RANCHO SANTA FE — One of the El Camino Real Bells was stolen sometime between the evening of Oct. 18 and the morning of Oct. 20, according to the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society.
The historic bell was hung recently to commemorate a century of service El Camino Real has provided. The bells are being placed along the historic route from San Diego up the coast beyond Los Angeles.
The missing bell was stolen from the curved corner of La Orilla and El Camino Real. Neighbor Par Perea, who was pleased to have one of the historic bells near her residence, noticed the bell was missing on the morning of Oct. 20 and notified the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society.
According to Administrator Sharon Fabry, Perea had seen the bell as late as the evening of Oct. 18, but noticed it was missing early Oct. 20. The Sheriff’s Department was immediately notified.
The post holding the bell was cut into two sections with either a saw or perhaps a pipe cutter. Ranch resident Jeff Holcombe, of Holcombe Designs, installed the bells and is taking measures to better secure the remaining bells in an attempt to prevent future incidents.
“We’re very sad that someone would take one of these bells,” Fabry said. “It took the Historical Society three years to raise the money to install these bells and have the county approve the locations and grant the permits.” The heavy 100-pound bells were made specifically for the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society and cost approximately $13,000. The missing bell was valued at $2,000 and was insured.
Bells have been placed along El Camino Real since 1906, marking historic landmarks. By 1913, 425 bells had been placed, but over the years many were lost to road construction, theft and vandalism such as occurred in Rancho Santa Fe. Fifty years later, an attempt was made by John Kolstad, owner of the California Bell Company and Keith Robinson, Principal Landscape Architect of Caltrans, to reinstall the bells along El Camino Real. Other cities joined in the effort.
In 2006, Rancho Santa Historical Society board member Fernanda Sammis organized the effort to install five commemorative bells along El Camino Real in Rancho Santa Fe. After three years of fundraising, and permissions being received, the bells were installed earlier this year on June 19.
If anyone has any information about the missing bell, they are encouraged to contact the Sheriff’s Department at (760) 966-3500 or the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society at (858) 756-9291.