From Decline to Preservation and Restoration The Dana Adobe Episode 1 (of 4)
On the Mesa bluff in Nipomo overlooking Nipomo Creek and the Temattate Mountains, sits a historic and cultural treasure: The Rancho Nipomo Dana Adobe. This structure, whose construction started in 1838 and was completed in 1851, was the home of Captain William Goodwin and Maria Josefa Carrillo Dana. It sat on the 38,000 acre Mexican land grant that was awarded to them in 1837. Today it is a mere 125 acres, but is the only existing Rancho period adobe in California that still has its original view shed. It is not only one of the most important historic buildings in San Luis Obispo County but in the state of California as well.
Captain Dana and the Rancho Nipomo story are well documented and often told. What is less known is why the structure was almost lost forever, who came to its rescue and how it is now being brought back to its original glory. This is that “story” and it begins on February 12, 1858.
On that date, in the master bedroom at the Dana Adobe, Captain William G. Dana died. His death started a chain of events that slowly, at first, then at an increasingly rapid pace, led the building and property to decline and near ruin. Over the next 100 years changes made to the house by successive occupants, vandals, looters and the elements brought the building to its knees. For the next 22 years, Maria Josefa along with sons William Charles, John Francis and other members of the family, ran ranch operations. It is documented that weather and economic conditions were difficult during this period. In 1880, Maria Josefa moved to Casa Grande, a fine home on Mallagh Street in Nipomo built for her by her sons. At this time, her 31 year old son Fred, and his family took occupancy of the adobe. Sadly, Maria Josefa was only able to enjoy her new home for three years and died in 1883.
By the time Fredrick Albert and Manuela Munoz Dana and family moved in, the Monterey Colonial style home was no longer in vogue. Styles had changed and the house was in need of some modernization. They did what anyone would do. They made some changes. Fred added several new interior and exterior doors. A double sided fireplace was installed between two bedrooms. In the south wall, an exterior window was made into a door and, adjacent to it, a window was added. In coming years this would prove to be a near fatal flaw. Structural stability was apparently not a consideration during these changes.
The Fred Dana family enjoyed their home until 1899 when Fred was killed in a buggy accident. The property was heavily in debt and Fred’s widow did not have the means to continue running the rancho. In 1900 the property was sold to A.C. Fry and family. Before moving in the Fry’s made additional changes. The culmination of these many structural changes eventually contributed to weakening of the structure.
In 1902 the property was sold again to Lawrence Hourihan and family. The Hourihans proceeded to occupy the house and farm the surrounding property. It is unknown what, if any, changes were made by the Hourihans to the house.