The Hidden Oaks Story

Formerly El Rancho Grande
By Don Clucas and Ron Graff
 
History of the Property

Like the rest of Southern California, the land was first populated by local Indians.
During the period of Spanish colonization, missions and ranchos were built. Once
Mexico gained independence from Spain large portions of land were granted to
privileged individuals. Rancho Cucamonga was one of these land grants.

After California became one of the states of the United States in 1850, the rancho era
came to a close, and people were allowed to buy smaller portions of lands. They tended
to group together in colonies. In 1887 portions of two of these, called the Hermosa tract
and the Iowa tract were combined to form the community of Ioamosa.
When the Pacific Electric Railway reached the area in 1913 the town became known as
Alta Loma (“High Hill”).

By this time citrus orchards were very prevalent in the area. The Citrus growers
represented a unique agricultural society that was neither rural nor urban. These
growers were very influential in the development of the area.

Ernest Goerlitz, the manager of the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York, moved
to this area, and in 1910 he bought a home on Hellman Avenue, now known as the
Goerlitz House. Mr. Goerlitz served on the committee which brought the Pacific Electric
Railroad to the area. He was also secretary of the Citizen’s League. He died in 1916.

By 1914 the community was known as Alta Loma. The name of the person who
proposed “Alta Loma” seems to have been lost to history.

In 1926 Goerlitz’ son, Herbert, purchased the 10 acre citrus grove at the top of Ramona
Ave., not far from the heart of the town. With the help of Charles Stoebe and his sons,
enough river rock was brought onto the property to build the house with concrete and
rock walls that were more than a foot thick. The building’s rare architectural style is
known as “Mission Revival Style.” (Some call it “Spanish Colonial Revival,”
“Cobblestone Craftsman Mission” or “Craftsman/California Rancho” architecture).
There was a small reservoir on the property that was emptied periodically to water the
citrus trees.
In 1934 the house was sold to Ellen C. Van Every (Edwin and Ellen Loeb family). They
expanded the size of the house, skillfully matching materials and craftsmanship.

In the 1950’s Don and Myrta (Olmsted) Crilly bought the house. Previously, in 1932,
Myrta had been crowned queen of the Rose Parade. The Crillys planted rose bushes and
made other improvements. They converted the reservoir to a swimming pool. In those
days the property was called “Rancho del Passeo.”

In the 1970’s Richard and Freida Wilkins acquired the property. They used it as a
wedding facility. They called it “El Rancho Grande.” Hundreds of couples were married
there during the next two decades.

As the 210 Freeway was nearing construction, the last portion to be developed was
directly behind this property, and, of course, behind Solid Ground Brethren In Christ
Church where the Alta Loma Channel was buried 40 feet below ground!

The Goerlitz site was one of the properties identified in 1996 by the State Historical
Preservation Office (SHIPO), to receive protection during the building of the 210
Freeway. A preservation plan was devised that would place a road through the church’s
property. Over the course of the next several years, negotiations were carried on,
resulting in the acquisition of the property by the church.

On August 20th, 2003, The City of Rancho Cucamonga declared the land and buildings to
be an historical site. Later they also approved our new master plan which allows for
future expansion of the facilities.

Years before this time, Charles and Kathryn Engle, who had been missionaries to India,
and were charter members of the church, left a financial gift for the purpose of helping to
build a multi-purpose building. Their family decided that the restoration of the building
was a worthy project in keeping with their parents’ wishes. In that way, the Lord had not
only given us the property, but had also arranged for it to be repaired and put into His
service!

Reconstruction of the Building

During the years of negotiations with Cal Trans, Sanbag and the City of Rancho
Cucamonga, Gary Ramseyer, Chairman of our Building Committee, had developed
accurate estimates of what it would cost to make the building usable again. Professional
estimates for a complete restoration were more than double the amount that was available
to us, but the Church Board agreed that we could at least develop the first phase of the
retreat center, so permission was granted to go ahead.

By careful use of the funds, and with the help of many willing volunteers, the church was
able to do much more with the property than they had originally planned, including
seismic retrofitting, a massive and labor-intensive process. They decided to demolish one
unusable restroom and build two in its place. The entire roof was removed, all necessary

 

wood was replaced, and new roof tile was installed. There were also upgrades to the
original plan by covering the entire floor with ceramic tile. Upgrades to the kitchen were
adopted. A portion of the southerly wall was removed to allow for the growth of a giant
oak tree, and to restore some of the original south patio. Every wire and pipe in the
building was replaced. The original sconces were rebuilt. ADA restroom, ramps and
rails were installed. All the doors were replaced with elegant replicas of the time period.
Everything was sandblasted, painted, and improved. New lights were installed. In
essence, everything they would have wanted in a full restoration was accomplished, and
more!

The Charles and Kathryn Engle Story

Charles and Kathryn Engle had illustrious careers as missionaries to difficult parts of
India and Nepal. Kathryn had also served in Africa before Charles and she were married.
They learned the language, and lived like the people they came to serve. Charles’ limited
training in medicine allowed him to serve in the U.S. Army during the First World War
as a non-combatant in the base hospital at Fort Riley, Kansas. He later used that
experience to provide the only medical assistance to a great number of very needy Indian
people. Together they won the hearts of the people and shared the Gospel with a great
number of people.

Upon mandatory retirement, the Engles moved back to Upland where they had a very
small house. They lived there for decades, and Charles found a job selling patio covers.
The owners were reluctant to hire him, but he worked the first month for free, and then
became their star salesman for the next 20 years! They continued to live a very simple
lifestyle, and saved all of their money so that it could be used to build projects in India.

They were charter members of the new church plant, Alta Loma Brethren In Christ
Church (now known as Solid Ground Brethren In Christ Church), and were tireless in
their efforts to make new friends and support the church in every way. They left a gift to
the Church when they went to be with the Lord (Charles was almost 102 years old, and
Kathryn, who was about 10 years younger lived a few more years.) It was this fund that
made it possible to restore the building. It was dedicated to their memory and is now
known as “Engle Hall.”

Plans for Hidden Oaks

Solid Ground Church has had a ministry plan for the property for many years. We
believe the Lord has given us this incredible gift to be a spiritual retreat center. As such,
it will serve our church needs for planning conferences and special social events.
Various ministries of the church will be encouraged to use the facility for “something
special” from time to time.
It will be a place for spiritual growth: a center of focus on discipleship, missions, and
prayer.

 

It provides the meeting place for spiritual retreats, and Christian conferences, serving the
needs of the whole Christian community.

It is an ideal setting for Christian weddings, receptions, and special banquets.

Eventually we plan to develop the whole area into a Biblical Botanical Garden. We have
the same climate as the Holy Land, so this is a natural possibility.

We will also make the facilities available to the community and civic organizations on
occasion, thus strengthening our bonds with our neighbors.

References:
Special report by Donald L. Clucas on “El Rancho Grande.”, 2003
Report from the Historic American Buildings Survey about the Herbert and Evelyn
Goerlitz House, Approx. 1997.

History of Rancho Cucamonga
http://www.ci.rancho-cucamonga.ca.us/history.htm
Report from the Historic American Buildings Survey about the Herbert and Evelyn
Goerlitz House, Approx. 1997.
Rev. 5/14/08