While living through the pandemic has had its challenges, it has also had some silver linings. One of these has been having the chance to take some really nice walks around my hometown, Glendale, California. I was born here, and consider myself somewhat an expert in the place, having spent maybe half my life total living here. And yet, I have been able to discover new – well, new for me – things during the past year.
Glendale’s Verdugo Woodlands neighborhood is a lovely place to walk, with interesting houses, lots of greenery, and fairly wide sidewalks along most streets. It was here that I stumbled across something I’d never seen before, a small driveway and a sign stating “Catalina Verdugo Adobe.” Not being in a hurry, I decided to investigate. And I’m glad I did!
In 1784, a portion of Rancho San Rafael was granted to Jose Maria Verdugo. About 40 years later, in 1828, he had this adobe constructed for his blind daughter, Catalina, who lived there until her death in 1871. The timing of that make it one of Glendale’s oldest buildings, a fact reflected in its status both as a California Historical Landmark (number 637) and listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The building itself is fairly modest, much as it would have been during its use as a dwelling, and while currently closed due to Covid, is open to visitors during select hours. It has been somewhat refurbished, although there is still a protected view of one of the original adobe bricks used in its construction for people to see. Surrounded by just over an acre of gardens and benches, it is run as a Glendale park, open to the public. It is serene, and worth a stop.
One feature of the grounds, however, is what sets this place apart from any number of other historic homes throughout the region. A small sign reading “The Oak of Peace” sits next to what was once a large tree, now just a stump. This tree, which died of natural causes in 1987 according to the City of Glendale, hosted a meeting that resulted in California joining the United States.
In January 1847, the Mexican American War was in full swing. While the fighting in the Mexican province of Alta California – today’s California – was limited due to the tiny population (approximately 6,000 Mexican Californios and 800 or so Americans), it was important strategically to the United States and its goal of full conquest across the continent. On January 13, 1847, Mexican General Andres Pico officially surrendered to American General John Fremont, signing the Treaty of Cahuenga, ending the war on this front and ceding the territory to the US. However, two days earlier, on January 11, General Pico and his brother, Jesus Pico, a representative of General Fremont, met here, under a large oak tree at the Catalina Verdugo Adobe to negotiate the terms of Mexican Californio surrender.
Standing in the shade of the myriad of other trees covering the area, it is amazing to think of these two brothers, one representing the United States and one Mexico, meeting under an oak tree, debating terms of surrender that would result, just a couple days later, in the annexation of California by the US. This little-known event, perhaps over a picnic and warm embrace between brothers, truly changed the histories of two countries. And it happened right here, in a tiny park on a residential street in my hometown of Glendale.
Leaving Catalina Verdugo Adobe, smiling at having discovered something new and learning something fascinating, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have found this place if not for a global pandemic that forced me to spend fourteen months at home. The honest answer is: probably not. After all, my father lived less than a mile from here for a good part of my childhood, and I don’t recall ever visiting, or even hearing of it. It just goes to show that discovery is possible even in the places one thinks he already knows best.
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