways can community members get involved with the Historical Society?
By joining the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society, community members get the chance to help preserve the history of RSF. As members, you receive discounted attendance at any of the RSFHS events, and discounts for purchase of books or historical photos. By participating in our events as attendees or sponsors, community members show their support for the services we offer to the community. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on funds raised at our events to help us fulfill our mission and continue our programs in the schools, our oral history program, and the maintenance and sharing of our archives and La Flecha House.

When and where does the Historical Society meet?
Our board of directors meets on the third Tuesday of each month at La Flecha House on the corner of La Flecha and Via de Santa Fe in the village of Rancho Santa Fe. Membership events include the frequent informational meetings along with our annual holiday party and annual membership meeting.

Please give us a little bit of the history behind La Flecha House.
The first residence of Rancho Santa Fe: Lilian Rice designed the building located at the corner of La Flecha and Via de Santa Fe. Built in 1921, La Flecha House was one of the first all-electric homes in the county and the first public library in the village, along with many additional occupants over the years. La Flecha House has a rich history of ownership and through the support of O. Rea Mowery and the generosity of the last owners, E.L. and Marguerite Reitz, in 1988, the RSFHS found a home at La Flecha House. On display there is the Reitz’s antique and art collection in addition to the documents, photos, and artifacts relative to the history of Rancho Santa Fe.

Did You Know?

Singer and actor Bing Crosby was an early resident of Rancho Santa Fe. As an avid and skillful golfer, Crosby first organized the golf tournament that is today known as the National Pro-Am. Initially conceived by Crosby as a more casual event, or “clambake” as he called it, the first tournament was held at Crosby’s local club in Rancho Santa Fe in 1937.

cv_historicalsoc14Can you tell us about your board of directors? Why are their positions crucial for the Historical Society’s success?
Our board is comprised of community members that have a history of participating in the perpetuation of the ideals of Rancho Santa Fe and the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society. Either by living or working here in RSF, they have donated hundreds of hours to keep the history of RSF and its residents alive and our connection with the community growing. We continually strive to grow the board with additional members who have an interest in creating and implementing a sustainability plan to keep the historical society relevant and thriving.

cv_historicalsoc6Why do you think this organization is an important part of the Rancho Santa Fe community?
The Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society has the predominant position and responsibility of preserving the history of RSF and educating its current and future residents on the special place that they call their home. We, along with a number of additional nonprofit organizations, enhance the experience of living in such a historic community.

What do you most enjoy about working with the Historical Society?
Every time we walk into La Flecha House, we feel the presence of the history that makes this home and community so special. As we work toward preserving this very special place, we are reminded of the importance of communicating the history of this special community. With continued support from the community, we look forward to continuing to bring the importance of history to its residents.

“The community of Rancho Santa Fe reveals itself through layers of California history. History that moves from a Spanish pueblo to a Mexican rancho to an ambitious horticultural experiment gone awry, and finally to an inspired planned community. The very name Rancho Santa Fe – the namesake of the Santa Fe Railway – is a result of the marriage of these historical eras testifying to life in Southern California during the 19th and 20th centuries. This extraordinary tract of land continues to convey its history even today.” – From the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society’s book Rancho Santa Fe, published in 2010


What are the organization’s short-term and long-term goals?
cv_historicalsoc5The short-term goals include the continued efforts to make the history within the archives housed at La Flecha House more accessible to the community and area residents. We strive to reach out to the community for continued support to allow us to maintain this very special place in our history. Our long-term goal is to enhance the experience of the Rancho Santa Fe community by educating the residents about the very special place in which they live.

cv_historicalsoc2If you could grant one wish for the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society, what would that wish be?
Our wish is to establish an endowment fund to provide more consistent funding predictability and allow the historical society to continue to enhance our programs and realize our mission statement of educating the community.

Are there any fun facts about Rancho Santa Fe history that our readers might find interesting or amusing?
With a recent grant from the San Diego Community Enhancement Fund, we were able to digitize about 25 years of newspaper print that is now available for viewing at the La Flecha House. In reviewing many of the articles over that period, it is interesting to see that in the commentary sections of the papers, many of the same topics of contention brought up today were expressed in the recent past history of the community.

Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society President At-A-Glance

Name: John N. Vreeburg
Education: B.A. of economics from SUNY Fredonia
Profession: Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Professional
Family: Wife – Gina, real estate agent with Sotheby’s International Real Estate; Daughter – Paige (23), graduate of Sonoma State; Son – Nicholas (21), mechanical engineering student at TCU
Hobbies & Interests: Proud president of the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society, skiing (as time allows), working out

Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know about the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society?
The Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society has traditionally operated with a few hard-working board members that see the value of preserving the history of this fine area and ensuring that the current and future residents have an appreciation for the community in which they live. We are striving to identify those within the community with like-minded interest in preserving and educating the residents so as to ensure the sustainability of the historical society.