Cambrian: Opinion

Ranch Update: From dairy farm to cattle ranch to (proposed) subdivision to preserve

PHOTO COURTESY OF FRIENDS OF THE FISCALINI RANCH PRESERVE The Joseph Fiscalini Home on what is now the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.
PHOTO COURTESY OF FRIENDS OF THE FISCALINI RANCH PRESERVE The Joseph Fiscalini Home on what is now the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

People often say that the only things in life you can count on are death and taxes! Wikipedia says it’s from Ben Franklin’s quote, “But in the world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” It’s an old saying and has been true down through the ages. Death and taxes — inheritance taxes — are what changed the fate of the Fiscalini Town Ranch, the property that now makes up most of what’s now known at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

Joseph Fiscalini bought the “Town Ranch” in 1885, started a dairy farming operation, built his home there, and went on to buy other properties to add to his original 417 acres.

He is reported to have built the first milking barn in the county. Until then cows were milked outdoors, rain or shine.

He started a family, marrying Margherita Fiscalini in 1886 and having seven children, five of whom survived to adulthood. Joseph worked hard and prospered, inspiring other relatives to come to Cambria from Switzerland.

Joseph’s brother Giacomo and Margherita’s two brothers, Carlo and Matteo, were among those who arrived, settled, married and raised their families in Cambria.

In 1892 Joseph and Margherita became U.S. citizens and, in the same year, they returned to their ancestral home in Switzerland for eight years. They leased the Town Ranch to either Carlo (Charles) or Matteo while they were gone. They returned to their home on the Town Ranch after coming back to Cambria.

Joseph and Margherita’s oldest daughter, Leonilde, married Pietro (Peter) Fiscalini from Switzerland. In those days arranged marriages were common and this marriage was one of many such unions. Leonilde and Peter had four children; Frank, Olga, Stella and Louis. Leonilde’s siblings, Constantine, Giovanni (John), Lucy and Mike, never married.

In 1941, Joseph passed away at the age of 91. His property was divided among his children. Daughter Lucy was given the Town Ranch; the family thinking that she could sell it if need be, because she was an unmarried woman with no husband to run the dairy farm. Leonilde and her family, who lived at the Green Valley Ranch, continued to run the operation there. Joseph’s children worked together to keep the family farming way of life in Cambria, along with other members of the growing and hardworking Fiscalini family. The families abandoned dairy farming and began cattle ranching in the early 1960’s.

The future of the Fiscalini Town Ranch was forever changed when, in the early 1970’s, many of the next generation died. Constantine passed in

1971, with both Leonilde and Lucy following in 1975. Louis and Betty Fiscalini inherited property, including the Town Ranch, which had long since been surrounded by the town of Cambria. Unable to pay the high inheritance taxes, they decided to sell the Town Ranch, the most isolated from their other properties and the least productive.

The Nature Conservancy was contacted, but the government was pressing for their unpaid taxes and, in 1979, the family sold, out of necessity, to Rancho Pacifica, a developer. Rancho Pacifica intended to build 110 dwelling units in mobile homes, 200 dwelling units in apartments and condos, 70,940 square feet in retail space, and 440 motel rooms, all on the East Ranch, and 880 homes on the West Ranch. All of this was to be built in a phased plan from 1985 until 2002.

Can you imagine the changes a project of this magnitude would bring to our community? A group of concerned Cambria citizens could: In 1985, that group, including Betty Fiscalini and Shirley Bianchi, formed Coastal Residents United (CRU) to address agricultural water and growth concerns, including the Rancho Pacifica project. The long, hard fight to “Save the Ranch” had begun.


Mark your calendars for the Friends of Fiscalini Ranch’s upcoming events marking the 10th anniversary of public acquisition of the Ranch in 2000 and keep your eyes open for more special events this fall, including (call 927- 2856 for details):

The new “Ranchers

& Stewards” display

opening reception

will be held from 5 to 7 p.m.


June 17,

at the Cambria Historical Museum at the corner of Burton Drive and Center Street in East Village. The exhibit features the Fiscalini Town Ranch and Hearst Ranch, both of which have been preserved under conservation easements.

The 10th Annual

Great Kitchens of Cambria

Kitchen Tour

will be held from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Saturday, July 31.

For $30, ticket-holders can visit eight kitchens, enjoying along the way gourmet treats, wine tasting and other beverages, kitchen-related demonstrationss and displays and chances to win terrific prizes. Tickets go on sale June 21 at the Cambria Chamber of Commerce, A Matter of Taste, Cambria Farmers Market and, in San Luis Obispo, at Forden’s.

Jo Ellen Butler is executive director of Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. RanchUpdate appears in The Cambrian monthly in this, the 10th anniversary year of acquisition of what was then known as East West Ranch. Contact FFRP at, 927-2856, or P.O. Box 1664, Cambria 93428.