Horse Play

Modern Luxury July 11, 2016

The Oaks Farms

Bill Davidson never intended to sell you just a house when he built The Oaks Farms in San Juan Capistrano. He was selling lifestyles—family lifestyles. The new community of 32 luxury homes located just off Ortega Highway is designed for the equestrian crowd, with stables, rings, a social barn and horse trails along San Juan Creek. There’s off-property trail access too, so you can trek all the way to the ocean along the creek. More than a hundred existing oak trees imbue the gated community with a rural feel (even though it’s minutes from downtown), and 12 oaks were relocated just to give the meandering entrance a dramatic look. Adding to that rustic vibe: lanterns. They hang over the roads instead of streetlights. And roses are everywhere. Davidson’s vice president, Tim Grady, put in a nursery to propagate oak seedlings, ornamental shrubs and succulents.

The four- and five-bedroom homes—built by San Diego-based Davidson Communities—boast cozy fireplaces, loads of glass for indoor-outdoor living and courtyards with covered loggias. Prices range from $1.6 million to $2.1 million. All offer views of the San Juan Hills. “It all starts with the land,” is Davidson’s theory. “You want your development to always enhance [it].” And, he adds: “We feel a tremendous responsibility to produce something the city will be proud of and that follows its equestrian traditions.”

That tradition starts with San Juan Capistrano’s most famous equestrian supporter, Joan Irvine Smith. The Davidson development was once her 20-acre Oaks horse ranch. Approaching her 80s, she sold it to pare down her holdings. City leaders gladly approved Davidson’s plans, which assured the community was compatible with what existed before. And Davidson will continue to provide the public with access to stables and riding rings on the acreage adjacent to the new homes. He’s even retained the same trainers who’ve worked there for years. He also upgraded Smith’s most important barn, where she held social events. “We don’t have a grand piano... with a tuxedoed pianist like she did, but we’ve got just about everything else,” he says.

Smith still lives a short trot away and can be seen daily tending to her roses. Davidson has retained the thousands of blooms she had on the property—some of them encircle the main riding ring. Something else with nostalgic appeal: Davidson will guide the public to the riding stables with the same sign Smith kept along the highway pointing out her ranch. “We want mothers who take their daughters and their horses there,” he notes, “to remember a time when she was a girl with her horse.”

Davidson remembers walking that land when it was undeveloped, with only a vision for what it might be. So what does he think now? “It all came together just how we wanted,” he says. “And we wanted charm.”  

Allison Stratton