Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 33
Restoring the pastThe Dana Adobe and its Visitors
BY FRANK GONZALES
Every year, more than 1,000 schoolchildren visit Casa de Dana and its picturesque grounds in Nipomo. The adobe immerses visitors in the sights, sounds, and smells of a very formative era in the histories of not only the Central Coast, but also the state and the nation. Students from 3rd grade to high school get to learn about the history of their predecessors by exploring the historic structure and by taking part in a wide variety of activities that give them a better understanding of the work a 19th-century rancher had to do.
“[Students] learn to understand that it’s not easy work,” said Meredith Diaz, manager of the adobe’s volunteer docent program.
These students get to interact with a number of learning stations that teach them about life at the adobe.
“[Students] can pick from a number of activities, but they always have a house tour,” Diaz continued. “They can do tortilla-making, adobe brick-making, learn about branding and … about what it was like to be a vaquero.”
But these student visits are only possible thanks to the restoration of the adobe, which is nearing completion. The restoration and the student visits are coordinated by a committed group of local volunteers, known as the Dana Adobe Nipomo Amigos (DANA), who enjoy maintaining the adobe and imparting their extensive knowledge to visitors of all ages. Diaz coordinates the work of volunteers, including her father, Len Hoskins, and Bob Weiger, a volunteer and vice president of DANA’s board. Together they continue to restore the adobe and its land to former glory while educating the community about its history.
Construction of the adobe began in 1839 and didn’t finish until 1851, at which point the structure had grown from one room on one level to 13 rooms on two levels. The adobe was built by Capt. William Goodwin Dana and his wife, Maria Josefa Dana (née Carillo). Dana, a Boston native, acquired the nearly 38,000 acres of ranchland on which he built his adobe with a land grant from Mexico when it still controlled the region. His productive pursuits centered on cattle ranching, while farming increased after the 1850s. Over the years, the ranchland was slowly divided among Dana’s heirs and sold to groups and individuals, including the growing town of Nipomo. The adobe ended up in the hands of Helen Grisingher, who deeded it to the San Luis Obispo County Historical Society in 1954. The society voted in 1999 to allow the Amigos to begin their work for the adobe and what’s grown to 130 acres of its remaining ranchland.
When DANA began its restoration, the building was close to collapse. Restoring and preserving such a historic structure is hard work, but Diaz said there are about 20 active volunteers. Despite a few modern upgrades—like steel cables for earthquakes—these volunteers had to learn how to make adobe bricks, how to build adobe walls, and how to plaster them while restoring the building. Luckily, there’s a great deal of local knowledge about adobe buildings.
“We have used extensively resources from Santa Barbara, the Presidio,” Hoskins said. “They have helped us quite a bit in adobe-making and also restoration of artifacts and that kind of thing.”
While the work is difficult, Hoskins is undeterred” “I just love the hands-on work. I love history. And to have an opportunity to let me hang around here, to touch everything, to get dirty, and do that stuff is fascinating and it’s something I enjoy doing.”
Weiger sees exciting developments in the adobe’s future: “Almost two years ago now we received a Nature Education Foundation, Prop. 84 grant, for $2.98 million that’s going to allow us to build out the property, put in a nice visitor center, build some trails, build some outbuildings that we know used to be around the adobe. And that’s a seven-year project. We’re in year two. That’s the future.”
DANA provides group tours upon request, which cost $5 per person with the exception of NARM members and students, who get in free. The adobe is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m .
Contact Intern Frank Gonzales at email@example.com.
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