671 South Oakglen Avenue, Nipomo, CA 93444 dana@danaadobe.org 805.929.5679

From Decline to Preservation and Restoration The Dana Adobe Episode 4 (of 4)

Rancho Nipomo 1999

In the 1970’s, The San Luis Obispo Historical Society, fearing total collapse of the building, took the drastic step of plastering all of the walls, inside and outside, with Portland cement. This created structural stability that would buy time to decide what further steps to take. Losing momentum, the building basically sat this way for the next twenty years. What was needed was a spark that would ignite the flame of preservation and restoration.

Her name was, Lisa Van Der Stad, a resident of Nipomo Her energy and resourcefulness was boundless as she took the adobe under her wing. She was not daunted by the prospect of preserving and restoring the Dana Adobe. She was great at organizing and gathering together interested parties. She was also the first Executive Director of the Dana Adobe Nipomo Amigos (DANA). This non profit organization’s goal was to restore and preserve the structure and surrounding property. In addition to many other accomplishments, she led the way in getting the adobe declared State Historic Site#1033. Now there was new momentum.

It was decided that c1851 would be the restoration period of significance. That was about the time the building was completed as we see it today. During the restoration process, any post 1851 changes would be converted to that period. Lisa and her staff were successful at obtaining a state grant that enabled them to kick start extensive restoration projects. These successes continued until Lisa moved from the area in 2004.That same year, DANA took over ownership of the property from the Historical Society.

After Lisa left, Kathy Kubiak, also a Nipomo resident, took the reins as Executive Director. Kathy’s expertise and dedication was responsible for keeping the restoration process moving. During that period, budgets were small but Kathy was very skilled at organizing volunteers. Under her direction, restoration of several interior rooms was completed in

In 2008, under the leadership of Executive Director, Marina Washburn, a California Cultural Historical Endowment state grant became available (CCHE3). This grant funded extensive restoration projects and helped purchase the 29 acre parcel surrounding the adobe. The Land Conservancy funded the balance of the purchase price of the property. This was followed in 2009 by awarding of CCHE4 grant. This grant enabled us to complete the restoration of the Dana Adobe and anticipate completion prior to December 2013. Additional funding has been provided by the Hind Foundation, the Maxine Blankenburg Foundation, Peg Miller, the Woods Family Foundation, and Bill Deneen. Plans for outbuildings including barns, blacksmith shop, furniture shop and the original Tallow Works are being made.

In 2009, DANA collaborated with San Luis Obispo County about the purchase of a 100 acre parcel between the adobe and Thompson Avenue using Quimby (mitigation) funds. DANA signed a 99 year lease with the County to manage and maintain the property as open public space. It will be used for hiking, equestrian, recreational and nature education purposes. The combination of the two properties will give the adobe much of its original view shed. This feature alone makes the Dana Adobe unique among state historic sites. Another major project under way is a nature and education center that is being funded by the Nature Education Facility state grant supported by Proposition 84. DANA’s project, Stories of the Rancho: Culture, Ecology, Stewardship, was one of only 44 awardees out of 300 applicants. This award was the only one in San Luis Obispo County and one of four in Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties and the only non-profit. When completed, the facilities will include a Visitor’s Center for nature education, events, curation and display of artifacts, a Chumash Village and trails. This will be a first rate facility that will be widely used by the community and will be a keystone feature of a planned, destination California Rancho Period Historic Park

Visitors are welcome to stop by on Saturday and Sundays from 1 to 4 for docent led tours or by appointment. This is a great opportunity to see restoration in progress. We look forward to seeing you.

From Decline to Preservation and Restoration The Dana Adobe Episode 3 (of 4)

Rancho Nipomo, early 1950’s

Captain Dana would have been greatly saddened by the condition of the home he built for his family. The damage that was caused by numerous structural changes, abandonment, negligence, vandalism and the elements had taken their toll. This building was at one time the main center for agriculture, industry and administration between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. Now it was simply a derelict in the middle of a field. If something wasn’t done soon, it could be lost forever.

Fortunately, this was not going unnoticed. Interest and support was building at the San Luis Obispo County Historical Society and on September 9, 1954 they took possession of the adobe. The purchase price from the Grisingher family was unstated but believed to be $500. The property consisted of the footprint of the house, a six foot apron around the house and an easement from Oak Glen Avenue. This event marked the very first step toward saving the building and the property.

The Historical Society now had the adobe but the question was-what to do with it? This was a large building and the damage was vast. A historic restoration would be ideal, but the place was literally in danger of falling down. Simply stated, the project was so overwhelming the Historical Society didn’t know where to start. Not much was done for the next few years, but finally in the late 1950’s someone stepped forward.

Fred Dana’s son, Alonzo, took a leadership role in saving the adobe. He used his family affiliation and membership in the Historical Society to launch an effort to save the structure. He was successful at getting society members and community groups like the Rotary Club, Boy Scouts and Cal Poly students involved. Community members would show up for workdays and tackle the most important issues, like repairing the roof and filling holes in adobe walls. A lunch was prepared so it was a social event as well. This was a great start at saving the structure, but, was it enough?

By the time the 1970’s rolled around, it was becoming apparent that a more aggressive approach was needed to keep the structure standing upright. Keeping the building from falling down had been the priority up to this point but it was a losing battle. Volunteers decided to apply the most common procedure during that period for protecting adobe walls and keeping them from falling down. This consisted of plastering all the walls, inside and out, with Portland cement. This was a drastic step but it worked. The cement gave the building the structural stability that was needed. Now, time could be taken to repair trouble spots without fear of collapse. However, this method also had some drawbacks and was never meant to be a permanent solution. First of all, adobe has to breathe and the cement shell sealed in moisture that would destroy the adobes over time. In addition, the condition of the walls was no longer visible. For a restoration, all of the concrete plaster would have to be removed.

By the end of the 1970’s the idea of a historic restoration was considered not feasible and the goal was to make the building useful for future generations. Most of the original flooring was removed, including the veranda, and concrete slabs were poured. In the interior the slabs were covered with Spanish tiles. The two small rooms at the ends of the veranda were demolished and re-built with stabilized bricks. It was decided that a full time caretaker was needed. A water and septic system was installed and some interior rooms were converted into caretaker quarters.

The Historical Society had done its job. The Dana Adobe had been saved from destruction. Now it was time to consider what the next steps should be. This process would last almost until the 21st century. Yes, the old building was still there, but it was a concrete ghost of itself and it was not living up to its potential. What was needed was another Alonzo Dana; someone who could spark the interest and enthusiasm to bring the Dana Adobe back to its former glory.

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.

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.