Mission Ranch has a deep history, and so does successful movie star and director Clint Eastwood. Like many men who came to Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA, before him, he was enamored with the old ranch. After transforming the film and television industry and the Carmel town itself, he embarked on transforming the timeworn Mission Ranch. It wasn’t easy; it wasn’t cheap, but he did it.
Clint Eastwood was only 21 when he first strolled into the Mission Ranch. The young man was looking for a place to unwind and have something affordable to eat. At the time, he had been recruited to the Fort Ord that sat nearby. Unlike what they are today, initially, the buildings in Mission Ranch were a combination of the Fort Ord officers’ club and a dairy farm.
Before being drafted, Eastwood was a lumberjack; he did not have many ideas about what to do after being discharged. However, when he went into the ranch, he fell in love with it immediately.
“The first time I saw the place I thought it was terrific,” he says, according to Architectural Digest. “Visually it was something else, and I thought it was the place I’d like to call home. So I kind of adopted Carmel.”
The Glorious “Mission Ranch,” And The Star
The Mission Ranch is a magnificent piece of property located on the lush wetlands, exactly where the Carmel River meets the Pacific. As you can imagine, the ranch has breathtaking views of the sea along with scenic views of the Monterey coastline and the spectacular curve of the beach. It’s no wonder this place is considered one of the most beautiful places in northern California.
The area is also home to many goats, horses, and sheep, all of which you can spot grazing in the green pasture below strands of eucalyptus and oak. Of course, it’s very difficult to miss herons and ducks moving at the riverside.
Over 40 years later, the smitten, young boy is one of the most popular and successful actors and directors in the world. His fierce, carved smile and grizzled chin have led him into dozens of important roles, including a singer in “Honkytonk Man” and detective in “Dirty Harry.” His revisionist western, “Unforgiven,” earned him an Oscar. Today, this legendary star is the newest owner of the tastefully refurbished Mission Ranch.
Eastwood vs. The City Council
When Clint Eastwood moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s, he starred in a popular television series known as “Rawhide.” By that time, he had bought his first house in Monterey. Before long, he had migrated to California’s rugged central coast permanently.
Eastwood was a passionate golfer. He frequented the Pebble Beach Golf Course located on Carmel Bay. This is the place where the first film he directed was shot, and it was filled with images of the rocky Monterey Peninsula.
“I just gradually became part of the community,” Eastwood says. “Carmel gave me a different perspective from the movie business.” During the 1980s, Eastwood decided to renovate a certain building of his downtown. Unfortunately, the city council of Carmel denied him permission to move ahead with the project. He discovered that other poor residents of Carmel had also suffered the same fate and were denied the right to renovate their homes and businesses.
The man dramatically rode to defend the powerless and protect the weak, just like he would have done in a movie. Court proceedings started, and Eastwood won. One year later, he ran for mayor of the town.
“We couldn’t get anyone else to do it… so after a few glasses of wine, I said I’d do it. Being a very determined person, I decided to win,” he explained to Architectural Digest.
Eastwood did everything he could, including knocking on doors, talking to people at several coffee klatches, and holding rallies. As you can expect, he was elected by a landslide in 1986.
The History Of The Mission Ranch
Although Eastwood was doing great politically and as a person, the Mission Ranch was floundering. After many years of being unmaintained, the ranch was quickly yielding to the termites. While its walls split, its screens were rusting and wearing away. Eastwood watched the ranch rot from his new home in Carmel. He watched as the wetlands invaded the old club’s polo field and swimming pool. The restaurant and hotel was now a sordid refuge for illicit couples and traveling merchants.
Eastwood decided to drop by to have a closer look. When he did, he saw lots of broken windows and peeling paint. Notably, some of the windows had been painted black during the Second World War. Back then, the Carmel residents were expecting the Japanese to invade and attack them over the marshes.
In 1771, Carmel-by-the-Sea was Alta California’s spiritual center. This was when Father Junipero Serra constructed the San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, which is now Mission Ranch’s elegant neighbor. In case you’re wondering, during the 18th century, the area was first settled by the Spaniards when they converted Monterey into the capital of Alta California. The territory was the stretch between San Diego and Baja California.
Carmel also served as a refuge for an important group of writers and artists in the West during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Robinson set up his Tor above the Pacific, and there’s no one from Upton Sinclair to Sinclair Lewis who didn’t live and write in the calm, Carmel atmosphere.
One of the first families to live in the Monterey peninsula built the farmhouse in the 1850s. It had six guest rooms. About 45 years later, the house was reconstructed, and it became a two-story residence.
Robert Louis Stevenson was only 29 when he arrived in Monterey in 1879. His mission was to win the heart of the lovely Fanny Osbourne, who, at the time, was married to another man. The lovesick, young writer somehow became enthralled by San Carlos Borromeo as he hopelessly wandered the rocky coast and wooded hills. The mission had long been abandoned when the Spaniards were driven out. “The church is roofless and ruinous… sea breezes and sea-fogs, and the alternation of the rain and sunshine, daily widening the breeches,” the impoverished young man wrote.
Stevenson, as he passionately sought fame and love, went past the mission and paced the pasture and beach right at Carmel River’s mouth, and then climbed the rough rocks at Point Lobos.
Robert Louis Stevenson went back to England, perhaps after being heavily inspired by love. Eventually, his view from the Mission Ranch and Point Lobos became the setting for the remarkable Treasure Island. Fanny Osbourne also became his wife.
Eastwood To The Rescue!
About 100 years later, in 1986, the ranch caught the attention of a developer, who wanted to build condominiums there. Just before he bought it, Eastwood acquired the whole 22 acres together with the shabby buildings on it for $5 million.
“I had always loved the place and they were just going to flatten it. They said it was obsolete. I thought it should be preserved as what it was,” he told Architectural Digest.
He became part of the short dynasty of men, including Robert Louis Stevenson and Junípero Serra, who left a mark on the tiny cove in the Pacific. The Mission Ranch was not a lovely sight to anyone unless they were either too sentimental or outright stubborn. The entire wiring was damaged and the piping system was broken. Actually, the pipes leaked so terribly that about 40% of the gas was getting lost beneath the floor.
“When you open up a place like this, it’s like the bear who climbs a hill to see the next hill and the next hill…It never ends,” Eastwood explains.
“There’s a big difference between doing preservation and advocating preservation. It’s different to put your money where your mouth is,” Eastwood quickly discovered. The man has put in a couple of millions so far, and he says that he’ll still consider the ranch a huge success if it breaks even.
At the moment, the Mission Ranch’s gleaming buildings have 31 deluxe guest rooms, a modern restaurant and bar, and it still offers some of the best views of California. Eastwood is still constructing tennis courts and modern workout rooms.
Eastwood decided to get Alan Williams on board to help with the renovation. Alan works with a company that specializes in building restoration known as the Carmel Development Company. The chimneys were renovated by a mason who had restored the Mission San Carlos Borromeo. When the ranch required furniture, he brought in a few timeworn pieces from movie sets.
Frances Fisher, who worked with Eastwood in the film “Unforgiven,” offered great advice on the quilts and flower arrangements.
“She cares more about details, I see the big picture,” Eastwood notes.
Eastwood had Edgar Broyhill, a North Carolina-based furniture manufacturer to get him more serious furniture. Broyhill is a friend he met at the golf course, and he designed the Mission Ranch Collection. “Furniture is what gives a room its character… I wanted this furniture to have a solid feel but be very comfortable,” Eastwood confessed. According to Broyhill, the emphasis of the collection is on physical comfort, and that’s why he added many deep cushions and practicality. He made it clear that he wasn’t trying to make any style statement.
Eastwood is a popular figure not only on the ranch but also around Carmel. However, he is very private and reclusive. According to him, he is not the “jolly host” type. Rather, he’s a modest and friendly man who readily gives credit to other people and downplays his personal accomplishments. The man is nearly unrecognizable — judging from his shamble and baggy wear. He loves being in the sky, and that’s probably why he pilots his own helicopter.
Today, at 90, Clint Eastwood has been involved in more than 30 movies. It seems the love affair he started with the small town has sprouted into a passionate combination of worldly power and natural beauty.
“Carmel is primo… The place just gets in your blood. When you’ve been away and you come back here, you always feel like you’re coming home.”
The Mission Ranch clearly became Eastwood’s mission when he first saw it. Today, it’s nearing completion. It’s something he ought to be proud of.