Fading History -- Vandals Pillage Don Joaquin's Adobe

The bronze markers are gone. The windows are down. And now the vandals are chipping away at the Gold Rush-era adobe brick itself.


History lovers and Friends of the Joaquin Moraga Adobe Kent Long and Bobbie Landers visited the historic home of Lamorinda's pioneer settler recently and were shocked by what they found.

The placed by the state and city of Orinda are all long gone, probably sold for scrap and thrown into the smelter. Vandals have moved inside and embarked on a campaign of steady destruction -- removing doors and windows and tagging the walls with graffiti proclaiming the new, intended purpose of the 160-year-old structure: party house.

More disturbing to Long and Landers -- and possibly to anyone else who loves local history -- the barbarians have cut into the surface wood set in place to protect the original mud bricks of the adobe and started to chip into the walls themselves.

Why? Who knows. Apparently the last round of partiers to visit the site were heard by a local resident and reported (big Patch "thumbs up" to the homeowner). Their party, at least, was brought to a screeching halt. But there have been others, as the photos plainly show.

My Kids Dad April 13, 2012 at 03:41 PM
maybe some counseling would help. i sense a little pent up angst! at least the mcMansion would be nicely landscaped with native plants and the malibu lights wouldn't produce any "light polution" according to the Design Review police!
My Kids Dad April 13, 2012 at 03:43 PM
@TD - What is wrong with an owner deciding to do what they wish with their property? Have you forgotten that we do have property rights guaranteed by our constitution. If you like the old adobe, then buy it and preserve it, or put together a group of people to buy and restore and protect it, make a park or something, but don't complain when someone else buys it and wants to develop it.
Jon Chambers April 13, 2012 at 03:45 PM
HJ, is your comment about increasing class size serious or in jest? It's hard to tell. If you are serious, it's hard to know where to begin with a reply, other than the obvious points that lower class sizes correlate closely to greater educational success, as measured by test scores, progress to postsecondary education, etc., and that there are obvious physical limits as to how many children can be crammed into a given classroom, or, by extension, school. I may not completely agree with CJ's (and CN's) thesis about property owner rights--it's highly likely that the current Adobe property owners purchased the property understanding that the house had historical value that would lead to preservation claims, and that knowledge of these likely claims factored into the purchase price, thereby imposing on the owners some duty to help satisfy the claims. How much duty, I don't know and will leave to others. But I do agree with CJ's premise that public funds need to be subject to some sort of spending hierarchy, and that road and school repair should rank higher than historical preservation on private property. I don't think we should fund Adobe repairs by increasing class size in Orinda schools.
My Kids Dad April 13, 2012 at 03:52 PM
wilder seems like a nice and "sensitive" development. perhaps this one will be similar and an improvement. in the mean time, those who wish to make the adobe a park should start fund raising and try to buy that out of the development to preserve it or make it a feature of the development.
Chris F. April 13, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Sounds like a great site for a ranch style cafe..
CJ April 13, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Kinda reminds me of the Salt Lick BBQ in Austin once you peel off the hideous cover.
CJ April 13, 2012 at 04:43 PM
The bummer is that the good pit BBQ requires wood and lots of it. The Fascist BAAQMD would squash that idea in seconds or we would end up with horrible Back Forty style BBQ from and oven.
CJ April 13, 2012 at 04:49 PM
JS- Sounds "Dreamy" and well thought out. Just one thing. All that you describe costs money. Factoring in the cost to a development of 13 homes would add a significant cost to each and every home. Making the ROI for that development probably razor thin to negative in this housing market given the massive entitlement demands the City would already place on the idea. So as long as the new buyers buy you a Historic Park you are good provided you pay nothing. Is that where we have regressed to in the mindset of the public?
Michele Edelmuth April 13, 2012 at 04:55 PM
We just got home from the southern gold country and Railtown in Jamestown is quite concerned about being closed. Just imagine if the state does have to close all the existing historical sites and parks due to lack of money. Other historical landmarks and parks could end up defaced (and destroyed) like this house.
Michael Taylor April 13, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Jason "gets it."
Brad Katkowsky April 13, 2012 at 05:00 PM
aren't they putting in a barbecue place in theater square in Orinda???
CJ April 13, 2012 at 05:04 PM
I am pretty sure it is a Mexican place with Margarita's called Barbacoa. Missed it by that much!
Chris Nicholson April 13, 2012 at 05:11 PM
There is no "the state" or "the city"--- just us taxpayers. Either *WE* want these things enough to pay extra taxes to maintain them, or we don't. These decisions should be made by a vote of those who are net taxpayers (meaning they pay total taxes >= per family state spending), as they would be the only ones truly paying for incremental taxes. @Jason + Michael: There is an endless list of things that are "good" or provide benefits. Sadly, resources are scarce and we can't have it all. The issue is (at a MINIMUM) whether the cost justifies the benefits. Sentiments of "we should have more XYZ" are meaningless without consideration of cost.
CJ April 13, 2012 at 05:15 PM
All the more reason to charge user fees so the parks pay for themselves or have JB get the unions to concede on their unfunded liabilities.
Brad Katkowsky April 13, 2012 at 05:21 PM
they don't let me out much......
Lourdes April 13, 2012 at 05:31 PM
Maybe not a southern style barbecue place but an open wood burning kitchen, no? How did that get past BAAQMD?
Jason Schmidt April 13, 2012 at 06:41 PM
I'm going to call "BS" on the cost of fixing up the Adobe a bit making the houses too expensive for a decent ROI. The developer is already going to have to build roads in the development, and will already be paying workers to do the building. Take a day or two, drop in a concrete sidewalk from your already-built road to the Adobe (and around it). Have your employees remove the protective plywood, maybe clean up the place a little bit, maybe a glaze or something protective? Then, maybe a split-rail fence and some sod around the Adobe proper, and you've got a really nice, preserved historic landmark at the center of your subdivision. If all that would even cost a total of $50K I'd be surprised, which is < $4K per each of these million-dollar homes -- which would no doubt be even more attractive to potential buyers as the "Estates at the Adobe". I would also assume that many families who would want to buy in such a development wouldn't mind putting together a neighborhood group to keep an eye on the Adobe; some might even want to volunteer to curate for visitors. Visitors might be willing to contribute a little here and there which could all go into a pot for the small upkeep needs. Most developments these days have some focal point somewhere in the property, be it some silly public art sculpture or an aeration pond. A historic site sure beats the heck out of those other concepts.
CJ April 13, 2012 at 07:43 PM
You are free to do that excercise and plan this thing through. As a time worn veteran of literally hundreds of construction projects. I can assure you that scope creep is a very real phenomenon and that resoration never costs anywhere near what it appears. My guess looking at the project is a minimum $1MM once all the scope creepers have their say. I am rarely wrong, BTW. Ask my wife, she hates it.
Chris Nicholson April 13, 2012 at 08:26 PM
JS: You make the case that the property owner would be best served by fixing up the place and using it as a selling feature. I was thinking that you may be better off by renting your extra space in your house to college kids....or selling your cars and using zipcars....or maybe buying some short-sale properties as investments. Or, just as a thought experiment, what if we let the people who OWN stuff and DO STUFF decide what is best for them?
Harry Jenkins April 13, 2012 at 08:50 PM
Jon - I was serious. I don't buy the argument that increased class size leads to poor performance. It may take a different skill set to manage, but it can be done. Alternatively, combine some grades. I attended a school with first and second grade mixed together. Half the students could read (2nd graders) and half couldn't (1st graders). The teacher managed. Nobody died. And, all finished high school and some finished college. Pristine schools don't necessarily mean pristine students. And a mediocre looking school doesn't have to mean mediocre performance. I'm not saying money needs to be spent on the house featured in this story. But, funds certainly don't need to be spent on school renovations either.
Sara April 14, 2012 at 03:58 AM
Developers generally don't like having to deal with historical sites, or Indian burial grounds, or significant buildings because, yes, they cost money to excavate and restore responsibly and it cuts into their profits. Simple as that. Good story, and all over the news tonight. The owners put up a "no trespassing" sign.... that ought to do it.
Sue Haas April 14, 2012 at 04:06 AM
All over the news tonight
Lance Beeson April 14, 2012 at 05:23 PM
I saw the truly uninformed contention that there are hundreds of adobes "1000s" of years old. Ridiculous. There are probably less than 100 intact original Spanish or Mexican era adobes left in California. The building of adobe structures doesn't date earlier than Cortez in Mexico or Portola in California. There are Indian structures, like Case Grande in Arizona but not the actual adobes we are discussing. That its just a farmhouse to be discarded and destroyed is also ridiculous as proven by past attempts at preservation. The only reason it's so vandalized at this time is because its not occupied and the caretakers home was demolished so there is no presence. When a developer purchases a property with a historically significant structure, it is widely understood that the issue is not similar to raw land, it is stewardship. I would only ask the poster above if he considers John Adams humble home in Quincy to be a farmhouse meant for later destruction. No, it's not the Monticello but its significant all the same. The adobe memorializes the first military family of modern California. It's a great cultural resource to distinguish Orinda from other "bedroom communities." Efforts are ongoing to preserve it.
Lance Beeson April 14, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Casa Grande. Sp.
Chris Nicholson April 14, 2012 at 06:31 PM
I don't think anyone is saying that historical buildings should be razed out of spite or indifference/disdain for history. Who should determine whether and to what cost/extent such structures should be restored/preserved? Who should pay? How do we rank such spending against other priorities?
Danielle April 15, 2012 at 01:56 AM
This shouldn't be this hard... Motion sensor on the property alerts a nearby homeowner or the police. Homeowner calls the police or makes the trespassers know they are being watched. Developer pays something to restore the adobe, get rid of that sickly graffiti, homeowners pay a little something to help when they buy and the friends group passes the hat amongst the community. Put me down for $100 any day. The "knock it down" people are blind.
Susan Harris April 15, 2012 at 02:20 AM
I am concerned about the vandalism of the Moraga Adobe caused by OrindaCa citizens. They are most likely students at Miramonte High School. I believe parents need to encourage their teenagers to become aware of their actions and for our local teenagers to become involved in protecting a valuable local historic site.
natalie johns April 15, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Agree. I would also be in for $100 to save this piece of our history.
My Kids Dad April 16, 2012 at 06:05 AM
Now if we just get 15,000 more people to signup, maybe there will be enough to buy and restore the property to preserve it. however, without a substantial endowment to maintain it, it will likely end up in the same condition in another 20 years unless someone is living in it, and maintaining it properly.
Jeanne Dowell October 25, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Put me down for $100. I say SAVE IT!!!! Jeanne dowell, Orinda


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