By Jan Siegel
Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season. Now is the time for the start of those New Year resolutions. At the top of most lists is more exercise. And this year is a great time to start, because the Historical Society has initiated a new Walking Tour.
The Historical Society Walking Tour now starts at the O’Neill Museum on Los Rios Street and encompasses not only Society property but also Los Rios Street. The Society has recently completed work on the Silvas Adobe and with the Leck House, the Jail, the Oyharzabal House, and, of course, the O’Neill building, there is a lot of local history hidden behind the gate of the Society. The tours occur on Saturday at 1 p.m., as well being available to group tours during the week. Suggested donation for the one hour tour is $5, which goes to the historic preservation of maintaining all of our properties.
The Garcia/Pryor residence, now known as the O’Neill Museum, was built between 1870 and 1880 by Jose Dolores Garcia, a saloon owner who promised his wife that if she married him, she would not have to live in an adobe house. The house is the home of the Society’s collection of more than 1,500 photographs of local history, as well as an extensive library on the history of San Juan Capistrano.
The Leck House is the 100-year-old craftsman farmhouse that was moved to the Society site in 2005, when the developer of the farmhouse property wanted to remove it from its original site because it stood in the way of way of his plans. Arely Leck, the farmer, had married Alice Forster, the aunt of Tony Forster who was President of the Historical Society at the time, and both were related to Don Juan Forster, who purchased the Mission in 1845. Saving this farmhouse was a win-win for the developer, the Society and the city, which had listed the house on the Inventory of Historic Places in San Juan Capistrano.
The Silvas Adobe was always located on this property. But it was not until the generosity of the Oyharzabal family, who donated the property to the Historical Society that the Society began to restore the 1794 adobe. The five-year restoration project was a totally volunteer operation headed by Society president Tom Ostensen and ably assisted by Scott Gates, Steve Behmerwhold, Harrison Taylor, Dick Paulsen and Fred Frank. The Adobe gives the Society another exhibition room and has already been used for the Society’s first Day of the Dead exhibit, a Ghost Walk pre-dinner, and a tribute to native a son, the retired Sheriff Brad Gates.
The Walk includes stories about the Jail, and the Oyharzabal House and a stroll down Los Rios Street, the oldest residential neighborhood in California.
Start off the New Year and spend a Moment in Time working off those holiday calories and learning about the history of San Juan Capistrano. For more information and reservations, call the Society at 949.493.8444.
Jan Siegel is a 28-year resident of San Juan Capistrano. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years and has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 18 years. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.