Within Old Town San Diego State Historic Park (San Diego Historical Landmark #14) are many historic buildings and rebuilds. We’ll explore nine of them since they also have been designated San Diego Historical Landmarks.
The first one is San Diego Historical Landmark #14A, Casa de Estudillo:
Casa de Estudillo is a large adobe-block house, one of the best remaining examples of a Mexican California mansion. Located at 4000 Mason Street within the boundaries of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, it is a U-shaped, one-story house built around a large courtyard. It originally contained 13 rooms in three sections, with the center section measuring 116’9″ long, and the two wings measuring 96½’ (north wing) and 98½’ (south wing).
The adobe walls, plastered and whitewashed inside and out, average three feet in thickness. A one-story veranda extends around the three inner sides of the house, with all rooms in the house opening directly onto the veranda. The large rectangular windows originally contained no glass, yet there were no fireplaces in the house. Might have something to do with pretty good weather year round. Two fireplaces were added in the north wing but the date of the additions is not known.
Various sources say that Casa de Estudillo was built in 1827 (Wikipedia), 1828 (City of San Diego Historical Landmarks list), or 1829 (sign located outside the house). However, Casa de Estudillo also is a registered California Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. I found several documents online at the National Park Service concerning Casa de Estudillo, one of which, from 1979, states that the house was built from 1827 to 1829. Now the dates make more sense.
In the original construction, the main entrance was a wide hallway with heavy double doors. To the left were the chapel and a bedroom, and to the right the schoolroom and a bedroom. In the 1910 restoration, the partition walls separating the two bedrooms from the adjacent rooms were removed, thus enlarging the chapel and school room. The north wing contains two bedrooms, a living room, a later kitchen, and the servants’ dining room. The south wing has three bedrooms and the large family dining room. The house was also once topped by a small round wooden cupola from which the family and guests could watch the bullfights and festivals staged on the adjacent town plaza. The cupola was removed sometime after Ramona was published and not restored until a 1968 renovation.
Casa de Estudillo was built by Don Jose Antonio Estudillo, a captain in the presidial garrison. He later served as mayor and justice of the peace of San Diego, and by 1829, he had acquired three ranches and become a wealthy man. Casa de Estudillo was considered at the time to be one of the finest in Mexican California. A large hall in the house served from the early 1830s until 1856 as the town chapel and as a school. In times of revolution and war, the women and children of San Diego also took refuge behind the thick walls of the house.
Occupied by the Estudillo family until 1887, it was abandoned and allowed to fall into ruin. Don Jose raised his children in the home, and three generations of Estudillos lived there. Jose Guadalupe Estudillo was elected to a number of high positions, including state treasurer, while living there.
In 1905, Casa de Estudillo was bought by John D. Spreckles, a significant figure in San Diego, who financed its 1910 restoration under the supervision of Architect Hazel Waterman.
According to a credible source, in 1908, it was deeded to the State of California by Mr. Legler Benbough, then the owner, and another restoration begun under the supervision of Architect Clyde Trudell. The restoration work was finished in 1969. The house was furnished in time for San Diego’s Bicentennial celebration.
Note: I believe the 1908 date is wrong because it doesn’t make sense that Spreckles bought the house in 1905 and financed a 1910 restoration, while another source says that a different person, Benbough, was the owner in 1908 and deeded the house to the State, and that a restoration was begun in 1908 (or shortly thereafter) but not completed until 1969. I know that there were two restorations, one in 1910 and one in 1969, so believing that the 1908 renovation included the 1910 renovation and wasn’t complete until 1969 appears to be wrong.
What I found most interesting about Casa de Estudillo is its connection to the book Ramona, written by Helen Hunt Jackson and published in 1884. Casa de Estudillo was where Ramona, the Indian heroine of the novel, got married!
For the introductory blog post
to San Diego’s historical landmarks,
click on San Diego’s Historical Landmarks.
For previous posts in the
San Diego Historical Landmarks series,
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