There's a certain irony in the fact that one of Orange County's oldest dwellings--once one of the only structures for miles around--is today surrounded on three sides by the offices of a real estate agent and a savings and loan operation.
But the Ramon Peralta adobe, a true relic in one of the county's newer neighborhoods, has seen so much change over the course of nearly 120 years that it manages to fit nicely into its most recent surroundings.
It isn't that the Peralta adobe has a chameleon-like quality. It's that the shopping center that now surrounds it in Anaheim Hills was built intentionally along the adobe's architectural lines.
In an unusual cooperative venture, the Orange County Harbors, Beaches and Parks District, which acquired the adobe in 1976, leased the property to a commercial developer with the agreement that the developer would restore and operate the adobe as a historical site. And, what with the exterior architectural style of the adjacent shopping center, it actually takes a bit of work to distinguish the adobe from its neighbors.
There was no such problem when the adobe was built in 1871 in what was then the town of Peralta. The ranching and farming community was on the sprawling Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, the largest rancho and only land grant made by the Spanish in Orange County (after winning independence from Spain, Mexico made several).
The 20-by-30-foot, six-room adobe, built by Ramon Peralta, a descendant of one of the rancho's two original grantees, was one of only 11 structures in the area: nine adobes, a combination saloon and pottery shop, and a school.
Over the years, windows, an upper room and a gabled roof were added to the adobe. But the effects of weather were beginning to show on the structure when a citrus farmer, E. Walter Pyne, bought the adobe in 1908 and covered the exterior walls with a 2-inch layer of concrete to preserve them.
In 1920, Pyne converted the adobe into a roadside restaurant, which survived under various owners for 4 decades as the Canyon Cafe. The adobe was abandoned in the early 1960s and fell into disrepair until its restoration as a historical site.
Today the adobe's interior houses an unusual collection of what might be called recent artifacts from the area.
"They're nothing really valuable," said John Mosqueda, supervising park ranger in charge of historical facilities for Orange County. "But they're very indicative of the kind of life style people had over the years in this area."
One display case, for instance, includes various old bottles found near the site, including a Coke bottle with the stamped date Dec. 25, 1923.
One room has been furnished as a children's room might have been when the structure was built, and several sections of the walls and floor have been cut away to reveal the construction layers.
The last surviving adobe in Santa Ana Canyon is easy to get to, but in 1989 it takes a bit of doing to spot it correctly. If you're looking at three white buildings--one housing a real estate agent, one that you're not quite sure of and another that is a savings and loan business--head for the one in the middle. It's a lot older than it looks.
THE RAMON PERALTA ADOBE AT A GLANCE
Where: In the shopping center at the southwest corner of Santa Ana Canyon Road and Fairmont Boulevard, Anaheim Hills.
Hours: Open for walk-through visitors from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays. Tours available other days and times by reservation.
Admission: $1 per person for guided tour.
Information and tour reservations: (714) 637-6950.