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The landowner and developer of The Shops are committed to San Juan

Landowner Gretchen Stroscher Thomson is proposing to build The Shops at Capistrano, a 41-square-foot shopping center, on the corner of El Camino Real and Ortega Highway. Photo by Brian Park
Landowner Gretchen Stroscher Thomson is proposing to build The Shops at Capistrano, a 41-square-foot shopping center, on the corner of El Camino Real and Ortega Highway. Photo by Brian Park

By Gretchen Stroscher Thomson

My family’s roots in San Juan Capistrano go back more than 125 years, when my grandparents, Frederica and William Stroschein, arrived in 1887.

Back then, Capistrano had a school, a telegraph office, post office, two stores, a hotel, four saloons and 40 to 50 homes, mostly of adobe. Orange County broke off from Los Angeles a couple of years later to become its own county.

My grandparents purchased a ranch and lived in a farmhouse across the street from the Mission. They grew walnuts and oranges, and William served on the public school board. After my grandfather died in 1915, my grandmother continued to manage the ranch.  Although Frederica wasn’t Catholic—she was German Lutheran, who joined other Protestants in town to found what would later become Community Presbyterian Church—she was a good friend of Fr. St. John O’Sullivan. When Fr. O’Sullivan needed a wagon to haul materials for the restoration of the Mission, Frederica loaned him her wagon and team of horses.

In 1959, my parents, Hazel and Herbert Stroscher, who changed our name back to the original spelling as it was in Germany, began the commercial development of the ranch property, first on the property across from the Mission. The Mission Inn, Walnut Grove Restaurant and an Arco Station were the first businesses on the land that had once been the site of our family home and orange grove and is now being redeveloped as retail shops.

In 2010, after a great deal of work by the Stroscher team, in collaboration with the city and many in the community, the Plaza Banderas Hotel and Retail project was approved for that property. I wanted a project that would serve the community and its visitors, complement the Mission, echo the historic architecture and provide for my children and future generations. I still do.

Unfortunately, after years of effort, it is abundantly clear a hotel will not be built on that site. The reasons are plentiful, but like a farmer who has to replant after losing a crop, we too must move ahead.

After reviewing the city’s Historic Town Center Master Plan, which assumed that the already approved hotel/retail project would be built on the property, and meeting with several interested parties, I met with the developer who was to become our partner, Joe Goveia of Goveia Commercial Real Estate. Together we determined that a quality retail center would be the most appropriate use for the land.

The Master Plan calls for an expansion of the commercial core of our city as the key to revitalizing downtown. Our retail shops, anchored by a specialty boutique market, will bring new shoppers downtown. With parking provided for them, those shoppers will stop and visit other stores. Visitors to the Mission will have other options for lingering in San Juan—a walk over to our plaza on the corner, looking at the offerings of the shops on the corner, discovering more shops on the interior, beyond the plaza.

Now, I have a new vision for the family property. One that fits the Master Plan, one that is good for Capistrano. Partnering with Goveia assures that the vision can become a reality.

Goveia is a Dana Point company that has built successful projects such as Santa Margarita Marketplace and Plaza El Paseo in Rancho Santa Margarita, Ocean Ranch Plaza in Oceanside and Seabridge Marketplace and Seabridge Marina in Ventura County. Goveia has energized and enhanced those communities by creating retail plazas with superior architectural stature that are designed to encourage walking, gathering and shopping at several stores in a single visit.

In evaluating the company, I was impressed by its ability to attract and sign quality retailers and noted its solid financial resources that ensure the project would succeed. Thus, the more comfortable I felt partnering with Goveia to create our project in Capistrano.

Goveia is using an architect who has lived in town for nearly two decades, Jim Bickel, and the principal in the company, Joe Goveia, is in escrow to buy a residential property here, too. The company holds on to the projects it builds, so it remains personally invested in everything from the final architecture to the tenants. That is important to me and my family.

Building in Capistrano is not easy, and in many ways, it shouldn’t be. New development should blend into the historic look and feel of San Juan Capistrano. Our community is committed to preserving our small-town atmosphere and balancing the needs of tourists and residents alike.

The team of Stroscher-Goveia is committed to those same goals, and with all of us working together, I am confident we will not only meet them, but exceed them to create a project the Stroscher family can be proud of for another 125 years.

Gretchen Stroscher Thomson is a part-time resident of Monarch Beach and Northern California. She graduated from Stanford University and USC, becoming a professor of history. She currently works in land development and property management.

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