How to Use
Reading 2: The Construction of Rancho Los Alamitos
The ranch house is constructed in a U-shaped plan that has evolved over approximately 175 years. At the base of the "U" is the original, early 19th-century adobe structure now sheathed in stucco. This section consists of four single rooms off a central hall built upon foundations presumed to be field stones laid in adobe mortar. A screened porch extends across the front of the adobe. The north wing, constructed on a brick foundation around 1850, was the first major addition. Originally constructed by Abel Stearns to house his vaqueros (cowhands), this wing is sheathed in rough board with tall, narrow windows, and walls of one-inch thick board covered with painted plasterboard. In the years between 1878 and 1887, the adobe was extended to the south with another wooden addition. In 1925, a second story of stucco-over-frame construction was added over the original adobe. An open porch with a simple stick railing was added on the west side of this second story. The result imparts a flavor of Monterey construction to the entire building. (The Monterey, California, style typically featured pitched roofs, while most other Spanish-Mexican architecture in America had flat roofs.)
Adobe is the Spanish name for bricks made of mud that have been dried in the sun. They are usually fairly large in size, averaging a foot wide, 6 or so inches thick, and 13 to 18 inches long. Sun-dried bricks have been used for construction in various parts of the world since the beginnings of civilization. When the Spanish arrived in the Americas they found the Indians of Mexico and the Southwest using these adobe bricks.
An important building material for settlers in California and the Southwest, adobe brick literally could be made from the soil on which a building was erected. All that was needed was a clay soil with a small amount of sand or loam in it. Water was mixed with the soil, and straw was often added to protect against breaking. The resulting mud was then poured into wooden molds, and the bricks were left to dry in the sun. The brick walls of a completed building would be covered with adobe mud plaster. When this coat was dry, it would be covered with a lime-based plaster. Apart from the ease of finding and making this building material, adobe was popular with the Spanish and American settlers because of the superb insulation it provided against both heat and cold.
The Spanish used adobe bricks to build most of their missions and other early buildings throughout California, the Southwest, and much of Mexico. These early houses have come to be referred to as adobes, usually with the name of the owner or the ranch attachedas in the Los Alamitos adobe.
Questions for Reading 2
1. Why were adobe buildings made with such thick walls? How does this construction reflect adaptation to the environment?
2. Why might it have been important to build the various additions to Rancho Los Alamitos?
3. In what ways were the construction methods different for each phase? How do these new construction methods reflect changes in the culture?
Reading 2 was adapted from Nancy J. Sanquist, "Rancho Los Alamitos" (Los Angeles County, California) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1981).