MAY 2007 – NO. 15
A Californian Adobe's Final Stage
The thin beam of the flashlight cut through the blackness like a knife, highlighting the rotted wooden flooring. Manuel, a city worker, pointed out the holes in the floor as he led me up the rickety, wooden staircase into the main living room. Dim streaks of light from the boarded up windows augmented the beam of the two-cell flashlight.
"Look here," he said to me, as I followed him carefully down the dark hallway. He pointed the beam of his torch towards the small rooms. "These were the bedrooms, pretty small, eh!" Two rooms on each side of the hallway appeared dusty and cluttered with trash. I stared, unbelieving, at their four-foot by maybe six-foot space.
"Geez, how'd any one ever sleep in those? I'd get claustrophobia for sure."
"I don't know," he replied. "They're pretty damn small." The impromptu tour led on to the last musty room upstairs. "You can see the burn marks on the wall where one of the transients tried to keep warm by lighting a fire. I'm surprised the whole place didn't go up, look at that hole." In the floor was a black, jagged, eleven-inch hole burned through to the bottom floor.
"That's why we finally had to board the place up, and the city took it over completely. The owner had a goin' concern here for a few years, but let the place fall into disrepair and well, you know how that goes! Finally the water turned bad, and it was kinda' left to us."
"What are you going to do with it?"
"Unless we get some funding and some good water, nothin'. There's not much we can do." I was led out of the Los Coches Adobe with as much care as I was led in. Thanking my guide, I returned to my little Blazer and forgotten camera.
Located south of Soledad in the Salinas Valley is a timeworn and forgotten little adobe. You can see the historical landmark sign #494 on Highway 101 as you plod south, but no one ever pays much attention to it anymore. Now fallen from grace, the two-story adobe originally built in 1842 is merely another lost run down building alongside the roadway.
The land originally belonged to the pioneer soldier, Jose Maria Soberanes, who came to California with Gaspar de Portola, and Father Junipero Serra. Portola was a Spanish soldier and explorer who later became Governor of Alta and Baja California, and was the founder of Monterey and San Diego. Father Serra was a Franciscan monk who established the mission system throughout California.When his granddaughter, Jos`efa, decided to get married in 1839, she was granted by Governor Alvarado 8,794 acres as a wedding present. Her new husband, William Brunner Richardson, was a native of the Baltimore area. Because of Jos`efa's new married name the Los Coches (The Pigs) Rancho became known as the Richardson Adobe and Rancho. In 1842 Richardson constructed a two-room adobe and planted a row of locust trees out front to shade it (they're still there). Three hundred head of cattle were given to Jos`efa and pastured on the land. Richardson, a former tailor, worked hard in his new occupation as a ranch owner.
In 1846 Lieutenant Colonel John C. Fremont and his 300 men camped on the land while on their wayto capture Santa Barbara, California, during the Mexican-American War. Theyhelped themselves to the cattle, horses and other supplies as needed. It was a major loss for the Richardsons and was the probable reason for the ultimate demise of the Rancho. Hoping to avoid financial ruin, the ingenious Jos`efa soon devised a new source of income for herself and her family. She transformed her home into a flourishing stage stop. Stagecoaches would stop there and the passengers would eat, rest, and sometimes spend the night. Horses were often exchanged as well. The stage line would pay her for providing these services. The two-story wooden structure was added to accommodate the multitude of passengers from the San Juan-Soledad stage line. Later the Richardson Adobe also became popular as a stopover for the Bixby Overland Stage line as well, traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
Ignoring the promise the U.S. government had made to Spanish land grant holders in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which said that they could keep their land, lawsuits over the land poured in and the litigation costs quickly drained the remaining family funds to a pittance. Like Los Coches, most of the other California Ranchos were already in trouble when the killer drought of 1860 hit. Richardson became heavily indebted and Jos`efa was forced at last to mortgage the property she loved. In 1865 the Rancho Los Coches was acquired by David Jacks in a sheriff's sale.
Though the family no longer owned the land they continued to live in the old adobe for many years. Well into the 1890s, a nephew of Jos`efa resided there and recorded memories of Cascaron balls and lavish dinner parties. Some of the old timers even reported the Adobe to be a real hot spot for nightlife. Some ninety-three years after David Jacks acquired the Los Coches his daughter Miss Margaret Jacks donated the land to the public.
The aura of yesterday still surrounds the decrepit adobe, but the tight-belted reality of today overshadows its historical significance. Unless a magnanimous donor steps in to restore this adobe to its former luster this lost treasure is going, going… gone.
The Los Coches Adobe Rancho/Richardson Adobe is located on the northwest corner of State Highway 101 and Arroyo Seco Road, one and a half miles south of Soledad. The city of Soledad has owned the structure for over forty-nine years and has just recently (so officials told me) begun to apply for grants to refurbish the structure. According to them, a rather large committee is applying for the first grant in May. The chain of bureaucracy sounds a bit like a Monty Python skit to my old ears. But I do wish them good luck.
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