Monday, November 05, 2012

"Authors Night" and South O.C. history field day

Hear the authors of the latest Orange County history books discuss their work, and then have a chance to meet them, buy their books, and have the books signed at the Orange County Historical Society's annual “Authors Night” program, this Thursday, Nov. 8, 7:30p.m., at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal St., in Orange. Authors include Jason Schultz (Jason's Disneyland Almanac), Mike Heywood (Orange County: Twelve Decades of Extraordinary Change), Ted Dougherty (Knott’s Halloween Haunt: A Picture History), Chris Epting (Baseball in Orange County), and Frank Ritenour (San Juan Capistrano Treasures, etc.)

Thursday night will also mark the release of the OCHS's annual Orange Countiana historical journal. Contributors to the 2012 journal will be on hand to sign their work as well. They include Orange County Supervisor John M.W. Moorlach (“The Orange County Bankruptcy”), Froy Tiscareño ("Memories of Memo"), and editor Phil Brigandi. All member of the Society receive a copy of the journal as part of their membership. Additional copies are available for $20 each, and back-issues will also be available for sale.
OCHS hiking group visits the Trabuco Adobe. Note "Old Saddleback" in the background.
Saturday turned out to be an all-you-can-eat South Orange County history day! I started the morning providing backup support at the Orange County Historical Society's Fall "History Hike" to the Trabuco Adobe and the Portola Expedition campsite of San Francisco Solano, took a detour through Live Oak Canyon, and wound up among the adobes of San Juan Capistrano.

Historian Phil Brigandi led the morning's hike/tour through part of O'Neill Park. In the photo above folks are checking out the ruins of the Trabuco Adobe (circa 1810), which was an outpost for the cattle operations of Mission San Juan Capistrano. Today the remaining walls are somewhat protected by a wood shelter. A number of holes punched in the plywood provide an opportunity to peer inside. (See photo below.)
 This is one of the oldest buildings in Orange County outside of Capistrano. Sadly, it's largely neglected and no serious archeological work has been done on the site. One suspects such a dig would reveal a great deal of information from the mission and rancho eras.

Many years before the adobe was built, on July 24 and 25 of 1769, the Portola Expedition (the first non-Indians to travel up through California) camped at this site, which they called San Francisco Solano. Soon, however, the soldiers in the expedition began calling the area "Trabuco" after the blunderbuss (a.k.a. trabuco) one of them lost nearby.
The photo above shows our intrepid team hiking down into Trabuco Creek. There were about 30 hikers in the party.

 After the hike, I caught up with friends for lunch at Cook's Corner -- an establishment that got its start in the 1930s.
A 2007 photo by Phil Brigandi shows Cook's Corner on a quiet day.
Our long lunch led to discussion of San Juan Capistrano. Specifically, we ended up talking about some slightly strange photos of the Mission, and about the details of the 1850s raid on the town by Juan Flores' marauding gang. On a whim, we all decided to drive down there and puzzle things out first-hand. When it comes to local history, research in contemporary sources is crucial, but you really need to "put boots on the ground" also.

 The first thing I noticed at the mission was the progress on the new entrance complex. It's looking nice so far, with a large ramada and a faux-adobe structure that the builders seem to be giving the first-class treatment.
New entrance/exit construction: If they're smart, they'll make you exit through the gift shop.
 Our first stop inside the Mission was the South Wing (now partly occupied by the gift shop), where Don Juan Forster and his family lived from 1844 to 1864. During those years, Forster made some alterations, including adding a bedroom for his daughters, which shows up in a number of photos, including the one below. Note the bricked-off archway and how the entire corner under the arches is closed off. 
Now, in the next photo (below), see how that corner is once again open, as it was in the Mission Era. We found lines in the adobe that still make it obvious where exactly the brick walls were added and later removed. This -- along with the photo above (displayed at the Mission) -- answered some of our questions about strange-looking window and door placement on this wing in early photos.
 Another of our questions involved the age of various materials spread over the adobe walls of the mission. In various places over the centuries, designs, pigment, and graffiti have been applied to the mission walls. As various layers of concrete, plaster, etc, erode or fall away from the buildings, it would be nice to date those marks and messages by the materials they were applied to. The material the particularly puzzled us was a light-colored concrete-like layer that seemed to have fairly early markings on it. My understanding was that the original coverings for the adobe and rock walls were plaster -- but what was meant by plaster in those days?

In the photo below, from the Great Stone Church, the concrete-like material in question holds what some have said are architectural sketches for elements of the church itself. (Note the straight lines and compass-drawn arcs.) If that's true, the material it's scribed into must be original to the building. But it doesn't look or feel like plaster. One of my readers must be an expert on these things, right? Anyone?
The easier ones to peg are the more recent markings, which often include both a name and a date. More on that in a future post.

Our next stop was down the street on a stretch of El Camino Real -- near the Blas-Aguilar Adobe (circa 1794) and what's now Town Center Park -- that was hit hard by Juan Flores' gang in the 1850s. The outlaws looted the town and robbed numerous businesses along this stretch of the highway, including the shops of Michael Krazewski and George Pflugardt. One of Krazewski's employees was wounded and Pflugardt was killed.
Blas-Aguilar Adobe (a.k.a. Casa de Esperanza) in Capistrano.
The tale of the gang is worth telling at another time (and involves the murder of Los Angeles Sheriff James Barton), but our task was to use old maps and existing landmarks like the Blas-Aguilar Adobe to pace off where exactly Pflugardt's murder and the robberies took place. The murder appears to have taken place just inside the boundaries of the park, not far from the adobe. Krazewski's place seems to have been about halfway up between that spot and the modern Ortega Highway.

This is the kind of tomfoolery local historians get up to when they have a lazy Saturday afternoon to spend. And yes, I really WOULD rather be doing this stuff than watching football, or going to a movie, or terrorizing tortoises with an ATV, or whatever "normal" people do. 


JG said...

.."whatever Normal people do..."

Maybe someday, "normal" will be... to do what you like to do.

Like history blogs, lounge music and old pictures of Disneyland.

Thank you for your work. I enjoy.


Anonymous said...

i took an anthropology class over at santiago community college a couple of years back and my professor (who's name escapes me) worked at the mission as archaeologist for over thirty years. i remember on our field trip down there he explained how much of the original structures were covered with concrete in the early 20th century when the mission was a stop for tourists. he also explained to us that they had experimented with all kinds of compounds to find something that resembled plaster, but held up better. he said just plain old plaster worked the best.

Anonymous said...

I live in South County and would love to see what remains of the Trabuco Adobe. You said it was in O'Neill Park, but you didn't say what trail to take to get there! I have tried to research on-line and can't find any info on how to get to the site. Would you mind sharing a few more details? Thank you so much!