The Snail family’s friends Barry and Maggie visited Mission San Juan Bautista, and thoughtfully brought me back a clutch of postcards!
On car trips as a wee snail, I confused the missions being a day’s ride apart with the bells being a day’s ride apart. There are 555 such bells on the 101, sometimes within just a mile or two of each other. So I didn’t think much of the padres.
José Tiburcio Castro became Mission San Juan Bautista’s administrator upon the missions’ secularization with Mexican independence. Around 1838, the administrator commissioned this adobe house for his son, José Antonio Castro, Commandante General of Alta California, who’d just finished serving as interim Governor. (The Castro district in San Francisco is named for him.) José Antonio Castro
California fell to the U.S. in the Mexican-American War (1846-47). 1846 was also the year the Donner Party was snowed in in the High Sierras. The surviving Breen family drifted southwest and in 1848, arriving penniless in San Juan Bautista. Margaret and Patrick Breen
José Antonio Castro let the Breens live in his adobe with the understanding that they would purchase it when they were able. Luckily for the Breens, 1848 was the year gold was discovered in California. Margaret and Patrick’s sixteen year-old son John hit the goldfields in Placerville, returning later in the year with $10,000 in gold dust. The Breens bought Castro’s adobe and 400 acres of farmland in the San Juan Valley. The house stayed in the Breen family until the State Historic Park’s establishment in 1933.
San Juan Bautista was the incoming and outgoing trade hub for all the ranches in the San Juan Valley, meaning a lot of wheels on the road for the time–7 stage lines with up to 11 coaches a day, at its peak. (Check out One-Eyed Charley Parkhurst, who drove a stage line between San Juan Bautista and Santa Cruz in the 1850’s. Considered one of the finest drivers in the West, and probably the only transgender one.)
The Plaza Stable was built around 1874 to accommodate all the “traffic.” But in 1876, a new railroad bypassed San Juan Bautista, and the town’s boom years were over.
In 1856, an Italian-born master chef, Angelo Zanetta, moved from New Orleans to San Juan Bautista. During the traditional June fiesta that year, Zanetta opened a saloon in the mission’s old guard post and barracks (not sure which building). The saloon brought in $3,000 in a day.
After two years working at a local restaurant, Zanetta bought one of the two old military buildings from the Breens, leased the other, and set to work connecting them to make a hotel, dining room and saloon. The Plaza Hotel opened in 1859 and became known as one of the finest hotels in the state.
In 1868, Angelo Zanetta again pulled a tear-down, using the adobe of a decrepit mission dormitory to build a town hall and ballroom, which is why the building is often called Plaza Hall.
For more California Mission postcards and history, check out this post.