Then & Now: By Rhonda DeHaan
Then & Now: By Rhonda DeHaan

By Rhonda DeHaan

To assist private property owners of historic properties, the Mills Act is an important incentive program for the restoration and preservation of historic buildings. The program allows owners of qualifying buildings to receive a property tax reduction to help with costs related to the rehabilitation and maintenance of their buildings.

Owners of historic properties in San Juan Capistrano who do not currently have Mills Act contracts are encouraged to learn more about the program by visiting the city’s website or going to city hall and talking with staff in the Planning Department.

The first Mills Act contract in San Juan Capistrano was with the owners of the Hankey-Rowse Cottage. This historic home was built in 1883 by Joseph Rowse amidst 10 acres of agricultural land.

It was subsequently owned by French priest Alfred Quetu, who purchased multiple properties in 1909 for his ostrich farm, his Belgian draft horses and other endeavors.

Carl Hankey acquired the property in 1921, saying in an Oral History interview that he “traded an acre and a half in Huntington Beach for the land.”

Residents in Mission Viejo may recognize the name, as a local school “was named for Carl Hankey, a prominent rancher and school board member who played a pivotal role in early local land development,” according to Carl Hankey K-8 Academy.

Hankey was also instrumental in completing the road through to Lake Elsinore and, with Fr. St. John O’Sullivan, suggested naming it Ortega Highway.

The Hankey family owned the home until 1994. Saving the time-worn structure from demolition, contractor Michael Palmer moved the house about 100 feet from its original location on Ortega Highway so it could be restored. Today, the quaint Victorian structure is listed on the city’s Inventory of Historic and Cultural Landmarks and sits proudly next to its more modern neighbors on Via Cristal.

Rhonda DeHaan enjoys learning about San Juan Capistrano and its history, sharing fun photographic finds along the way. She is proud mother of two, a freelance writer and a member of the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society Board of Directors. She is also serving her eighth year as member of the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission.

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