Adolfo Camarillo

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Adolfo Camarillo (October 29, 1864 – December 10, 1958) was a prominent Californio land owner, horse breeder, rancher, and philanthropist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the Oxnard Plain area of Ventura County, California in the United States. Camarillo, along with his brother Juan Jr., owned much of what later became the town known by their family name, Camarillo.[1] Camarillo also donated the land for Adolfo Camarillo High School.[2] The horse breed Camarillo White Horse was named for Camarillo. He began breeding them in 1921 and the line continues today. Because of his philanthropy in 1950, Pope Pius XII named him a Knight of St. Gregory the Great.[3]


Camarillo was born to Juan (1812–1880) and Martina Camarillo (1826–1898). He had four sisters and one brother.[1] When Juan died in 1880, one of the last remaining Mexican land grants, Rancho Calleguas, was purchased from the Ruiz family in 1875 and was later willed to his wife. Upon Juan's death, Camarillo took over operations of the family ranch at age 16. His brother Juan Jr. was more interested in religion. The ranch was almost 10,000 acres (40,000,000 m2),[4] and was left to Camarillo and his brother upon the death of their mother.[1] The land later went on to become Camarillo Ranch, which in turn grew into the city of Camarillo. Adolfo Camarillo ran the ranch until his death in 1958.

In 1885, Camarillo graduated from International Business College at Woodbury University. After that he took over full-time management of the ranch at age 21. In 1888 he married Isabella Menchaca (1861–1936). He and Isabel raised seven children: Frank, Isabel, Minerva, Rosa, Carmen, Ave Marie, and Martina.[4]

The ranch grew from a mostly cattle operation to both cattle and crops. Camarillo focused mainly in developing crops and became a leading innovator bringing in lima beans, plus barley, corn, alfalfa, walnuts, and citrus.[4]

Camarillo had a love of fiestas, horses, rodeos and barbecues. He kept a stable of a dozen pure white horses of Arabian and Morgan descent. His horses often participated in parades in California.

Camarillo died of pneumonia on December 10, 1958, and is interred in the family crypt beneath St. Mary Magdalen Church in Camarillo, alongside his parents, his wife, sisters and brothers.[5]

Camarillo White Horses[edit]

The first official Camarillo White Horse is a relatively Spanish blooded horse known for its pure white color. This breed dates back to 1921, when Camarillo purchased a nine-year-old horse named Sultan from the Miller and Lux cattle ranch at the California State Fair in Sacramento.[6] Over the next few years, Sultan won many stock championships throughout California. Camarillo bred Sultan to Morgan mares at his ranch. For the next 65 years the family privately owned and bred the Camarillo White Horses.

Since the 1930s these horses have become famous by being featured up and down the California coast at parades and events. Once a year Camarillo rode one of his white Arabians in the Fiesta of Santa Barbara while dressed up in a colorful Spanish costume.[citation needed] The Camarillo White Horses were privately owned and bred by the Camarillo family until the death of Camarillo’s daughter Carmen in 1987,[3] after which, according to her wishes, the horses were sold at public auction, ending the tradition of exclusive ownership of the breed by the Camarillo family. The city of Camarillo especially felt the loss, as the Camarillo White Horses were a favorite entry at the annual Christmas and Fiesta parades. The horses share the city's symbol with Adolfo Camarillo which appear on all the street signs, city vehicles, banks, Chamber of Commerce insignia, and shopping centers.[7]

Many people of note have ridden on Camarillo White Horses including Governor Ronald Reagan, President Warren G. Harding, 1946 Nobel Peace Prize recipient John Mott, as well as movie stars Leo Carrillo and Steven Ford (son of President Gerald Ford).[3]

As of 2010 there are only 20 Camarillo White Horses: three stallions, five mares, three geldings, two colts, and seven foals.[7]

Personal achievements[edit]

Camarillo graduated from the International Business College at Los Angeles. For eight years he was a member of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, a member of the Knights of Columbus, was Grand Knight of the Oxnard Council for two terms, a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of Santa Barbara, and a member of the Native Sons of the Golden West.

Besides running his ranch he was a vice president of the First National Bank of Ventura, vice president of the Ojai State Bank of Nordoff, a director in A. Levy Bank, Incorporated, of Oxnard, and was a stockholder of the First National Bank of Oxnard and in the Fillmore State Bank in Ventura County.[8]

Camarillo had leadership roles on the Ventura County Fair Board, Camarillo City Chamber of Commerce, Peoples Lumber Company, Los Rancheros Visitadores, California State Fair Board, and California Lima Bean Growers Association. He served as a member of the Pleasant Valley School District Board of Trustees for 57 years from 1894 to 1951.[3]


Camarillo made significant contributions to Ventura County. He helped found the Oxnard Union High School District on October 4, 1901. The boundary was from the Ventura River to the Los Angeles County line.[9] When the district was ready to build the first high school in Camarillo, he donated 50 acres of land in 1956.[3] He was present for the groundbreaking of this school that was named after him. Adolfo Camarillo High School opened in 1958.[2] According to Carol Yung, a volunteer at the Camarillo Ranch, the high school cheerleaders and band walked over to the Camarillo Ranch House to celebrate his birthday.

In 1904 he donated land to extend the Southern Pacific Railroad through Camarillo and for the expansion of St. John's Seminary to include St. John's College.[3] He also donated land in 1937 for the Conejo Grade portion of the highway that is now the Ventura Freeway. In 1890, Adolfo, with the help of two Chumash Indian boys, planted two rows of eucalyptus trees. The trees lined Highway 101 in Camarillo for many years. Some of the trees are still present along the north side of the freeway.[3]

Camarillo Ranch House[edit]

The Camarillo House is a Queen Anne Victorian style home that was built in 1892 by Camarillo and several other workers; the house was a cultural and social hub that was the center of the ranch. Camarillo enlisted the services of architects Franklin Ward and Herman Anlauf. Camarillo used his ranch mostly for growing crops. His main crops were lima beans, barley, corn, alfalfa, walnuts, and citrus.

According to Carol Yung, board member and tour guide for the Camarillo Ranch Foundation, some of the land that Camarillo owned was in the Mission Oaks and Leisure Village area of the city that now bears his name. After he died in 1958, the land went to his family.[citation needed] After some family deaths, times were tough, so the family had to sell off bits of land due to taxes and gave land to St. John Cemetery.[citation needed]

In 2001 it was opened to the public for weddings, receptions, and filming, after roughly $1.5 million and over 10,000 volunteered hours were invested.[3]

The city of Camarillo restored the exterior and foundation of the Camarillo House in 1999-2000.[3] This renovation included upgrades, exterior lighting, and a ranch style fence around the perimeter as well as a new roof and utilities.[3] Today, the city of Camarillo funds basic maintenance. The Camarillo Ranch Foundation has restored the entire interior of the Camarillo House. This was done with donations and support from volunteers in the community. The foundation worked on matching specific styles of the rooms to match what they could have looked like when Camarillo and his family lived there. The grand reopening of the Camarillo House took place in 2001.[3]

Camarillo Ranch Foundation[edit]

In 1998 the Camarillo Ranch Foundation was established by the city of Camarillo. The foundation was recognized as a non-profit public corporation. The 4.5-acre (18,000 m2) ranch was given to the city in 1997.[3] The city also received the barn and stable adjacent to the property, and relocated them to their current locations on the ranch in 1999.[3]

The Camarillo Ranch's mission statement includes:

"To preserve, restore, and maintain The Camarillo Ranch as a historic site in partnership with our public and private sectors, on a self-sustaining basis; to foster its place in the rich history of California; to transform it into a focal point of the community for education, enrichment, and enjoyment; and to exhibit our diverse history and culture".[3]

Events at the Ranch House[edit]

The Camarillo Ranch House has been open to the public since 2001. According to Michael Lavenant, a board member from 2001 to 2011, the site is available for weddings, bar mitzvahs and corporate events. Among many of the events hosted here each year, weddings are the biggest source of income to the ranch.[3]

The restored barn is also host to many events. For example, on May 20, 2010, Meg Whitman came to the Camarillo Ranch House for a campaigning event to discuss immigration and education.[10] Additionally, the ranch hosts two major fund raisers for the house: the Candle Light Gala and the Octoberfest Car Show.[3]

Legal battles over Camarillo Ranch House[edit]

In 1891, Martina Camarillo deeded the ranch to her sons. Following her death, her daughters, who had only been given $5 each, challenged the will and the deed of the ranch. The daughters also claimed that their brothers had deceived their mother and that Juan Jr. had confessed his guilt to one of the sisters and paid her $8,500. Juan Jr., however, testified that his sisters were trying to blackmail him and send him to jail for an "infamous crime." Eventually Adolfo Camarillo was granted control over the ranch.[11]


  1. ^ a b c Ventura County Information Site - Where Did The Name "Camarillo" Come From?
  2. ^ a b Adolfo Camarillo High School - official site
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "A Brief History Of The Ranch". Camarillo Ranch. Archived from the original on 2008-07-24. Retrieved 2007-12-01.
  4. ^ a b c City of Camarillo Official Site, Local History
  5. ^ St. Mary Magdalen Parish Archived 2009-01-31 at the Wayback Machine., History
  6. ^ the Free Library Rose parade article
  7. ^ a b [1] Camarillo White Horses History
  8. ^ The History of Santa Barbara, San Louis Obispo, and Ventura Counties Volume 2 by Gidney Charles M.; Brooks, Benjamin; Sheridan Edwin M.
  9. ^ "History of OHS" Archived 2014-02-22 at the Wayback Machine. Oxnard High School official website. Accessed 16 November 2014
  10. ^ "Meg Whitman in Camarillo". Ventura County Star. May 20, 2010. Archived from the original on February 3, 2011. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
  11. ^ [2]- Camarillo High School official site

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