The City of San Fernando wants to use its oldest house as a window into the past. That is more than a metaphor in the case of the Lopez Adobe there is a window in the two-foot-thick exterior wall, through its belatedly-added coating of Portland cement, making visible the adobe bricks from which the house was made in 1882. The home represents a pivotal point in the history of the city, and the San Fernando Valley, though few have heard of it; something the city has begun to change. City officials are banking on the refurbished historical site being the anchor of a cultural tourism effort that is part of the economic development of the area, said Brian Haworth, assistant to the city administrator. “The house will become a museum to educate children and the community, not just about the history of the adobe but about California history,” said Fred Ramirez, senior planner for the city. “It can be a start off point for walking tours of the area” Ramirez said, which would include the iconic St. Ferdinand Church across the street, the historic U.S. Post Office and the San Fernando Museum of Art & History down the block and nearby Heritage Park. The San Fernando Mission is actually beyond the border of the City of San Fernando, though although the city plans to make connections outside its boundaries. For example, the house was used as a repository for about 1,000 archival photographs which, through the photo archive at California State University, Northridge, provides a connection to academics and historians. The adobe was also used as a doctor’s office in the ’60s, Ramirez said, and the mayor pro tem was there in utero. Also, the upstairs was used as a multi-family residence for while, with rooms rented individually. The cost for the planned rehabilitation of the site, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, will be paid with $455,000 from San Fernando’s general fund that has been leveraged into a handful of additional grants: $603,000 from the state as part of the California Cultural & Historical Endowment, $150,000 from the National Park Services “Save America’s Treasures” grant, $155,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant funds, and $125,000 from the J. Paul Getty Foundation. Ramirez said that the property will be restored, as much as is feasible, “to the period of significance,” which will include work on the grounds: the fountain will be moved and the cover over the rear courtyard will be removed. The Lopez yard could then be a destination also, used for quincea & #324;eras, weddings and social events, Ramirez said. The city is envisioning it as “not just passive, open space,” he said. That also fits the framework of being a cultural draw, said Haworth: “That’s what culture is. It’s always been a gathering place.” Also on the grounds is the Lopez-Villegas House, moved from a few blocks away, which shares its family tree with the Lopez Adobe having once been owned by a member of the Lopez family. That home will eventually serve as an ancillary building on the location, taking the impacts of foot traffic from restrooms, kitchen and administrative offices. Making the Lopez Adobe a destination site is key. Haworth said that the programming aspect of the usage plan has not yet begun; determining what events are suitable for the grounds, which rooms will be returned to which period of importance and what will be used for museum-like displays. But the city does know they have the place to make those things happen. “Place-making is vital to economic development,” Haworth said, “It’s about making icons.” The icon has been in San Fernando’s hands since 1971 and was “restored” between 1974 and 1975, but the work was done by city staff, Ramirez said, not preservationists. With the goal of preserving it for “generations to come,” that work will begin this year. When it’s finished, the site will aid those seeking a description of the period between the decline of the Mission Era to Gold Rush exuberance and through post-War suburbanization. The house was built with sun-dried clay bricks by Valentin Lopez in 1881; it was the first two-story adobe in the San Fernando Valley. Geronimo and Catalina moved in a year later. The distinctive styling of the balustrade is the result of Catalina’s affinity for the Victorian homes on Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles and so the home has some Queen Anne flourishes and some things that are Victorian in nature, Ramirez said. The Lopez Adobe is the embodiment of the story of early California economic development; telling the story of the Lopez family’s contributions. Geronimo and Catalina kept a general store and served early travelers and freight crews traveling along El Camino Real prior to the arrival of the railroad in the mid-1870s. Geronimo formed, and was a trustee of, the first public school district in the Valley. He constructed the first office building in the area, and in 1869, he established and was postmaster of the valley’s first Post Office. In 1889, the first newspaper of the San Fernando Valley was published in the Lopez Adobe. Just as the Lopez Family and their home were seminal to the economic development of the City of San Fernando, the city is banking that history can repeat itself.
Historic Lopez Adobe to be City’s Key Tourist Attraction