Ronnie's House Back Story
Christmas at Ronnie's Chaparral
In the early episodes, when the Cannon family first purchased the ranch, they had to hire their own little army of workers to work on and defend the ranch from rogue Apaches and marauding bandidos. So, it would be for the High Chaparral, but with a different twist. I wanted to give you a detailed description of southern Arizona, the Tucson and Yuma areas, as well as Old Tucson, for those who have never had the opportunity to visit this awe-inspiring land, but the incredible, almost devastating chain of events of the house construction really needs to be told.
Sunset as seen from the front porch looking toward gate
After a 1975 wedding, proceeded by a fabulous two-week honeymoon in Tucson, there was a relentless calling that found my wife Sue and myself returning to southern Arizona for the next four summers. In October of 1979, we made the final trek across the United State, and settled in Yuma. In a few short months, our Pizza & Hoagie shop opened for business. We were renting a small two-bedroom, one bath home, and later had the chance to purchase it. Within five years, we were blessed with two children, a boy and a girl. As time went by and the kids began to grow, we were suddenly faced with a home that was too small for our needs. In 1995, I set out looking for a new home, or if possible, a property to have a new home built on.
Flashback to 1972. While visiting some friends, we became re-acquainted with The High Chaparral during its first year of reruns. One thing that always remained in my mind was that house, and although southwestern style homes are quite common in Arizona, I had never seen one like the Chaparral. After all, it is a very unusual home. It has no front windows, two sets of front doors, and two sets of side doors.
Gate entry onto Ronnie's property
As I continued my hunt for a new home, I couldn't find anything that totally satisfied me, although I had been in some pretty nice houses. I knew deep down in my heart what I really wanted. Then one Sunday afternoon, while visiting my new friend, legendary stuntman Bill Catching, I drove past a 2-1/2 acre lot that had a "for sale" sign on it. A call to the realtor led to an appointment, and within a week, we made a deal and purchased the property. The location was perfect, a corner lot 9 miles south of Yuma, out in the country. This all took place in January 1997. In February, I made contact with a local contractor whose name I had seen on several signs around the area. I showed him a photo of the Chaparral home in Old Tucson, and told him of my dream. We sat down and drew up plans using photographs and videotapes from the show. I even went as far as taking trips to Old Tucson to measure the actual house. Within a few weeks, we had blueprints of the exterior and interior floor layout.
Ronnie's floor plan
As most of you know, the outside of the house is in Old Tucson, while the interior was on a Paramount soundstage in Hollywood -- this would be the first time the outside and inside would become one. Before the project was to commence, I had to do something to make it official, so like a probe launched into outer space, I sent a letter off to David Dortort, asking him for his exclusive permission to build this home and to use it's name. After all, anyone could have this home built, but to have official permission from its creator made this home the real thing. Mr. Dortort and I have kept in touch throughout, and in fact, he actually chose the exterior and interior colors from samples I had mailed to him!
On July 11, 1997, the foundation was poured, and within a few weeks, the framing began, and the well was drilled. By early September, that famous porch was in place, and the home really started to take on the look and spirit of the Chaparral. I sincerely believed that it would be completed by the contracted date of December, just before Christmas.
This photo to the left was taken on a hot day in the Summer of 1999. It reads 120 degrees.
In late September, things started to change -- construction was almost at a standstill, and Yuma was about to come face-to-face with an unusual hurricane. News teams from all over the country came to see Yuma get blasted. The storm was coming up through Mexico, and would enter the U.S. via Yuma. The new home sat directly in it's path. It started on Wednesday evening in the form of a light, steady and soaking rain, and gradually increased throughout the night. When morning came, it was raining steady and hard. I drove out to the new house to see how it was holding up.
When I arrived at the construction site, the lot was filling up with water creeping closer to the opened home, and I began to prepare myself for the worst. I headed back into town with the thought that the next time I saw the house, it would probably be destroyed by the storm. By mid-afternoon, the winds had come, and we all battened down the hatches. Then suddenly, as quickly as it had started, it changed direction, going up and around Yuma. A quick call to my neighbor and friend Amos Sevesus to find out how much damage we suffered led to this story --- Amos told me the lots were completely flooded with water, just inches away from the front doors, when all of a sudden, an 80 mph wind blew the water off our land. When I arrived the next morning, the ground was almost dry. Whew! Talk about Cecile B. DeMille. Wow!!!
Throughout the months of October and November, little or no work was done on the home, and yet, the contractor continued to tell me that the house would be done by December. I began to wonder "which" December he was talking about. Thanksgiving had come and gone, and now we were looking toward Christmas. As we entered December, some work was done, but then again, nothing. A week before Christmas, we sold our little home and had to temporarily move into our parent's house, while they were back east. After the New Year, a little more work was done on the new home, then again, nothing. About the second week of January, we began to make arrangements with the bank for the permanent loan; the contractor assured the bank that the house would be completed in 3-4 weeks, which would have put closing in about the middle of March, if the builder was on schedule. HE WASN'T!
Drive with cactus garden
Very little or no work was done throughout February, but this disappointment was slightly overshadowed when Don Collier and Ted Markland came to town to appear at the Silver Spur Rodeo. I had the privilege to escort Ted and Don around Yuma, and also show them the new home. Although still far from completion, they even asked me to take their picture standing in front of the house. We all had a great time, and to this very day, Don, Ted and I have become good friends.
March came and went with some work completed. April came, same old story - some work, then nothing. One day in April, I received a notice from the mortgage company who supplied the funds for the construction loan, stating that I owed them $6,000 in back interest on the building loan - the contractor was supposed to be paying this, per our agreement, and he assured me by phone that he would take care of it. May came, and still no work was being done. Then, I received another letter from the title company saying they were about to start foreclosure, since no interest had been paid (it was now up to $8,000!) and the house was still not finished! I thought, "What the HELL is going on here??! It's not MY fault that the home isn't finished - how could they foreclose?"
Sue and Ronnie on front porch
I called the title company and they suggested hiring an Attorney because they felt that something wasn't right with the contractor and mortgage company, and that about 50 other people were having the very same problems that I was having with them. I took their advice, and on May 5th, hired a Lawyer. After reading the contracts, he informed me that the construction loan was to run out (expire) in 3 weeks, when the entire amount for the property and the home would have to be paid! The bank that was financing the permanent loan would not pay off the mortgage company until the home was completed.
We were really in trouble and had to find a way out -- the conclusion would be either to lose everything, or fire the contractor and complete the job myself. To make a long story short, we did fire the contractor, and I went about looking for a new builder to finish the house. Our Attorney managed to forestall the foreclosure until July 15, 1998. This gave us about 1-1/2 months to finish the home. I couldn't find any contractor who would complete it within a reasonable rate, and some didn't want anything to do with it at all. It was now the 1st of June. My only other alternative was to become the contractor myself and to sub-contract everything out, which is what I did. I went into town and hired all the companies that would be needed to complete the home. We were going to save this home from rogue builder and marauding mortgage company, just like the Cannons did! At one point, we had 5 separate crew all working at the same time.
Sandy and Ronnie at gate
In the middle of June, we were told that our contract with the bank was to expire on June 26th (after all, they'd held it for us for 6 months), so now we were really "under the gun." We had just 2-1/2 weeks to finish a home that had deliberately been delayed for almost a year, but we had the best men to do the job, as did Big John. On the very day that the contract with the bank expired (June 26th), we completed the home and made settlement with just a few hours to spare. The home came out beautiful, and all we had left to do was some trimming and painting. Through the past 9 months, I developed high blood pressure, asthmatic anxiety attacks, temporary blindness in my left eye, headaches, backaches, and every other kind of aches & pains you could think of, but we saved the Chaparral."
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