In our search for the perfect venue we traveled all over Orange County, looking at many different possibilities. Country clubs, hotels, theme parks. Yes, we did look into the Grand Californian. In the end we ended up with a venue that fits us as a couple. We really wanted to keep everything in San Juan Capistrano for a few reasons. First of all, the convenience for our guests was key. We didn’t want everyone trying to find their way across and around Orange County. Secondly, San Juan is where a lot of important milestones of our relationship have happened. The first night we met was at a party in San Juan Capistrano, we both are actively involved with the Mission Basilica religious education program, we even got engaged there. It seemed only fitting that we continue the trend! The Forster Mansion has both the history and the laid back elegance we were looking for.
What, you may ask, is the Forster Mansion? Here is an except from the San Juan Historical Society’s website on the history of the Forster’s and the property.
“The Forster Mansion
27182 Ortega Highway
The Frank A. Forster mansion was built in 1910 and is on the City’s Inventory of Historic and Cultural Landmarks. This mansion is located on the Ortega Highway between the Capistrano Inn and the shopping center to the east. A beautiful mansion that was restored to its old glory by famous interior designer Martha Gresham who once owned it. Later she sold the house and it’s being loving preserved by present owners internationally famous photographer Phillip Stewart Charis and his wife Maryanne .
Frank Forster was the grandson of Don Juan Forster who once owned the Mission and one of the largest ranches in California. Like most of Frank’s family, he was a successful rancher and lived in a small home on the site but decided to build a mansion for his family. He had Train & Williams, an architectural firm from Los Angeles, design a Mission Revival Style home. Its first floor is solid reinforced concrete with a large basement. The second floor is wood framed with plaster. The house was the first stucco covered home built in this area. This mansion has 6000 sq. ft. of living space which includes a large gracious living room that has a massive rock fireplace built from rocks that came from Salt Creek in South Laguna. Originally the house had gas lighting throughout. It also became the social hub of this area with extravagant BBQ’s and piano recitals. The total cost was only $10,000.
After Frank and his wife Ada passed away, the house was left to their son and three daughters. One daughter, Alice Forster Leck, lived there quite a while and left the house to her nephew Pancho Forster. The house began to decline and was sold to Bill Reid and Nario Iwata for $125,000 in 1975. By 1983 the house had deteriorated, but Martha Gresham came to the rescue, negotiated with Reid and bought it for $625,000. Ms Gresham restored the house to its original glory and it became a premier site to visit. Much later she sold the house to the Charis family who have faithfully retained its rich beauty. They lived in the house for a time, then created the House of Photographic Art. In the adjacent shopping center, they maintained their photography studio. This house is the last of the truly elegant homes built here just before and after 1900.
The Forster Mansion is also famous for one of the delightful legends that abound in our historic old village. It has a ghost! Billy Reid use to tell about the cigar smoking ghost who visited him. He believed it came from the old cemetery located across the street on the hill. He often smelled the cigar smoke and would hear doors opening and slamming upstairs. But Ms. Gresham told more expansive stories. She was a bit of a physic and said she had seen the ghost quite often and gave him the name of George. He was described as being short, stubby, had a moustache, and wore khaki clothing. He was always happy and friendly but smelled of cigars which she abhorred. She believed that he may have been one of the original builders. During the restoration work, contractors found a petrified cigar stub behind a plaster wall which Ms. Gresham kept.”
As you can tell, this place fits us perfectly. If I could, I would move in. The house is beautiful and Arpi, the proprietor, is an avid art collector. She has beautiful pieces up throughout the house. What is so neat is that the house will be open for our guests to wander through during the reception!
The Forster Mansion
Some fun then and now pictures.