Monday, October 27, 2008

El Adobe and the elusive ghosts of Capistrano

With Halloween approaching, I wanted something interesting to say about California's most (purportedly) haunted city: San Juan Capistrano. Last night, my investigative team and I wandered the town's most (purportedly) haunted areas, including Los Rios Street, the Mission, and down along the railroad tracks. Unfortunately, we were unable to spot any ghosts, let alone interview one.
Luckily, we did have an excellent dinner at El Adobe de Capistrano, which brings me (finally) back to local history and the point of the photos posted above.
El Adobe de Capistrano, (or El Adobe as most call it), is housed in the Miguel Yorba/Vanderleck Adobe which began as two separate structures. The north section, including the cocktail lounge, was built in 1797 as the home of Miguel Yorba. It was used as a hospital for vicitims of the 1812 earthquake that destroyed the Mission's stone church. A sign in the lobby claims that "some of the later parts of the El Adobe were build [out] of salvage from the Mission after its destruction."
The south section, including the Portola Room (a.k.a. "Fiesta Room"), was built around 1810 and was used variously as a stagecoach stage depot, a trading post, and the Juzgado (justice court and jail). The below-ground jail is now used as a wine cellar and is open to visitors. According to a sign nearby, "Joaquin Murrietta, the famous California outlaw, who was [hanged] not far from here, was said to have once been a prisoner in this dungeon." Naturally, this is the part of the adobe that generates the most ghost stories. (No, we didn't see any here, either.)
The area between the two buildings - now the lobby - was a passageway for stagecoaches, until the railroad arrived in 1888.
The two buildings were connected in about 1910 by new owners Harry and Georgia Mott Vander-Leck, who used the building both as their home and as their store. They also added a large wing to the back.
In 1946, Mrs. Vander-Leck sold the building to local farmer Clarence Brown, who converted it into El Adobe de Capistrano restaurant. According to El Adobe's website, it opened, "July 8, 1948 with the wedding and reception of the First Commandant of Camp Pendleton, General Fagan."
The site continues, "During his administration, former President Richard Nixon enjoyed the Mexican dishes prepared exclusively for him by El Adobe’s chef. These dishes inspired El Adobe’s change from continental to Mexican Cuisine."
Nixon's favorite was a combination plate featuring a chile relleno, a chicken enchilada, and a taco. It is still on the menu.
Today, El Adobe is owned by the Rancho Mission Viejo and is leased and operated by Richard O’Neill, Tony and Melinda Moiso, Gilbert Aguire, and managing partner Steve Nordeck.


Captain said...

Don't feel bad... I grew up there and ran around that town on summer nights and never saw anything... including when we used to sneak into the old mission cemetery. No White Lady of Del Obispo, no La Llorona along the creek... either creek, for that matter

By the way, every town in Mexico that has a river or creek running through it has a legend of La Llorona (The Crying Woman). She is always a young woman who had a baby out of wedlock, then drowned the baby out of shame. Her spirit clings to the area where it happened because she's looking for her baby, forever looking and crying.

Anyway, that's the way it was told to me years ago by the local bruja, Chita Clark.

EDGE4194 said...

Chris- thanks for sharing that pic and the fascinating history of El Adobe.

Anonymous said...

"In 2003, Hatch Designs was contracted for the remodeling of El Adobe. The architectural elements of El Adobe de Capistrano artfully reflect the history of both building and location. Antiques, furnishing, and décor were all chosen to compliment the genuine Mexican-Californian ambiance."




outsidetheberm said...

Love El Adobe - though the pre 2000version was more interesting. But then, I go to soak up the history more than anything else.

Chris Jepsen said...

You know, the furniture wasn't original anyway. I think the place has had new furniture and curtains more than a few times. The building itself is what I find fascinating. The decor is kind of beside the point.

The Viewliner Limited said...

As I told you before, my father worked at the El Adobe in the early sixties. And I have some very cool memories of the place.

I don't know if it is still there, but my Santa Fe Railroad train set use to run inside the lobby.

Steve Peters said...

I know this is an old post, but Captain (first commenter) if you are still out there I'd love to know more about Chita. I have an interesting personal connection to her.

Anonymous said...

My mother-in-law, Twila Price, worked there in 48'and 49'. I've been trying to locate Russell Miller,the maître de at the time, to let him know he has grandsons. Do you think he's still alive? Twila passed in 93'

Anonymous said...

Clarence Brown was the guardian of a young Japanese Girl, who's father worked with Clarence. When the young girl was born in 1936 in San Juan Capistrano, she was named after Clarence's first wife Maurine. Today Maurine Tanaka-OBAN lives in Rosemead California and still owns property in San Juan Capistrano. I just took her to Casa Romantica in San Clemente and she spoke to some docents there. A lot of History was shared.

from Angie Gomez, Pasadena Sister Cities Committee/ Wed.Oct. 05, 2016