Pancho's place

In Carlsbad, preserving the legacy of a TV pioneer

When Joan Kindle moved to the San Diego County town of Carlsbad in 1985, she was more than a little curious about the ranchland below her mesa-top home. When she learned the ranch once belonged to Hollywood actor Leo Carrillo, curiosity led to action.

Joan and her husband, Alan, began an 18-year quest to learn all they could about Carrillo's life ― and to restore his ranch. Their work blossomed last August, when Carlsbad's 27-acre Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park opened to the public.

Television viewers of a certain age will have no trouble remembering Carrillo, who shot to fame as Pancho in the 1950s series The Cisco Kid. But Pancho wasn't Carrillo's only role: He appeared in 90 movies, including Viva Villa! and Manhattan Melodrama. And acting wasn't his only talent: He worked as a cartoonist for the San Francisco Examiner and served 18 years as a California parks commissioner.

Today, when you tour the park, also known as Rancho de los Quiotes (Ranch of the Spanish Daggers), you get a good feel for the creative life that Carrillo led. He designed many of the ranch buildings himself, employing the Spanish adobe architecture he remembered from his youth.

To get the ranch open was no easy feat. Joan worked with the city of Carlsbad to preserve and restore many of the ranch's buildings, including the main hacienda, barn, and carriage house. Alan formed the Friends of Carrillo Ranch organization to support the effort. And both Joan and Alan traveled up and down the California coast collecting photos and artifacts.

"Once we understood Leo Carrillo's goals in life, it all came into place," Joan says. "He was an environmentalist with strong beliefs in education, who loved his Spanish heritage."

Leo Carrillo's ranch 9-5 Tue-Sat, 11-5 Sun; guided tours 11 and 1 Sat, 12 and 2 Sun; free. 6200 Flying LC Lane, Carlsbad; 760/476-1042. ― Hilary Townsend