ENCINITAS — Shirley and Gerald Cullison who grew up in the area were in town recently visiting friends and the conversation turned to the development of Quail Botanical Gardens and the recent opening of the highly popular Children’s Garden. They gave it a thumbs up and opined that Ruth and Charles Larabee, the original land owners, would also be delighted.
After graduating from San Dieguito High School in 1937, Gerald was hired by the county and assigned to the Parks Department. Having worked with Ruth and aware of her philanthropic nature and interest in the preservation of plant and wildlife, Cullison sold her on the idea of making their 26-acre property a park. He was responsible when that came about in 1957. However, one of the stipulations was that someone would have to live on the premises. The Larabee house was available.
Shirley said it was great living in it except that park visitors were always peering in the windows and asking if they could see the inside. When they were able to find a caretaker they built a home in Solana Beach where they lived until they moved to San Marcos.
The Cullisons recalled that originally area garden clubs were responsible for the upkeep of the thousands of plant and blooms until they were overwhelmed by the continuing growth.
In 1954, Cullison was tasked by his boss, Ralph Noyes, the parks department superintendent, to develop San Dieguito County Park. The San Dieguito Jaycees had acquired 109 acres from Santa Fe Irrigation District but without means for developing it, so they turned to the county and through the help of area supervisor Dean Howell they succeeded even though the other supervisors were not in favor of acquiring land “out in the sticks.”
Cullison had a parcel to clear without a budget. During one of his fact finding trips to Orange County he learned honor prisoners did parks labor but when he broached the idea to his boss he received a flat “absolutely not” response. However, several months later he received the go ahead.
“We cleared the 100 acres of rabbits, skunks, and snakes and didn’t lose a single prisoner,” Cullison recalled.
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