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A Colorful History: Bear-Bull Fights, 'Zip Horses' and Fandangos

The Castro Adobe, a State Parks property in Larkin Valley, has a vibrant past and—with the work of volunteers—a bright future.

When a grizzly bear and a bull are put in a ring for a fight to the death, the bear usually comes out the winner.

Except often, the bear would later die of his injuries.

On a tour of the Castro Adobe on a recent day, historian Charlie Kieffer explained that bear-bull fights were once commonplace at the Adobe, a State Parks historic site in Larkin Valley.

The Castro Adobe was built in 1848 and 1849 by Juan José Castro, whose father came to California with the Anza Expedition more than seven decades earlier. The hacienda and fiesta house was part of the 13,000-acre Mexican land grant Rancho San Andrés.

There was a dance floor on the second story of the Adobe, one of the first indoor kitchens in all of California and that bullfighting ring on the lawn below the veranda.

Haciendas like the Adobe were a lifesaver on the trail in the 19th Century, Kieffer, a Castro descendant, said. Using a horse-sharing system much like today's Zip Car program, travelers could make it from San Diego to San Francisco on rented horseback. Each wayside, including the Adobe, were stocked with fresh horses saddled up and ready to ride, Kieffer said.

The way Kieffer told it, the Adobe was a vibrant, happening place. Fandangos—dances—were held whenever trail-weary travelers arrived at the hacienda.

But as California's population grew, the need for the haciendas diminished. The Adobe became a private home and, for a time, was used as a barn. The property changed hands several times.

The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake badly damaged the Adobe's mud-brick walls, but Edna Kimbro, whose family owned the property at the time, saved the structure.

In 2002, State Parks purchased the mission-style property to create a center where the region's Mexican history can be shared with the public.

Volunteers have spent the past decade trying to preserve and restore the Adobe. In one massive project, volunteers spent countless hours doing the back-breaking work of making new adobe bricks to repair the earthquake damage to the Castro Adobe. Seismic stabilization also has been added to the building.

Luckily, the property was spared further damage by the Trabing Fire in 2008.

These days, the land grant has whittled down to the single acre the two-story home sits on. The second floor of the building is so rickety the Fire Department has limited its capacity to nine people.

But the Adobe is coming back to life. Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, a nonprofit that supports State Parks, has several projects planned for the Castro Adobe:

  1. Acquiring the adjacent Kimbro house to use as an interpretive center and event space.
  2. Stabilizing the second floor of the Castro Adobe. 
  3. Recreating the garden, designed in the 1960s by the famed Thomas Church.
  4. Restoring the original "cocina" with the help of a grant and a retired State Parks archaeologist.
  5. Creating an interpretive plan for the property.

The Castro Adobe is not open to the public, but private tours can be scheduled for individuals or school groups. Contact Charlie Kieffer at kieffersrus@charter.net to arrange a visit.

To learn more about the Castro Adobe or to volunteer, go to www.thatsmypark.org/projects/castro-adobe.

Beth M October 15, 2012 at 05:10 PM
This is a great field trip for kids. My son's third grade really enjoyed the tour, the lasso demonstration and more. I recommend it !
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