El Rancho Escondido


Catalina, CA


Appleton Partners LLC

Project Size

40,000 SF

Aptly named, El Rancho Escondido or “Hidden Ranch” is a sprawling 1930s estate tucked away in a high valley of Catalina Island, 13 miles inland up a narrow, winding private access road. Its California mission-style white walls and clay tile roof represent an iconic phase of Southern California’s architectural history and also hold cherished memories for the current generations of owners, who commissioned a delicate restoration that honors the estate’s legacy while upgrading existing structures to current seismic and safety standards. Several new structures enhance the property’s offerings to residents and guests.

MATT’s team worked on nine structures in total, including a main house, a guest house, a manager’s residence, an employee bunkhouse, a pool house with panoramic vistas overlooking the Pacific and a striking adobe brick chapel with stained glass windows, reclaimed wood flooring and an accompanying refectory, lounge, kitchen and restrooms. To expand the main house while preserving the original roofline, the team carved into and out of the mountain below, tripling the home’s square footage. The manager’s residence, original to the property, required a total demolition and near-exact rebuild, reusing the original hardware for the cast iron trusses and cutouts of the shape of the ceiling work. The crew also replicated the slate stone fireplace piece for piece as well as the clay roof tiles.

MATT preserved 50% of the ranch’s original stables and added paddocks, an arena, grandstands and other training areas while converting the other 50% into apartments, bedrooms and restrooms for guests. Other new structures on the expansive grounds include a winery to process grapes grown on the site’s three vineyards and a wastewater treatment facility that services the entire property, which uses its own wells.

Overcoming the complex logistical challenge of coordinating material delivery and travel to and from such a remote site down a long, rugged road during a global pandemic required creative solutions from the team, including parking barges into two remote harbors on the back of the island closer to the property for easier unloading of materials.