Adobes, Barn Threatened By Planned Downtown Redo

A new environmental assessment shows which historical structures would be impacted by a plan to revitalize downtown San Juan Capistrano.

A grander, livelier downtown could mean obstructing views of at least one historic adobe and ripping up earth laden with Native American artifacts, a new report has found.

Those historic structures that would be most impacted by downtown revitalization are the , , Oyharzabal barn, and Manuel Garcia Adobe—each listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since the release of the Draft Historic Town Center Master Plan,  about proposals to extend streets that, when elongated, would traverse antiquated adobe foundations.

For nearly one year, they've been waiting for the release of an Environmental Impact Report, finally published this week by the city. It identifies potential impacts of the Draft Historic Town Center Master Plan, a blueprint for long-term development in downtown.

"All proposed construction activities within the revitalization area have the potential to impact subsurface archaeological resources, both Native American and historical," the report found.

A New Downtown

The Draft Historic Town Center Master Plan calls for some major changes to the city's infrastructure that planners say will make it more pedestrian friendly.

The changes include transforming El Camino Real into the center of downtown by: 

  • Extending Yorba Street slightly north so it connects El Camino Real to Del Obispo Street, running just south of the Blas Aguilar Adobe. The new street would provide drivers access to a new parking structure at the Camino Real Playhouse
  • Extending Forster Street through to Del Obispo to the east, connecting Del Obispo, El Camino Real and Camino Capistrano, and providing an additional right turn from southbound Del Obispo into the middle of the new downtown.

Additionally, it is proposed that El Camino Real be extended southward to connect to Del Obispo Street. As with the Forster and Yorba extensions, this will require the acquisition of new right of way from private property owners.

According to the Master Plan, unlike the proposed Yorba and Forster extensions, the El Camino Real extension would take more time to construct, because it would require "the removal of an existing building and some challenging grading design."

The Historic Buildings

There were 40 adobe homes built in the mid-1790s in San Juan Capistrano to house local Native Americans and soldiers who worked at .

As documented by Alfonso Yorba, a handful of the adobes—several of which no longer exist—were built just outside the mission in what is now A handful of others remain standing nearby in the , but none of those are identified in the plan as being affected by downtown revitalization.

Adobe artifacts and other precious, cultural objects and even human remains have been routinely uncovered at modern construction sites in town.

The newly-released environmental impact report found that the street extensions could indeed "impact known archaeological resources." Those resources include the foundation of the former Casa Tejada, which was once joined to the Blas Aguilar Adobe by a shared courtyard and courtyard walls.

The under a Proposition 84 grant awarded to the city to rehabilitate and make improvements to the Blas Aguilar Adobe.

Views of the Blas Aguilar Adobe would be disrupted if and when a parking structure is built at the existing , immediately adjacent to the adobe.

The Yorba and Garcia adobes would be impacted if El Adobe Plaza is transformed into a 30,000-square-foot market hall like the Ferry Building in San Francisco. To accommodate increased traffic in that area along Camino Capistrano, planners propose expanding the existing parking structure at Verdugo Street southward behind the adobes.

This parking structure expansion would require the relocation of the historic Oyharzabal barn, identified in the Master Plan as being "badly deteriorated and in danger of falling down if not maintained or restored."

New structures are also proposed adjacent to the Esslinger Building, the art deco building across the street from the Yorba and Garcia adobes. Built in 1939, it served as Dr. Paul Esslinger’s medical office—the first medical office in the town.

Protecting the Structures

The Environmental Impact Report vaguely outlines ways for city leaders to prevent any damage to the historical structures. It suggests "stringent guidelines" for the construction of any new buildings or any improvements to existing buildings adjacent to buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Specifically, it identifies re-orienting the location of proposed buildings and improvements to existing buildings, reducing their height and/or massing, increasing their setbacks from sidewalks and other structures, and screening the structures with native trees.

The Environmental Impact Report is available for public review through Dec. 16.


Matt Gaffney November 03, 2011 at 04:55 PM
As a lifetime resident of San Juan Capistrano & a member of the Board of Directors of the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society I'm appaled at the plan proposed to the city. I'll be doing everything in my power to see that this abomination of my town doesn't come to pass. That's what happens when you have people who don't live in Capo trying to run Capo. I was on the subcommittee that interviewed the companies that were going to do this plan. I voted for Diane Bathgate's company. Hers was the only one with any connection to Capo. There are prior downtown plans that could & should have been consulted before spending over $500,000 on this plan.
SJCNative November 03, 2011 at 10:51 PM
Matt, this is a plan that Laura Freese firmly supports. I hope you remember that she supported this abomination when she runs for re-election next year .
d November 04, 2011 at 03:01 AM
SJC has a lot of historical sites that are eyesores.... and the barn sounds dangerous. Sometimes change is GOOD.
SJCNative November 04, 2011 at 04:02 PM
What historical site is an eyesore? The barn is on private property and is not open to the public.
Janice Pickartz November 05, 2011 at 11:48 PM
Matt & SJC Native: Keep up the great comments.. @d: hopefully you don't live in SJC...


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