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Spirits Of The Bay: The Sanchez Adobe In Pacifica’s Linda Mar

Written by Gary Kamiya | Illustration by Paul Madonna

Illustration by Paul Madonna
With its 1950s and ’60s tract homes, Pacifica’s Linda Mar is not the first place you’d expect to find one of the most historic buildings in Northern California. But this pleasant neighborhood a mile off the beach in the San Pedro Valley hosts an extraordinary structure, the Sanchez Adobe, whose story began in the first years of the Spanish colonial period.

The Sanchez Adobe was built between 1842 and 1846 by Francisco Sanchez, a member of one of the leading Californio families of the Mexican era. Sanchez had been granted the 8,926-acre Rancho San Pedro in 1839. He was a respected citizen who was the 8th alcalde (more or less the mayor) of San Francisco, and led a Californio revolt against unjust American actions during the Mexican- American War.

Any existing adobe from the Mexican era is extremely rare, but the Sanchez Adobe is especially distinctive. The adobe bricks that Sanchez used to build his house were likely salvaged from an abandoned mission settlement that was established in the 1780s and once provided almost all the food for San Francisco’s mission and presidio. The site of the adobe has a still older story, one that goes back to the first Spanish explorers in Northern California — and before that, to the native people who lived in the area for millennia.

On October 31, 1769, the Catalan officer Gaspar de Portola and his small party of explorers arrived in what is now Pacifica. They made camp in a sheltered valley near a stream, near the site of the Sanchez Adobe.

They were not the first people to choose this favorable site. A small group of Ohlone people were living in a village named Pruristac in the same area, where their ancestors had likely lived for centuries.

It was from this camp site that Portola and his men first saw San Francisco Bay, from the top of nearby Sweeney Ridge. That sighting ultimately led to the establishment of Mission Dolores and the Presidio in the City. And it was a crisis in those institutions that led to the most fascinating chapter in the site’s long history.

The Spanish priests and colonists at Mission Dolores soon discovered that they could not grow nearly enough grain, fruit and vegetables to feed themselves, nor the Indigenous peoples who had come into the mission and the troops at the Presidio. But they soon found a much better site: the San Pedro Valley, where Portola had camped.

The Spanish began to grow crops in the sunny, sheltered valley in the early 1780s. By 1786, they had built an adobe chapel, a 110-foot-long adobe granary, and rooms where they could stay during the planting and harvesting seasons. By 1790, almost all the food for the Presidio and Mission Dolores was being grown at the farm outpost. It had 36 acres of wheat and almost 10 acres of corn, along with pear and peach trees and a young vineyard. One hundred neophytes (new Indigenous converts) worked the land. The Spanish wrote glowing reports about the place, whose success was regarded as a sign that God intended them to convert the Indigenous groups down the coast. According to historian Frank M. Stanger, “(I)n their minds San Pedro held all their hopes for the Mission’s future.”

Then disaster struck. In a precursor of tragedies to come, in 1791 an epidemic, probably of measles, raged through the Indigenous workers at San Pedro, killing 47 people. Many, if not most, natives fled in terror. The buildings of the abandoned outpost crumbled, leaving only a cemetery and some cattle roaming the hills.

The outpost decayed over the decades, until Sanchez was awarded his vast rancho and used the bricks of the old buildings to make his adobe house.

Sanchez died in 1862. In 1871, his adobe was sold to one James Regan for $5,000. In subsequent years it was used as a hotel, a brothel, a speakeasy, a bootleg saloon, a hunting lodge and an artichoke packing shed. It was sold to San Mateo County in 1947, and has been a museum ever since, preserving one of the West’s historic treasures.

The Sanchez Adobe, at 1000 Linda Mar Boulevard in Pacifica, is open to the public Tuesday–Thursday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on weekends from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

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