Reyes Adobe Families

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Reyes Legacy / Land Ownership
Many generations of the Reyes family were important to California history. Juan Francisco Reyes was a Mexican soldier on the famous Portola expedition; the first group of non-natives to encounter life in pre-historic California in 1769. The goal of the expedition was to find an overland route to the Spanish outpost at Monterey. Reyes later moved to the region and became alcalde, or mayor of the Pueblo of Los Angeles from 1793-1795.

The property on which Juan Francisco Reyes had his ranch was in the San Fernando Valley and was an official land grant. He requested a new land grant and received land in central California in 1802, between Mission San Luis Obispo and Mission La Purisima Concepcion. Reyes did not reside there. He was recorded in the census of the Pueblo of Los Angeles of 1804 with his wife Maria del Carmen Dominguez and their children Antonio, Juana and Jose Jacinto. Reyes’s brother-in-law, Jose Maria Dominguez, was appointed to manage the rancho in northern California. In 1837, Dominguez also became a grantee of the Rancho Las Virgenes, a land grant encompassing 26,000 acres which now includes Agoura Hills, Oak Park, Westlake Village and other surrounding communities.

Jose Jacinto Reyes, the second son of Juan Francisco Reyes, married Maria Antonia Machado and they had 14 children before his early death. In March of 1845, Jose Maria Dominguez sold Rancho Las Virgenes to Maria Antonia Machado. Jose Paulino Reyes, the son of Jose Jacinto Reyes, built the adobe home in about 1850.

On September 9, 1850, California became the 31st state in the Union. The new political leadership challenged the land titles in southern California, most of which were Spanish-Mexican in legal definition. Although property in California was claimed by the United States, people who believed they held property prior to statehood in 1850 were legally entitled to submit applications for their land.

A date map detailing the different surveys of the Rancho Las Virgenes shows three houses bounded by the "Road from Ventura" to the south, the Santa Susana Mountains to the north, the Cruz de Tapia to the east and the Canada del Lindero to the west. More specifically, the house identified as belonging to Jose Reyes is bound to the north by the Santa Susanas, to the south by the Road from Ventura, from the east by the Arroyo de la Media, and to the west by the Canada del Lindero. These same boundaries exist today on the contemporary Thomas Brothers Map. The Reyes Adobe in Agoura Hills corresponds geographically with the Jose Reyes house.

Maria Antonia Machado filed for a petition for confirmation of title on September 15, 1852 and her claim was confirmed on November 7, 1854. The case was not fully resolved until 1883 due in part to the desire of the Machado’s grantees (heirs) to include two leagues of land on the Rancho Las Virgenes not claimed by Carrillo or his grantees. Dominguez Carrillo and Nemecio Dominguez had possession of Rancho Las Virgenes in the amount of 2 leagues each prior to 1837. With one square league being equal to approximately 5,760 acres, this translates into less than 2 square leagues of land confirmed.

The Las Virgenes Historical Society obtained documents from the County of Los Angeles, which specifies how the interest in the Rancho land was divided in January 1886; Reyes’ heirs received a total of 572.88 acres or 10 percent of the Rancho Las Virgenes grant. The Reyes Adobe Historical Site Museum has a copy of the document and how the Los Angeles County commissioners divided the property.

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Rancho Living
The porch of the Reyes Adobe was a place where people greeted one another and relaxed after a hard day’s work. Weather permitting, in the evenings there was laughter, talk of the day’s business, singing and music, which were popular pastimes in the Hispanic culture. From this porch, one was able to oversee the wonderful valley, including Ladyface Mountain and a beautiful stream, believed to have run along Reyes Adobe Road. As the homes were dark even during daylight hours, families spent most of their time outdoors, usually in the courtyard. In the evenings, they would use candles or lamps.

The Reyes adobe home was modest compared to its wealthier neighbors. The floors in the rancho home were of packed earth. On occasion, water was sprinkled on the floor to keep down the dust. The roof was either thatch or tile. A thatched roof was made of bundles of tule reeds covered with mud. Tiled roofs were made on molds similar to the adobe bricks and then fired in a hot oven. Adobe bricks were made from compressed sand, clay and (usually) straw shaped into bricks by wooden frames. Adobe walls helped maintain stable temperatures inside a dwelling--ideal for hot, dry climates.

Their sala, the main or great room, generally served as the place to entertain guests and hold receptions or parties. It no doubt also served as the food preparation area, family living area and a sleeping area. As the Reyes home was one of the last watering holes between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, it was known to occasionally accommodate travelers’ from the El Camino Real, including mission padres. Rumor has it that even "bad man" Jacquin Murietta stayed at the rancho. In the spring each year, when green lush grass was two fingers in height, the Reyes family hosted the annual El Rodeo, a highlight of the Hispanic-Californian culture, which lasted eight days.

As furniture had to be imported and therefore very expensive, rancho families like the Reyes’ had sparse furnishings, unless they were made or handed down. Rancho homes typically had a wooden table used for food preparation, usually under strings of garlic, chili, peppers, onions and other herbs hung from the rafters. Typically, the food would be prepared inside the home then taken outside for cooking. Much of the cooking was done outdoors in large kettles over open fires or baked in beehive-shaped ovens called hornos. Large containers of water were brought in from the stream and stood at the door.

Rancho era settlers learned to live off the land and use available supplies. Their main diet was beef, beans and a tortilla made into a cone and used to scoop up the beans. The beans that were eaten by the rancheros and vaqueros/cowboys were called frijoles. They were cooked with peppers and onions and were considered by the Californios to be the best food in the world. Frijoles refrios were mashed beans fried in oil. There was always plenty of beef on the rancho - although sheep and wild game were also eaten. Large pieces were roasted on a spit over a pit with an open fire. Sometimes the meat was coated with chili powder to help preserve it. These strips of beef got hard and the vaqueros/cowboys took the dried beef sticks with them when they rode out on round up or on trips by horseback.

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Graff Legacy 1916
At only one other time does the Reyes Adobe appear under another name. It is on a painting of the south side of the Reyes Adobe dated July 26, 1916, by Pasadena watercolor artist Eva Scott Fenye. A caption below the painting reads, "The Graff House on the road to Ventura, said to have been built by Jose Paulino Reyes probably in the early years of the 19th century." A color photo reproduction of the painting was archived by the Las Virgenes Historical Society, and a copy is displayed on the museum timeline.

According to a newspaper article from the Thousand Oaks Chronicle, a couple by the name of John and Myrtle Beyer lived in the Reyes Adobe in the early years of the 20th century. John Beyer was a German immigrant who moved into the Adobe with a distant cousin, George Graff in 1922 and again in 1930 - the second time with his wife Myrtle. Documents are archived with detailed legal descriptions of land parcels relating to the estate of Jacinta P. Graf, who had died in 1925. Although the spelling of the surname is slightly different, it is possible that Jacinta was a relative of Jose Jacinto Reyes and was married to George J. Graff, which indicates that the Reyes family were connected to the property into the 20th century.

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McKenzie Legacy 1935 - 1945
Malcolm McKenzie purchased the Reyes Adobe property for $3,500 in 1935. Although his personal records do not indicate the seller, it is important to the property history as it marks the beginning of a clear chain of title for the house and the surrounding property. The first Anglo owner of the property, McKenzie was an orthodontist whose hobbies included local history, particularly adobe architecture. He was a member of the Historical Society of Southern California. Also a member of the Society was Ana Begue de Packman who is identified as Jacinto Reyes’ great-great-granddaughter in the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) conducted in 1936/ 1937 and archived in the Library of Congress.

Malcolm McKenzie might have found out about the Reyes Adobe through the Society. He renovated the Reyes Adobe by repairing walls with adobe bricks from the Dominguez house located in Chatsworth, brought to the site in a pickup truck. He removed the home’s batten siding and exposed the adobe walls on all sides, installed new windows and removed the trellises, which were documented in the HABS survey.

Dr. McKenzie brought his family out with him on weekends to the rural region while he renovated the house. His renovation efforts were documented with photographs. The photos show the west San Fernando Valley before the post WWII urban expansion, and this historically valuable collection can be viewed at the museum. The photographs also document the cultural merge of the Hispanic and Anglo cultures in the region. Malcolm’s preservation efforts in the 1930’s are in large measure why the adobe can be enjoyed today. Architectural changes that Malcolm made to the house were captured in detail. Scott, Malcolm’s son has donated many artifacts to the site including books, a hitching post, pictures and other documentation on display.

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Dodson Family 1945 - 1978
In 1945, Malcolm McKenzie sold the house and 35 surrounding acres to performers Jon and Myrtis Dodson. Myrtis was singer on Broadway and Jon sang tenor in a vocal group called the Kings Men. They learned about the property through actors Jim and Marion Jordon who owned property adjacent to the Reyes Adobe. The Dodsons were the first owners in at least a decade to live in the house fulltime. They modernized it to make it habitable. In an article that appeared in the Thousand Oaks News Chronicle in March 1972, Myrtis explains to a reporter that they spent $60,000 to upgrade the adobe, as it was still at 19th century standards, lacking both a bathroom and running water. Myrtis’ son, who studied architecture, redesigned the structure to include French doors, flagstone paving and a carport.

After the death of Jon Dodson in 1963, Myrtis moved out of the adobe and leased it to tenants until the late 1970s. The last of three tenants Mrs. Michael Windler christened the site Hunter Haven Farms and lived there with her daughter. Myrtis Dodson sold the Reyes Adobe in 1978 to a developer with the understanding that the home would remain intact.

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1978 - 2004 Opening
The adobe survived a 90.8 acre development surrounding it, as the region went from agricultural/single dwelling zoning to commercial/ multi-family zoning. It is believed that Ms. Dodson’s stipulation of sale along with the vigilance of local citizens played a significant role in the site’s preservation. The Las Virgenes Historical Society focused its efforts on the Adobe project and in 1980 began a restoration fund. Over the next few years the group became increasingly involved in fundraising as well as local political action to nominate the Reyes Adobe for eligibility to be on the National Register of Historic Places.

An engineering firm known for its expertise in adobe structures, Mel Green and Associates, was hired to make recommendations on the Adobe restoration project. The City of Agoura Hills incorporated in 1982, and in 1983 it acquired the Reyes Adobe site as part of the park land from Los Angeles County. On March 14, 1984, Mayor Fran Pavley designated the Reyes home as a local historical landmark. On April 20, 1988, under Mayor Jack W. Koenig, designated the Reyes barn a local historical structure.

Efforts continued on the Adobe preservation project with continued research and discussions on how best to proceed with preservation efforts. The Historic American Buildings Survey or HABS, developed under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, documented America’s architecturally significant structures that included the Reyes Adobe. The program (which helped employ architects during the depression) secured and preserved drawings, plans, photographs and other data relating to archeological sites, buildings and objects across the nation. All documentation produced during that era, as well as more recent decades, is archived in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

The documentation of HABS occurred prior to the McKenzie renovation. The architectural drawings detailed board and batten siding on the adobe, a porch off of the kitchen and trellises off the south side of the house. It was the HABS drawings that determined how the Reyes Adobe Historical Site would showcase the home and property through the official documented drawings and photos. The exciting renovation plans had found the beginning for the historical site but not the resources to fund the project. The lack of funds compounded by damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake setback the hopes of completing the project.

Then in 2002, the City of Agoura Hills once again turned its focus on the Reyes Adobe and sought funding for the rehabilitation of the valuable cultural resource and the source of community pride. In May, 2002, the Reyes Adobe Citizen’s Advisory Committee was formed to assist with the design of the site, construction plans, furnishings of the house, as well as educational programs, general public tours, etc. In 2003, the generous support from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Getty Grant Program, and State Park Propositions 12 & 40, made possible the City of Agoura Hills’ vision of developing the Reyes Adobe Historical Site and interpretive center. On November 15, 2003, a groundbreaking ceremony was held to begin the official construction and renovation of the site.

On October 16, 2004, the Reyes Adobe Historical Site officially opened to the public for the first time with educational programs displaying early California heritage through furnished rooms, hands-on exhibits and artifacts. From the Reyes Adobe’s front porch, students, residents and visitors will be able to capture a glimpse of the past while admiring the same beautiful view of the Santa Monica Mountains enjoyed by generations through the centuries.

Showcasing the history of Southern California, the 153-year-old Reyes Adobe is a valuable resource within the State and national landscape, surviving the rapidly changing economic and social structure of the past two centuries, and if properly cared, for will continue to be a source of pride and inspiration for years to come.

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