Local History:

Horses in San Clemente

By Christine Lampert, Architect, AIA, NCARB
Photos courtesy of the San Clemente Historical Society

The Ralphs grocery store lot on South El Camino Real was once the home of the horse stables in San Clemente, which was known as the San Clemente Riding Academy. The founders of San Clemente, Ole Hanson and his business partner Hamilton Cotton, considered themselves horsemen, so they included horseback riding in the design of the new town. One of Ole’s sons, Ted, became a professional rodeo rider.

Much of San Clemente was originally designed with horse trails. In addition, horses were used to grade the streets and to form the plots of land that went up for sale in the new town. Several streets were designed with center dividers that served as horse trails that ran down to the beach from El Camino Real. Today, these streets have landscaped center dividers instead of horse trails.

Ole Hanson’s house, which is now the historic cultural center called Casa Romantica, had horse stables adjacent to the property. The stables are long gone, replaced by huge condominiums in the 1970s. Other homes in the area had stables on their property, but these are also gone, replaced mostly by homes after World War Il.

Hamilton Cotton built the house on the south end of town that is now called “Casa Pacifica,” where President Richard Nixon lived in the 1970s. He had horse stables on his large property as well as a racetrack. He had 100 acres. It is said that he entertained President Roosevelt, who arrived by train several times at his home. In 1943, Cotton sold 62 acres to a thoroughbred horse

breeder from Brawly, California. It became the largest breeding farm in California and produced many famous horses that won races at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar racetracks.

Ole Hanson and his partners built public horse stables on the land that now houses the Ralph’s grocery store on South El Camino Real. These were considered one of the finest stables south of Los Angeles, with 14 stalls and living quarters for the caretakers. The architecture was Spanish Colonial Revival and is said to have been very beautiful.

The Riding Academy closed at the beginning of the 1930s during the Great Depression, and the stable was renovated into a hospital. Each horse stall was converted into a large hospital room and was billed as a hotel-style hospital for arthritis patients. Unfortunately, the hospital only operated for four years before it failed, and then it became a hotel for a few years.

Later, the buildings were torn down and a shopping center was built, including an Alpha Beta grocery store. Later still, the shopping center was once again redesigned into the Ralphs grocery store that is there today. Prior to Ralphs, the owner of the shopping center proposed a three-story mall with parking and a grocery store on street level and tiered restaurants with ocean view on the upper levels. The city refused to approve this design, so a single Ralphs store was designed instead.

Today, many locals call the Ralphs “Ralph a Beta” because of the Alpha Beta that was there for many years, but most people do not know that this was once horse stables and a hospital.

Christine Lampert of Lampert Dias Architects is a member of the American Institute of Architects and is certified with the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. She has lived in

San Clemente for more than 45 years, and also resides part time in Hong Kong.

Christine Lampert, Architect, AIA, NCARB,

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