San Justo Rancho was one of three ranches attached to San Juan Bautista. It covered 28,000 acres.
After the decree of secularization in 1832, when the mission lands and cattle were confiscated, General Jose Castro obtained San Justo Rancho from the Mexican Government.
Francisco P. Pacheco bought the rancho from Castro for the Sum of $1,400.00. In October 1855 Pacheco sold the Rancho to Flint, Bixby and Co., for $25,000.00. Flint Bixby and Co., in turn sold about 21,000 acres to Colonel Hollister. (By this time the Rancho had grown to about 35,000 acres).
The company consisted of two brothers, Dr. Thomas Flint and Benjamin Flint and a cousin by the name of Llewellyn Bixby. At one time this company owned San Justo Rancho property in the vicinity of Bakersfield and all of what is now Long Beach and Signal Hill. For forty years Rancho San Justo was the headquarters for Flint, Bixby and Co. From 1869 to 1877 the Flint, Bixby and Co., operated The Coast Line Stage Co., which ran from San Jose to San Diego.
The lumber for the ranch house was shipped around the horn. The ranch house was finished in 1863, to accommodate three families. There were three apartments, each with sitting room, bedroom, bath (after 1870), a common parlor, large office, dining room and kitchen, together with numerous guest rooms in the upper story. Each wife took charge of the housekeeping for a month. Inevitably, the communal plan could not but fail to be altogether ideal. (Quotation from "Adobe Days", by Sarah Bixby). This communal life lasted 15 years.
After Llewellyn Bixby's death in 1896, the Flint, Bixby Co., was dissolved and the properties separated. The Flints retained the lands in the North and the Bixby heirs, those to the South. Ultimately the Ben Flints took up a permanent residence in Oakland, leaving the Dr. Flints on Rancho San Justo. On account of some bad investments, the Flints property on the San Justo Rancho dwindled to 2,400 acres, which the Flints sold to Mme. Leila Butler Hedges in 1922, for $150,000.00.
In 1947, the Franciscan Fathers of California bought 73 acres of the Rancho, including the large ranch house, cottages, maintenance man's house; and the casita for $100,000.00. Bud Holthouse bought the remaining 2,210 acres.
At 4 AM on Friday June 23"' the smoke alarm began to screech. Brother Angelo bounded out of bed and opened his door to a corridor rapidly filling with smoke. After vain attempts to put out small surface fires and a call to 911, he roused the other five sleeping Friars. They all escaped from their second floor bedrooms.
The elegant old Ranch House, which was completed in 1864, had empty walls which soon became channels for the fire to spread to the attic. We suspect that the fire started in faulty wiring located on the first floor and then raced up the walls. By the time the fire equipment arrived to this remote area, the fire was well underway. It virtually exploded on the south-east end of the building then rapidly spread through the attic. Like a giant fire monster, it devoured the Ranch House bit by bit for the next three hours. The heat was so intense that it twisted steel I-beams from a recent remodeling. Half way through the inferno the firefighters were pulled away from the fire for their own safety and to focus on preventing the fire from spreading.
Thankfully, no other structures or trees were burned. Saint Francis Court and its 15 Guest rooms are intact. The Lower Building with the chapel, conference room and 42 guest rooms were also untouched by the fire. Unfortunately, all of our business records, equipment, kitchen and dining rooms, and pictures going back to our first retreat 60 years ago this December have been completely destroyed.
We have re-opened, using advanced temporary buildings, for our dining room and kitchen. We resumed serving the community, other local and international groups and our retreatants, again on July 8, 2006, less than a month after the fire. .
In October of 2009, thanks to our donors, we were able to open the new St. Francis Retreat Center building.
We still need the financial support of the community, to complete our recovery. Checks can be made out to "Bring Back Saint Francis" and mailed to: P.O. Box 970, San Juan Bautista, CA 95045. Thank you for spreading the word throughout the greater community so they can help. As all of our records were lost, please send any group information to the above address or call Phone (831) 623-4234.
St. Francis Retreat
P.O. Box 970, 549 Mission Vineyard Road
San Juan Bautista, California 95045
Phone: 831-623-4234 Fax: 831-623-9046
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