Restored historic adobe shines on 13th annual Monday Club Architectural Tour

Redoing a historic adobe is a labor of love that shines on an annual home tour

rajuretic@sbcglobal.netApril 9, 2014 

Chris Hammer set out to buy a second home and ended up purchasing a piece of San Luis Obispo history.

While strolling downtown, she stumbled upon the Mancillas-Freitas Adobe. She decided to purchase it, even though it would require extensive renovations.

“I live in an historic house in Palo Alto,” she said. “I love being right downtown in the middle of everything, but also in an established neighborhood.”

The adobe portion of the structure was likely built during either the Mission Era (1772-1834) or during the Early Development Period (1835-1875). Sometime between 1900 and 1903, the adobe was encased in a larger Victorian-style structure.

Hammer’s plan was to remove the wood exterior that was concealing the adobe and compromising it due to water leakage. She would then have the 720-square-foot original adobe restored and turned into a great room encompassing a kitchen and living room. A new addition would include three bedrooms, a loft, three full bathrooms and a powder room. An atrium would connect the new and old structures.

She hired Arris Studio Architects, Noble Building Co., structural engineer Robert Vessely and landscape contractor Dale Norrington for the project.

The addition would be modern in appearance, covered in corrugated metal and tucked away so “once the landscaping is in, when you look at the property, all you really see is the adobe,” said Hammer.

“The city wants any new construction to be clearly different from the adobe itself, so no faking that you have a 2,000-square-foot adobe,” she said.

Because the adobe is on the city of San Luis Obispo’s Master List of Historic Resources, renovation plans were reviewed by the city’s Cultural Heritage Committee.

Construction began last May. The old wood structure was removed, and some of the redwood was salvaged to restore the adobe porch. Crews then set about repairing and reinforcing the original adobe with the guidance of Vessely, as well as architectural historian Victoria Smith of Applied Earthworks and adobe restoration expert Todd Hannah of Cultural Resource Management Services. They restored all doorways and windows to their original positions. To repair damaged areas, the crew obtained surplus adobe blocks made for the restoration of the Dana Adobe in Nipomo.

Lime plaster now coats the outside and inside of the home, bringing an authentic early California look to the interior walls and the new kiva-style fireplace.

“If we used concrete, it wouldn’t allow the adobe to breathe, and it starts to melt,” said Dennis Noble.

A large part of the project was excavation of the site, which was conducted primarily over three weeks by archaeologists John and Cheyanne Parker with the help of community volunteers. Among the artifacts found were many Native American items including mortars and pestles, shell beads, bone tools, arrow points, and pieces of soapstone bowls from the Channel Islands.

“I have some Native American heritage, so I was thrilled to find these,” said Hammer.

Artifacts were cleaned and recorded by the archaeologists, then sent to be curated by the San Luis Obispo County Archaeological Society.

Some finds offered clues to the adobe’s history, little of which has been documented. Pottery pieces manufactured at the mission, along with mission-era food remains, support the theory that the house was constructed around the time of the mission, and perhaps was originally part of it. If you disregard present-day city streets and newer buildings, the front of the adobe is directly in line with the mission sanctuary.

There were also tidbits of information about past inhabitants of the adobe. For instance, records from the late 19th century show a seamstress lived there.

“They found at least 1,000 buttons out on the porch,” said Hammer. “It’s so cool to imagine her sitting out there and sewing.”

The project is set to finish early this summer, but Hammer is already plotting the organic garden she plans to install with her daughters.

According to Hammer, her original wish for a gathering place for extended family and friends has been “deeply enriched by restoring the adobe to be the central focus of these family gatherings, hopefully for many generations to come.”


The Monday Club will present its Architectural Tour on April 27 from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. This year’s event will feature five San Luis Obispo adobes, highlighting history and cultures of the era. There will also be a short downtown walking tour. Roundtrip transportation will be provided, with shuttles departing every 15 minutes from the Monday Club, 1815 Monterey St. The clubhouse will be open with a Julia Morgan exhibit and refreshments.

Tickets are $40, available at  , at the Del Monte Café, or by calling Mary Qualls at 303-587-7079. Tickets will be sold at the door, based on availability, for $45. Proceeds will be used for youth scholarships for music, fine arts and scholastic achievement.


Mancillas-Freitas Adobe (Hammer home): The home will be decorated with furniture and décor from Luna Rustica. On display will be several artifacts excavated from the adobe site.

Bowden-La Loma Adobe: This is a rare two-story adobe with a site that dates to 1782. This tour stop will include an adobe block fabrication demo.

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa: The visit to California’s fifth mission will include a tour of the church attic, and period entertainment in the mission gardens.

Hays-Latimer Adobe: Built around 1860, this adobe is now restored and owned by Cal Poly professor emeritus of horticulture, David Hannings. The tour will include a look at his large collection of ethnic artifacts and his lush gardens.

Dallidet Adobe: This State Historical Landmark is unique because, though built in the 1850s, it has had only two owners. The tour of the adobe and gardens will include Spanish-era food samplings, a San Luis Outdoor Painters for the Environment (S.L.O.P.E.) art show, and live entertainment.

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