The community now known as Rancho Santa Fe was originally a Mexican rancho period land grant of 8, 824.71 acres named Rancho San Dieguito. The grant was issued in 1845 to Don Juan Maria Osuna by Governor Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor prior to California statehood. After Osuna’s death, the land grant was broken up into several properties, some retained by Osuna family members. In 1906 the Santa Fe Land Improvement Company (SFLIC), a subsidiary of the Santa Fe Railway, started purchasing all the properties (one as late as 1910) within the old land grant keeping it intact. The SFLIC launched an ambitious horticultural experiment, importing seed from Australia and planting some three million Eucalyptus trees for needed railroad ties.
The project ended less than a decade later when the SFLIC experienced drought, floods, and learned they could buy mature Oregon Douglas fir timber much cheaper.
In 1921, the SFLIC filled a subdivision map for a planned agricultural community and laid out country roads, country estates and citrus groves—a ‘gentleman farmer’ residential community, and their namesake Rancho Santa Fe, one of the first planned communities in the United States. In 1922 the San Diego architectural firm of Richard S. Requa and Herbert L. Jackson was commissioned to design Spanish-themed architecture preferred by the SFLIC. Requa engaged an architectural peer to his team of architects, native San Diegan Lilian J. Rice. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, Rice was one of the first women in the state to receive an architectural license.
Rice’s variation on the Spanish colonial architectural style was a Spanish village concept, where she combined the history of the ranch, her travels and her training. La Flecha House, her first village residence, was built in 1923 at the corner of Via de Santa Fe and La Flecha, intended to be a convenient home for key SFLIC employees.
A modest building of some 1,000 square feet, the home included a living room, dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms and a bath. Its most unusual feature was being wired as an all-electric house—heating (including hot water), lighting and cooking—at a time when many rural San Diego homes had no electricity at all. The home was built of adobe brick, rough plastered on the exterior, smooth on the interior. The roof was flat, with parapet walls, equipped with drainpipes to dispose of rainfall. All railings, and both exterior and interior lighting fixtures were crafted of wrought iron in the Spanish colonial style. A garage wasn’t provided, or needed, at the time.
The first residents were Sydney R. Nelson, the SFLIC’s head of accounting and later the ranch manager, with his wife and young son. A year after moving in Mrs. Nelson established Rancho Santa Fe’s first public library in her home. This was a collection of some 100 books that were changed several times a year by the San Diego County Public Library. When the Nelsons moved to a larger home, several other families lived in the house as the community grew.
In 1960 E. I. (Bud) and Marguerita Reitz bought the property and remodeled the interior for commercial use. Reitz, who had moved to Rancho Santa Fe from La Jolla 20 years earlier, also severed on the Art Jury and developed a deep desire to preserve the character of the ranch. To that end, in 1988 he and his wife donated this historically significant building to the recently organized Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society. Marguerita had an extensive collection of antiques, which she also donated to the historical society.
In June of 1989, the Rancho Santa Fe Covenant received California historical landmark status for the community as whole. Subsequently, on July 4, 1989, at the time of the conveyance of La Flecha House to the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society, a plaque installed recognized La Flecha as Historical Landmark #1. The building currently serves as the headquarters for the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society.