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Landmarks : County Historical Sites

October 10, 1990|STEPHANIE STASSEL

The Tapo Adobe Has a Sad Story to Tell

* HISTORY: The adobe was built in the 1820s and later occupied by the family of Jose de la Guerra y Noriega, who planted orchards and raised sheep in the area. The structure was rebuilt in 1916 by William Dahl, who said that it would last another 100 years. At the time of World War II, the roof was removed. By the early 1950s the structure was in ruins.

* LOCATION: Only two stubs remain of the

reconstructed adobe at the county's Tapo Canyon Park at 4651 Tapo Canyon Road. The area is surrounded by a fence.

* HOURS: The park opens daily at 7:30 a.m. and closes between 5 and 8 p.m., depending on the season. Although the ruins can be seen through the fence, they are shown by appointment only. Contact the Ventura County Cultural Heritage Board at 654-3967.

In 1842, when Jose de la Guerra y Noriega bought 113,000 acres encompassing all of Simi Valley, his land came with an adobe house in Tapo Canyon. He never lived in the house, instead lending it to his sons, Francisco and Pablo, who tended orchards in the area.

The house, with its traditional long porch, was the focal point of the land known as Tapo Rancho and was often the site of fiestas held to celebrate the conclusion of the sheep-shearing season.

The two-story structure, called the Tapo Adobe, is believed to have been built in the 1820s by Spanish ranchers who were raising cattle and sheep on the property, said Pat Havens, curator and historian of the Simi Valley Historical Society.

De la Guerra's daughter-in-law, Concepcion, lost the property in bankruptcy court in 1878, but the structure continued to be occupied until the turn of the century. Although it didn't own the property, salesmen from the Simi Land & Water Co. often showed the house to people seeking property to buy on the valley floor.

In 1903, the property was purchased by the Patterson Ranch Co., which used the adobe briefly as a residence for ranch hands. About then, the structure began its decline. One photograph dated 1904 shows the roof missing, and it soon went to ruin.

An American named William Dahl rebuilt the structure for the Patterson Ranch Co. in 1916, using 3,100 handmade adobe bricks, and said it would last a century. In photographs, the reconstructed building bore no resemblance to the original. A rental agreement drawn up shortly after the reconstruction stated that there would be no "drinking reunions or fandangos" at the house.

The adobe was used for several decades until the early 1940s when the roof was removed, allowing the adobe to melt in wind and rain. The roof was either removed during World War II when lumber was in short supply or the site was used for movie filming and was deliberately ruined, Havens said.

Either way, the structure was practically gone by the late 1950s. A group of Indians calling themselves Red Wind, with hopes of restoring the structure, emerged in the early 1970s. They placed black plastic over the ruins, which caused further decay. Condensation formed on the inside of the black plastic, causing the adobe to deteriorate.

Two stubs remain of the reconstructed adobe, which was designated a landmark in 1970. Havens said that although the original house is gone, the land under it could prove an interesting archeological dig if a grant could be obtained to pay for the work.

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