Actor, preservationist, conservationist and member of the California Beaches and Parks Commission, Leo Carrillo (1880-1961), is commemorated today by the name of park in the City of Carlsbad (his residence), a State Park, and by the preservation of his films.
Leo Carrillo was born in Los Angeles, but his beginnings were in San Diego's Old Town where his grandparents Josefa (Bandini) and Boston-educated Pedro Carrillo, were married, maintained their residence and raised a large family. As a wedding gift, Governor Pio Pico awarded them title to Coronado Island which they sold 23 years later for $1,000. As Leo jokingly observed, "I think the family let it go too soon."
As an entertainer Leo was highly successful, appearing in 15 major stage plays (several on Broadway) and more than 90 motion pictures in which he was featured in supporting or character roles. Carrillo's greatest fame came from his portrayal of Pancho, the mischievous sidekick to Duncan Renaldo's Cisco Kid in a pioneering television series of the early 1950's.
Shot entirely in color - a first in tv production - its 156 action-western episodes ran for six enormously popular years. (The Cisco Kid was based on an O. Henry short story which in turn was drawn from Cervantes' Don Quixote. In this classic Spanish novel the sidekick was named Sancho Panza.)
Carrillo experienced parallel success as a politically well-connected supporter of recreational and cultural resources for the public. He served 18 years on the California Beaches and Parks Commission and the Leo Carrillo State Park near Malibu is named in his honor. He was a key factor in the development of the Los Angeles Olvera Street complex, the Los Angeles Arboretum and the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Most notably, his personal relationship with the family led to the State's acquisition of Hearst Castle at San Simeon. He toured the world as the state's official Ambassador of Good Will. Governor Edmund G. Brown called Leo "Mr. California."
At the peak of his film career Carrillo felt a desire to find a retreat where he could re-create an Old California-style working rancho, an important cultural asset he felt was rapidly dying out. In 1937 he came across the Rancho de Los Kiotes in what is now southeast Carlsbad and which was once owned by the Kelly family, very large, long-standing landowners in the area. Leo quickly snapped up his first 840 acres for $65,000 or $77 per acre. He immediately began construction of 18 structures necessary for his ranch operations and, over time, increased his spread to 2,538 acres.