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

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.