Santa Margarita de Cortona
Navigation for San Luis Obispo de Tolosa:
Santa Margarita de Cortona was a sub-mission of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. It was established around 1787 as a means of serving a concentration of Chumash Indians in the area. Some of the original walls still stand, incorporated into a ranch barn (you can see them sticking out of the back of the barn above). The asistencia sits on private land and is not available for public viewing except by special arrangement (I went on a tour sponsored by The California Mission Studies Association in 2004 and had special permission in 2012). Note: In the picture of the back of the barn above you see what looks like a cross. It is a brand and not a religious symbol despite the shape. Click on any picture to enlarge it in a lightbox with the option to see a slideshow of all pictures.
The main ranch house is also part of the Asistencia structures. Its rock foundation and adobe walls are parts of some of the buildings associated with the original Asistencia. A modern ranch house is all you see however; the original structures are built into the house.
Likewise, the barn that you see above is built on the original Asistencia rock walls. At some point between 2004 and 2005 the ranch re-built the barn protecting the Asistencia. When you are driving past on US 101 this is the view you now see instead of the older tin-covered building. (Thanks to Tim Maxwell for the picture and permission to use it.)
Looking into the main barn door you look down the center of the original Asistencia. The main building was 135 feet long by 37 feet wide and had a tule roof. The original Asistencia was divided into several rooms; the interior walls have been removed. The original contained a chapel and altar, living quarters for the majordomo, lodging for travelers and storage areas.
Notice the lights; the Asistencia and barn are presently being used to host private parties and receptions. See below for contact information.
Compare the above panorama and some of the pictures below to pictures taken for the Historic American Building survey in the 1936-40 timeframe. The HAB pictures were found at the Library of Congress website.
The original outside walls are now part of the barn's structure and the area under the extended barn roof contains a party area on the left and stables on the right.
Looking down the center of the barn you can see the windows and doors that made up the various rooms; by walking down the stable area one can look through the openings and across the width of the Asistencia. And, when walking around inside, use some caution and look up now and again. On the Feb 2012 visit there was a barn owl in the rafters.
The stone walls are layered with larger stones on the bottom; all held together with a form of mortar. Some think that this structure is the first (or one of the first) stone buildings in the state of California.
On the way from the city to the ranch (or back) there is a model of Chumash structures and a dedication sign. The tule structures have fallen into some disrepair but still show the way tule housing was built.
Finally, hanging under the entrance sign to the ranch are a number of the different brands representing owners of the property.
20 Aug 1769: Padre Juan Crespi first recorded the location of the site on his trip to Monterey.
1775: At about this time the local Chumash Indians built a central rock-walled structure to serve as a place of worship when padres from Mission San Luis Obispo came to visit.
1787: The approximate date the Asistencia was formally recognized and dedicated.
1834: Mexico's Secularization Laws were ratified in 1834. The Asistencia was secularized along with Mission San Luis Obispo in 1835. As happened to much of the Mission lands the building fell into disrepair.
27 September 1841: The properties were granted to 24-year-old Joaquin Estrada. Over 17,000 acres were involved. While the Asistencia fell into disrepair, the rancho was a popular stopping spot along the California trail, located as it was at the top of the Cuesta Grade. Estrada was also known throughout the state for his lavish parties. The rancho was also a spot used for strategy meetings. After the American takeover at Monterey Pio Pico and General Jose Castro met at the rancho to determine actions. It was later used by the Americans...
December 1846: Captain John Fremont discovered an Indian carrying a message from Jose Jesus Pico, the San Luis Obispo Justice of the Peace at the rancho and executed him. Fremont also arrested Estrada and others at the rancho and only let them go after they pledged their services to Fremont.
April 1861: The United States Land Commission patent for the rancho was issued, but to Martin and Mary Murphy of San Jose. The property (and others) then passed to their son Patrick Murphy who served in the California Assembly and in the state Senate for three terms. Eventually he amassed over 70,000 acres throughout the state and was also known as a party person...
February 1889: The town of Santa Margarita was laid out and Murphy put on a Grand Barbecue which it is said some 2,000 people attended.
The Santa Margarita de Cortona Asistencia is located on the private Rancho Santa Margarita just outside the town of Santa Margarita at the top of the Cuesta Grade, North of San Luis Obispo. The site is private property and not available for public viewing except by special arrangement. Please do not attempt to go onto the ranch without permission.