A HISTORY OF VAIL HEADQUARTERS
In 1867, German immigrant, Louis Wolf, and his Chumash wife, Ramona, built a small adobe trading post next to Temecula Creek. Their Wolf Store helped launch the Temecula community, serving as a saloon, livery stable, legal services, hotel, general store, stagecoach stop, post office, school and employment agency. After Louis and Ramona’s deaths, their land and other Ranchos were purchased by Arizona cattle baron, Walter Vail. By 1905, the 87,000 acre Vail Ranch became one of the largest cattle operations in California, stretching from Camp Pendleton to Vail Lake to Murrieta. It operated through the late 1970’s when it was sold to build Temecula’s housing. Some of the ranch’s oldest buildings survived in a cluster around the long-vacant Wolf Store. Together they would wait more than 40 years to be restored and once again become a center for community life in the Temecula Valley.
In 1905 after his death, Wolf’s Temecula was purchased by Arizona cattle baron, Walter Vail, along with three other Ranchos totaling 87,500 acres. The sprawling Vail Ranch spread from South of Highway 79 to South of Clinton Keith Road, East to Vail Lake Resort and West to Camp Pendleton and continued operations through the late 1970’s when it sold for housing sub-divisions. The remaining buildings that comprised the Vail Ranch Headquarters, several having been demolished, have sat mostly vacant since then awaiting their restoration and re-use.
Like the dewy freshness of a new morning, the Vail Headquarters has awakened from a sleep of fifty years. Once an important stop along the Butterfield Overland Trail and the center of the Village of Temecula, the location was forgotten when the train rumbled into the valley and commerce moved westward. Today you see that new life has sprung back into the original four acres and the seven historic buildings that have proudly stood the test of time. It took a group of people who were passionate about saving vestiges of the past as a community heritage site and the expertise of a visionary firm that has turned back time to make the updated Vail Headquarters into a place to eat, drink, browse and to meet up with friends.
SAVING THE RANCH
Born in Nova Scotia, Walter Vail first came west to work in the silver mines in Nevada. After becoming disillusioned about life in a mining town, he started his cattle empire near Tucson, Arizona, in 1876. Eventually his Empire Land & Cattle Company would span five states and control over one million acres. By 1905 he owned 87,500 acres which he called the Vail Ranch. Vail was killed in a streetcar accident in Los Angeles in 1906. His youngest son, Mahlon Vail, took over and managed the Temecula operation for many years. In 1964 the Vail family sold the ranch to developers that started the Rancho California master-planned community. It was renamed Temecula in 1989.
Louis Wolf was a German native of Alsace-Lorraine (now a part of France). By 1867 he and his Chumash-American wife, Ramona, acquired the Wolf Store on the north bank of the Temecula Creek. There, Wolf was a storekeeper, postmaster, justice of peace, innkeeper, road commissioner, employment contractor and school board trustee.
Built circa 1866, the Wolf Store Adobe is the oldest standing building in Temecula. It has housed a saloon, livery stable, legal services firm, hotel, general store, post office, school and employment agency. The Store was built and operated by Louis Wolf until his death in 1897. In 1905 it was sold to Walter Vail who used it for storage of livestock feed and seed. On October 1, 1950 a brass plaque was added between the two front doors to commemorate the signing of a peace treaty in 1852 that was signed at a nearby location by the federal government and 29 Native American tribes. The Adobe is now home to Augie’s Coffee Roasters and a la Minute Creamery.
Built in approximately 1910, the Foreman’s House was the primary residence for the cattle ranch foreman and his family. The building featured four bedrooms and two bathrooms. The building has been moved from its original location. It is now home to Cheflavor.
One part of the barn served as the ranch office. Employees would line up here for their work assignments, check out equipment or get their paychecks. The rest of the barn served as a machine shop and blacksmith’s shop. In 1998, the barn was dismantled and moved to its current location.
Built in approximately 1910, the bunkhouse provided housing for 24 cowboys and ranch hands. The building had 12 two-man bedrooms, a sitting room with a wood stove on the west side, and a bathroom and laundry room on the east side. It is now home to Project Pie and Winchester Western Saddlery.
Built in stages from 1867 through approximately 1914, the “cookhouse” was used as the main residence of Louis Wolf and then as a cookhouse during the Vail Ranch era. The building featured a kitchen, large pantry, and two walk-in refrigerator units. Two dining rooms were also in this building, one for the ranch hands and cowboys and one for the VIP’s. The cookhouse’s front porch entrance was for VIP’s and guests only, while the ranch hands used sinks outside to wash up and entered the dining room through a door in the back. There were also two bedrooms for the cook’s family and bookkeeper.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
Vail Ranch Cowboys, 1947. This photograph was taken at the feedlot near the north side of the present-day Highway 79 South. The cowboys are Reyes Laborin, Rafael Villa, Ben Kane, Joe Gomez, Janaro Bernel, Carlos Reyes, and Chappo Labato.
The seven cowboys had herded about a thousand cattle, and afterward, they lined up on their horses to have their photograph taken. This image was reproduced on a large billboard, which you can see attached to the Kohl’s Department Store - right next to the Vail Headquarters - when you visit the ranch today!
The History Center is filled with numerous artifacts that speak to the history of this remarkable, history-rich area. You can learn about the development and expansion the area; climb aboard a replica of Butterfield Stagecoach that ran through the Temecula Valley from 1858 until 1861, pausing at an adobe stage stop; see how an antique rope-making device can turn twine into small rope for daily use on the Ranch; explore the construction of a restored chuck wagon and learn how “Cookie” fed the dozens of cowboys on the sprawling, 87,500 acre Vail Cattle Ranch!
VaRRA, an acronym for the Vail Ranch Restoration Association, had its beginning in the mid 1990’s when a small cadre of Temecula residents who were interested in preserving the lore and legends of Temecula learned that portions of the Vail Ranch site might be razed to make room for development.
Realizing that an important local historical site was in jeopardy, they formed an organization that is dedicated to assuring that the area’s structures still standing will be preserved so that our children and our children’s children might come to know
and enjoy the colorful history of the Vail Ranch and the surrounding area. Their unselfish efforts to the preservation of the Ranch headquarters and a sense of history vital to the Temecula Valley have been successful!