Fire-damaged Peter Strauss Ranch fully reopened to the public

The grounds of the 78-acre Peter Strauss Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) were fully reopened to the public Monday, June 6, for the first time since the Woolsey fire of November 2018.

The ranch, which is operated by the National Park Service (NPS), is now open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset with on-site parking, picnicking, and a 2.9-mile hiking trail through the oak woodlands. 

In preparation for the reopening, volunteers spruced up the grounds last Saturday as part of a National Trails Day event, and on Sunday, the popular Tiny Porch Concerts Summer Series returned to the ranch (to see schedule of the remaining Tiny Porch Concerts planned for this summer, go to tinyporchconcerts.com/upcomingshows ).

After suffering significant damage in the Woolsey fire, Peter Strauss Ranch remained closed until two significant projects were completed. 

Because of the fire, the National Park Service (NPS) first had to complete multiple soil lifts to remove hazardous materials. Then, the site served as a staging area for LA County to reconstruct the Mulholland Highway bridge over Triunfo Canyon Creek. Both of those projects were declared “complete” this spring. 

Beyond Peter Strauss Ranch, the Woolsey fire damaged 112 miles of trails and 88 percent of local federal parklands; in addition to destroying a total of 26 structures and outbuildings. NPS staff has been working continuously following the fire to reopen trails, clear roads, stabilize hillsides, repair culverts, and conduct surveys. 

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According to the NPS, Peter Strauss Ranch was established by Harry Miller as a rural retreat in the 1920s; with a ranch house and several ancillary structures. Miller was a pioneering automotive engineer whose numerous inventions contributed to the early development of automotive technology. The decade associated with his ownership lasted from 1923 to 1933.

The property was transformed into the Lake Enchanto recreation and entertainment venue from the 1930s until the 1960s. The site was later purchased by actor Peter Strauss, who lived there and restored several of the structures. The ranch was sold to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy in 1983 and acquired by NPS in 1987 as part of the SMMNRA.

The historic 1926 ranch house that Miller built was destroyed during the Woolsey fire; although an Italian terrazzo tile concert area, where country legends Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson performed in the 1950s, survived. There are also the remains of an enormous outdoor swimming pool from the property’s Lake Enchanto period, as well as a historic radio house, storage shed, amphitheater, dance floor, and several other historic landscape features.

Before the fire, the Ranch House and outdoor assembly areas functioned as gathering places for many private and public events. NPS hosted 10,000 annual student visits, Sunday concerts, art installations, and park outreach programs. The property was also rented out for permitted private events, including private weddings, birthdays, and retirement parties. 

Because of the Woolsey Fire, NPS projected a revenue loss of $91,000 in the 2019 fiscal year and $18,000 in the 2020 fiscal year due to the pandemic.

The NPS has long-term plans for the recovery of Peter Strauss Ranch, as well as other SMMNRA properties after the Woolsey fire, as described in a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) report from fall 2021. They intend to build back better with fewer structures and more fire resiliency as funds become available.

Their proposed plan includes replacing the Ranch House and outdoor assembly areas, which would allow the property to once again function as an event space. The rebuilt ranch house would be built in the same footprint as the old one; making it about 1,584 square feet and about 17-feet high. It would function as a venue for events and meetings for up to about 100 people; and support spaces that include a breakout room, catering kitchen, and restrooms. The new building would be designed in a similar aesthetic and with similar materials and features (i.e., hipped roof, wraparound porch, and stone accent cladding) as the historic Ranch House, but with more fireproof materials, like cement fiber siding.

Construction would not occur until after planned improvements at Paramount Ranch and Rocky Oaks are completed.

Peter Strauss Ranch is located at 30000 Mulholland Highway.

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