Every year, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, our country celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month to recognize the achievements and contributions of Hispanic Americans. In Camarillo, that rich heritage is honored year-round thanks to the lasting legacy of our founder, Adolfo Camarillo, remembered as the “Last Spanish Don,” and the many other families who first called Camarillo home.
Nestled in the heart of Camarillo, Don Adolfo’s stunning Camarillo Ranch is lovingly maintained by a nonprofit foundation and docents who lead weekly tours of the classic Queen Anne Victorian and surrounding gardens. Visitors can immerse themselves in the rancho lifestyle of the late 1800s every Saturday and Sunday, weaving their way through the home’s 15 rooms while listening to stories about Don Adolfo, Doña Isabela, and their children and grandchildren.
The Camarillo family’s lasting legacy
Adolfo Camarillo was born on October 28, 1864 in his family’s adobe home in Ventura, the eldest son of Juan Camarillo, Sr. and Martina Hernandez. When his father died in 1880, 16-year-old Adolfo Camarillo took over the nearly 10,000-acre Rancho Calleguas (known today as Camarillo Ranch). He expanded the traditional cattle ranch into a thriving agricultural business, growing lima beans, walnuts, citrus, and other crops.
Adolfo was known to be a generous man. Employees living on the property were given land on which to grow their own crops and encouraged to sell leftover food to supplement their income. Additionally, when the Southern Pacific Railroad was looking to expand in 1899, Adolfo allowed the company to lay tracks on his land and establish a train depot, which was called “Camarillo.”
In 1910, Adolfo and his brother Juan helped found the original townsite of Camarillo around St. Mary Magdalen Chapel. Adolfo was deeply passionate about education and his community. He went on to serve as a member of dozens of organizations, such as the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club of Camarillo, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, and Ventura County Fair Board.
The actual City of Camarillo wasn’t incorporated until 1964, several years after Don Adolfo passed away at the age of 94. That same year, the city launched the first-ever Camarillo Fiesta in honor of Adolfo Camarillo’s birthday on Oct. 28 and the city’s birthday on Oct. 29. Strolling down Ventura Boulevard, you can see the influence of the early rancheros in the sun-drenched Spanish architecture of historic buildings in Camarillo Old Town and the nearby St. Mary Magdalen Chapel. His legacy still lives on today.
Camarillo’s Famous White Horses
Adolfo met the “Stallion of a Dream” in 1921 at the Sacramento State Fair. He purchased the 10-year-old bright white horse with large brown eyes, Sultan, for $500 from the Miller and Lux Cattle Ranch. The stallion won several stock championships throughout the next several years. Sultan was bred with Morgan mares on the Camarillo Ranch to produce an exclusive white horse breed. These horses’ strong limbs, arched necks and rare color made them quite unique.
The Camarillo White Horses became well-known for their various parades and performances throughout both the town and state. They’ve even been seen ridden by many famous figures, including President Harding and Ronald Reagan, governor of California at the time. Parade goers especially loved seeing the horses prance through the annual Christmas and Fiesta parades.
These “prized white horses” were privately owned by the Camarillo family for nearly 65 years. Ownership was transferred to Adolfo’s daughter, Carmen, following his death in 1958. The horses continued to be paraded until they were auctioned off to separate owners according to Carmen’s wishes after her death in 1987. The horses serve as a symbol of nostalgia and tradition in Camarillo. They can be seen featured in many places throughout the city, including street signs and the City of Camarillo insignia. Today, there are 17 living Camarillo White Horses in Ventura County, two in Los Angeles County and one in Oregon, making them one of the rarest horse breeds in the world.
Heritage Days and Adolfo Camarillo’s Birthday Celebration
Known to be a warm and gracious host, Adolfo loved to throw festivities for friends, family and the local community. Today, his hospitable legacy lives on with the annual Heritage Days Midsummer Block Party in Camarillo Old Town. This event has transformed into the ultimate summer block party with food, live entertainment, a carnival, and classic car show.
Camarillo celebrates its namesakes’ birthday in a big way with Adolfo Camarillo’s Birthday Celebration. This event is held each October at the Camarillo Ranch. Festivities usually include live performances by ballet folklorico and mariachi groups, as well as an appearance by the legendary Camarillo White Horses, face painting, food trucks, and more! Grab your friends and family and join us on Sunday, October 29, 2023, to celebrate Adolfo’s birthday at the Camarillo Ranch from 12 to 4 p.m.
More Special Events During Hispanic Heritage Month 2023
The City of Camarillo Public Library plans to host several presentations to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month:
- Historical Presentation with Ventura County Genealogical Society (VCGS): The Ventura County Genealogical Society Mexican American Special Interest Group is providing a special presentation on the history of the original Californio families and resources available for you to learn more about your Hispanic heritage. (Saturday, October 7, 2023, from 1 to 2 p.m.)
- History of the Olivas Adobe and Ventura County’s Rancho Period: Marsha Brumana and the docents of the Olivas Adobe will give a presentation on the Olivas family and the Latino history of our community when California transitioned to statehood. (Saturday, October 14, 2023, from 1 to 2 p.m.)
Rancho Camarillo Workers Exhibit: Come see the newest exhibit honoring 60 years of our Rancho Camarillo Workers on display at the Camarillo Ranch until December 23, 2023.
Arriving at CI: Rancho Guadalasca: Explore this exhibit at the Broome Library at CSUCI until December 15, 2023. The exhibition transports the viewer into a world of hidden stories and unremembered residents of the former Rancho Guadalasca- A Mexican era land grant which stretched from Mugu Lagoon to Dos Vientos, and includes CSU Channel Islands.
Ready to celebrate Camarillo’s Hispanic heritage? Start planning your trip!