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Adobe U

Restoring Casa de Estudillo

By Alana Coons

In an effort to create a volunteer team of skilled adobe craftsmen, SOHO has partnered with Old Town San Diego State Historic Park with funding from the California State Parks Foundation for a two-day course. Adobe 'U' will be an intensive two-day seminar and hands on workshop. Instructed by Bill Mennell, Maintenance Chief, San Diego Coast District, California Department of Parks and Recreation; and one of the leading authorities on California adobes, Bruce Coons; and Dr. Therese Muranaka, Associate State Archaeologist for San Diego Coast District. Students will learn historical and architectural background, technical and practical application, and about the archaeology of an early California adobe.

Circa 1890's Casa de Estudillo


The immediate goal is to help restore and repair the walls of a most treasured piece of the park, the Casa de Estudillo house museum. The future goal is to have developed a trained team that can be called in to action when other adobes throughout San Diego County are in need, a core group of volunteers that can help to protect and preserve these rare sites when they don't have the funds and staff to do so on their own. Warner's Ranch House, once again on SOHO's Most Endangered list is a good example of a project that may possibly one day need just such assistance.

Home to Mexican Army Officer, commandant of the San Diego Presidio, José María Estudillo and his family, the casa represents the home of a "Gente de Razón," an aristocrat of Mexican California. Begun in 1827 and completed in or around 1829, the house passed to his son, José Antonio Estudillo in 1830, who served as revenue collector, treasurer, alcalde, and judge of San Diego under Mexican rule and later treasurer and assessor of San Diego County under American rule. The family lived there until 1887. It was then abandoned until after the turn of the century when John D. Spreckels recognized the value this old adobe hacienda could have as an artifact of the then very popular trend of the romanticizing early California. In 1909 he hired Hazel Waterman to restore the home and its garden. For many years, the building played an important role in San Diego's tourism industry falsely advertised as "Ramona's Marriage Place" from Helen Hunt Jackson's popular novel. Today the Casa de Estudillo stands as the finest example extant in the state of California of the large Mexican courtyard hacienda.

In this home you can see how the much the later California ranch house style won the hearts of so many. Not quite a coincidence, as a descendant of Estudillo, Pedroreno and McGee families, Cliff May, known as the father of the modern ranch house, was raised in and around San Diego's greatest haciendas. He visited the Casa de Estudillo often, and most influential, he spent his youth every summer at Los Flores Adobe, where you can see clearly his sphere of influence. While May is often noted for 'combining the western ranch house and Hispanic hacienda styles', in reality, the adobe haciendas he grew up with had already combined those attributes of adobe and board and batten for which he is famous. This combination of architectural styles and materials can be best seen at Las Flores on Camp Pendleton.

What an exciting opportunity for the first 25 lucky people who sign up to restore the home with which so many of San Diego's greatest have been involved. The two-day course takes place on Saturday, October 14 and Saturday, October 28, from 8am to 4pm. Registration is open now.

Click here for schedule

2006 - Volume 37, Issue 3

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