September 18, 2014

Big Rock Ranch Sees Dramatic Changes

 

PHOTOS BY ANNEMARIE DONKIN, MESSENGER, 2012©©

Big Rock Ranch Sees Dramatic Changes

Topanga real estate specialists Paul Ferra and Melissa Oliver with their two daughters, Talei, 9, and Samara, 6, at Big Rock Ranch on Old Topanga Canyon Road. The couple purchased the ranch in July 2011 and have since dramatically upgraded the 57-year-old Cali Camp and have plans to open a private school and community centers on the historic property.

Paul Ferra and Melissa Oliver are dreamers, entrepreneurs and high-flying movers and shakers who want to change the world — one ranch at a time.

The Topanga real estate couple purchased the legendary Big Rock Ranch at auction in July 2011 and has since transformed it into something truly magical.

Located on Old Topanga Canyon Road, the ranch spans more than 20 acres of coastal woodlands situated against the majestic Santa Monica Mountains. Its long list of features includes an Olympic-sized pool, tennis courts, two large horse arenas, a bucolic picnic area, a school complex, library, offices, restrooms and storage.

The camp also boasts a brand new skate park created by legendary designer Bart Saric of Skater Made, a lush bamboo forest, a Go-Cart track, equestrian activities and a fresh, gourmet menu.

Yet, as the current home of Cali-Camp and the former location for the Calmont School and MUSE Academy, entire generations of Topangans say they never even stepped onto the ranch.

“In the past, this property was not shared with Topanga,” Oliver said. “Our purpose is to open it up to the community.”

Therefore, in addition to the camp, the visionary couple finds there is “incredible interest” from the community at large for a private school and community use.

To start the transformation, under Oliver’s guidance, Girl Scout Troop 6075 now calls the ranch home base for their meetings.

Many Topangans are also getting a first-hand look at the ranch after enrolling their kids in the FOCUSfish Aerial Academy with its founder Kristy Beauvais that holds its classes on state-of-the-art equipment in a lush meadow underneath Big Rock

TOP CHEF AT CALI-CAMP

Big Rock Ranch Sees Dramatic Changes

Food & Wine “Best New Chef” alumnus Ricardo Zarate designed the menu for the iconic Cali-Camp summer camp. Zarate’s emphasis on the menu at Cali-Camp will be market-fresh, homemade, healthy and equally good for the kids. Ingredients will be organic whenever possible and sourced from local farmers’ markets. Under Zarate’s leadership, all items will be prepared in-house, from fresh-squeezed juices to sauces and pastas (among others), aided by a brand new rotisserie grill and pizza oven.

Now in its 57th year, Cali-Camp opened its doors on June 18 with a fresh coat of paint, new, safer equipment, updated activities and a brand new Cali Café with an award winning gourmet chef serving up healthy fare cooked on site.

Food & Wine “Best New Chef” alumnus Ricardo Zarate designed the menu for the iconic children’s summer camp. Zarate's emphasis on the menu at Cali-Camp will be market-fresh, homemade, healthy and equally good for the kids. Ingredients will be organic whenever possible and sourced from the local farmers markets.

Under Zarate’s leadership, all items will be prepared in-house, from fresh-squeezed juices to sauces and pastas (among others), aided by a brand new rotisserie grill and pizza oven.

CAMP DISCOUNT FOR TOPANGA KIDS

For the first time, Oliver and Ferra offered a 40 percent discount at Cali-Camp for Topanga kids and encouraged parents to check out the campsite.

“We want to make it more accessible to Topangans and as a result, enrollment is up ten-fold,” Ferra said. “We are eager to have Topanga children become part of the Cali-Camp experience.”

Oliver said the camp consistently wins awards and many counselors are former campers.

“We wanted to create and carry on the camp’s tradition,” Oliver said. “The dedicated staff have come together to make the camp modern and relevant.”

A BIG ROCK RANCH PRIVATE SCHOOL

Big Rock Ranch Sees Dramatic Changes

The legendary Big Rock Ranch in Topanga is the home of Cali-Camp and features an Olympic-sized pool, tennis courts, two horse arenas, plus a brand new skate park and Go-Cart track. Topanga kids get a 40% discount to encourage local participation.

Beyond Cali-Camp, Oliver and Ferra envision a brand new school, emphasizing a non-traditional curriculum that would be Topanga oriented.

“There is incredible interest in a private school,” Oliver said. “We see how the entire community seems to feel that this is the right thing to do at the right time.”

Ferra said they could pick from the “best of the best of what is out there right now.”

“People identify themselves as Topangans and they are frustrated by the lack of choice of schools in the Canyon,” Ferra continued. “We want the school to serve students from K-9, perhaps someday from K-12 and retain that special Topanga vibe.”

Ferra, who sits on the board of Topanga Elementary, said he and his wife would love to keep their two daughters, Talei and Samara, in Topanga through high school.

“We don’t have to compromise,” Ferra said. “We have reached out to parents and received phone calls, e-mails and tons of feedback about what parents really want in a school — we are having that community conversation.”

A TOPANGA COMMUNITY CENTER

Oliver and Ferra said they want to open the ranch through a series of activities beginning with a public picnic after Labor Day as a fundraiser for Topanga Elementary.

Beyond that, the couple envisions opening up a senior center, teen center, public garden, a theater, as well as ongoing education and recreation classes.

They said they are also engaging in a wide-ranging discussion with Topangans to create a music and arts center, theater, yoga, Pilates and offer a host of ongoing activities.

“We want the ranch to become the automatic place for the Topanga community to gather,” Ferra said.