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American Latino Heritage
Las Flores Adobe
The story of Las Flores Adobe is a common tale in California history. The land on which this National Historic Landmark sits was once part of a Spanish mission, then part of a private Mexican ranch a member of the elite owned, and then incorporated into a smaller American ranch after the U.S.-Mexican War. Built in 1868, Las Flores Adobe today is a restored Monterey Colonial on the grounds of the United States Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, the old Spanish missions became secularized administrative districts run by government officials. The Mexican government split these districts up into large ranches and granted the land to prominent men, marking the beginning of the rancho era in Mexican history. California, which was a Mexican province between 1821 and 1848, secularized its missions during the 1830s. Pío Pico, a member of the Alta California elite and the last Mexican governor of California, obtained Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores by grant of the Mexican government in 1841. This land grant was for 133,441 acres north of the San Luis Rey de Francia Mission and included the future site of Las Flores Adobe.
Pico sold Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores to his brother-in-law, John “Don Juan” Forster in 1864. A native of Liverpool, England, Forster arrived in California as a teenager and worked to become a successful businessman. He adopted California culture, the Spanish language, and Mexican citizenship, and converted to Catholicism. Through his business dealings, Forster formed connections to the Californio ruling class that his marriage in 1837 to Pico’s sister, Ysidora, strengthened. The Forsters had three sons who lived to adulthood. The family resided in the San Juan Capistrano Mission, where they ran as a successful horse and cattle ranch, until President Lincoln returned the mission to the Catholic Church. After Forster bought the large Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores from Pico, he gave the Las Flores ranch to his son, Marco Forster, as a wedding present.
Marco Forster built Las Flores Adobe as a home for his own family in 1868, and they lived there for 14 years. After Juan Forster died in 1882, his sons sold Las Flores Adobe as part of Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores to Richard O’Neill and James L. Flood. In 1888, the new owners hired the Magee family to manage the ranch. The U.S. government acquired the ranch land in 1941 and established Camp Pendleton there as a training camp for marines. The government allowed the Magees to continue occupying Las Flores Adobe, and the family lived at the ranch house until the last surviving member passed away in 1967. With permission from the government, the Orange County Boy Scouts of America used 46 acres at and around Las Flores Adobe as a campground between 1974 and 2007. The camp closed after Camp Pendleton restored Las Flores Adobe in the early 2000s.
Las Flores Adobe is a u-shaped building with three connected sections that draws from Monterey Colonial and Hacienda architectural styles. The main house is a two-story rectangular adobe with a covered porch that wraps around the front and sides. A long single-story section connects the main house to the carriage house. Together, these three sections hug a central open area once bounded by a fence. The main house is a prime example of Monterey Colonial architecture, which was popular in California between the 1830s and 1860s.
After the last Magee passed away, Las Flores Adobe, left empty, fell into disrepair. Camp Pendleton launched an historic resources program at the turn of the 21st century to evaluate and fund the needs of Las Flores Adobe and the base’s other cultural sites. A partnership between the National Park Service, the California Office of Historic Preservation, University of Vermont, U.S. Marine Corps, and private firms formed to save Las Flores Adobe and restore or replace many of its significant features. As the result of this partnership, preservationists restored Las Flores Adobe to its former glory and restored much of its Monterey colonial architecture. The roof of the main house was partially replaced and the wooden second-story balcony rebuilt. The wood and adobe façade was repaired, plastered, and painted. The house frame was also fitted with modern features that will help stabilize the building during earthquakes, which are common in the region and damaged the house in the years prior to the stabilization project.
MCIWEST-MCB Camp Pendleton's Cultural Resources Section within the Environmental Security Department manages the base's cultural resources. About 200 yards west of Las Flores Adobe is Las Flores Asistencia. Constructed in 1817, this adobe ruin is where Catholic priests and other travelers rested while traveling between the San Luis Rey de Francia and San Juan Capistrano missions. The historic Santa Margarita Ranch House, which was Pio Pico’s home, was restored at the same time as Las Flores Adobe and can be toured by appointment. Along with these sites, Camp Pendleton uses the stable and restored Las Flores Adobe for heritage events, where visitors can encounter the old California of Dons Pico and Forster.