At Flores Adobe, history stands solid

Times Staff Writer

In the hot Southern California real estate market, the Flores Adobe might be considered a fixer-upper. But the 19th-century house still has style, space and a story to tell.

After the final California battle of the Mexican-American War more than 160 years ago, the defeated californios met in this house under the command of Gen. Jose Maria Flores. They discussed a tentative treaty that became the Articles of Capitulation, a model for the nation's only treaty to be written by the losing side. Later, the adobe was named in Flores' honor.

The adobe, now part of South Pasadena, was built on Rancho San Pasqual, a 14,000-acre Mexican land grant, sometime between 1838 and 1845.

Its current owners, Greg and Jane Burzell of Laguna Beach, bought it from the estate of Jane Burzell's grandfather, Wallace Robert McCloskey. "It was always my dream to have this old house," said Jane Burzell, who played there as a child.

McCloskey bought the adobe in 1967, saving it from demolition, and lived there nearly 30 years. Each day, Jane Burzell said in an interview, he hoisted a U.S. flag over the cactus garden in tribute to the adobe's role in bringing California into the union.

McCloskey's wife, Jane, researched the home's history and wrote "6 Horses and 10 Head; 200 years on the Rancho San Pasqual 1770-1970," published by the Pasadena Boys and Girls Club.

"The proceeds from my grandmother's book helped them build a clubhouse," Burzell said. Jane McCloskey died in 1981.

Today, the adobe is hidden from view on a knoll among two apartment houses and a cluster of 1920s bungalows. The Daughters of the American Revolution placed a plaque there in 1920, commemorating the adobe as the Jose Maria Flores headquarters. It became one of South Pasadena's first Cultural Heritage Landmarks in 1971. The following year, it was included in the National Register of Historic Places.

The eight-room, U-shaped house encompasses more than 3,700 square feet, plus a huge courtyard.

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The rancho was granted to Eulalia Perez de Guillen on Easter in 1826 for her long years of service as keeper of the keys at the San Gabriel Mission. She named it Rancho San Pasqual; it sprawled over much of what is now Altadena, Pasadena, South Pasadena and San Marino.

She soon traded the land for her freedom from an arranged marriage, and for a small cottage near the mission. Her husband ended up with the deed and passed it on to his son, who sold it for six horses and 10 head of cattle. The buyer, Jose Perez, a violinist and distant relative of Eulalia, abandoned the property.

In 1843, Mexican Gov. Manuel Micheltorena gave the rancho as a wedding gift to Manuel Garfias, a lieutenant colonel in the Mexican army. It's not clear who built the adobe, Perez or Garfias.

Near the end of the 1846-48 Mexican-American War, Garfias turned his country home into the headquarters for Flores, who by then was interim governor of California. The site offered commanding views of the countryside and served as a "protection against marauding Indians," Jane McCloskey wrote.

On Jan. 9, 1847, Flores and his troops lost the Battle of La Mesa, the last of several brief but bloody wartime encounters. As the Americans retook the city, Flores and half of his 200 soldiers high-tailed it to the adobe. The other half, led by Andres Pico -- brother of Pio Pico, California's last Mexican governor -- set up camp in what is now North Hills, near the intersection of Devonshire Street and Sepulveda Boulevard, said Jim Gulbranson, curator at Campo de Cahuenga, another historic site.

Flores stationed soldiers on the hill and around the house. There, he held a final council with Garfias and other military leaders, "working out points in the treaty," Gulbranson said in an interview.

U.S. forces insisted on unconditional surrender, stating that all would be given amnesty except Flores, who would be shot or taken prisoner. Flores sent a runner to tell Pico to take command, then fled to Mexico with Garfias.

Mexican military officials settled down in the adobe to discuss making peace in what would become the Articles of Capitulation. The articles led to the cease-fire known as the Campo de Cahuenga Treaty, which was signed two days later near what is now Universal City.

Garfias returned to California in 1848 after Mexico had ceded California and amnesty had been declared in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. He spent most of his time in Los Angeles, serving as the county's first treasurer and a city councilman.

By 1859, Garfias had gone into debt. Two neighboring ranchers and wheeler-dealers -- Dr. John Strother Griffin, a surgeon in the Mexican-American War, and Benjamin "Don Benito" Wilson, a former Los Angeles mayor for whom Mt. Wilson is named -- took the rancho off Garfias' hands for $1,800.

Over the years a series of renters lived in the adobe. Before the Civil War, a wooden east wing was added, changing the house's L-shape to a "U" around the courtyard.

In the 1870s, Wilson and Griffin subdivided and sold most of the rancho property, including the adobe and surrounding land, which was purchased by Henry D. Bacon. His son, Frank Page Bacon, moved in with his family, Jane McCloskey wrote. The property became known as Bacon Hill.

By the early 1880s, the adobe had become a boarding house.

In 1886, Boston native Walter Raymond opened the deluxe Raymond Hotel on Bacon Hill. Wealthy Easterners wintered there. Soon, the hilltop was called Raymond Hill.

In the 1890s, the R.H. Seay family leased the adobe and 200 acres of farmland from Raymond's land company, Jane McCloskey wrote. Seay's children dug up a wooden box containing a few $20 gold pieces, starting rumors of buried treasure. The loot was believed to have belonged to the "Chinese cook of a former tenant," she wrote.

The Raymond Hotel burned to the ground in 1895. Rebuilt, it reopened in 1903 and flourished until the Depression, when it went into foreclosure. New owners razed it to build homes.

For a time, the adobe sat empty and in increasing disrepair.

In 1919, wealthy Pasadena socialite Clara Noyes purchased the home and its 2 1/2 remaining acres. She hired famous architect Carlton Winslow to restore it. Noyes also planted a cactus garden and, in 1924, opened the adobe to the public as a tearoom.

Noyes commissioned Winslow to design four Spanish-style adobe bungalows along the east and north sides of the original adobe. Noyes named the bungalow facing Garfield Avenue for the rancho's original owner, Adobe Eulalia Perez, and moved into it. All four homes still stand.

In 1932, Noyes sold the Flores Adobe to businessman and importer Marshall Neal and his wife, Mary.

The Neals decided to add a guest house. When excavation began, workers uncovered 13 skeletons two feet below the surface, according to an oral history that McCloskey took from the Neals. The skeletons' origins remain a mystery.

The Neals lived in the adobe until their deaths in the 1960s. Then the McCloskeys bought it.

Wallace Robert McCloskey "bought the adobe because my grandmother fell in love with it," said Jane Burzell, who is named for her grandmother. "When he cleared the land to build the apartments, workers found many Indian artifacts, including pottery and kitchen tools. My grandfather donated it all to the Southwest Museum."

Today, two wrought-iron horse heads, once used as hitching posts, mark the stairs to the brick courtyard, where a 21st-century portable spa sits. Atop one of the five original chimneys is a weathervane shaped like a silhouette of a Mexican family riding to town. The weathervane appears in a 1920s Times photograph.

The Burzells were married in the adobe in 1996. The following year, they bought the property, which they lease out. But they almost didn't get it. The adobe had been sold at a price beyond their means, but that sale fell through. Only then could they afford it. She won't say what they paid -- but she credits her ancestor for the good luck.

"My grandfather is my guardian angel," Jane Burzell said.

cecilia.rasmussen@latimes.com

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