Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Love Story of Ramona and the Casa de Estudillo/Old Town San Diego Pt.6

Courtyard Casa De Estudillo
The Romantic Courtyard of the Casa de Estudillo
(Flickr User Mike Fitzpatrick/CC)
Old Highway 101 in San Diego has led us to Old Town where we have been exploring the history of this California State Park. The collection of old buildings here may not had happened it it were not for a soldier, a love story and a World's Fair. Let me explain.

The Estudillo Family

Before the love story was told, there was a beautiful home, and before that there was a man from Spain. José María Estudillo was born around 1772 in Andulusia, Spain, jut two years before the founding of the Mission San Diego de Alcalá in the Spanish Territory of Alta California. At the age of 15 he moved with his father to the New World territories of Mexico.

Clayamacan, a town in Mexico was where José María Estudillo met the Gertutis Horicitas. the woman whom he would marry and who would become the matriarch of an important family in the early days of Mexican California. But that would come with time. The year following his marriage, 1796, José María Estudillo enlisted in the army of the King of Spain at Loreto, Baja California.

Estudillo was an average soldier who served faithfully and loyally. His most notorious activities were his participation in an several exploration trip  in Alta California, with perhaps the most noteworthy being the discovery of Agua Caliente or Palm Springs as it known today. With time came rank and José María was given more responsibility.

In 1797, Estudillo  was sent to the Presidio of Monterey where he would serve as a lieutenant, occasionally filling in as Comandante of the Presidio. It was a remote posting and the edge of Mexican settlement. It might have been a horrible assignment, except for the land titles frequently given for service in the then remote Alta California.

Presidio Of Monterrey Early 1800's Etching
The Presidio of Monterey in the Early 1800's 
(Wikipedia)


In Monterey, José María Estudillo and his wife Gertutis began to build their family, with the birth of their oldest son, José Joaquin Estudillo in Monterey in 1800. Three more children followed to complete the Estudillo family, José Antonio Estudillo,  María Dolores Estudillo,  and Magdalena Estudillo.

War came to the lands of Mexico on September 16, 1810, when peasant in Mexico City took up arms against the Spaniards. In the Northern outpost of Monterey, little changed. Soldiers who had received scant pay and supplies survived the decade without pay and with precious little arriving in supply ships from the South. In 1821, when a treaty was signed and Mexico was officially independent, the news from the capital of a change in leadership was readily accepted by the Presidio's troops

By 1820, Estudillo was a senior enough officer that he was asked to serve as in the Presidio guarding the Mission at San Diego de Algal. It was probably not a very desirable assignment in those days as the area was largely settled by poor and somewhat hostile native peoples.  After about a year he returned to his post in Monterey.

Estudillo served in Monterey until 1827 when again he was again called to command the Presidio in San Diego. Being a man of duty, Estudillo gathered most of the family and relocated. His oldest son, who was already a 20 year old soldier in the Presidio, stayed behind and eventually secured a place in Bay Area history, securing a land grant in San Leandro that would eventually become the city of the same name.


José Antonio Estudillo
José Antonio Estudillo
(Wikipedia)
Taking his command, José María began to build a life for his family in San Diego. His second son, José Antonio, now the oldest son living with the family, had already assumed his role in the family business of soldiering. On land granted by the Governor of California on the edge of the plaza of the young pueblo of San Diego De Alcala, the younger Estudillo began the construction of a large L shaped hacienda for his father and himself that same year of 1827.

The home was considered one of the finest in Old California. Over time the building was enlarged upon by adding another wing making a U-shaped building at the edge of the plaza. The family would thrive there until 1887 as the Estudillo family grew with California. Gaining more and more land grants and holding much of their lands by remaining neutral when the Americans fought Mexico in 1850, ultimately taking ownership of California.

Helen Hunt Jackson

Meanwhile, on the East Coast of the United States in Amherst, Massachusetts on October 15, 1830 a young girl was born who would grow up to tell a story of love that would have a big effect on that house in the Pueblo of San Diego De Alcala.

Helen Maria Fisk was the daughter of Nathan Welby Fiske and Deborah Waterman Vinal Fisk. Nathan Welby Fiske had attended the seminary as a young man, but only served briefly as minister before being hired as a Professor of Latin, Greek and Philosophy at Amherst College. Helen had the normal childhood of a professor daughter growing up literate and fairly well off,

Her mother passed away when she was 14 and her father followed just three years later. To her fortune, as a person of means, her inheritance provided her with the opportunity for higher education. In New York, she attended the Ipswich Female Seminary and the Abbott Institute. Notably, also a student there at the time was another young girl from Amherst only two months younger who would also gain fame, Emily Dickinson.

In 1852, at the age of 22, Helen Maria Fisk married U.S. Army Captain Edward Bissell Hunt. They would have two children. Her first son died as an infant in 1954 from from brain disease. A second son was born, but tragedy seemed closes at Helen's heels.

In 1863 Helen's husband, Captain Hunt was killed in a military accident. Left a widowed mother, she never had much time to grow into that role. Here second son, Rennie Hunt died of diphtheria in 1865. Alone in the world Helen Hunt began to write.

Helen Hunt wrote prolifically, and with some success, Generally she wrote books of poems and sonnets or children's stories. Sometime during this period she was reacquainted with Emily Dickinson with Hunt encouraged Dickinson to pursue a writing career. They were said to remain correspondents for the rest of their lives.



Having come to terms with her grief, somewhere around 1873 or 1874 Helen met Coloradan William Sharpless Jackson, wealthy banker and railroad executive. They fell in love and were married with Helen Hunt Jackson as her new name.

Helen Hunt Jackson wrote a few novels over the next few years before she saw a public speaker in 1879 that would change the rest of her life. The Ponca chief, Standing Bull gave a talk describing the forcible removal of the Ponca from their Nebraska reservation and transfer to the Quapaw Reservation in Indian Territory. His peoples suffered from disease, climate and poor supplies. The story touched the heart of Mrs Jackson.

Helen Hunt Jackson
Helen Hunt Jackson
(Flickr User Chuck Coker/CC)

The wife of a powerful businessman and a well known writer, Jackson used her skills to try and lobby Congress to establish reforms on American Indian policy.  Raised as a Unitarian, Jackson had grown up with the righteous civil disobedience of the abolitionists. Using the same tactics she had articles published in various Eastern newspapers outlining and detailing injustices committed against Native Americans by the young United States government.

By 1881 she had finished her treatise A Century Of Dishonor that recounted the forcible relocation of seven native groups and the tragedies that accompanied the relocation. In addition, she listed violent activities instigated by Whites against Natives. It was a strong work. Perhaps it was too strong, Even after sending a personalized copy to every member of Senate, it had little effect on policy makers.



Frustrated with her lack of success, Jackson took a Train trip to Southern California where she wanted to explore the California Missions and perhaps do some research for a book about the Old California churches.

While in California, Jackson met Don Antonio Coronel.He was a former mayor of Los Angeles and an expect on the Californio's Mexican era history. He told her about how the Mexican government, removing from the Catholic Church some of its vast Alta California claims had displaced or mismanaged many areas acknowledged as Native settlements since the days of the Spaniards.

Americans were no better, Colonel told her. After taking control of California following the Bear Flag Rebellion and the subsequent gold rush, there was precious little in the way of previous land claims either given by Mexico or Spain that the Americans were willing to acknowledge.

Once again, Helen Hunt Jackson's case of what we might call in modern times "liberal guilt" inspired her to resume her defense of Native Americans. This time more specifically to the plights of the dispossessed Natives of California.

Hiram Price, the U.S Commissioner of Indian Affairs, recommended her to be appointed an Interior Department. She was to be given the task of visiting the remaining mission Indians, The groups had dwindled greatly in numbers since the days of the Missions. from an estimated 15,000 their numbers had declined to around 4,000.

Jackson was to determine what bands were still intact, where they were located, and what land, if any should be purchased by the government to establish reservations.

Traveling with another Interior Agent, Abbot Kinney, Jackson absorbed many stories of the treatment of the Indians by Mexican Californios and the Americans that followed them. By 1883, she had completed her 56 page that report that, not surprising, painted desperate conditions and recommended extensive land purchase for reservation and development of Indian schools.

Governmental change is usually glacially slow and Jackson wanted results, It was time to change her tactics. Drawing upon her experiences with abolitionism, she noted that many people were drawn into the movement after reading Uncle Tom's Cabin or watching one of its many stage adaptations. Helen realized that the strength of a good story could reach into a person heart and perhaps cause a change in their life.

From the website Poemhunter.com:
"I am going to write a novel, in which will be set forth some Indian experiences in a way to move people's hearts. People will read a novel when they will not read serious books." She was inspired by her friend Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). "If I could write a story that would do for the Indian one-hundredth part what Uncle Tom's Cabin did for the Negro, I would be thankful the rest of my life," she wrote. 

Determined to write as impactful a story as Uncle Toms Cabin was. Jackson set out to tell a story about the struggles of Native Americans and their treatment at the hands of White America.The result was Ramona. 

The plot, as per Wikipedia:
In Southern California, shortly after the Mexican-American War, a Scots-Native American orphan girl, Ramona, is raised by Señora Gonzaga Moreno, the sister of Ramona's deceased foster mother... Señora Moreno has raised Ramona as part of the family, giving her every luxury, but only because Ramona's foster mother had requested it as her dying wish. Because of Ramona's mixed Native American heritage, Moreno does not love her. That love is reserved for her only child, Felipe Moreno, whom she adores. Señora Moreno considers herself a Mexican, although California has recently been taken over by the United States. She hates the Americans, who have cut up her huge rancho after disputing her claim to it. 
Señora Moreno delays the sheep shearing, a major event on the rancho, awaiting the arrival of a group of Indians from Temecula whom she always hires for that work. She is also awaiting a priest, Father Salvierderra, from Santa Barbara. She arranges for the priest so that the Indian workers can worship and make confession in her chapel, rather than leaving the rancho. Ramona falls in love with Alessandro, a young Indian sheepherder and the son of Pablo Assis, the chief of the tribe. Señora Moreno is outraged, because although Ramona is half-Indian, the Señora does not want her to marry an Indian. Ramona realizes that Señora Moreno has never loved her and she and Alessandro elope. 
Alessandro and Ramona have a daughter, and travel around Southern California trying to find a place to settle. In the aftermath of the war, Alessandro's tribe was driven off their land, marking the beginning of European-American settlement in California. They endure misery and hardship, for the Americans who buy their land also demand their houses and their farm tools. Greedy Americans drive them off from several homesteads, and they cannot find a permanent community that is not threatened by encroachment of United States settlers. They finally move up into the San Bernardino Mountains. Alessandro slowly loses his mind, due to the constant humiliation. He loves Ramona fiercely, and regrets having taken her away from relative comfort in return for "bootless" wandering. Their daughter "Eyes of the Sky" dies because a white doctor would not go to their homestead to treat her. They have another daughter, named Ramona, but Alessandro still suffers. One day he rides off with the horse of an American, who follows him and shoots him, although he knew that Alessandro was mentally unbalanced. 
Ramona was missing from the rancho for two years. Felipe Moreno finds the widowed Ramona and they go back to Senora Moreno's estate with Ramona's child. Felipe has always loved her and finds her more beautiful than ever. Although Ramona still loves Alessandro, she marries Felipe and they have several more children together, although Ramona and Alessandro's daughter always remains their favorite.



Ramona's Success

Ramona was a smash hit novel, but it was also a failure. It was published in 1884 and during its first ten months over 15,000 copies were sold. At the one year anniversary of Jackson's death, North American Review called the book "unquestionably the best novel yet produced by an American woman". It was also cited as being one of the two most ethical novels of the 19th century.

The book's failure, however was that the tragic tale did little to change public perception on Indian treatment, at least initially. Readers were instead drawn to the love story and the romantic descriptions of early California life. And the book does paint a romantic image of those early days, in spite of of the treatment of the Indians in the book. Jackson had failed because by giving her story such a vivid and by then exotic locale, readers did not make the connection that Jackson was trying to highlight an ongoing problem. Instead, it seemed to describe the problems from a time gone by.

Readers wanted to see the places so vividly described in the novel. With the opening of new Santa Fe rail lines into Southern California travelers began to include in their visits to California seeing the sights described in the book.

A challenge soon arose for those early Ramona pilgrims. The book was a work of fiction. Many sights mentioned in the story were real and specific, such as the missions and the Old Town in San Diego. Many other sites were disputed, if indeed there was ever as specific location in the authors mind.

Mission San Gabriel Arcángel Circa 1900
Mission San Gabriel Arcángel Circa 1900
(Wikimedia Commons)


Jackson died in early 1885 shortly after the book was printed.The speculation about how much of the story was based on true events and how much the creation of Jackson's imagination was unable to be answered by her.


Mission San Gabriel Arcángel could not be disputed as a place mentioned in the book, Ramona's home was widely supposed to have been the Rancho Camulos, located to the North between  Los Angeles and Ventura.

Rancho Camulos
Rancho Camulos
(Flickr User Konrad Summers/CC)
The trail of Ramona featured many spots along the El Camino Real. It was the old Kings Highway that eventually would become Highway 101. The Southernmost point of the story of Ramona was for many love struck readers a focal destination and it is there we return to the Casa De Estudillo in Old Town San Diego.

Ramona's Marriage Place

The old Casa De Estudillo had housed surviving the Estudillo family members after Juan Antonio's death in 1852 until 1887 when the family relocated to Los Angeles. As they left, early Ramona pilgrims began to show up occasionally. The vacant home was tended by a caretaker who would show visitors the home claiming that it was where Ramona and Alessandro were married in the book.

The house does not exactly match the chapel described in the novel, but it was close enough to pass muster with excited tourists. The caretaker would sell the tourists souvenirs he had basically stripped from the property such as bits of the adobe that were crumbling away with age. Naturally, it did not take long until the building was sliding into ruin, but even as that happened it's reputation as Ramona's Marriage Place grew.

Casa De Estudillo Circa 1890
The Home Circa 1890-Slowly Being Stripped Away
(Wikimedia Commons)

Across the United States in the late 1800's interest in Southern California history was quite popular, with Mission Style architecture and furniture experiencing a surge in popularity, especially in the Southwestern United States.

1910 would be a big year in the Ramona story. D.W Griffith filmed a 16 minute adaptation of the film using real locations mentioned in the story.



In San Diego, plans were under way for a World's Fair celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal. A large fairgrounds was to be built in the Mission Style at Balboa Park. President of the board of directors was former President U.S Grant. Local sugar company heir and streetcar owner John Spreckles was Vice President. We have talked about Spreckles before in other posts where we looked at the giant outdoor pipe organ he had built.. As a streetcar owner, Spreckles needed to get people off of the fairgrounds and into his steetcars if he was going to cash in.

Spreckles had already been making plans for several streetcar line destination attractions built such as the Boardwalk and Roller Coaster that are still popular today at Mission Beach. He also purchased the old Casa De Estudillo with plans to restore the buildings to their former glory and to provide Ramona pilgrims a site worth  visiting. He hired a friend and former showman Tommy Getz to manage the property, which he did with a showman's flair, building up the story and selling souvenirs to the California vacationers who would visit.

Panama California Exposition San Diego 1915 Guidebook
Panama California Exposition San Diego 1915
(Wikimedia Commons)

The fair was a success and many people rode Spreckles streetcars to Old Town to see Ramona's Marriage Place. It became one of the must see attractions in San Diego and was a frequent spot for weddings over the next 50 plus years all the while churning through souvenirs in its gift shop.

Film helped keep the story alive. In 1916, another silent film was released directed by Donald Crisp. Sadly no copies are known to remain.

The City of Hemet began a tradition in 1923 that still continues to this day every spring. With the spring flowers in bloom a canyon is converted to an amphitheater with seating on one side and the other of the canyon featuring a hacienda and hillside upon which is performed the longest running and largest outdoor theatrical pageant in America.

Alessandro and Ramona, 1955 Ramona Pageant
Alessandro and Ramona, 1955 Ramona Pageant
(Flickr User Chuck Coker/CC)
A cast of local volunteers tell the epic story of Ramona featuring ranchero music, native drumming, traditional dancers in both Mexican and Indian styles as well as horsemen and gun play.

Ramona Pageant in Hemet, CA
The Colorful Ramona Pageant in Hemet, CA
(Flickr User Konrad Summers/CC)
A 1928 adaptation starring Delores Del Rio and Warner Baxter was a well respected film that was almost lost to history. A lone copy was found in the Národní Filmový Archiv in Prague that was just remastered and re released in 2014. The film's theme Ramona was a hit song that we will look into a little bit more in our Playlist Additions.

1928 Ramona Movie Poster
The 1928 Film (Wikimedia Commons)

A 1936 version of the story, and the first talking version, starring Loretta Young and Don Ameche was celebrated for its technicolor photography, but the performances were uninspired and the story was told in a heavy handed manner described by the New York Times as "pure hokum".

1936 Ramona Movie Poster
The 1936 Film
(Wikimedia Commons)

In San Diego, the tourists kept visited the Old Casa de Estudillo, most of them knowing of it only as Ramona's Marriage Place.

Ramona's Marriage Place Circa 1937
Ramona's Marriage Place Circa 1937
(Wikimedia Commons)
A California story like Ramona could not escape the attention of the radio drama. In 1946, Screen Guild Theater performed an adaptation of the story on it's program. You can listen to it here:



Ramona- The Screen Guild Theater DOWNLOAD

Ramona was still being used to market California vacations as late as 1949.



By the early 1960's Tommy Getz's wife, who had manged the property since Tommy Getz died in 1934 was ready to retire. She sold the property to the Title Insurance and Trust Company, who sold the property to local businessman Legler Benbough who donated it to the State of California in 1968.

The State Park



The Casa De Estudillo was restored and became a cornerstone building in the development of the Old Town San Diego State Park. The park service downplayed the house connection to the Ramona story, instead focusing on its importance in the development of the early City of San Diego. A cupola, that had been removed during the Marriage Place years was rebuilt and today visitors explore the old house and its restored rooms everyday.

Casa de Estudillo Kitchen
The Kitchen
(Flickr User Mike Fitzpatrick/CC)
Casa de Estudillo Living Area
The Living Area 
(Flickr User Kimberly Vardeman/CC)

Casa de Estudillo Master Bedroom
The Master Bedroom
(Flickr User macmaroon/CC)
Casa de Estudillo Priest's Room
The Priests Room
(Flickr User macmaroon/CC)
Casa de Estudillo Chapel
The Chapel- Ramona's Marriage Place?
(Flickr User macmaroon/CC)
These days, many of the visitors to the Casa De Estudillo have never heard of Ramona. The Ramona legend is not dead however. In 2000 a telenovela was produced for Latin Television, telling the tale in all of its melodramatic glory. It only seems a matter of time before this love story is told again in a new form.

Playlist Additions

This week we begin with a video playlist that I discovered on YouTube. Posted by The Ramona Locater the playlist is a trip to various places in Southern California both real and and conjectured. It mixes that in with scenes from the famous Ramona Pageant in Hemet. The thorough and still homespun series has a certain style that I think meshes with what I am trying to do here with this blog. I enjoyed and hope you do to.



Musically, this week's focus is on one song. The 1928 film was not a talking motion picture, but sound was starting to appear in films. The movie did have a synchronized musical soundtrack when it appeared in theaters. One of the features of the soundtrack was a title song. It was actually the first time a title song had been used for a motion picture. It turned out to be a big hit and was reused in the 1936 version of the film as well

The song was called Ramona and is actually a fairly mushy love song (perfect for Valentines Day, eh?) It was a hit for the singer and films star, Delores Del Rio. I had to do a little searching, but found a variety of versions on Archive.Org. They will be this weeks playlist additions. To download, the little temple icon in the upper right corner of the player will lead you to an Archive.Org download page.

When the song Ramona originally came out it was common for many popular singers for the various record labels to do their own versions of hit songs. Since Ramona was a hits song a number of alternate versions were released in 1928.

Whispering Jack Smith had a distinctive style that made use of the newly emerging electric microphone to sort of whisper/croon his lyrics. I occasional hear him played on the Ragged Antique Phonograph Program on WFMU and his records are usually entertaining.

Paul Whiteman whose band featured the legendary Bix Beiderbecke on cornet follow with a cinematic jazzy interpretation that spent three weeks at number one on the charts.

The biggest hit version was by Gene Austin, whose crooning interpretation rode to number one and stayed there for 8 weeks.

Another fun version comes to us from Ruth Etting. Her take on the song made it to number 10 on the charts, but it is my favorite. Like many of this weeks artists, I was unfamiliar with her before researching this post. I think she is the discovery of the week. Her voice has a certain whimsy to it that I quite enjoy. Luckily there is a vast Archive collection of her work I can dig into.

To round out the early versions we have The Merton Orchestra and Deep River Orchestra both offering their big band interpretations.of Ramona.

The song had faded back to the back pages of the American Song Book when for some reason it came out of retirement in the 1950's,

In 1952 a pop band called the Gaylords out of Detroit reworked the classic song with an early fifties doowop harmony approach. It was one the best selling records for Mercury that year and spent two months on the charts.

Another reworking of the song by 1960;s Dutch Duo the Blue Diamonds gave the song a rock and roll feel. Germany and Denmark made it a number one record. It made it all the way to number 17 on the US charts.

Crazy Otto recorded a ragtime version of the song in 1963. It did not have any particular success, but as fan of the Grateful Dead, I have to love Crazy Otto for his mention in the song Ramble On Rose.

Finally, I have a fast electric guitar version by someone named Bill Dora. It isn't a hit version, but it is is yet another interpretation of the song.


  • Ramona Dolores Del Rio 3:29
  • Ramona Whispering Jack Smith 2:34
  • Ramona Paul Whiteman 3:29
  • Ramona Gene Austin 3:02
  • Ramona Ruth Etting 3:11
  • Ramona The Merton orch 2:55
  • Ramona Deep River Orch 2:43
  • Ramona Crazy Otto 2:27
  • Ramona The Gaylords 2:32
  • Ramona Blue Diamonds 2:33
  • Ramona Bill Dora 2:13
























Signing Off And Coming Attraction
If you made it this far, I hope you found the post interesting. In the future I will try to be a little less verbose so you don't have such a novel of a blog post to read. Had you heard of Ramona before? Have you ever been to the Ramona Pageant? Do you have a favorite version of the song from the playlist? Let's communicate! Leave me a comment. and let me know what you think.

Next Week: Our Interstate 95 journey takes us to Vero Beach, Florida The home of Dodgertown.
Two Weeks: We will conclude our three part series on the Blues Brothers before we explore still more or Chicago, Illinois at the start of Route 66.
Three Weeks: Back in San Diego, California we will be leaving Old Town and Heading North on the old Highway 101.


Mileage Stats

Route 66: 0 Miles/1 State/1001 Tracks/270 Videos/40 Posts
Highway 101: 22 Miles/2 Countries/1 State/625 Tracks/363 Videos/30 Posts
Interstate 95: 123 Miles/1 State/87 Tracks/139 Videos/14 Posts

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