By Jan Siegel
“Remembering Our Past Insures Our Future” is the motto of the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. This has been aptly demonstrated with the completion of the restoration to the Silvas Adobe on the Society grounds. The grand opening of the Silvas adobe will be held for a Historical Society membership-only event at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 15. There is no better time to become a member of the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society and see history preserved.
In 2009, the Society started on a one-year project to restore the 1794 Silvas Adobe. Plans went to the city and work finally began in 2013. The first step was seismic upgrading and preservation of the adobe. A structural assessment of the wooden board and batten addition to the structure had to be made. Removal of the roof material and interior floors was needed too, in order to see if the addition could be jacked up to a level plane, so that repair or replacement of damaged floor beams could be done. The front concrete porch was removed and the wood porch cover restored. Steel beams would be inserted for stabilization. Adobe bricks had to be made by hand to add to the building. A new roof was put in place and a new floor was put down. The cost turned out to be more than the Society could raise in a reasonable time frame. Many experts in the field of restoration helped guide the Society on what needed to be done, so Society volunteers did the work to save thousands and thousands of dollars.
Society volunteers were truly weekend warriors for more than seven years. They gave up their weekends to work on the adobe, still having their day jobs. The group who came together and stayed for the long haul included Scott Gates, Harrison Taylor, Steve Behmerwohld, Dick Paulsen and Society President Tom Ostensen. Without Ostensen, this project would never have been completed. To give perspective on how long a dedicated project this was; consider the life of Taylor. When he started helping on this project he was single. Since the start of the restoration, he is married with two children. Not enough can be said for the dedication of these weekend warriors.
According to Mission San Juan Capistrano Historian Father Zephyrin Engelhardt, adobes were built on what is now Los Rios Street around 1794. The only other adobes from the period on the street that survived are the Montanez and the Rios. Jose Maria Silvas obtained the adobe and rebuilt it in 1868. In 1871, Silvas married Maria Manuela de Jesus Yorba, daughter of Domingo Yorba and Catalina Olivares in San Juan Capistrano. A map of the 1870s states that the Silvas Adobe is bound on the north by the Rios adobe and on the south by the Dolores Garcia home. The Garcia home was moved and is now the O’Neill Historical Society Museum. In 1895, the owner of the property was Juan Saliberri and he sold the property to Domingo Oyharzabal. The Oyharzabals donated the house to the Historical Society.
The history of this building is the history of San Juan Capistrano. The historic families that were involved in this structure are still around today. The cultural history of our community is told through this adobe. The missionaries, the Spanish, the Mexicans and the Basques are a part of this adobe. You can spend a Moment In Time by visiting the Historical Society and seeing how time and dedicated volunteers bring history alive for the future.
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.