President Reagan Found Peace, Quiet, and Beauty in His Ranch Style Home
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean and high into California’s Santa Ynez Mountains is a modest but charming one-story adobe house on a 688-acre site that “cast a spell over” President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy. Called Rancho del Cielo by the president because of its mountaintop location – and its peaceful, serene ambiance – the ranch was his sanctuary.
The Ranch style house itself is a smallish 1,600-square-foot structure with two bedrooms, a large living room, a multi-functional front room, and kitchen. The beauty of Rancho del Cielo is in its surroundings – with hardwood and oak trees, rocks, a pond called “Lake Lucky,” and views of the surrounding mountains and meadows.
It was at Rancho del Cielo where he prepared for his run to the presidency in 1976 and 1980. It was also the place where he conducted presidential business when he was away from the White House and where he received – and entertained – heads of states and dignitaries, such as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Mikhail Gorbachev. Margaret Thatcher, and Brian Mulroney.
A panoramic view of Rancho del Cielo, top, shows most of its acreage and the unimposing adobe ranch house that was a retreat for the 40th President of the United States, bottom (courtesy of Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum).
The Reagans' Rancho del Cielo
Described by close friends as a “frustrated cowboy,” the Illinois-born and raised Reagan – who moved about Illinois with his parents and older brother in relatively poor conditions (his father being a shoe salesman and alcoholic) until they settled in a two-story home in Dixon, IL, when Reagan was 9 – loved the sprawling atmosphere of ranches. When he grew up and finally made his home California, he bought ranches in Northridge, Riverside, and Malibu. In late 1971, while he was still governor of California, he started looking for a more secluded place – and decided to put his ranch in Riverside on the market.
It wasn’t until 1973, however, that the Reagans scouted the beautifully situated Tip Top Ranch, which had a rundown Ranch style house on site. At the advice of a friend who lived in the area, they braved the single-lane winding road and the bumpy private road to the ranch. As soon as he saw the breathtaking vista of the property, he knew he had found the perfect secluded spot for the Ronald Reagan Ranch, despite the condition of the house.
In 1974, after a year of negotiations and as his second term as California governor was winding down, the Reagans finalized the purchase of Tip Top Ranch – and immediately renamed it Rancho del Cielo (“ranch in the sky”).
Top: The main house at Rancho del Cielo (courtesy of Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum). Bottom: a 3-bedroom, 2-bath Ranch home that mirrors the low-slung, shallow-pitch California style Ranch design of the Reagans' home (Plan #146-1698).
After acquiring the rundown estate, the Reagans worked on rebuilding and renovating the old property in the style of a California Ranch home. The main house had aluminum sheets for a roof, no fencing, and very few trees. With the help of a ranch hand, Reagan remodeled the house himself – ripping out walls, painting, installing a new roof, building a fence with old telephone poles and a rock patio with sandstone slabs gathered from around the property. He redid the floors with inexpensive vinyl tiles that were made to look like terra cotta pavers.
The Reagans also added a one-room guesthouse, barn, tack room, stables, and several outbuildings that served as housing for the Secret Service.
Top: President Reagan loved working around the ranch. Here he is, chopping old telephone poles to use as a fence for the house. Upper Middle: The wood fence installed by Reagan surrounds the main house at Rancho del Cielo. Lower Middle:The man-made pond near the house – called “Lake Lucky” – includes a small dock. President Reagan and his dog Lucky stand in front of the dock. Bottom: President and Mrs. Reagan in their canoe, called Trulove, on Lake Lucky with the main house visible in the background (all courtesy of Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum).
Top: The guesthouse that the Reagans added comprises a kitchen, dining area, sitting room, bedroom, and bath in an open-plan, studio-like setup. Bottom: The tack room, companion to the barn the Reagans erected for their beloved horses, El Alamein and No Strings, among others (both courtesy of Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum).
Rancho del Cielo and Ranch Style Homes
When the work and all the additions were completed at Rancho del Cielo – the Reagans had created an estate that suited their love of ranch living and Ranch style homes with a house that was simple, comfortable, and relaxing. Even the small guest house with its rustic fixtures was designed for cozy and restful living.
Top: This low-slung 3-bedroom, 2,623-sq.-ft. Ranch style home is reminiscent of Rancho del Cielo (Plan #108-1356). Upper Middle: President and Nancy Reagan pose with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in front of the covered entrace to Rancho del Cielo (courtesy of Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum). Lower Middle: Though taller, with a steeper sloped roof, this 3-bedroom, 2-bath, 2-half-bath Ranch home calls to mind President Reagan's house, echoing the covered entry (Plan #108-1794). Bottom: A closer view of the covered area shows the similarity to Rancho del Cielo.
While sticking to the footprint of the original adobe house, the Reagans broke down some interior walls to open up some spaces – thus, fashioning a residence that has several features of today’s ranch style homes.
Top: The vaulted front room at Rancho del Cielo with its large windows flows into the dining area, similar to the open design of today’s ranch style homes. It also serves as a family room. Here President Reagan and Nacy chat with Vice President and Barbara Bush (courtesy of Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum). Middle: This view of President Reagan speaking with Chief of Staff Howard Baker and National Security Advisor Colin Powell provides an idea of the vaulted ciling visible in the background (all courtesy of Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum). Bottom:An open concept design is illustrated in the Great Room of a 3-bedroom, 1,848-square-foot Ranch style home (Plan #117-1107).
Contemporary Ranch style homes tend to have steeper roofs, often in the hip style, and except in the Southwest, shy away from whitewashed adobe, instead embracing wood and vinyl siding, brick, or stucco. The homes have a taller appearance as a result and often feature 9- or 10-foot-tall ceilings, with vaults soaring up from there.
Designed as 1-story structures, many of today's Ranch-style homes have little resemblance to the traditional California Ranch style beloved by the Reagans. Top: This 3-bedroom, 1,675-sq.-ft. Craftsman-influenced ranch has a steep roof, making it appear much taller than the Rancho del Cielo house (Plan #142-1067). Middle: With a false shed dormer and steep roof, giving it the appreance of a 2-story home, this 3-bedroom, 4-bath Ranch home with bonus room over the garage borrows from the Craftsman and Farmhouse genres. Bottom: The home's Great Room boasts a dramatic vaulted ceiling (Plan #194-1029).
Rancho del Cielo’s Backstory
Once part of a land concession to a Spanish soldier who settled in California in 1794, the property was actually developed in 1880 by Jose Jesus Pico who raised livestock, planted a vineyard and grew crops, including five acres of grapes that provided 900 gallons of wine a year. Pico called the place Rancho de los Picos and hired a craftsman to build the family home – a one-story, five-room adobe structure. Another small building was added to serve as a school for local ranch kids, including the Pico children.
Rancho de los Picos stayed with the Pico family for more than a century. It changed ownership only twice before the Reagans acquired it – perhaps due to its remote location and the difficulty of getting there.
In 1941, the ranch was sold to Frank Flournoy, a surveyor in Santa Barbara. Flournoy kept the ranch until 1955 and then sold it to Raymond and Rosalie Cornelius. The new owners then renamed it the Tip Top Ranch and made it a working cattle ranch. Cornelius renovated the adobe house, decorated it with old maps and bobcat pelts on the walls. He also brought in electricity to the property.
Ray Cornelius planned to keep the Tip Top Ranch. But after a tragedy in the family in 1971, he and his wife decided to sell the ranch – and President Reagan ended up buying it.
Another view of the main house at Rancho del Cielo as you approach from the driveway (courtesy of Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum).
When his second term as President ended in 1988, Ronald and Nancy retired to Rancho del Cielo and continued to entertain heads of states and other high-profile guests. They remained at the estate until 1994, when President Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, making the daily routine of ranch life – riding, canoeing, and hiking on trails – a great risk.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley opened in November 1991, and part of it closely resembles the architecture of Rancho del Cielo, with whitewashed adobe walls and shallow-pitched clay-tile roofs with wide overhangs at the eaves (photo: Crackerclips | Dreamstime).
The Reagans moved to their home in Bel-Air and lived there until President Reagan's death June 5, 2004. During thier time in Bel Air they made occasional visits to Rancho del Cielo.
Nancy Reagan sold the ranch to the Young America’s Foundation in 1998. The YAF has preserved Rancho del Cielo just as the Reagans left it.
As we observe Presidents Day, we remember Ronald A. Reagan, the 40th President of the U.S., who overcame poor conditions during the Great Depression and lived a multi-faceted life before serving as President of the United States of America for two terms.