By TR Robertson … In the second of a series on the California adobes in the Vista area, this article will focus on the Rancho Guajome Adobe, said to be the finest example of Anglo-Hispanic domestic architecture in the state of California. The Rancho Guajome Adobe is located on the Rancho Guajome County Park located at 2210 North Santa Fe. Ave. This adobe was designated as a California Historic Landmark #940 in 1936 and a National Historic Landmark on April 15, 1970 by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
Photos by TR Robertson
The name Guajome comes from a Luiseno Indian word that means frog pond or place of the frogs. The current property was acquired in 1973, by the Department of Parks and Recreation of the County of San Diego, as they were able to purchase the adobe and 536 acres. This includes Guajome Regional, Guajome Adobe and approximately 77 acres leased land for agriculture (tomato fields) and 40 acres leased to the Atique Gas and Steam Engine Museum.
The history of the adobe and surrounding property dates back to the 1700’s. The original rancho consisted of 2,219 acres from a Mexican land grant. The land was a wedding present from Abel Stearns, the brother-in-law of Ysidora Bandini, to Ysidora and her fiancée Cave Johnson Couts. Couts was a U.S. Army Lt. from Tennessee who came to Southern California in 1849. He fell in love and married Ysidora in 1851. Stearns had originally purchased the land from 2 Luiseno Indian brothers for the sum of $550. Ysidora was the sister of Juan Bandini, one of the most prominent citizens of San Diego. After receiving the land from Stearns, Couts would begin to build the Rancho Guajome in 1852 and complete the initial phase in 1855. He planted orchards and citrus fruit trees, vineyards and raised cattle and other livestock. Cave and Ysidora would raise 8 children at the rancho.
The Guajome Adobe has 28 rooms and 6 fireplaces. The square footage would eventually cover 7,000 square feet, not counting the Guajome Chapel Couts built for Ysidora. This chapel can hold around 60 people. The adobe is a combination of Couts Anglo ideas and the traditional Hispanic rancho styles. Around an inner court yard you will find Cout’s office, a store, schoolroom, and living quarters (bedrooms, dining area and living rooms). In the 2nd courtyard visitors will find servants quarters, barns, a shed, stables and a blacksmith shop. Cave Couts died in 1874 and one of his sons, Cave Johnson Couts, would help manage the rancho and helped in the restoration of the adobe until his death in 1920. After the Department of Parks and Recreation acquired the adobe and surrounding land, further restoration and preservation continued and would be mostly completed in 1996. Continued maintenance of the adobe continues today.
Much of the land of the Rancho Guajome and the San Luis Rey Valley was used in the early years by Franciscan padres for grazing livestock and growing crops. This was done prior to the establishment of Mission San Luis Rey de Francia. The Mission would be founded on June 13, 1789, but was abandoned in 1834. Much of the building material, like the wooden beams for example, would come from the abandoned Mission. Eventually, restoration work would begin on the Mission and it would be restored in 1892.
Just like the Marron Adobe, many residents and visitors to Vista drive past the Guajome Adobe and don’t realize the history of California they are passing by. Today, the adobe is under the care of a hardworking and dedicated group of Parks and Recreation employees. Hector Live is the Senior park Ranger and his staff includes Christine Foster – Park Attendant, Grace Avila – Park Attendant and Chris Krstevski – Park Ranger. This small crew, along with the volunteers, carry on the daily duties required to keep the county park available for use. Each year the Guajome Adobe is home to 40 weddings, birthday parties and anniversaries, not to mention the other many activities. The staff is assisted by Diana Vance and David Duran, volunteers who live in their motor homes at the park. These volunteers are not salaried, but receive free space for their motor homes in exchange for assisting with a variety of park maintenance like cleaning the inside and outside of the adobe and trail maintenance. Along with this, 20 docents volunteer their time to help with tours of the adobe, maintenance of the Victorian Garden and serving on the furniture committee. This committee helps with maintaining the existing period furniture and acquiring period pieces to add to the collection, trying to keep the furniture in the time period 1852 to 1897. Much of the furniture inside the adobe is original.
Senior Park Ranger Hector Live has been at the Guajome Adobe for 14 years, ever since he became a Park Ranger. His first duty was as a park attendant, holding this position for 2 years before becoming a Park Ranger for 4 years and now holding the Senior Park Ranger position for the last 8 years. Ranger Live said he loved the adobe and feels especially drawn to the Guajome Adobe since as a young boy he lived in Mexico for 4-5 years in an adobe house owned by his grandmother. He said even though his grandmother does not live in the adobe any longer, she still owns the adobe and when he visits her he still stops in on the old adobe to relive memories. Ranger Live said it took him about 3 years to feel comfortable with all of the duties required to maintain the Guajome Adobe. He said he loves working with the school children, educating them and the public about the history of adobe life in California. Guajome Academy can be seen from the Guajome Adobe and students from the Academy also visit the adobe to see early California life up close. The adobe offers volunteer opportunities for high school students. There are also a number of Camp Pendleton Marines who volunteer their time at the adobe, for example, the adobe is currently in the process of planting close to 400 trees on the grounds with their help.
Other activities the Guajome Adobe County Park sponsors include Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Rancho Christmas, Movies in the Park, art classes, not to mention the weddings held in the Victorian Garden. In the Guajome Chapel there is a Reed organ from 1890 that is occasionally played by Dr. Jerry Colling. He has a cd available in the Guajome Gift Shop, which has music from 19th Century Spanish and California songs. The Chapel was built as a memorial to Ysiora Couts. In an area referred to as the “covered porch” is another grand, large reed organ from the 1800’s. In the past, Porsche and Volkswagon car shows were held on the grounds, as well as a 5K obstacle course that had over 3,000 participants. These activities, along with the daily visitors and school trips keep the staff busy. As they inform and educate the public, the staff keeps up with the ongoing maintenance that covers roof repair, lime washing the walls, painting and window repair and much more. Ranger Live said all of this points to their commitment to the Department of Parks and Recreation Vision and Mission Statements – Vision Statement: A park and recreation system that is the pride of San Diego County and Mission Statement: We enhance the quality of life in San Diego County by providing opportunities for high level parks and recreation experiences and preserving regionally significant natural and cultural resources.
If you have not visited the Guajome Adobe, it is well worth the time spent to stop in and step back in time when California was on the road to statehood. Entrance is nominal – $3.00 for adults and $1.00 for students. Many brochures are available detailing the history of the adobe and discussing the different options available for those who are interested in using this beautiful location for an event. If you are interested in finding out more information, call (760) 724-4082, go to the website www.sdparks.org or stop by 2210 North Santa Fe Ave.