Source: Sandler, Sally, “Sowing Seeds of Wonder: The Stories of Ruth and Charles Larabee and the Origins of San Diego Botanic Garden,” pub. CreateSpace.com, 2016.
Gerald Cullison, center, from San Dieguito Citizen, 2-2-56
Her letter [donating her 22.3 acres] to the County marked a pivotal time in Ruth Larabee’s life. She had reached the point where the occasional trips to Mexico didn’t give her enough time to really accomplish her goals. She told friends that she planned to “go nurse to the poor,” in whatever form that might take, and caring for the ranch was getting in the way. She had confronted her future, weighed her options, and decided to follow the calling in her heart.
Shortly after she penned this letter, Gerald Cullison, the Assistant Superintendent of Park Operation and Maintenance for San Diego County, called her and arranged a visit to the ranch. “She had a nice fire in the fireplace,” he recalled, “and she was sitting in a rocking chair with a blanket over her lap. She was not too outgoing, but a very sensible person, the type of person who might be running a business.”66
Over the course of the many meetings that followed, Cullison gained Ruth’s trust and they developed a mutual level of respect. “Ruth had a lot of character. Some people like Ruth Larabee just impress you. You meet them and you are impressed because they are knowledgeable and reasonable,” he said with admiration. By the time all was said and done, Cullison was able to convince her to donate the land sooner rather than later as a part of her will.
But Ruth had some caveats. She had become well acquainted with Cullison throughout the proceedings and stipulated that he must live at the ranch as the property administrator in order for the deal to go through. She told him, “I understand that this will be a lot of work. I would just like to feel that whoever I am turning this property over to will carry out my wishes.” She needed reassurance that the ranch and the quail would be well cared for after she was gone and that the portion of the ranch which included the Del Mar manzanita and Southern maritime chaparral was protected for that purpose. She also wanted the property named “Quail Park” to protect what was for her one of its most important assets.
This threw Cullison a curve that he hadn’t expected. “Now wait a minute,” he said to the San Diego Board of Supervisors, “I can’t do that. The house is just too small for me.”
The Board immediately approved additions to the house which enlarged it on the north side. “After that, if I had refused the whole deal, the transfer would have fallen through,” Cullison said. “I did not intend to live there in order to achieve this wonderful acquisition, but if I hadn’t I would have been letting people down.”
One of the deeds was transferred to the County in December 1956, and the second in January 1957, with a lease agreement allowing Ruth to stay another eight years if she wished. At that time, her property was valued at $98,000. However, in July 1957 she abruptly signed the papers that severed all ties, packed most of her belongings into the barn, and left El Rancho San Ysidro de las Flores for good.67
What compelled Ruth Larabee to leave the ranch in such haste and with such finality? Once she was gone, she scarcely looked back, almost as if she had had no choice but to flee from the memories. “The property was a part of her life she wanted to leave,” Gerald Cullison observed. Was she driven to start life over in a completely different direction, to surrender the attachments that had to do with that chapter of her life? Did the heartbreak and sorrow surrounding her shattered marriage overshadow the richness and wonder she experienced in Encinitas? Or was it simply that without her gardening partner, Charles, the excitement of plants and gardens faded? Again, these are questions that may never be answered.
Not long after Ruth left, Gerald and Shirley Cullison married and held their wedding reception in the Walled Garden. Their son was born while they lived at the Larabee House, and Ruth sent him a Treasury note for $25.
“I didn’t see Ruth again for quite a while,” Cullison said. “But then she happened to be visiting the park one day. She was sitting in the back seat of someone’s car as they drove through. I saw her waving, but I recall that the man who was driving didn’t stop.”
Source: Wood, Dale T., Director, Quail Gardens Foundation, Inc., “A Gift and a Puzzle,” from “Quail Call,” 1964.
A long acquaintance with Gerald Cullison, Assistant Superintendent of County Parks and Recreation, led Mrs. Larabee to thinking of the enjoyment her property brought to her and her friends as something possible of perpetuation and improvement by becoming a park.
Conversation with Mr. Cullison helped the idea to gel, and in 1957 the gift was made. Such an act is a demonstration of confidence and a high compliment to our County Park Commission and its executive officer, Cletus Gardner, Director of Parks and Recreation, along with his whole staff. Such things do not occur in an atmosphere of mistrust or lack of enthusiasm.
Banner Photo: Rachel Cobb