Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
American Latino Heritage
Santa Barbara, California
Located in Santa Barbara, California, the Gonzalez House is a National Historic Landmark that is a classic example of a medium sized adobe townhouse from California’s Mexican period. Rafael Gonzalez, a retired Spanish soldier from the Presidio of Santa Barbara, who served as an alcalde (mayor) of Santa Barbara, built the house for his Italian bride around 1825. Gonzalez deeded his home to his daughter, Salome Francisca Ventura Ramirez (married name), and she lived there from 1866 until her death in 1923. A visit to the Gonzalez House is a tangible reminder of the Spanish and Mexican heritage of Santa Barbara, California and of the United States.
By the late 1700s and early 1800s, Spain extended its New World Empire by colonizing the west coast of North America. The Spanish created permanent settlements in Alta California by constructing presidios (forts) and establishing missions throughout the region. Founded on April 21, 1782, the Santa Barbara Royal Presidio was the last in the chain of Spain’s four military fortresses built along the Alta California coast. Other presidios were already in place at San Diego, San Francisco, and Monterey.
Presidios provided settlers and missions with protection, served as military headquarters and governmental centers, and guarded Spanish settlements from foreign invasion. As with other presidios throughout Alta California, local Chumash Indians under the supervision of Spanish soldiers constructed the Santa Barbara Royal Presidio’s buildings. They used sun-dried adobe bricks for the buildings and covered finished walls with whitewash. Laid out around a central parade ground, the presidio had a large outer defense wall that surrounded all of the buildings. Today, El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park preserves this original Spanish military outpost.
Following the establishment of the presidio, the Spanish founded the Santa Barbara Mission in 1786 as the 10th mission in Alta California’s 21-mission chain. The mission expanded with the construction of three adobe churches on the grounds, each larger than the one before it. The fourth church that dates from 1820 still stands today. The church is of local sandstone with heavy exterior buttresses for support. Today, visitors are welcome to tour the Santa Barbara Mission, which is also featured in this itinerary.
The presidio and the mission played important roles in Rafael Gonzalez’s life, as they did in the lives of many of the settlers in and around the Spanish settlements in Alta California. On February 20, 1797, Gonzalez was baptized at the Santa Barbara Mission, and in 1816, he enlisted as a soldier in the garrison at the Santa Barbara Royal Presidio. For the next 11 years, Gonzalez participated in many military assignments and witnessed attacks and revolts. His first assignment was in 1817 at Mission Santa Ines (also included in this itinerary), where he was part of the mission guard.
In 1825, Gonzalez became the corporal of the guard at Santa Ines, and in 1827 received his discharge from the army. Soon after his discharge, Gonzalez returned to Santa Barbara and served as the alcalde (mayor) in his hometown in 1829. Santa Barbara and California were by then a part of Mexico, which gained independence from Spain in 1821. During this Mexican period of California’s history, Gonzalez built a medium-sized adobe home with two to three foot thick walls for his Italian wife.
Constructed around 1825, the home has seven rooms, two-one room wings that project off the main portion of the house, covered verandas, and a tile roof. Gonzalez built the adobe on acreage the King of Spain had deeded to his family known as “Las Isletas.” The “Las Isletas” were small areas of high ground surrounded by the swamps of a local lagoon. The street still bears the name, “Laguna Street,” because of this lagoon.