Although mid October, it was a beautiful, sunny mid 80s afternoon at Los Encinos State Historic Park , a welcome break from LA's unseasonable triple digit heat of the past two days.
The good news: Los Encinos has been given a one year reprieve from closure thanks to a $150,000 anonymous gift by a local resident who wants the park to remain open.
Located in the San Fernando Valley town of Encino, it is ten miles north of Hollywood, surrounded by freeways and busy streets. The park is in the middle of a "regular" residential neighborhood, so it is easy to convince yourself you've taken a wrong turn. Parking is on the street, and free.
Roxy and I got out of the car, passed a cactus garden and found my friends Rosey, Ernie and Jeff already kicking back on a blanket on the lawn, enjoying a tin a gourmet popcorn and the light after-noon breeze.
The land that Los Encinos SHP occupies has changed ownership numerous times through the centuries. The original 4,460 acres was under the control of Mission San Fernando Rey founded in 1797. When Mexico won independence from Spain, they secularized the Mission lands. In 1845 Mexican California governor Pio Pico granted Los Encinos to three Indians, Ramon, Francisco & Roque, who then sold it to Don Vicente de la Ossa.
This single story, eight room adobe built by de la Ossa in 1849 became a favorite stopping place for the numerous travelers on El Camino Real. A two story out building was later added to house ranch hands.
A natural spring pumps warm, soft water into a pond inhabited by geese and ducks. For twenty-five cents a dispenser delivers food for the water fowl. We fed it our quarters until it was empty, giv-ing a few of the feed bags to some coinless children. Occasional and slightly painful games of "tug-of-war" occurred when aggressive ganders, annoyed that we had run out of food, latched onto our thumbs with their powerful beaks. The ranger promptly refilled the bird's vending machine.
In 1869 Eugene and Phillipe Garnier acquired the property. Eugene built the two-story limestone farmhouse similar to their home in the French Basque Country, as well as the brick-lined pond shaped like a Spanish guitar.
An old sheep shed and pen still stand. The gold rush, Civil War and drought combined to boost sheep production in California. Sheep withstood drought better than cattle. In 1876 sheep populaton peeked at seven million yielding a “wool clip” of 57 million pounds. Sheep graz-ing gave way to grain cultivation in the 1880s & 90s. And like so much of southern California, only a small citrus grove remains where once there were acres of orchards.
The tour through the eight room adobe is filled with furnishings, artifacts and a detailed history of the various owners. You are only allowed inside the rooms with a guided tour, and when I was visiting, there was only one tour on Saturday.
The Garniers were famous for their hospitality and delicacies of their table. Hand selected wines, imported cheeses and freshly prepared olives from their ranch made dining at Garnier Salon a splendid event. After their meal, a game of cards,
fine liqueur and a good cigar provided guests - including regular patron General Pio Pico - and host with an evening to remember.
The Northridge Earthquake of 1994 cracked open the adobe walls. Plaster fell everywhere, revealing multiple colors of the decorative wall finish that had been hidden for decades in the Garnier Salon.
Unfortunately it also caused the end of the adobe to crash outward. The softer adobe wall battered against the more rigid fireplace, adding to the collapse of the gabled end wall. The reconstruction contains much of the original adobe. A reinforced concrete bond beam ties the top of the walls together to provide additional safety during future earthquakes.
When Garnier got in over his head financially, the wealthy Gaston Oxarart foreclosed on him, continuing the string of rancho owners with roots in the French Basque Pyrenees. Oxarart owned the ornate hand tooled leather saddle, and provided his loved ones with luxuries.
In the 1940s, local resident Marie Stewart spent years leading the struggle to save the de la Ossa Adobe. Her efforts fended off its demolitation and lead to the establishment of Los Encinos State Historic Park. She gathered personal belongings from the descendants of Rancho El Encino families, including the saddle and wedding dress. Thanks to her efforts, and to the recent anonymous donor, you can still visit this lovely park for another year, with the hope that an additional twelve months will find another solution to closure.
My friends and I lingered through the late afternoon, taking one last stroll around the grounds before heading to our various homes in the lower half of the state. Roxy cut loose for a few moments in the enclosed livestock pen, herding the ghosts of sheep long past and relishing a roll in the grass.
I hope to see you at the State Parks.