A house museum showcasing the early 1800s life of the Estudillo family in southern California
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park contains restored and reconstructed buildings that recreate the feel of San Diego, California between 1821 and 1872. These buildings now contain shops, restaurants, and museums. One of the museums, La Casa de Estudillo, might be considered the heart of the park because restoration of that building led to restoration of other buildings and ultimately the creation of the park.
Spanish colonization of San Diego, part of the traditional lands of the Kumeyaay, began in 1769, but it was in the Mexican Era, after Mexico received independence from Spain in 1821, that the town really began to grow. La Casa de Estudillo was built in this era with construction occurring between 1827 and 1829. Captain José María Estudillo built the house for his family. The one-story house is built around three sides of a large patio. The original Casa included servants’ quarters, work and storage rooms, living areas, and a Roman Catholic chapel. When Captain José María Estudillo died in 1830, the house was passed down to his son José Antonio Estudillo and his son’s wife, María Victoria Dominguez de Estudillo. Four generations of the Estudillo family lived here between 1827 and 1887. In 1887, family descendants moved away and left the house in the hands of a caretaker.
By the late 1800s Old Town was no longer the bustling centre of activity it had been. Business had moved to “New Town”, the current downtown area of San Diego. However, Casa de Estudillo had become somewhat famous due to the popularity of Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel “Ramona” set in southern California. Although the work was fiction, tourists believed the home was the likely setting for Ramona’s marriage. The caretaker sold pieces of the house as Ramona-related artifacts. That and tourist vandalism left the house nearly in ruins by 1906.
In 1907 sugar magnate John D. Spreckels bought the house and began efforts to restore Old Town. He restored the house to conditions close to those in the novel and ran it as a tourist attraction, “Ramona’s Marriage Place.” Its success as a tourist attraction helped create a desire to restore other buildings and a renewed interest in San Diego’s Spanish and Mexican roots. The house was donated to the State in 1968 when Old Town San Diego State Historic Park was created. It has been restored as a house museum featuring the life of the Estudillo family. Individual rooms, located off the verandah on the inside of the U facing the courtyard, have been restored and can be viewed by visitors.
The house continues to be redesigned to more accurately tell the story of the Estudillo family. Parts of it were under construction when I visited in March 2018.
Casa de Estudillo is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm. Entrance is free as is entrance to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park where the house is located.
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