Historical society connects with past

RANCHO SANTA FE — The Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society is dedicated to preserving and documenting the early days of this small, upscale community.
For Nicole Foster, the organization recently provided a bridge between her and a part of her family’s past that had been relatively unknown.
Foster is the granddaughter of silent-film star and successful author and businesswoman Corinne Griffith, a former Ranch resident who also owned commercial property in town.
In the early 1930s, Griffith purchased two missions in Taos and Las Cruces, N.M., and had them transported to San Diego on a flatbed railroad car. She joined pieces of them together to construct her home on Linea del Cielo.
The adobe hacienda was included in a July 17 tour of five iconic Ranch homes sponsored by the historical society and advertised in several local newspapers.
Foster, who grew up near Los Angeles and now lives in Orange County, was aware of her grandmother’s fame but never knew her because Foster’s mother and Griffith were estranged.
A graduate of San Diego State, Foster said she never tried to find the house while in college because she didn’t even know where to start.
When Foster’s mother passed away a few years ago, she spent months going through her belongings.
“In the last room, in the last drawer, in the last pile I found these treasures,” she said.
Foster discovered letters and photo albums that belonged to her grandmother.
One album, complete with sometimes-comical handwritten narratives, contained pictures of the Rancho Santa Fe home as it was being built.
Foster said she contacted the historical society, but didn’t hear back.
A busy mother of two, she never followed up — until the home tour.
Foster maintained contact with her college friends, who knew she was related to Griffith.
Someone saw the information about the tour and e-mailed Foster, who once again called the historical society.
Not long after she received a call from Barrie Wentzell, who bought the house about 35 years ago. Foster, who was visiting friends in La Jolla the weekend of the tour, met with Wentzell. Foster saw one of the rooms that was possibly her mother’s and shared her photo albums with Wentzell.
“I never knew Corinne,” Foster said. “The house is sentimental to me because it’s where my mother lived. It was fun.”
Wentzell said she was equally excited about meeting the granddaughter of her home’s original owner.
“It was just wonderful,” Wentzell said. “I loved seeing the house from its inception. I love doing the same things Corinne Griffith did, which is taking old architectural pieces and making something different out of them.”
Wentzell said she once tried to contact Griffith to invite her to the house but the actress had passed away.
“It would have been fun to meet her,” she said. “This was her (Foster’s) connection and it was fun to be on this side and share it with her. It was great to make that link.”
Foster said seeing the home, which is now for sale, was bittersweet. Never knowing her grandmother, she naturally always sided with her mother. “I thought my grandmother was a mean person,” said Foster, who was about 12 when Griffith passed away.
“Now I know realize there’s no story that’s one-sided,” she said. “After reading the letters, I understand there’s way more. There was a whole life of promise in those albums.
“I’m conflicted, but I’m so glad having read it all,” she said. “It’s a way for me to be with my mom.”

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