Rancho Guajome Adobe, located in the northern part of San Diego County, was built by Cave Johnson Couts and his wife, Ysidora Bandini Couts, in 1852-53. Couts married the daughter of Don Juan Bandini, the prominent Californio politician, in 1851; Rancho Guajome was given to the bride by her sister’s husband, Abel Stearns.1 Originally a land grant of over 2,200 acres, approximately 560 acres are preserved as a regional park owned and managed by the County of San Diego, Department of Parks and Recreation. The rancho consists of a large adobe complex which was the center of northern San Diego’s social, political, and economic life in the second half of the 19th century. The rancho is a National Historic Landmark, restored by the County of San Diego to its original splendor. It is maintained as a historic site, and is open to the public for tours and special events. Continuing research is an important component of the County’s stewardship.
This study was started as observations made during the restoration of Rancho Guajome Adobe about the various types of masonry used at the site. During the multi-year restoration project, the author, as project manager for the County of San Diego restoration project, analyzed the mission-era masonry of the adobe, and compared it with the masonry at Mission San Luis Rey, founded in 1798. A typology of brick and tile was developed and used to compare and contrast the building materials at the two sites. There was a historic connection between the two buildings, one undergoing construction as the other was being deconstructed. As a result of the analysis, extensive re-use of masonry materials was demonstrated, and the study suggests that Rancho Guajome Adobe contains a significant amount of mission-era masonry, although it was built in the mid-1800s. The re-use and recycling of mission materials provides important implications for dating historic buildings, and for reconstructing historic relationships between 19th century sites.
Mission San Luis Rey, like other Spanish missions throughout the southwestern United States, was built from local materials, including adobe bricks, fired brick and tile, and wood from nearby forests. After secularization of the missions in 1833-34, San Luis Rey was largely abandoned, and was cannibalized by locals for its building materials.2 American soldiers occupied the Mission after 1847, and contributed to the continuing deterioration of the structure; the nature of the direct participation of American soldiers in removing materials from the mission is described in contradictory terms by the various witnesses.3 For example, American records from the time praise the military occupants for saving the mission, while the visiting religious observers were shocked at the depredations inflicted upon the buildings by the occupying soldiers. Zephyrin Engelhardt, chronicler of the Franciscan Missions, described the destruction of the Mission buildings in detail4, and stated that only the church front itself survived the extensive scavenging of materials. Of particular interest to this study, Cave Johnson Couts himself was assigned to San Luis Rey in May, 1849, to ready the mission for American military occupation.5 Hubert Howe Bancroft and Henry Oak surveyed the Mission in 1874 to assess its condition, and found the south front of the mission in ruins, and only six of the original thirty-two arches intact. They noted that the mission quadrangle was a mound of adobe, melted by the rain once the roof had been removed for salvage.6 Reconstruction of the Mission buildings began in the early part of the twentieth century. Modern technology was used to make the rebuilt adobe structures more stable and resistant to earthquakes and the weather.
In 1852, Cave Johnson Couts was beginning construction of his large rancho home at nearby Rancho Guajome. The marsh adjacent to his building site provided an abundance of raw material for the thousands of adobe blocks needed to construct Rancho Guajome, but tile and fired brick were needed for the roof, chimneys, floors, and other items needed for more substantial structural support. Couts received permission from the Catholic diocese to take roofing and flooring materials in exchange for a donation to the church.7 These building materials, dating to 1800 and representing some of the earliest existing bricks, tiles, and wooden beams in the County, were incorporated into the structure of Rancho Guajome Adobe.
Before discussing the specific masonry types at Rancho Guajome, it is important to look at building practices employed at Mission San Luis Rey. This provides a context for identifying mission-era masonry as it was re-used in other buildings.
The California mission buildings were constructed following architectural guidelines provided to the Franciscan fathers.8 Marcus Vitruvius Pollio’s work on the basics of construction using stone, wood, and clay, which was translated into Spanish in 1787, was referenced in mission documents found at Mission Santa Barbara, Mission San Gabriel, Mission San Miguel, and others. Patterns for designs such as the wall paintings at San Antonio de Pala (Asistencia to Mission San Luis Rey) were provided in textbooks and painting instructions ordered by the Padres.9 Another reference work used in mission construction was Encyclopedie–Recueil de planches, sur les Sciences, les Arts Liberaux, et les Arts Mechaniques, avec leur explicacion, by Denis Diderot. Diderot clearly showed how curved roof tiles were manufactured in Plate I of his encyclopedia: after the clay material was rolled into a flat slab, it was formed over a mold which had an attached handle. This same plate showed how bricks were made from clay that was rolled flat and placed into a mold. These basic reference materials, on hand in the libraries of the missions, ensured consistency in design, pattern, and construction; following the instructions in these books provided the fathers with sturdy, useful buildings that have lasted centuries.
In 1800, the fathers at Mission Santa Barbara answered questions about their treatment of the Indian workers at the mission, in response to accusations of abuse made by Comandante Felipe Goycoechea.10 They were accused of forcing women and children to work in construction. The fathers described the construction tasks undertaken by the Indians, and noted that the women and children ground grain for meal, and only carried adobes and stones on occasion, when carts were full or not available. The male Indians claimed that they were asked to produce 500 clay tiles per day, and had to carry raw material, add cow dung, mix in water, and then mold the clay.
The clay roof tiles were “almost semicircular in cross-section, about 22″ long, and tapered from a diameter of 12″ at the large end to a diameter of 8″ at the small end.”11 After the clay was collected, it was placed in pits to be broken up by hoofed animals. It was then fermented. Roof tiles were made from this material by removing a slab of clay from the pit, patting it out on a board to the proper thickness, and placing it upon a semi-circular wooden mold. Sand was placed on the mold to prevent the clay from sticking to it, thus creating the characteristic gritty surface. The green tiles were dried in the sun, and fired.
The missions did not have tile roofs at first. The tiles were made of local materials at each mission, and took some time to manufacture in sufficient numbers.12 For example, roof tiles were not made and used until ten years after Mission San Diego was founded.13 The manufacturing process was labor intensive and required an organized effort and systematic approach. According to Fr. Tapis of Mission Santa Barbara, approximately thirty-two Native American males were required to make 500 tiles each day.14 Women brought sand and straw for the manufacturing process. The friar also noted that the neophytes could accomplish their tile-making tasks before 11:00 a.m.
In 1937, historian Edith Buckland Webb15 witnessed the entire manufacturing process for roof tiles during a restoration project at Mission La Purisima, by then a state park. This included the use of wooden molds, illustrated on page 87 of her book, with grooves along the length of the mold to make removal of the clay easier. She referenced two molds in use historically; one provided shape for the edges of the tile, the other provided the characteristic curve. She noted specifically that “In the making of tiles, as in the making of adobes, wooden molds were used. There is no truth to the story, often told and written, of the mission tiles having been molded on the Indians’ thighs”.16 She also observed that none of the mission tile kilns survived at that time, although an almost complete one had recently been excavated at Mission San Luis Rey.17 Webb’s publication was written in the mid-1950s, and she was probably referring to the lime kiln located at the east end of the lavanderia, which was excavated by the students and faculty of the Mission’s college.18
Analogies to construction at Mission Santa Barbara are particularly relevant. August Duhaut-Cilly reported in 1827 that the Father used the same individual who designed Mission Santa Barbara to assist in the construction of Mission San Luis Rey; he claimed he could recognize the same “artist” at both complexes.19
The construction methods employed at Mission San Luis Rey were similar to those used at the other missions. The earliest structures at Mission San Luis Rey had roofs of thatch or earth supported by flat poles. In 1801, half of the buildings at Mission San Luis Rey were roofed with tiles “made on the spot.”20 In 1804, two brick tanks were built for tanning hides. Writing in 1835, Native American neophyte Pablo Tac provided the first description of bricks at the mission. He described the location of the brick making area at the Mission as west of the garden; he noted that “here they make bricks and tiles for the Mission.”21 Tac was most likely describing a field kiln, also called a scove or clamp. These temporary structures are actually made from the dried unfired bricks and tiles; a fire box running the length of the pile is built into the structure.22 When the bricks are fired, the structure cools and it is disassembled, leaving no trace except for broken pieces and scorched earth. The area described by Tac is now developed as part of the City of Oceanside.
A lime kiln remains on the mission grounds at the eastern end of the garden area, next to the lavanderia. Lime was produced from burned seashells and used for mortar and plaster at the Mission. The kiln, made from Spanish brick, was excavated in the 1950s. Archaeological investigations at the Mission began in the 1930s and 1940s, but were not organized until Father Anthony Soto involved professional archaeologists in the effort in 1955.23 In that year, students and faculty from San Luis Rey College, including Fr. Soto, excavated various features in the Mission gardens and lavanderia.24 With the assistance of student labor from Los Angeles and San Diego, the lavanderia, arched entry, brick steps, and other features were rebuilt. Student Maida Boyle25 described an area found during this excavation as a possible cistern excavated into the slope, and lined with brick and tile; this feature was actually a lime kiln, and contains evidence of burning. Much of the lavanderia area was preserved because it had been covered with a thick layer of soil and sediment.
At Rancho Guajome, Mission San Luis Rey, and other Spanish-style buildings, heavy but durable curved roof tiles were used. Popular local mythology relates that the curved clay roofing tiles at Rancho Guajome Adobe and other mission-style buildings were formed by lovely young maidens, who placed slabs of clay on their thighs to form the characteristic tapering shape of the tiles. Although an intriguing tale, historical documentation does not support this fabrication technique.
As stated above, the original roof tiles at the ranch house were obtained by its architect and builder, Cave J. Couts, from Mission San Luis Rey, when the mission was in disrepair and no longer used. Although the floor tiles in the old kitchen room at Rancho Guajome are undoubtedly from the mission, it is not known how many of the original roofing tiles remain at the rancho site. When Cave Couts Jr. restored the ranch house in 192425, 26 he may have replaced many of the mission tiles with new tiles. A photograph of the adobe in 1900 shows broken and missing roof tiles.27 Piles of broken tile fragments were found during archaeological excavations in the front of the ranch house28 , having been discarded there during the Couts Jr. restoration project. Most of these remain buried in that location.
When the County obtained title to the ranch in the early 1970s, the roof tiles were removed to relieve stress on the structure. The tiles were stored at the ranch for re-use during restoration. New roofing tiles were placed on the structure during the County restoration in 1996-97; the older tiles (those removed and stored by the County), having more character, were placed as roll tiles over new pan tiles so that the older tiles are visible from the ground. How many, if any, of these older tiles date to the mission period is unclear. A brief study by the California Department of Transportation,29 conducted as part of a mitigation project for State Route 76, tentatively concluded that it is unlikely any of the tiles removed from the roof and stored by the County are from the mission. Supporting this contention is the author’s observation that the tiles removed in the early 1970s and stored by the County have nail holes. The original mission period tiles did not have nail holes; they were secured with a dab of adobe, and were held in place because of their shape (being tapered at the upper end so they could not slide off one another).30 It is more likely that the stored tiles were the tiles placed by Couts Jr. in 1924-25 during his restoration project. The mission period tiles are present at the site as archaeological remains. The roof tiles at Rancho Guajome are 20″ in length. The narrow end is 8″ wide on the outside, 6″ wide on the inside. The wide end is 11″ wide on the outside, 9″ wide on the inside. Roof tiles up to 16″ in width are not uncommon.
The other common mission-era building material used at Mission San Luis Rey and recycled into Rancho Guajome were fired bricks. These are known as Spanish bricks and ladrillos. The fired bricks found at Mission San Luis Rey, Rancho Guajome, and early adobes are much thinner than common bricks, and may be referred to occasionally by observers as tiles rather than bricks; they were used for structural support of buildings and water conveyance systems. These thinner, longer, wider fired bricks, found in the American south and southwest, are called Spanish brick.31 Ladrillos are a type of Spanish brick used on floors.
Floor tiles at Mission San Luis Rey were uncommon. Ladrillos were mentioned in use at the Mission in the threshing floor.32 In 1835, when the Mission was abandoned by the church, an inventory reported that the church floor was made of mortar; there may have been limited use of floor tiles within buildings.33
The steps leading to the Mission’s lavanderia, the brick arch, and the water conveyance systems associated with the garden and lime kiln were all made from Spanish brick. As noted above, this area was reconstructed by archaeology students in the 1950s after having been covered by silt. Large amounts of soil overburden were removed to reveal the ruined gardens and lavanderia; the condition of the area before reconstruction is unknown, but it is reasonable to assume that the materials used for the reconstruction were found at the site.
The author conducted field research on July 5, 1998, to inventory the brick types found in this area. Three types were defined as a result of this field research. Type 1 is a Spanish brick, and is the most common type found at the site. It is a reddish-brown brick measuring 6 to 7″ x 13 to 14″ x 2″. It is present both as lavanderia and as structural brick, although the accuracy of the present-day reconstruction is unknown. Type 2 is another variety of Spanish brick. This type is used extensively at the lavanderia as lavanderia for the plaza area above the washing troughs. It is a square reddish-brown brick measuring 10″ x 10″ x 2″ Type 3 Spanish brick was used occasionally. This large, pink brick measures 18″x 18″x 2 to 3″ and was used in the lavanderia on the sides and bottom of the canal or acequia.
Because the lavanderia was reconstructed in recent times, additional research was conducted to locate undisturbed, original 1801 Spanish brick. A little-known well and cistern, located north of the Mission grounds on the west side of Peyri Road, adjacent to the original Mission boundary wall, and referred to as Mission Wells, provided an excellent control sample. This location was investigated by contract archaeologists34, and re-visited by the author on July 5, 1998. Student excavator Maida Boyle35 originally noted this location in her report, referring to it as a “bottle-well”, but did not investigate it at that time; it is still covered by elderberry and other thick brush, as she mentioned in her comments. The bricks used to manufacture the well and the cistern measure 12″ x 6″ x 11/2-2″36 During the author’s 1998 investigation, bricks defined above as Type 2 bricks were observed in the walls of the cistern.
Additional field work was conducted by the author over several months in 1998 to inventory, measure, and photograph the Spanish bricks at Rancho Guajome Adobe. The bricks were used for structural support in chimneys, fireplaces, and to build a cistern, and were also used as lavanderia or floor tiles in the oldest rooms of the adobe. Of the six chimneys at Rancho Guajome Adobe, five are made from Type 1 Spanish brick. The typical brick measures 14″x 7″x 2″. The five chimneys containing Spanish brick date from the original construction of the adobe between 1852-55;37 the sixth chimney was added after 1925 and is built from common red brick.38
There are six corresponding fireplaces at the adobe: the parlor, old kitchen, foreman’s room, store, schoolroom, and veranda. Again, the fireplace in the store was added after 1925 and is made from common red brick. The floor of the fireplace in the parlor is tiled with Type 1 brick. This room was built in 1852.39 The old kitchen and the adjacent bakery were built in 185440 and contain all three types of Spanish brick. The old kitchen fireplace is at waist-height and was built from Type 2 brick. The foreman’s room contains two fireplaces, but one was incorporated into a later exterior wall. Only a glimpse of this fireplace is available, and measurements of the Spanish brick were not possible. The room was built in 1855.41 The second fireplace is made from common red brick.
The schoolroom fireplace contains Type 1 Spanish brick used as tile on the floor of the fireplace only. The room was finished in 1855.42 The fireplace in the enclosed veranda has a Type 1 Spanish brick floor, a concrete apron, and a dressed granite exterior. The veranda was built in 1886, when a cover was placed over an existing walkway; the date of construction for the fireplace is unknown.43
The bakery, built in 1854, contains all three types of Spanish brick. All three were used as floor tiles, and Types 1 and 2 were used to make the characteristic beehive oven in the back of the room. Type 3 tiles are large (18″ square) and easily identified because they have a pink color rather than the typical reddish-brown color. The above-ground cistern next to Rancho Guajome Adobe was built in 1867-6844 , and is constructed entirely of Type 1 Spanish brick.
Rancho Guajome Adobe contains examples of all three Spanish brick types identified at Mission San Luis Rey. Although not always used in the same way, Couts took great advantage of the ready availability of the mission bricks to build his home. Couts manufactured adobe blocks from clay excavated behind the home site, but incorporated brick from Mission San Luis Rey into his building as needed.45
This study examined ancient construction materials and methods in two buildings constructed relatively recently. Still providing structural support for this National Historic Landmark, the mission-era tiles and bricks of Rancho Guajome Adobe have been preserved in a secular setting, while little of the original materials remain at Mission San Luis Rey. This study provided proof that mission-era brick masonry was recycled into later residences, and that a brick masonry typology can have a wider application throughout the American southwest. While sun-dried adobe blocks were made on site at Rancho Guajome and other 19th century ranches, fired brick masonry required specialized knowledge, material, and equipment. The long-lasting materials were worth saving and recycling, just as used bricks are re-used today. Through the development of a typology for Spanish brick and tile, the study matched brick and tile at Rancho Guajome with remaining materials at Mission San Luis Rey.
The typology has a broader application. Since standard forms and methods were used at the missions, sizes and types of brick and tile should be similar throughout the mission system. As with Mission San Luis Rey, many other missions and asistencias were demolished or cannibalized following secularization in 1834. It should be possible to use the typology developed for this study to evaluate fired brick materials found in residences dating to the mid-1800s, and determine whether they originated in nearby mission structures. In addition, the typology could be expanded to include unique or characteristic materials and forms, which could then match particular buildings with particular missions.
The typology will provide important assistance to archaeological investigations, when the date of the building is unknown or it has been reduced to rubble or ruin. Application of the typology in this situation would provide a date and cultural affiliation for the archaeological site. This was tested by the author at an archaeological site in Escondido. Historical research indicated that the property could be the site of the Rincon del Diablo Rancho, dating to 1842; however, the exact location of the homestead was unknown.46 The author conducted a field survey, and remains of brick were observed on the surface. The typology developed for this study was applied. The fragments conformed to the typology, and an argument was made that the property is indeed the site of the ruined rancho.
Future research will include an inventory of additional masonry forms at other mission structures. It is critical that archaeological researchers analyze brick and masonry recovered from archaeological investigations so that the typology can be further tested; unfortunately, these materials are typically discarded after a cursory observation.
As a final note, it is hoped that this study puts to rest, once and for all, the charming story of how roof tiles were made on the thighs of Native American women. This common tale, relayed by tour guides and docents throughout the southwest, should be replaced by the true story of how the tiles and bricks were made using an ancient technology and reused by the resourceful builders of our oldest historic structures.
Several people provided key assistance to this study. Wayne Donaldson and Mary Ward provided background information on the architecture and history of Rancho Guajome Adobe. Diane Kennedy, Senior Ranger at Rancho Guajome Adobe, provided important observations about the masonry, and assisted during the photography. Martin Rosen, Harry Price, and Bobbie Stephenson participated in the field observations at Mission San Luis Rey; Mr. Price relocated the original kiln and cistern features on the north side of the mission based on his recollections from an earlier survey. The author thanks these individuals, but takes responsibility for any shortcomings or errors.
1. Iris Engstrand and Mary Ward, “Rancho Guajome: An Architectural Legacy Preserved,” Journal of San Diego History (Fall, 1995), 254.
2. Fr. Zephyrin Engelhardt, San Luis Rey Mission (San Francisco: The James H. Barry Company, 1921), 240; Harry Kelsey, “Mission San Luis Rey: A Brief History”, Volume II of Preliminary Archaeological and Historical Investigations at Mission San Luis Rey, California, CA-Sdi-241, Sectors A & B, by Nicholas M. Magalousis and Harry Kelsey (Typescript prepared for San Luis Rey Mission, 1990), 240.
3. For example, Engelhardt, San Luis Rey Mission vs. Kelsey, “Mission San Luis Rey: A Brief History”.
4. Engelhardt, San Luis Rey Mission, 240-241
5. Engstrand and Ward, “Rancho Guajome: An Architectural Legacy Preserved,” 254.
6. Harry Kelsey, Mission San Luis Rey: A Pocket History (Altadena, California: Interdisciplinary Research Incorporated, 1993), 27.
7. Iris Engstrand and Thomas Scharf, “Rancho Guajome: A California Legacy Preserved,” Journal of San Diego History (1974), 1-13; Virginia Kassler, “Life in Old California on Guajome Ranch: an Interview with Cave Couts, Jr., October, 1932,” The Butterfield Express (August 1963), 6; Mary Ward, “La Casa del Rancho Guajome,” (Unpublished manuscript on file at the County of San Diego, Department of Parks and Recreation, no date).
8. Elisabeth L. Egenhoff, editor, Fabricas (State of California, Department of Natural Resources, 1952), 10-17. General construction methods for masonry such as roofing tiles and fired bricks are described at length in Fabricas. Fabricas includes a collection of original and translated descriptions of the methods and materials used to construct the California Missions and contemporary buildings prior to 1850.
9. Egenhoff, Fabricas, 177.
10. Ibid., 159
11. Ibid., 160.
12. Engelhardt, San Luis Rey Mission, 18; Edith Buckland Webb, Indian Life at the Old Missions (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982 Reprint of 1952 edition), 108.
13. Webb, Indian Life at the Old Missions, 108.
14. Ibid., 108.
15. Ibid., 109.
16. Ibid., 87, 109.
17. Ibid., 109.
18. Maida B. Boyle, “San Luis Rey Mission Report on the Historical and Archaeological Study of its Primary Construction and Indian Villages Associated with it 1798-c. 1913,” (University of California at San Diego: Typescript, 1967).
19. Engelhardt, San Luis Rey Mission, 55.
20. Ibid., 18.
21. Pablo Tac, Indian Life and Customs at Mission San Luis Rey, edited and translated by Minna and Gordon Hewes (Old Mission San Luis Rey, California, 1958), 16.
22. Karl Gurcke, Bricks and Brickmaking (Moscow, Idaho: The University of Idaho Press, 1987), 29).
23. Kelsey, Mission San Luis Rey: A Pocket History, 36.
25. Boyle, “San Luis Rey Mission Report on the Historical and Archaeological Study of its Primary Construction and Indian Villages Associated with it 1798-c. 1913”.
26. Engstrand and Ward, “Rancho Guajome: An Architectural Legacy Preserved,” 272-273.
27. Ibid., 272.
28. Susan M. Hector and William R. Manley, “Archaeological Test Excavations at Rancho Guajome, County of San Diego, California,” (San Diego: RECON, 1987).
29. Don Laylander, personal communication, May 1995; Joyce Corum, “Phase II Archaeological Test Excavation at Site CA-SDI-5445, City of Oceanside, California,” (Caltrans District 11, State of California, 1991).
30. M. Wayne Donaldson, FAIA, personal communication, 11/9/98.
31. Gurcke, Bricks and Brickmaking, 130.
32. Engelhardt, San Luis Rey Mission, 38.
33. Ibid., 98.
34. Richard Carrico, Terri Jacques and Dennis Gallegos, “Cultural Resource Survey and Assessment of the Mission Well Project, Oceanside, California,” (San Diego: WESTEC Services, Inc., 1984).
35. Boyle, “San Luis Rey Mission Report on the Historical and Archaeological Study of its Primary Construction and Indian Villages Associated with it 1798-c. 1913”.
36. Carrico, Jacques and Gallegos, “Cultural Resource Survey and Assessment of the Mission Well Project, Oceanside, California,” 3-2.
37. James W. Garrison, editor, “Guajome Ranch House Condition Assessment Report,” (Atlanta, Georgia: Center for Architectural Conservation, College of Architecture, Georgia Institute of Technology, 1987).
38. M. Wayne Donaldson, editor, “Guajome Ranch House Restoration Historic Structure Report,” (County of San Diego, Department of Parks and Recreation, 1992), 30.
39. Garrison, “Guajome Ranch House Condition Assessment Report,”10.
43. Donaldson, “Guajome Ranch House Restoration Historic Structure Report,” 15.
44. Garrison, “Guajome Ranch House Condition Assessment Report,”10.
45. Couts also used wooden beams from the Mission at Rancho Guajome Adobe. These rough-hewn timbers are located throughout the building. Local sycamore was used at Mission San Luis Rey. Rexford Newcomb, The Old Mission Churches and Historic Houses of California. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippencott Co., 1925), 79.
46. Philip S. Rush, Some Old Ranchos and Adobes (San Diego: Neyenesch Printers, 1965), 46-48.
Susan M. Hector received a Ph.D. in anthropology from U.C.L.A., with a specialty in archaeology. Her research interests include cultural ecology, historical archaeology and ethnobiology. Dr. Hector was hired by the County of San Diego in 1989 to manage the restoration projects at Rancho Guajome and Los Penasquitos Ranch, both of which are part of the county park system. She continues to work for the county as Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation.