San Jose is the oldest city settlement in California. It was founded in 1777 when 66 settlers were sent there from San Francisco by the Juan Bautista de Anza expedition. The Luis Maria Peralta adobe is the oldest building in San Jose. Nestled amongst high rises and trendy marketplaces in repurposed old buildings, the adobe is an honored vestige of San Jose’s earliest days. History San Jose offers weekend tours as well as school field trips during the week. Recently I had the honor of serving as a field trip guide for several classes, and I’d love to share some of this building’s magnificence.
The adobe was built by Manuel Gonzalez, an Apache Indian who was a member of the de Anza expedition and original settler of San Jose. It is named, however, for Luis Maria Peralta, its most famous inhabitant, who was the comisionado of San Jose, the highest military and civilian official.
The adobe is two rooms, roughly equal in size made of over 2000 adobe bricks. Outside is the kitchen area, with three different eras of cooking represented. On the far right is the earliest, just a pot on a tripod over an open fire. In the middle is a brick fireplace, and on the left is the more recent oven, or horno.
Inside, the bedroom is decorated to reflect what it probably looked like when the Peraltas first lived there. At that time, the Spanish government forbade trade with any other country besides Spain. The citizens of San Jose had to wait months for someting to come from Spain, or they used the resources at hand. The bed is laced with rawhide straps, and the blankets are bearskin. A cradle full of soft rabbit skins hangs near the bed. The Peraltas had 17 children, but only 9 survived to adulthood. Even so, that’s a lot of people for one bedroom! The four boys probably slept outside all summer, at least. Did the girls sleep on the floor?
The other room is the living space. It shows how the family would have lived thirty years later, once California was under Mexican rule. Clearly, the family was more well off. The floor is wood instead of dirt, and a variety of decorative and entertainment items grace the shelves. Mexico allowed its citizens to trade whereever they wanted, so this room shows pottery and glassware, as well as manufactured goods, from other countries. Californios, or Mexican citizens living in California, traded candles made from cattle tallow and items made from leather for things they couldn’t make or grow.
Also in that front room is the writing desk, which speaks to me personally. I love the rustic (to me) table by the window, the candles and the quill ready to write. The bottle of liquor is, of course, a necessity to modern writers as well when the frustration of a blank page arises, or when friends come over to celebrate a new book release! Finally, think about the mothers and grandmothers who must have sat on the porch in that rocker covered with fur and watched generations of young people develop what is now the 10th largest city in the United States.