Public History Presentations: Latino Communities in Southern California

Nichol Roe: Spring 2013: History 538: CSUSM


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Rancho Guajome Adobe

Public History is often difficult to identify precisely, because it can take place in a variety of settings. The Rancho Guajome Adobe County Park, located in North San Diego County however, is not a place that would be disputed as public history for any reason. Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970, the Rancho Guajome Adobe sheds light into the days of California’s ranchos and provides an essential service to the local community. This site is an example of the “mixed” origins that have produced the unique Latino culture within the San Diego community.

According to material available in the Rancho Guajome Gift Shop, the San Diego County Park was originally a Mexican land grant given to two Native Americans from Mission San Luis Rey. The brothers did not own the land long, and soon sold all 2,219 acres to a Los Angeles merchant, Abel Stearns. Six years later, Stearns offered the land as a gift to his sister-in-law, Ysidora Bandini, when she married Lt. Cave Johnson Couts, an American from Tennessee, in 1851. Couts made enormous profits from livestock and shortly after his wedding to Ysidora, built the adobe ranch house on the property.

Currently still recognized for its beautiful double courtyard, the ranch house remains intact today. In 1973 the County of San Diego attained the property as the center of Rancho Guajome Regional Park and designated the adobe house as a National Historic Landmark. According to Parks and Recreation, in the County of San Diego, “restoration was in strict conformance of the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Historic Preservation.” When visiting the historic site, the public is able to see much of the original adobe elements as well as the original lumber that was used in construction of the ranch house, taken directly from Mission San Luis Rey.

In addition to the restoration and management by Parks and Recreation of the County of San Diego, the local Luiseño Native American Tribe has also contributed to the site. This local tribe, also known as the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians, is responsible for an exhibit located in the servant’s quarters of the adobe. Ancestors of current Luiseños, who had once worked and lived on the property, have taken great pride in this exhibit. They have contributed photos, objects and artifacts which have been beautifully presented and displayed.

In my opinion, this historic site directly addresses the Latino community in North San Diego County because it highlights the “mixed” origins of San Diego’s Latino culture. The Rancho Guajome Adobe highlights more than just Mexican origins; it attempts to illustrate how Spanish, American and Native American cultures have all had an influence in some way or another. Interactions between all of these groups are the foundation for California’s vibrant history, and the Rancho Guajome Adobe County Park attempts to express all of these roots to the public.

The Rancho Guajome Adobe County Park is highly effective in terms of best practice in public history today. The park has multiple uses among the public, including its beautiful hiking or bike trails, wetland habitat and even weddings and special events for the community. While all of these purposes are important, it has been made clear that the preservation of this historic landmark is the first priority of staff. Located off of Ranch Santa Fe Avenue in Vista, Rancho Guajome Adobe County Park is easily accessible to the public and highlights a local history that is essential to the community.

Information taken from handouts provided by Parks and Recreation of San Diego County and the Ranch Guajome Adobe County Park.