From Decline to Preservation and Restoration The Dana Adobe Episode 2 (of 4)
As pointed out in episode 1, the unexpected death of Fred Dana in 1899 left the rancho physically and financially unable to sustain it self. This event forced Fred’s widow to sell to A.C. Fry who in turn sold to Lawrence Hourihan in 1902. It’s interesting to speculate the Adobe’s future had the rancho stayed in the Dana family.
The Hourihans were successful farmers on the rancho and basically enjoyed life on the Central Coast as many of us do today. However, their idyllic lifestyle came to an abrupt halt in 1906. Nathaniel Hartnell, the nephew of the treasurer of Monterey County, showed up at the rancho seeking employment. Mrs. Hourihan and her oldest daughter escorted Hartnell out to a harvesting operation. Without warning, Hartnell drew a revolver and shot the daughter, killing her, and then fled. After authorities were notified, riders were mounted and a couple of days later Hartnell was killed in the ensuing shoot-out. The reasons for his actions were never learned.
The Hourihans were so traumatized by this event that they left Nipomo. Their daughter Helen, however, decided to stay and they deeded the property to her. She soon married into the Grisingher family of Guadalupe. They lived on the property until 1916 at which time they took up residence in Guadalupe. They owned and farmed the property for the next 100 years. The adobe was never to be owner occupied again. It might be said that this tragedy eventually led to abandonment by the owners. Structures that are not owner occupied rarely get proper, if any, maintenance.
For the next 20 years the property was heavily farmed. In 1936 in the midst of the Great Depression, the adobe would benefit from one of Franklin Roosevelt’s new deal policies. It was called the Historic American Buildings Survey (H.A.B.S.Report). Its goal was to employ out of work surveyors, archeologists, photographers and other professionals to catalog historic buildings throughout the nation. The adobe was included and the information in these reports has been vital in today’s restoration process. They included detailed drawings and photographs of everything that was there in 1936. These reports are still on file at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. Information in the report also stated that the building was occupied by itinerant farm workers.
As the years rolled by the old building continued to deteriorate. A 1949 LA Times photo shows it in a terrible state of disrepair. Windows and doors boarded up, large sections of plaster falling off exposing adobe bricks to the elements. In the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s break-ins, looting and vandalism were common. Rumors of buried treasure prompted numerous hunts, digging up the grounds and adobe walls searching for gold. Vagrants burned original door and window frames for firewood. Eye witnesses have told me personally that if you were looking for a place to do something that you weren’t supposed to do, the Dana Adobe was the place to do it. Surely the old girl would not survive this abuse.