Built and rebuilt several times over the last century and a half, the historic grape arbor at Rancho Camulos Museum was in dire straits once again in 2020, collapsing under the weight of overgrown vines.
Taking charge of resurrecting this popular garden feature was museum volunteer Bob Cox, who turned a group of his cohorts into a construction crew. Ken Asarch, Maria Christopher, Lynn Edmonds, Gary Gieseman, Tom Rieger, Marie Scherb, Gordon Uppman and Hillary Weireter helped pull down the old foliage and hammered, nailed, sanded and pounded together an historically accurate replica on top of preexisting concrete footings.
Treated lumber replaced broken and rotting boards, but historic pieces were reused, as well. Discovered in the 1867 Camulos Winery were trusses believed to have been used in an early version of the arbor. Cox tightened them up at his home workshop in Fillmore and fabricated additional trusses to complete the roofline.
The original grape plants from Mission San Gabriel have adapted nicely to the new structure, sending up new vines to cover it. They're to be cut back each year so they don't overburden the new arbor anytime soon.
The grape arbor is an important part of the historical landscape of Rancho Camulos. The Del Valle family, who owned the property from 1839 to 1924, frequently hosted meals under the cool shade of the grape vines. Then as now, brides would make their way to the Camulos chapel through the openings in the arbor.
Cox was drawn to the project for a variety of reasons. "Part of it was satisfying my ego," he said. "I enjoyed completing this much-needed project and being able to save the museum a considerable sum of money in construction costs."
The project was also a way for Cox to honor his old Fillmore High School shop teacher, Ralph Rees, who restored the circa-1850 Del Valle buggy and then designed a carriage house to display it on the property. Cox served as foreman of a volunteer group that brought the carriage house to fruition when Rees fell too ill to complete it. (Rees died in 2016.)
For Bob Cox, reconstructing the grape arbor turned into a family affair. His wife, Diana, a longtime museum volunteer, painted many of the boards, and their grandson Kyle helped out, too. Back in 2008, Bob and Diana's son Charlie was married at Rancho Camulos; nephew Kyle, then 2, was the ringbearer.
Bob Cox was named Rancho Camulos Museum's 2020 Volunteer of the Year at a gathering held Sunday, October 25, 2020.