Castro Adobe Project

California's Newest State Historic Park


About the Castro Adobe

Friends led a 20-year restoration effort to preserve and interpret the Castro Adobe as the newest State Historic Park in California in partnership with California State Parks. The adobe restoration was completed in 2022. When plans are completed, the park will be Santa Cruz County’s second State Historic Park and the first non-beach State Park in the Pajaro Valley. The Castro Adobe is open on a limited basis for special events, such as Open House Days.

The Castro Adobe is one of the finest examples of a rancho hacienda in the Monterey Bay area. It is an excellent representation of a Monterey-Colonial style adobe. It is only one of four historic adobe buildings remaining in Santa Cruz County. One is a private home in Santa Cruz, the Craig Lorenzana Adobe, and the other two are the Bolcoff Adobe at Wilder Ranch State Park and the adobe at the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park. The Castro adobe is included in the National Register of Historic Places and is a California Historic Landmark.

Friends undertook the restoration of the Castro Adobe, the only remaining building of the Rancho era in the Pajaro Valley, to increase equity and access to an otherwise untold story in the region. The Castro Adobe symbolizes the deep roots of Mexican culture in the Pajaro Valley, as well as California.

Castro Adobe State Historic Park serves visitors interested in adobe architecture and preservation, as well as fourth graders studying the Mexican Rancho period and third graders studying local history. In the cocina (kitchen), the link between Latino traditions of today and Californio heritage are tangible as students experience cooking and feeding the people at the rancho including making tortillas, beans and nopales (cactus).

The main part of the house has been restored and includes historic furnishings and interpretive items in each room to tell the story of the Castro family and entice the visitor to step back in time.

Future Plans

Now that the adobe is restored, Friends is launching the next phase of creating California’s newest State Historic Park, which will include: installing educational exhibits in the adobe; restoring the habitat lands leading to the nearby stream; creating accessible paths; installing parking and restrooms; and making the park a leader in sustainability. We will also establish the Kimbro House Visitor Center & Edna E. Kimbro Library and Archives – Center for Early California Studies, which will be opened to serve scholars and other visitors interested in the study of the cultural heritage of early California. Please join us!

Visiting the Castro Adobe

Castro Adobe State Historic Park is open on a limited basis for Open House Tours.

Private tours and school visits also are available. Teachers, please visit the Field Trips page to learn more and schedule a visit. Private tours are also available for those interested by calling (831) 226-9669.

History

The Rancho San Andrés Castro Adobe is one of the grandest of all adobe buildings representing the Mexican Rancho Period of California history (1821-1848). The Rancho period began as Mexico first gained its independence from Spain and ended when California became part of the United States. Mission lands were secularized during this period and families such as the Castros were granted large swaths of land to build on and use for ranching.

Located near Watsonville, this two-story adobe hacienda features a spacious fandango room on the second floor and an original cocina, one of the very few remaining original rancho cocinas in California. The original carreta (cart or wagon) road to the adobe is still in use, providing a tangible link to the history of the site. Here is a timeline of the Castro Adobe. 

The Castro Adobe was built between 1849-1850 by native servants for Juan Jose Castro and Rita Pinto Castro. Juan Jose was son of Jose Joaquin Castro, who was an original Juan Bautista de Anza Expedition member. The Castro Adobe on the family’s land grant, Rancho San Andrés. The rancho spread over two square leagues (8,800 square acres) stretching from the Monterey Bay to Corralitos and from the Pajaro River to Aptos. Eventually the extended Castro family owned over 250,000 acres from Pajaro to Aptos to Soquel and north almost to Davenport. Native servants did much of the work at the Castro Adobe including constructing the buildings, tending the crops, managing the cattle and cooking and serving the food at the rancho.

The Castro family raised cattle for trading hides and producing tallow at the two-story adobe and on the surrounding land. They enjoyed fandangos on the second floor, as food was prepared on the long brasero (masonry range) in the cocina. The fandangos featured dancing, music and food to entertain the Castro family and friends. The family fished at nearby beaches, caught frogs in the sloughs, and ate meat from the cattle, sheep and goats they raised. Prickly pear hedges provided nopales to eat and formed fences to keep the livestock out of the fields.

To lighten their work, the Castros had oxen and mules to plow the fields, barns for storage and livestock shelter, and fields of wheat, corn, beans and potatoes.

The house, with sweeping eastward views, offered plenty of room for fiestas and overnight guests. The adobe overlooked the road from Jose Amesti’s redwoods to the Castro embarcadero (wharf or landing), where lumber was shipped out. The adobe was built one room deep, so the sunshine could penetrate the rooms from two sides brightening the otherwise somewhat dark, cool rooms.

Restoration

Brick Making

In 1989, the Castro Adobe was seriously damaged by the Loma Prieta Earthquake, ending its use as a private residence. The north cocina wall was severely damaged in the earthquake and careful evaluation concluded that the wall must be reconstructed. Many adobe bricks were needed to complete the reconstruction of the wall.

In the summer of 2007, under the leadership of Friends board members and Project Manager Jessica Kusz, Friends partnered with adobe brick-making expert Tim Aquilar and began the process of making 2,500 bricks, each measuring 14 inches x 28 inches and weighing approximately 85 lbs.

Because it was critical to ensure that the new adobe bricks were compatible with the existing adobe bricks, testing of existing adobe bricks was done to reveal the sand, silt and clay content. After significant research by the project team to identify the right local dirt choice to match the existing adobe bricks, Rick Santee, owner of Santa Cruz County-based Central Home Supply, was selected as the supplier. The first 40 yards of dirt was delivered July 27, 2007.

The brick-making project relied on a force of more than 150 volunteers, aided by California Conservation Corps workers. After being formed, the bricks had to be lightly watered daily to ensure a slow drying process. Neighbors assisted with this task. After about 20 days, when the bricks were stable, the curing process required the bricks to be turned on their sides, an arduous task due to the weight and fragility of each brick. Despite this, among the 2,500 bricks that were produced only 14 percent suffered breakage. The finished bricks were used to restore the adobe.

Garden

Located to the west of the adobe, the Potter-Church Garden was constructed from 1968-1972, when the property was owned by David and Elizabeth Potter. The Potters were close friends with landscape architect Thomas Church, who consulted on the design of the garden and provided on-site sketches. Church is significant as the founder of the modern movement in landscape architecture known as the “California Style.” He completed master planning for UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and Parkmerced in San Francisco, as well as countless residential designs. The garden provides a central gathering place for group tours and special events.

Friends restored the garden, following Thomas Church’s original design. The garden was thoroughly researched and analyzed in the report, “Garden Restoration Report for the Potter Garden,” prepared in 2011 by Pam-Anela Messenger, landscape architect and Thomas Church expert. In the report, Messenger detailed the evolution of the garden and identifies significant plant and tree species. She also developed a template and landscape plan to enable restoration of the garden.

The Potter-Church garden is a unique outdoor space created by a landscape architect of national significance. The garden helps tell the story of later owners of the adobe and their stewardship of the site through 1988. Landscape contractor Laura Livingston and landscape designer Kathleen Schaeffer were hired by Friends to restore the Potter-Church Garden. Restoration work included landscaping, paths, drainage and irrigation, lighting, fence and gate repairs. Work was completed in 2015.

Seismic Stability

The second floor is significant for its use during fandangos. For Californios, the fandango was a major social event, at which family and friends danced, played music and enjoyed lavish feasts during the Rancho era. To accommodate visitors, the second floor required stabilization and access improvements.

Restoration architect Tony Crosby and structural engineer Fred Webster worked to increase the load capacity through the installation of a single steel beam in the first-floor rooms that extends the length of each room to support second-story floor joists. The purchase and installation were completed in 2016. To increase access to the second floor, a lift was installed in Summer 2016. The Castro Adobe lift project is considered to be a model for other two-story adobe buildings because the design allows access for all while maintaining the interpretive qualities of the site.

Cocina

The Castro Adobe cocina (historic kitchen) is significant as one of the few remaining original Rancho cocinas in California. Restoration of the cocina allows visitors to experience daily life at a Mexican rancho, including food preparation in the cocina and women’s roles in Californio culture, as well as overall life at the Castro Adobe including how the family used the building and site.

With expert assistance renowned adobe conservation architect Anthony Crosby and noted structural engineer Fred Webster, restoration work on the cocina included:

  • Archeological investigation of the interior of the cocina, including position and placement of original brasero, as well as investigation of the floor to determine original earthen floor composition and location.
  • Installation of a new roof and historically accurate earthen floor.
  • Painstaking removal of all non-historic latex paint on adobe walls.
  • Fabrication and installation of historically accurate cocina 
  • Construction of a reproduction brasero.
  • Restoration of wall finishes, using mud plaster.
  • Concealment of steel material utilized in seismic upgrade.
  • Final structural stabilization of the north cocina wall and roof system.
  • Installation of electrical service to provide ambient lighting and interpretive exhibits.
  • Development of an Interpretive Plan and installation of interpretive panels.
  • Development of a historically accurate Furnishing Plan and furnishing of the cocina with historically accurate cooking implements, reproduction food items and furniture.
  • Development and implementation of an accessibility plan, including implementation of life safety standards including fire egress.

Restoration work 2020-22

  • A fire suppression equipment system, including a water tank and fire monitoring system, was installed and will make the interior of the building fire-safe. Upstairs, the fire suppression was concealed within a new ceiling.
  • Cracks were repaired, and both the interior and exterior of the building were whitewashed in 2020-22. The floors also were refurbished, and the paint colors around the windows and doors were analyzed and this information was used to restore the interior and exterior finishes.
  • Experts spent much of fall 2021 restoring two unique elements in the interior of the Castro Adobe: the painted baseboard and chair rail, both of which are original elements of the adobe and are considered fairly rare for this era.
  • New electrical was installed and period-appropriate lighting was put in place.
  • The fandango room wood partition walls were reconstructed. One portion of the original wall remained and this was used as a template to reconstruct the remaining sections of the partition walls.
  • The cocina walls were analyzed and then whitewashed to restore the original finishes to the room.
  • Funded by Proposition 68 funding, A new roof was installed in 2022.