For almost a century the Tagus Ranch, north of Tulare, was an institution in central California. A 7000-acre ranch developed by Hulett C Merritt, it was at the time the largest fruit farm in the world and a destination for migrant workers in the 1930s and, with 11 camps, a general store, post office and a school, entire families lived and grew up at Tagus Ranch; descendants of those workers still meet for an annual reunion. During the Second World War, it also served as a Prisoner of War camp, while it’s said that John Steinbeck began writing The Grapes of Wrath in a little restaurant next to the Tagus Ranch

In 1950, the Tagus Ranch restaurant was opened although it would be gutted by fire in 1958 and have to be rebuilt a year later. By now, both Merritt and his son had died and the ranch land was beginning to be sold off; the last 315 acres would go in 1966. A 60-room motel was built in 1962 to take advantage of the traffic on Highway 99. Three years later the restaurant was destroyed in a blaze once more and then rebuilt again. New owners established the Tagus Country Theater which played host to popular musicians, including Ricky Nelson, The Platters, Merle Haggard and Ray Charles (who played here in 1983).

But, as time went by and franchise restaurants appeared, the Tagus complex began to struggle, particularly from 1972 when much of its passing traffic started to use Interstate 5. It became a Basque restaurant in the 1970s, a bar, a nightclub and finally spiralled down until all that was left was the motel occupied by longterm residents. It was bought in 2000 by Tulare dentist Sarjit Malli who entertained ideas of restoring the Targus Restaurant and, when that didn’t come to pass, tried to sell it, but the only buyers interested wanted to turn it into an adult-only gentlemen’s club. Mind you, the Tagus Ranch Motel had something of a history in this area – in 1964 it advertised in the local newspapers for its nightly ‘fashion shows’ featuring ‘bikinis, baby dolls, lingerie’ with an ad headlined ‘Attention: TRAVELING SALESMEN’.

Finally, in 2014, local authorities deemed the World Famous Tagus Ranch to be an undesirable eyesore and nuisance and, in December of that year, the bulldozers moved in. Mr Malli paid the demolition crew extra to lower the 100-foot sign in one piece although he said at the time he would only be saving the TR top piece and the ‘World Famous’ section. He also added that the sign might be restored, should the site be developed for commercial purposes, but now it seems likely that even the land where the sign and restaurant stood will be lost in widening plans for Highway 99.



  1. I remember Tagus Ranch when we used to drive from LA to the Bay Area for Christmas. It was heavily advertised up and down 99, with signs that read, “No Stopping ‘Til Tagus!”. Please note, the name is spelled T A G U S. There was never any “r” in it!


  2. Hulett Merritt was my Grandmothers(Bertha White) brother. I met him a few times when I was around 8 or 9 years old. He came to see us in a limousine. As much as i can remember he was an interesting fellow.

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  3. I am 85 yrs. old I went to school on Tagus ranch 1st and 2nd grade, I took several kids to the fruit trees and hid them out. I have a certificate for this in 1942, after pearl harbor bombing.

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  4. My Father Francisco Raya Fuentes and his family would live and work on the Tagus Ranch yearly. The entire family of 11 children worked there during the summers. My Father would tell us stories about the many varieties of fruits they picked there, the general store they shopped at, and their working life on the Ranch. My Father just passed on February 1st 2021 at age 91.

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  5. Hi- I’m doing family research. My grandfather (Swiss ancestry) was sent to a German POW camp to earn his citizenship during WWII (according to the story the camp was located in Tulare, CA). He was a resident of Hanford for many years. Do you know if the Tagus Ranch was the location of this camp? Thanks-


    • The POW camp was at we called camp 11. camp 11 was a housing addition for the workers of Tagus. There was 13 camps in all spread across Tagus. My father was a forman in the berry sections.

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  6. So many memories I was maybe five or six when my father and mother owned tagus Ranch I was the little girl on the tagus ranch float in the Tulare parade, he owned it in the late 80s

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  7. My grandfather lived at the ranch for a year in 1948 while he was in early high school. He helped his mom and veteran step father earn money by picking first peaches (summer), then berries and cotton. He wrote about the farm in his book…he very racily shared that he lost his virginity to a Mexican girl who grabbed him in the orchard. He and other tween boys secretly stole supplies from around the ranch to build secret hideout rooms below ground next to the ranch drain ditch. He has 2 chapters in his book about living in Indio, Coachella and Tulare. His family came from SE Kansas and he said when they arrived in CA everybody had veteran fathers and folks were excited about the future, going to college, etc.

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