People, Places and Things

The Packard Adobe – California’s Largest Adobe

Our last story featured two very historic 2-story adobes in Santa Barbara; the Masini Adobe at the foot of Ortega Hill and the Botillier Adobe on Bath Street. After reading the story, subscriber TOTCH submitted a comment asking, “Does anyone have any pictures of the building that was vacant for years that sat on W. Carrillo St and the 900 block of San Pasqual where it stopped at Carrillo?” Ask and you shall receive, gentle readers…Actually, if the truth be told, we had already been planning to investigate more of that old building, which we had also heard was once a large adobe. What we discovered is that the Packard Adobe had been the largest adobe in all of California.

In our effort to learn more about the now-demolished adobe, we went first to our friend, local historian Neal Graffy, to see if he had any information we could use. He directed us to John Woodward, a local attorney and Santa Barbara adobe aficionado who has a truly incredible collection of historical Santa Barbara photographs. John knew the adobe well, and was very generous in his offer to provide the photos we were seeking. These are John’s vintage SB photos. The panoramic shot was taken in 1945, and it appears that the adobe close-up is of a similar vintage.

After receiving John Woodward’s panoramic view of the city and the street view of the adobe, we set out to take photos from similar vantage points. While it was impossible to stand in the exact spots of the previous photographer(s), thanks to the kindness of the people at Shoreline Community Church, we were able to replicate the photo as closely as possible. These are our photos.

The Packard Adobe was built sometime between 1855 and 1865 by Albert Packard, a local attorney who arrived in Santa Barbara in 1852. The adobe, which was called “La Bodega” sat roughly at the southeast corner of what is now Carrillo and San Pascual Streets.Today an apartment building stands at that location. The intersection is a well- traveled route, but it is unlikely that many recall its historical significance. This is a present-day view of that intersection.

Before we tell more about “La Bodega” and the nearby Packard Mansion, we’ll fill you in on some of the personal history of one of the owners of the property, Albert Packard.

Albert Packard, a native of Rhode Island, left New England for Mazatlan as young lawyer. In Mexico he practiced law, and developed an appreciation for horticulture and farming, both interests which would remain with him throughout his lifetime. In the months leading up to the Mexican American War, with hostilities growing toward Americans living in Mexico, Albert left Mazatlan and headed for San Francisco. He remained in San Francisco between the years of 1845 and 1851, profiting hugely as a provider of supplies during the gold rush. When he arrived in Santa Barbara in 1852, Albert Packard was a very wealthy 32 year old man, in search of a new place to call home.

Albert quickly married a local woman, Manuela Burke Ayers, and together they set up house.While practicing law, Albert began purchasing land, including the Jesus Maria Rancho (now Vandenberg Air Force Base), with partner Lewis Burton. He also purchased about 200 acres on Santa Barbara’s Westside, and by 1853, he was also reportedly the sole owner of Santa Catalina Island, having purchased it from Jose Maria Covarrubias.

On his Westside property, Albert Packard set to work building the largest adobe in California, a three- story beauty that would serve as his winery. “La Bodega” reportedly took 3 years to complete. Built on a foundation of rock walls, it had a basement (which was used as the wine cellar), two floors constructed of adobe brick and an attic that was built of wood. The roof was covered in wooden shingles. No other adobe structure was as impressive nor as large as La Bodega until Jose Lobero eclipsed it by having the first Lobero Theatre built in 1873. In the early 1920‘s when the theatre was replaced by a non-adobe structure, La Bodega could once again boast of being the largest adobe structure in California.

Santa Barbara’s Westside has been the location of several vineyards beginning in the early 1790‘s. It’s said that the second Commandante of the Presidio planted the first vineyards in that neighborhood, and that the grapes thrived in that part of town. Several other farmers followed suit planting vineyards throughout the Westside, so by the time Albert Packard arrived, he recognized the property as a perfect location for his orchards and winery.

At just about the same time that La Bodega was being built , Albert and Manuela built their home, the Packard Mansion, south of the winery. Their approximately 200-acre property extended from Canon Perdido to Micheltorena and to the bottom of the Mesa. The driveway to the Packard residence, a magnificent yellow mansion, led from De La Vina Street, near what is now Canon Perdido Street.

In addition to raising grapes and producing wine and brandies, Albert Packard also used his land to grow sub-tropical fruits, including cherimoya, lemons, limes , loquats and avocados. He also planted his vast property with a variety of trees including palms, magnolias and mulberry trees. While the palms and magnolias were primarily decorative, the mulberry trees were planted for their leaves, which were used as food in Albert’s silkworm raising experiment in the attic of La Bodega. While the silkworm experiment failed, it’s likely that at least some of Mr. Packard’s mulberry trees remain today. We recall that when we walked the Westside, were encountered Mulberry Street, off San Andreas, north of Micheltorena Street, and we wonder if perhaps the trees were some of those planted by Mr. Packard before the turn of the century.

La Bodega was a very lucrative and productive winery for many years, with a reputation for producing fine wine and brandy. In peak years it reportedly produced 80,000 gallons, which was sold in both the local market and European markets. The wine was labeled as “El Recodo”. Recodo, the Spanish word for “bend” most likely referred to the bend that the old Mission Creek made near the winery.

Incidentally, there’s a peculiar bend in San Pascual Street that we’ve always wondered about. After learning the exact location of the adobe and winery, we think perhaps the road was built and paved to skirt the La Bodega property.

We aren’t certain how long La Bodega was in operation, but we understand that Albert Packard had some trouble with his vineyard. The vines were reportedly wiped out by a decease that destroyed his stock. Never one to give up, Albert planted olive trees in their place. And if you’d like to see the old brandy still you’re in luck! Just head down to the Santa Barbara Historical Museum where it’s on display. Aside from being just plain cool, we understand it also has the distinction of having been used in the movies made by the Flying A Studio.

In 1887, when the Southern Pacific built their railroad through his property, Albert Packard was not a very happy man. So annoyed was he, that shortly thereafter he relocated to the peace and quiet of nearby Los Angeles. After a few years in LA, Albert returned to Santa Barbara, where he died in 1901 at the age of 81 years old.

At some point in the beginning of the 20th century the La Bodega property was purchased by a Santa Barbara florist, which explains the rows bird of paradise plants that are visible in the photo from the 1940’s. The old adobe, having suffered structural damage in the 1925 earthquake, was ultimately demolished in the mid to late 1950′ s (very possibly in 1956) while still having the distinction of being the largest adobe in California. Soon after, apartments were built on much of that land.

As we were walking around that neighborhood we noticed a very sweet little house, which can also be seen in the 1945 panoramic image. Many of the small homes in the area which date back to the early part of the 1900’s have either been demolished or remodeled to the point of being unrecognizable. We were therefore tickled to see this little place looking much as it did decades ago, and present you a “then and now” of the little home.

As always we encourage you to go out and explore our marvelous town on foot, keep your eyes, ears and minds open to all that you encounter, and above all, expect the unexpected.

About Peter Hartmann and Stacey Wright

We are two "fifty-something" year olds who are lifetime residents of Santa Barbara. Together, we have decided to walk each and every street within the City limits of Santa Barbara just for the fun of it. Peter is a dentist, and Stacey is a long-time County employee who helps the elderly without family to look after them. Read more

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