Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks Executive Director Bonny Hawley shows off the new historical displays in the Castro Adobe home in Watsonville. (Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian)

It was 17 years ago that a group of volunteers began to restore the Rancho San Andreas Castro Adobe, a structure whose endurance over its 176-year lifespan helps paint a picture of California history.

Now fully restored and equipped with interpretative displays, touchable exhibits and multimedia offerings, the building is ready for visitors, with a grand opening slated for Saturday, June 15.

Restoration efforts began in 2007, when volunteers made more than 2,000 adobe bricks by hand, and included recreating the kitchen, which is now 4one of just four Mexican-era ‘cocinas’ in the state, says Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks (Friends) Executive Director Bonny Hawley.

The stove inside the Castro Adobe’s cocina, or kitchen—one of just four in the state—where volunteers make fresh tortillas for visitors on some days. (Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian)

Friends is a nonprofit operating partner for local state parks.

“That was quite a project,” Hawley said, as she gave a tour in advance of the grand opening of the restored house on Saturday. “This is painstakingly restored.”

This includes several historical displays that tell the story of the Castro family that once owned the land, and the families that lived in the house in the intervening years.

A photo from the Myrtle Jensen family of 1889 shows the Castro Adobe and a family. (Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian)

In addition, engineers retrofitted the building for earthquake safety, building a “steel rib cage,” Hawley said.

The historical displays also tell the story of the people who worked in the house, and the vaqueros who rode the vast land once owned by the Castros that once stretched to the coast.

Just inside the door is the dining room, where realistic kitchen sound effects and displays of plates and other dishes give a real sense of what the inhabitants may have seen.

Visitors can also see the dance hall and the master bedroom once occupied by Juan Castro, who was elected as county supervisor just after California achieved statehood, and was the first and only Latino to hold that role until Tony Campos in 1988.

But even in the midst of the plastered and whitewashed adobe, historians left patches of “truth walls,” where people carved their names and other graffiti around 1860.

“You see this and you can just imagine the people who lived here,” Hawley said. 

Historians excavating the site also found pieces of dishes, along with the broken face of a China doll and even buckshot, all of which is on display.

Originally built in 1848, the Castro Adobe boasted a fandango room, which drew neighbors and workers alike to parties that lasted for days.

After the structure was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, owner Edna Kimbro tried for years to get it restored before selling it to the state in 2002. It’s now a National Historic Site and a California State Landmark.

“The Castro Adobe has an amazing story waiting to be told and the day has finally arrived for visitors to experience it,” said Chris Spohrer, Santa Cruz District Superintendent for State Parks. “We are so excited to celebrate this decades-long collaborative process to preserve and interpret the Castro.”

The public can tour the Castro Adobe and explore the new exhibits during monthly open house events from 10:30am to 3:30pm on June 15, Aug. 11, Sept. 21, Oct. 13, Nov. 16 and Dec. 8. For information, visit To see a documentary on the restoration, visit

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA.


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