Nowadays, while the rattlers remain, steers have been replaced by SUVs, Bambi and his kin are in a witness protection program, and the ranchers have been plowed over by glad-handers who lasso real estate. If you venture onto the spread, you may see license-plate frames with the slogan, “Scripps Ranch — Country Living.” But if this is “country,” I’d sure hate to see the suburbs.
Let’s face it: if Gertie Stein had stumbled upon Scripps Ranch in an unplanned detour on the way to surveying the Stingaree in its dotage, she might have quipped, “There’s no ranch in the ranch.” It’s pretty damned hard to find, so I did my best to sniff it out, using old-timers’ reminiscences as cerebral divining rods. While I was at it, I also revisited those license-plate frames to see if they meant a damned solitary thing in 2017.
First stop was at the Scripps Ranch Swim and Racquet Club, whose pools, Jacuzzis, tennis courts and lawns sit atop the Ould Sod, as it were, ancestral lair of genteel equinophiles who once rode the not-so-rugged range and who gathered at what came to be known as the “Meanley House.” The club houses a nice black-and-white photo of the Meanleys’ modest abode but furnishes few clues, save perhaps from the occasional wind-blown whisper from an old eucalyptus on the far back lawn.
Kingpin of the Ranch
Scripps Ranch is the kind of place where mass-media labels such as “soccer mom” come to hideous fruition, a place where heresy is defined as a snippet of crabgrass in the front yard. During the 1960s, C. Arnholt Smith, a local bigwig with connections to Richard Nixon, was known in some circles as “Mr. San Diego.” Such was his perceived power and influence in what was then a rock-ribbed Republican Navy town. Some years later, Colonel Robert E. Dingeman, an Army man born on base at Corregidor in the Philippines, moved here and was eventually referred to in some quarters as “Mr. Scripps Ranch.”
Dingeman, who tips the Carbon-14 scale at 95, fancies himself the Kingpin of the Ranch as we now know it, and while civic boosterism is hardly unique to the tracts of the Ranch, one would be hard-pressed to find another county neighborhood that practices it more stridently or a man who lives it more constantly.
I asked Dingeman what had attracted him to Scripps Ranch. “We were looking for a family-oriented community; we didn’t want something that was all built up. Although the first residents arrived in 1969, it was still very rural. The Swim & Racquet Club had already been built, but where the Vons shopping center is today there were two large trailers where we bought our groceries. Across the street was a church also in portables, as was the elementary school.
"One of the first things that impressed me right away was that people came up to meet me, community activists who had the idea of preserving something rural and nice — not tremendously packed-in.” Dingeman, a short man who uses a walker to scurry about his home, prides himself for being an early member of the Scripps Ranch Civic Association, whose small-town boosterism forms his ethos — an ethos he insists should pervade the entirety of the Ranch, if not all of San Diego. “We formed a group and started putting out a one-page, mimeographed newsletter, which we now distribute by the thousands.”
Leafing through the newsletter, which locals find on their driveways every month without fail, one senses an obsession with schools, real estate and traffic issues, prosaic topics that one would presumably encounter in Anytown, Anystate For the good Colonel, it’s white bread and white picket fences — as long as they don’t violate homeowners’ association rules. “Community activism?” Well, if you’re thinking wizened hippies in O.B. or rainbow-flag warriors in Hillcrest you’ve got the wrong neighborhood.
Scripps Ranch was named for the Scripps clan, whose history was a rather recondite topic for me at the time I first alighted upon the Ranch in May 1982, when I met and fell in love with a woman who lived there. An elementary-school teacher, she’d just bought a condo off Pomerado Road. I’d never heard of the place before. We had a torrid but brief affair, and I recall that, on my drives north from Mission Valley to see her, I’d mentally refer to her as “the girl on Pomerado Road.” Pomerado? The name seemed exotic to me. Decades later, in a somewhat wistful twist of irony, I ended up moving to a newly built, northerly part of the Ranch with my wife, Laura, whom I’d met in 1989 when I was at Cal Western Law School. By then, 1996, the Ranch had lost its mystery, save for the remaining portion of Pomerado Road via which one could explore parts of the defunct Sycamore Canyon missile testing site.
The scrubby mesas and small canyons that would later become what Wikipedia terms an “affluent community in the northeastern part of San Diego” were, in the decades before the first World War, 1200 acres owned by newspaper tycoon Edward Willis Scripps, who was born in the hamlet of Rushville, Illinois, in 1854. San Diego had its share of “old money” magnates back then, but many, like their counterparts around the state, were absentee owners unfamiliar with the vast tracts under their titles. E.W., however, having developed a fondness for the scrubby, waterless acreage, lived on the property, at least part-time.
The official synopsis, or “Just the facts, Jack”
According to Wikipedia, Scripps Ranch is a “coastal/inland bedroom community within the City of San Diego, east of I-15, north of Miramar Marine Corps Air Station and south of Poway which features mature eucalyptus trees. Miramar Reservoir is located within Scripps Ranch and offers recreational boating and fishing.”
The San Diego History Center recounts that in 1968, Leadership Homes purchased the 1180-acre Miramar Ranch from Margaret Scripps Hawkins. To no one’s great shock, the “master plan” was approved by the San Diego City Council in 1970 and in 1975 the ranch was sold to the Corky McMillin Company. Soon afterward sprouted, like mushrooms after a rain, a cluster of committees, sub-committees, and sub-sub-committees, including the Scripps Miramar Ranch Community Planning Group, which commissioned a comprehensive “community plan” adopted by the city council in 1978.