Forster Mansion - San Juan Capistrano, CA

Forster Mansion - San Juan Capistrano

Forster Mansion In San Juan Capistrano, CA

The Forster Family history in San Juan Capistrano dates back to 1845.  Englishman John Forster, know as Don Juan Forster, immigrated to California where he married Ysidora Pico, the sister of Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California.  Governor Pico's decision to put Mission San Juan Capistrano up for auction gave John Forster, along with another Englishman, James McKinley, the opportunity to purchase the Mission properties for the sum of $710.  The Forster family lived on the Mission grounds until 1864, then moved to San Diego County.  In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln, signed a bill restoring Mission San Juan Capistrano to the Roman Catholic Church; however, the family retained tile to the balance of their lands.

It was Frank Ambrosio Forster (John Forster's grandson), who built the mansion on the hill in 1909.  Train & Williams, a prominent Los Angeles architectural firm, designed the house in the MIssion Revival style.  You will notice the stucco walls, mission type arches flanking the exterior walkways, mission style facade, and the original Spanish tile roof.  For years the mansion was the social hub of the Capistrano Valley.  Townspeople flocked to gala barbeques and piano recitals hosted by the Forster family.  The house is steeped in local history and lore that includes a resident cigar-smoking ghost.  At one time, the Forster family had several mansions in the Capistrano area; however, the others have been demolished, leaving the Forster Mansion as the sole survivor of a bygone era.

Upon entering the mansion, everyone feels warmth as well as disbelief that, in the fall of 1983, it was considered nothing more than a "tear down."  At that time, Martha Gresham, well-known  A.S.I.D., I.S.I.D., purchased the mansion and, with much love and dedication, restored it to the splendor it once enjoyed, always being true to the original design.  She operated her design business at the mansion from 1984 to 1990.  In 1990, Phillip Stewart Charis, world-renowned portrait photographer, and his wife Maryanne purchased the mansion.  It was planned at the time of purchase that Mr. Charis would run his business in this grand old house.  One nail in Mrs. Charis' historic ceiling, however, and Mr. Charis decided to build a studio outside of the mansion, Mrs. Charis was too protective of the house and did not want any historic detail disturbed.  A gallery studio in the Charis tradition was built next door to the mansion and Mrs Charis transformed the house back into a home. This 4500+ sq ft home was built in 1909 and is registered with the National Register for Historical Properties and is extremely well known and has an ideal location just off the 5 freeway on Ortega Highway.


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