LA CASA de DANA
As written in 1970
The Casa de Dana or “Dana Adobe”, begun in 1839 and completed much as it appears today in about 1851, is the most historically significant residence in the County of San Luis Obispo. The adobe is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Its architect and builder, Captain William G. Dana of Boston, played an important role in the histories of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, and through his influence and contacts, in the history of California before and after statehood. Located beside the old Camino Real which bisected the 38,000-acre Rancho Nipomo, La Casa de Dana for many years provided a stopping place for travelers along this main north-south artery.
Captain John C. Fremont was a guest at the Rancho on his march south to the conquest of
Los Angeles in 1846, and Captain Henry W. Halleck, who later became Abraham Lincoln’s Chief of Staff, was a friend of Dana’s and a frequent visitor. Letters preserved in collections at the Bancroft Library, the Huntington Library, and numerous other institutions document Dana’s correspondence with most of the leading figures during one of the most critical eras in California’s history. The adobe’s significance, however, lies not only in its associations with historic figures, but with events that took place there as well. After the end of the war with Mexico, and before California became a state, William G. Dana’s home was designated by order of General Kearney as one of only four official exchange points along the state’s first American mail route. In 1849 it became one of the two polling places in what became San Luis Obispo County where votes were cast on the issue of statehood. From the 1850’s to the 1890’s all stagecoaches travelling north and south along this inland route stopped at the Rancho’s adobe barn (whose foundations can still be seen near the house) to change horses.
In addition to its historical significance, the Casa de Dana has a cultural value which becomes increasingly relevant as the demographics of modern California change. Captain Dana’s wife, Maria Josefa Carrillo, was a daughter of Don Carlos Carrillo of Santa Barbara, one-time governor of California under Mexico, and also niece of the general, Jose Castro, who commanded Californio troops against the American takeover of California in 1846 and ’47. The thirteen children born to the |couple who lived to adulthood were raised in the traditions, religion and language of .Mexican California, but were educated in their father’s native language, values and customs as well. As with the house itself, which architecturally blends features of the California adobe with those of the New England frame house, the life of the Casa de Dana was a blend of Hispanic and American cultures.
To preserve the Casa de Dana as it looked in its prime, circa 1851, along with enough land to provide it with an appropriate pastoral setting, would be to catch and hold a moment so critical to California’s later development that the reverberations of that moment still influence the lives of all Californians today. The potential educational and cultural benefits of preserving this tangible remnant of the state’s history for future generations have been noted many times before by many people over the last fifty-four years or more, but as the building ages and as surrounding rural land rapidly gives way to urban development, time is running out. There will never be a better time than the present to restore the Casa de Dana and take action to preserve as much of its cultural landscape as possible.