Rancho del Cielo
Ronald Reagan's Ranch in Santa Barbara, California
Rancho del Cielo is to Ronald Reagan what Monticello is to Thomas Jefferson, and Mount Vernon is to George Washington. Reagan was a Westerner at heart, and the ranch is where he felt most at home. Straddling a mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Valley in California, Rancho del Cielo served as the Western White House from 1981 to 1989. The 688-acre ranch was the 40th president's escape from public life -- but like Monticello and Mount Vernon, it was also a getaway where much business was conducted by the president, especially when such distinguished guests as Queen Elizabeth II, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Brian Mulroney were visiting.
Photos and text © Gleaves Whitney 2004
Left, a University of Michigan student takes in the view at the entrance of Rancho del Cielo.
The gate to the ranch is at an elevation of 2240 feet above sea level. The land, in the Santa Ynez Mountains, was once part of a Spanish land concession given to a soldier named Jose Francisco de Ortega, who settled here in 1794.
For Ronald and Nancy Reagan, it was love at first sight -- for the ranch, that is. The president said, "From the first day we saw it, Rancho del Cielo cast a spell over us. No place before or since has given Nancy and me the joy and serenity it does."
On November 13, 1974, Ronald and Nancy Reagan bought the 688-acre Tip Top Ranch and renamed it Rancho del Cielo, which in Spanish means "Sky Ranch." Reagan was serving out his last weeks as governor of California, a position he had held for eight years. It was his refuge as he prepared to run for president in 1976 and 1980.
This is how the adobe ranch house looks from the entrance of Rancho del Cielo. Visitors are usually surprised by its modesty and simplicity. It is no Hollywood designer house.
Indeed, the original part of the ranch house was built in 1871 by Hispanic settlers named the Picos. When the Reagans enlarged it, the interior grew only to 1,500 square feet. It retains a rustic feel to this day, heated by one fireplace in the den and another in the living room. Often it is chillier in the house than in the sun outside.
The Reagans were horse people, as this sculpture suggests.
A tack barn, on higher ground, is located behind the ranch house. When Reagan became president, the Secret Service built its headquarters near the tack barn.
Today Rancho del Cielo is owned and maintained by Young America's Foundation, which has taken pains to preserve the ranch just as Ronald and Nancy Reagan left it.
Not exactly the right address, since it's in California, but still....
Reagan biographer and Washington Post correspondent Lou Cannon insists that the 40th president never called Rancho del Cielo the Western White House. That's what the media dubbed it. Reagan once told Cannon, "There's only one White House, and that's in Washington, D.C." [Reagan quoted in Peter Hannaford, Ronald Reagan and His Ranch (Bennington, VT: Images from the Past, 2002), p. xi.]
President Reagan rang this old railroad bell outside the tack barn at about 9 every morning. It signaled to Nancy that he had finished his "Washington homework," so they could take their daily horseback ride together.
After the ride, Nancy would prepare lunch. Then she would ring the bell, summoning Ronnie to take a break from his ranch chores. (Chores is perhaps not the best word -- Reagan cleared brush and built fences for relaxation.)
During the eight years he was president, Ronald Reagan spent about 350 days -- almost 1/8th of his presidency -- at Rancho del Cielo. Photographer Steve Malone, right, took thousands of pictures of the first family when they were at the ranch. As a result of all this exposure to the 40th president and his family, he has a cache of interesting stories. Steve works for the Santa Barbara News-Press.