Just 35 miles northeast of San Diego lies a town you've probably never
heard about but wish you had. It's Ramona, where your fellow neighbors are
just as likely to have four legs as they are two, where average winter
temperatures hit nearly 70 degrees and where the expression "It never rains
in Southern California" doesn't apply. Situated in the Santa Maria Valley
in San Diego County's unincorporated region, Ramona actually receives a
generous amount of rainfall, although not enough to take away its nickname,
"The Valley of the Sun."
This community of nearly 40,000 residents has maintained strong ties to its
agrarian past, and today, you're still likely to find roadside produce
stands containing some of the best crops around. It's hard to imagine a
state more blessed with natural beauty than California, but as modernism
has progressed, visitors are likely to find one of two extremes as they
travel throughout the state -- bustling major metropolitan centers or
pristine wilderness. Ramona is a town like no other. Comprised to a large
degree by ranches, equestrian facilities and farmlands, it's hard to
believe that Ramona has experienced a 40 percent increase in job growth
during the second half of the 1990s. In recent years, planned communities
have made a recent appearance amidst the rolling farmlands. Indeed,
Ramona's one of the fastest-growing small towns in the country; and yet,
the town remains unincorporated. It has one foot firmly planted in two
worlds -- past and present.
What's in a name? The Santa Maria Valley, in which Ramona is located, is
just the latest of a series of names this region has held. Its original
residents were Native Americans, who decided to call this place the "Big
Valley." Next to arrive were Mexican settlers, who changed the name to what
has been translated to "Warm Valley of St. Mary." In 1975, the name changed
once again to the Santa Maria Valley. Ramona's original name was Nuevo
("New"), a label Spanish settlers gave the town. At the time, Nuevo was a
stopping point for miners headed to the town of Julian during the great
Gold Rush. In 1884, a popular book gave the town the name that would stick
-- Ramona. The best-selling "Ramona," by Helen Hunt Jackson, told the tale
of a Native American woman and her experiences living in California among
the region's earliest settlers.
If you want to see where California is headed, the modernism of San Diego
will give you a good indication. But if you want to see a piece of the past
and a window to the future, there's no need to travel beyond Ramona. The
town's agricultural roots are diverse. During the 1930s, Ramona was known
for its contributions come Thanksgiving and Christmas; turkeys were its
specialty. Thirty years later, turkeys gave way to chickens and to more
plant-based profits: avocados, a variety of citrus fruits, and, to the
delight of apple pie-lovers, apples. As you're driving in Ramona, you may
be surprised to spot horses sharing your road space. That's nothing unusual
here because horses remain a primary source of transportation and
recreation. This countrified lifestyle is recognized and celebrated yearly
at such events as the Ramona Rodeo and the town's county fair.
Ramona has discovered another profit base throughout the years that
celebrates its history: antiquing. Antique shops are plentiful within
Ramona's town limits, and visitors wishing to purchase a piece of history
have discovered little reason to head to San Diego after stopping here.
While you're in town exploring those antique shops, you'll want to take
note of two historic estates that have been converted into museums. The
first, Amy Strong Castle, is situated at the base of Mount Woodson, a
scenic point in Ramona (the home's builder, Dr. Marshall Woodson, is the
mountain's namesake). Listed on the National Register of Historic Places,
this 12,000 square-foot mansion was finally completed in 1921 by then-owner
Irene Amy Strong, a successful businesswoman.
The Guy B. Woodward Museum is an architectural marvel. Designed with the
flavor of New Orleans, this French Provincial home was later converted into
a museum by historian Guy Woodward. The house is a literal trip through
time; it remains filled with period furnishings, a historic bunkhouse,
jailhouse, post office, blacksmith facilty and doctor's office.
For a particularly unique taste of history, take a stroll down Hope Street.
It's lined with an eclectic assortment of historic mailboxes, each one the
product of a unique story.
If it's a more modern residence you're after, look no further than San
Diego Country Estates, one of Ramona's most popular planned communities.
Land is abundant in this still-unincorporated region of the county, so
development continues. But San Diego Country Estates has been a resounding
success and continues to serve as an example for present and aspiring
developers. This 30-year-old planned community of more than 3,000 homes was
one of Ramona's first. Among its amenities are an 18-hole championship golf
course, two equestrian centers and several miles of horseback riding
trails, a private park, hiking trails, a clubhouse, tennis courts, sand
volleyball facilities, a youth center, two elementary schools and plenty of
wide open space reserved especially for that purpose. Next door to San
Diego Country Estates is the new Rancho San Vicente, which is still under
construction. Upon its completion, Rancho San Vicente will be comprised of
more than 240 homes and will have 38 acres of designated open lands.
Both inside and outside these planned communities, home prices in Ramona
are relatively high by national standards but competitive by California
standards. According to statistics provided by Fidelity National Title
Insurance Company, the average square footage of homes sold in Ramona
during June 1999 was 1,827 square feet. The average home sold for $231,039,
which translates to $129.03 per square foot.
It's hard to imagine a more unique place than Ramona. It's a town that
embraces past and present, inviting progress to continue but reserving a
portions of its abundant lands for residents' enjoyment. Ramona's relaxed,
small-town lifestyle has attracted newcomers in record numbers, as its
thriving planned communities so clearly illustrate. But while growth
continues, Ramona seems blissfully oblivious to it all, preferring to focus
more on its quiet lifestyle and making no plans to change its status as San
Diego County's last unincorporated region.
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Published: December 27, 1999
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Courtney Ronan is a freelance writer who contributes a weekly column profiling various communities. She also writes a weekly review of real estate related web sites. Courtney's career in journalism has included recent stints as managing editor of Agent News and as associate editor of Texas Business magazine. |
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