The story of the Casa de Rancho Cucamonga aka, the Rains house, is a story that is rich in California history, containing political intrigue and murder. Furthermore, it is a story of Community Activism, and support, where the Young and the Old come together and decide to not carelessly discard this cultural and historical treasure for the sake of progress and modern development.
The Cucamonga Rancho was sold in 1858 to John Rains by Tapia’s daughter, Maria Merced Tapia de Prudhomme, and her husband Leon Victor Prudhomme. Rains in 1856 had married Maria Merced Williams, the daughter of Chino Rancho owner Isaac Williams and granddaughter of Don Antonio Maria Lugo, owner of the San Bernardino Rancho. Maria was thus a wealthy heiress, and Rains invested in three ranchos and the Bella Union Hotel in Los Angeles. He purchased Rancho Cucamonga for $16,500 and constructed a burned brick building on the property at a cost of about $18,000. The Rains House was built in 1860 by Ohio brick masons from bricks made by Joseph Mullaly from the red clay on the site. Its flat roof was waterproofed by tar from the brea pits in Los Angeles. An open flume carried water from springs through the kitchen, into the patio, and under the house to the orchard, thereby providing cooling for the structure. The original house had an entry hall, a parlor, and three bedrooms in the front, with a patio area flanked by a dining room, a kitchen, a padré’s room, and two guest rooms.
John and Maria Merced moved from Chino to the new brick house with their three children in the spring of 1861. By that time, Rains (a former cattle driver) was recognized as a rich and politically influential man, generous and well-liked, who provided abundant hospitality at his strategically-located Cucamonga home.
John Rains planted 160 acres of vines in 1859. Wine and brandy made at Cucamonga gained wide popularity. An earlier small vineyard and winery is said to date back to 1839, thus establishing the claim that Cucamonga has the oldest commercial winery in the state.
On November 12, 1862, John and Maria Merced signed a mortgage for $16,000 on Rancho Cucamonga and the hotel. Five days later, John left his wife and four children in Cucamonga and drove off in a wagon toward Los Angeles. En route, he was lassoed, shot, and dragged into the bushes near San Dimas. His body was discovered eleven days later. He was 33 years old. His murder was never solved.
In June 1864, Maria Merced married José Carrillo. Maria Merced and José continued to live in Cucamonga. She had nine children in all: five with Rains, and four with Carrillo. The first school in Cucamonga is said to have been started in her home in 1870.
Isais W. Hellman, a Los Angeles banker, acquired Rancho Cucamonga at a sheriff’s sale in 1871 for $49,000. Sometime after 1876, Maria Merced and her family (nearly penniless) moved to Los Angeles. Maria Merced died at age 68 in 1907.
The Twentieth Century
Between 1871 and 1918 the Rains House was owned by Isais W. Hellman and associates, and was rented most of the time. It was in disrepair when it was purchased and restored by Edwin Motsinger in 1919. In 1948 it was sold to Mr. and Mrs. William P. Nesbit, in 1960 to Dr. and Mrs. Benjamin C. Stevens, and in 1969 to S.V. Hunsaker, Jr..
William Seineke a retired Kaiser Steel executive, spearheaded the drive to save the old house from destruction. He first learned of this historic home when he had read a newspaper article that the home and surrounding property had been sold to a Mobil home development company.
On August 13, 1969 the Rains House was sold to S.V. Hunsaker Jr. a Fullerton land investor, who with the help of the Sheraton Mobil Park Development Co., planed to develop the site into a 160 space trailer park. Originally they thought to turn the Rains house into a recreation center for their trailer park, but decided that the cost of bring the home up to code requirements for public use was too high. Left vacant the house had become the target of vandals, and scavengers of building materials and was scheduled for demolition. This would have been the end of the old structure had it not been for the efforts of a Teacher and her Students.
On April 1970 Students got into act of preserving the Rains House, when a class taught by Mrs. Maxine Strane, an English teacher at Cucamonga Junior High School began compiling a history of Cucamonga. In the process a series of short field trips for their eight grade History class to visit the old home was set up. On one of those trips a bulldozer and demolition crew were at work, when the class arrived at 9:00 am. Several outbuildings had already been leveled. The cover of the back patio had already been removed and a large hole knocked in the north wall of the courtyard. Mrs. Maxine Strane persuaded the foreman to stop the work for the group of students to go through the house, she then obtained the phone number of the foreman's boss in Orange county, and raced back to the school to call him. The Foreman's Boss was unaware that the house had historical value, he agreed to a temporary stop to the demolition work. The house was saved for the time being. Negotiations for the County to purchase the home were started.
In 1971 delays in the negotiations over the price and conditions for the sale of the Rains house to the County threatened the preservation of the historic home once again. S.V. Hunsaker Jr had opened up escrow to sell the property, to the Gregg P. Corp of South El Monte, who planned to develop condominiums on the property. The County was hesitant to proceed with the purchase, as it had limited funds in which buy and convert the home into a historical preserve. They were willing to put up funds to purchase the house. The money needed for the restoration would have to come from the community. Some of the County Board expressed doubt that people were really interested in saving the Rains house, and that community support would have to be more evident before they could vote for the purchase. Doubts about the community's interest were brought to light when the Board had learned on 9/28/71 that only $1,600 had been donated towards the homes restoration. A final vote to purchase the home would be held on 10/12/1971..
On May 19th 1971 learning that the Rains house was in danger again, the Cucamonga Junior High Students conducted operation SORA (Save Old Rains Adobe) with letter writing campaigns, petitions, and many fundraisers, to raise awareness and help secure funds for the House's preservation and restoration.. On May 31st 1971 Students armed with brooms helped clean up the rubble and refuse left by vagrants, and staged a Protest March from the Junior High School on June 1st, 1971.
A mere two weeks after the Board had learned that only $1600 had been donated, the efforts of the Students, and those from the Community started bearing fruit. The Cucamonga-Alta Loma, Upland and Rialto Woman’s Clubs, the San Antonio chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Cucamonga-Alta Loma Junior Woman Club and Business and Professional Women, and County Museum Association, and many other organizations helped raise an additional $6400, as well as promises of labor to assist in the restoration of the home. The County Board of Supervisors overwhelmed by this out pouring of community support, decided to proceed with $10,000 purchase of The John Rains House.
On 10/12/71 San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors finalize vote to purchase the Rains house for $10,000 as an addition to the County Museum system. Although the County purchased the property it stipulated that it would not expend funds for its restoration. Public support was expected, and thus started the path of many years of work to restore the once great home.
On March 9, 1972 the Casa de Rancho Cucamonga Historical Society was organized. Its main objective is to restore, maintain, and furnish the Rains house in keeping with its 1860 origin.
On April 24, 1973 the Rains House was listed on the listed on the National Register of Historic Places in San Bernardino County, which opened up additional sources of money for preservation and restoration of the old home.
The continued support of the Community has lead to the restoration of the Rains house.
More details on the home, the Rains family, and the history, can be obtained in several books that are on sale inside the Rains house gift Shop.