San Benito Lifestyle

Plaza Hotel, Castro-Breen Adobe rededicated as California Historic Landmarks

Ceremony in San Juan Bautista honors history of structures in Mission plaza.

The descendants of two prominent families in early California history watched, Saturday, as two historic landmarks in San Juan Bautista were re-dedicated in a ceremony that honored their place in California’s past.

The Plaza Hotel (California State Historical Landmark 180) and the Castro-Breen Adobe (California State Historical Landmark 179) in San Juan Bautista were designated as state historical landmarks years ago. Until now, however, the distinctive plaque in front these buildings that mark many other such sites across the state was absent.

On Saturday, a bronze plaque detailing the history of both landmarks was unveiled in a ceremony that included descendants of the Castro and Breen families, as well as members of the Plaza History Association, the State Office of Historic Preservation, the Native Sons of the Golden West and Native Daughters of the Golden West.

The Casto-Breen Adobe was the home and office of José Antonio Castro, Commandant General of the Mexican Army in Alta California. Castro also strove for California’s independence from Mexico. The home was later sold to pioneer Patrick Breen and his family, who survived the Donner Party tragedy during their trip west.

“The family is very honored,” commented Paul Breen, the great-great grandson of the original Patrick Breen. “We are very proud to be a pioneer family involved in the formation of the state of California.”

“It’s great,” agreed Joe McMahon, vice president of the Plaza History Association and descendant of Castro (sixth generation) after the ceremony. “It went very well.”

The Plaza Hotel, which originated as a one-story adobe barracks for soldiers protecting the nearby Mission San Juan Bautista, was eventually opened as a hotel by Italian immigrant Angelo Zanetta in January 1859. It remained open until it became part of the California State Parks system in 1933.

The Plaza Hotel was also an important stop for the stage coach line in early California, said Patricia Clark-Gray, a regional interpretative specialist and district recruiter with the Monterey District of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, “Who knows which famous people stayed there while it was open?”

Speakers at Saturday’s ceremony included: Stuart Organo, supervising ranger of the San Juan Bautista State Historic Park; Nikki Combs, district interpreter for the State of California Parks and Recreation Department; Amy Crain, historian with the State Office of Historic Preservation; David Allen, past grand president and chairman of the Historical Preservation Foundation of the Native Sons of the Golden West; Tim Tullus, grand president of the Golden Gate Parlor #29 of the Native Sons of the Golden West and Joe McMahon, vice president of the Plaza History Association.

Saturday’s ceremony came as a joint effort between state officials and the Native Sons of the Golden West. As part of the 150th anniversary of California State Parks in 2014, the Office of Historic Preservation introduced the 150th Legacy Landmarks Project to designate new landmarks and update nominations and plaques at existing landmarks. This provided an opportunity to fund a plaque to inform visitors to San Juan Bautista of the historical significance of the Plaza Hotel and Castro-Breen Adobe with help from the Native Sons of the Golden West.

The Native Sons of the Golden West was founded in 1875 and has a long legacy of historical preservation which began with the purchase of Sutter’s Fort in 1890. The group also helped to lobby state lawmakers to form a state office charged with preserving historical sites significant to California’s history – the precursor for the modern State Office of Historic Preservation.

Another group dedicated to celebrating the local history of San Juan Bautista, the Plaza History Association, also played a role in the ceremony Saturday. The Plaza History Association, a group of volunteers who dress in period costumes to bring the history of the late 1800s to life, presented their living history exhibitions, complete with mountain men, Victorian ladies and even a Blacksmith. The group also provided guided tours of the grounds as well as operates the Plaza Hotel’s gift shop and saloon.

The Plaza History Association presents its living history event every first Saturday of the month, as well as on father’s day, on the grounds of the Plaza Hotel and Casto-Breen Adobe sites.

San Juan Bautista isn’t the only Central Coast historical site receiving a new plaque. A similar plaque ceremony re-dedicated the very first California Historical Landmark, the Custom House in Monterey County in October 2015. The Custom House was constructed by the Mexican government to collect customs duties from foreign shipping and originally became a California State Historical Landmark in 1932.

Asilomar in Monterey County was approved as a new state historic site as a result of the 150th Legacy Landmarks program. Asilomar is one of five new California Historical Landmarks approved in 2014, bringing the total to 1,055 registered landmarks statewide.