Mansion last piece of 19th-century dynasty

On March 30, 2012, the Press Enterprise ran a couple of my photos of the Estudillo Mansion in an article on the San Jacinto landmark, that was featured on the front page of their Local Section of the Sunday paper. They also featured a couple of quotes from me, on the history of the house.

It’s always fun to see one of my photos on the front page of any section of a traditional printed newspaper!

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SAN JACINTO: Mansion last piece of 19th-century dynasty

Estudillo Mansion, San Jacinto, California
CHERYL SPELTS/CONTRIBUTED IMAGE The Estudillo Mansion, built in 1884, fell in and out of disrepair throughout the 20th century. It’s since been restored by a local group and is part of the Francisco Estudillo Heritage Park in San Jacinto.

Published: 30 March 2012 10:39 PM

A stately home on 6 acres in central San Jacinto is an elegant token left over from a 19th-century dynasty.
The Estudillo Mansion was built in 1884 by Francisco Estudillo, according to a history posted on the city of San Jacinto’s website: “The mansion and a twin mansion, built by his brother, (Jose) Antonio Estudillo, near Soboba Hot Springs, are all that remain of a 35,000-acre Mexican land grant given to their father, Jose Antonio Estudillo, in 1842.”

The father was in charge of the San Luis Rey mission, hence the land grant from Mexico, which the region belonged to until 1850, said Sharon Terracciano, an Estudillo Restoration Association volunteer.

Francisco Estudillo — the younger of the brothers, born in 1844 — traveled with the family’s cattle, which grazed in the San Jacinto area. Initially he lived in an adobe that later burned. After his marriage, he built the mansion.

Estudillo was San Jacinto’s first postmaster, the city’s website notes. He was also a Mission Indian Agent for the U.S. government. Estudillo served on the school board and was San Jacinto’s second mayor, from 1890 to 1892.

Perhaps befitting Estudillo’s high profile, his two-story home had eight rooms, graced by soaring ceilings, Terracciano said. “They had beautiful cross breezes for ventilation,” she said.

Upstairs are four bedrooms. Ground-floor rooms include a “gentleman’s parlor,” said Cheryl Spelts, a photographer who posts her images of the mansion on her website. Estudillo’s safe is still in the wall. A music room displays a piano, and a china pantry lies near the dining room.

Estudillo’s income came from ranching and farming, Terracciano said, but he also kept race horses. Though Estudillo came from an aristocratic family, he sold off some of his land.

“These people were land-rich but money-poor,” Terracciano said. Over time, Estudillo also donated land for a railroad depot and to the Catholic church, she said.

He lost the property to foreclosure in 1901, she said. At that point Estudillo moved to Los Angeles, where he remained until his death about 1920, Terracciano said.

The mansion passed through 26 more owners by1992, when an earthquake rendered it uninhabitable, she said. It was sold to Riverside County, then to San Jacinto in 1998. A local group obtained grants for a seismic retrofit and historical restoration. Those efforts started around 2004, Spelts said.

The mansion was restored to its likely appearance in 1885, Terracciano said. None of the furnishings now in the home belonged to Estudillo but they are authentic to the period, she said.

Spelts feels a personal connection to the mansion.

“I love the house,” she said. Her grandparents’ close friends, Dick and Del Kroker, were among those who launched efforts to get the mansion restored, and she has at least one other relative who also worked on the project.

Meanwhile, the “twin” house near Soboba Hot Springs has been unoccupied for decades and is in disrepair, Spelts and Terracciano said.

The Estudillo mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Located at 150 S. Dillon Ave., it is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. There is no formal admission charge, only requested donations.

For more information, call 951-654-4952.

Estudillo Mansion
CHERYL SPELTS/CONTRIBUTED IMAGE The Estudillo Mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places.

©2012, Enterprise Media. All Rights Reserved • 3450 Fourteenth Street, Riverside, California 92501

Estudillo Mansion in San Jacinto | 2012

Estudillo Mansion // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsI’ve shot the Estudillo Mansion twice before – once in 2006, when a family friend took us on a private tour of the inside, and I was able to document some of the damage that still existed from the Lander’s Earthquake in 1992. And then I shot it again in 2010, after the renovation had been completed – but that time I didn’t go inside, I only shot the exterior.

So it was time to go back and shoot the inside! And of course, a little bit of the outside… The grounds are just so beautiful, and the exterior of the house is what I love most, so I couldn’t go and not shoot a little of the outside.

I’ll start with the staircase, since that’s what you see when you first walk in the front door. If you’d like to see what that staircase looked like in 2006, before the renovation, click here! It’s just as steep, and the banister is still exceptionally low – which is just as it was built back in 1885. It’s fine going up, but a little scary coming down, if you’re tall. My mother is much shorter than I am, and for someone her size, the banister height is fine! The big difference from 2006 is that the walls are now back to the original color – a muted blue-green – it’s actually darker in person that it appears to be in my images. And that the floors have been refinished, and the staircase painted.

Opening off of the staircase and entry hall are two front rooms – a men’s sitting room and the music room with a really magnificent rectangular grand piano. I didn’t shoot many of the furnishings, since I was focussing more on the house itself – but I couldn’t resist that piano – it was magnificent. And I loved the vase of peacock feathers sitting on it – that is a very Victorian touch! Especially in Southern California, where Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, the founder of Arcadia, imported three matched pairs of peafowl from India in 1880 – and almost all the peafowl in Southern California still today, are descended from those same three pairs. So it would not be a stretch at all, to imagine peacock feathers in the Estudillo home in the late 1880’s.

Victorian Era Music Room // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsStaircase in the Estudillo Mansion // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Hand-Painted Frescoed Border // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The hand-painted frescoed borders in the first floor rooms are original to the house – they are mentioned in an article that appeared in the San Jacinto Register on May 2, 1889. They are not stenciled – they are frescos – which is a process where pigment is mixed with water and painted on a thin layer of wet, fresh plaster – so the pigment is absorbed by the wet plaster. It’s an old Italian classical process. And since it is hand-painted by an artist, there is some variation, as the border continues around the room. They’re beautiful, and special, and can’t be duplicated – and the committee steering the renovation and maintenance of the house has wisely decided not to touch them or change them in any way, despite the fact that they were damaged over the years. They were evidently covered with wallpaper for many years, and so were “saved” from being painted over – but the wallpaper itself damaged the painted surface, and then the Lander’s Earthquake did more damage. I have a photo from 2006 that shows what the renovators first found, as they first uncovered the borders.

Hand-Painted Frescoed Border // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

This border is in the back parlor, across from the dining room, and behind the music room. It’s a room that gets a lot of sun, with big windows, so it seems appropriate that it would have a lighter, simpler border. The fireplace is also in this room – and I have a photo of it in 2006, but I didn’t shoot it this time, because it just doesn’t feel like it’s original to the house – to me. I have no insider knowledge – but I just don’t think it fits – so if you want to see it, click on the link to the older photos!

Hand-Painted Frescoed Border // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Next up is the dining room – and I love the frescoed border in this room! Throughout the house the same palette of blues and greens is used, and the dining room is the darkest room in the house – so the border is of course darker and more vibrant as well. I’ve included a close up, so that you can see just how vibrant the paint once was. It must have been beautiful when the artist first finished creating it!

Vintage Doorknob // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsVictorian Era Butler's Pantry // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Victorian Safe // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsThis doorknob leading to the dining room is authentic – it was either original to this house, or it came from this house’s sister mansion on Soboba Road, built in the same era, with the same floor-plan. And the little room off of the dining room, is actually the china closet – a very common feature in upper-end Victorian homes.

An finally, the last room on the bottom floor is the men’s sitting room – and it includes the original safe! Fransisco Estudillo owned the Rancho San Jacinto Viejo, which totaled over 4000 acres – so he had a lot of employees – and thus probably needed a safe for his payroll. The safe is built into an interior wall, under the staircase, and is actually rather small inside. There are some tiny wooden drawers that are barely visible in the image.

Next I headed upstairs…

Just like downstairs, there is a wide center hallway upstairs, with the staircase – and four rooms open off of that hallway. Three of the rooms are bedrooms, and they are so stuffed full of vintage furniture that I wasn’t able to get a good shot of any of them. In person, it’s really interesting to see all the antiques from many different eras – and some of the furniture is really spectacular!

The fourth room was originally the bathroom – the house had hot and cold running water when it was first built, and there are stories of a huge clawfoot tub and oversized bathroom sink – but supposedly they still used an outhouse in the backyard. I can understand locating the kitchen separate from the rest of the house – kitchens were dangerous back then, and it was a safety precaution to locate the kitchen elsewhere – plus it kept the whole house cooler in summer. But an outhouse in the backyard? I can only imagine having to head down that staircase in the middle of the night, and then across the dirt backyard to get to an outhouse? It’s probably a good bet that a couple of chamber pots were in use in those early days!

Estudillo Mansion Staircase // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsVintage Hinge // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

This is the view of the staircase from the second story, looking down. And an original door hinge. There is one door hinge upstairs that is a reproduction – but it’s hard to spot which one it is! The artisan who created it, did a good job of matching the vintage hinges!

Inside the Estudillo Mansion // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

An antique desk in one of the bedrooms.

Upstairs deck at the Estudillo Mansion, San Jacinto, California // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsVictorian Brackets // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Outside a veranda wraps around three sides of the house, and that means upstairs there’s a great deck that wraps around the house!

From the roof of the Estudillo Mansion, San Jacinto, California // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsRed Flowers // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

On the left is the back edge of the orginal house in the foreground, and then a brick addition – which was the first kitchen that was added to the actual house – and then beyond that is a clapboard addition that was the second kitchen added. Guess the owners that came after Estudillo wanted an indoor kitchen!

Estudillo Mansion in 2012 // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

There are two doors leading outside from the second story – the main door leads off of the wide central hallway, but there is also a second door that leads directly from one of the bedrooms – and it’s on the shady side of the house, so there’s a beautiful little breeze that blows and it’s just the best place to hang out on the entire property. If I lived there, that would definitely be the bedroom I’d choose!

The Grounds of the Estudillo Mansion // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsHallway in the Estudillo Mansion // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Pink Blooming Tree // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsCalifornia Poppy // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I can never resist pretty flowers… Especially when we’re talking vibrant pink blossoms and bright orange California poppies! Definitely some of my favorites!

Pair of Ducks // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

And finally a couple of ducks that showed up on the grounds that morning – someone evidently dropped them off, hoping they’d be cared for at the Mansion. I just can’t imagine how anyone could think that was an okay thing to do? To drop off your pets at a park, and hope someone else decided to feed and care for them? And these ducks were completely tame, and okay with people – and they were so sweet with each other – they were definitely a pair, or at the least very good friends. And they sure were cute!

A.K. Smiley Public Library

The A.K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands, California is one of my favorite places on this earth – and by far my favorite library! Built in 1898, back when Redlands was known as the City of Millionaires, the architectural style is Moorish, which was surprisingly popular in the Victorian period. We may think of the standard Queen Anne when we think Victorian architecture, but the Victorians themselves were fascinated by the exotic. The wealthy traveled to Europe and the Far East, and they brought back not just rugs, and vases, and other furnishings, but also ideas about architecture. The A.K. Smiley Public Library, in my opinion, is the perfect architectural example of Victorian Moorish architecture in America. It’s fantastic!

And it’s not just a beautiful building – it’s also a great library. If you’re looking for a place to read a book in a garden – you can do that here. If you want to do research on local history – you can do that here. And if you just want a good old-fashioned library with books and computers and helpful librarians – that’s here too!

A.K. Smiley Public Library

A.K. Smiley Public LibraryA.K. Smiley Public Library

A.K. Smiley Public Library

A.K. Smiley Public LibraryA.K. Smiley Public Library

A.K. Smiley Public Library

A.K. Smiley Public LibraryA.K. Smiley Public Library

A.K. Smiley Public Library

Gilman Springs Road

Gilman Springs Road
Just a little plug for one of my other sites! is where I blog about my new hometown, and I love this image so much, I wanted to share it here too. It was shot on Gilman Springs Road, just outside of San Jacinto, on the way to Riverside. To see more, go to

(Note: As of August 2013, I’ve moved to Riverside, California, and is no more. But I still love the images from this day, so I’ve added two more below. Enjoy!)

Gilman Springs RoadGilman Springs Road

Malibu, California

Almost everyone is at least a little bit fascinated by the idea of Malibu – movie stars and rock stars living in beautiful mansions right on the beach – how fabulous is that? But if you focus on just the celebrity homes, you’ll miss some of my favorite parts of Malibu. It really is all about the beach!

Barbed Wire Fence // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Pretty Weeds // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsThe Beach // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

House in Malibu // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Barbed Wire and the Beach // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsPretty Weeds // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Pretty Weeds // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsBeach through Barbed Wire // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The Ocean // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

House in Malibu // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsPatterns in the Sand // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Shimmering Sand // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsMalibu Gate // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

House in Malibu // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsSand Patterns in Malibu // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Ocean Birds // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Patterns in the Sand // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsCairn in Malibu // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Old San Juan Capistrano

I spent some time in one of my favorite places yesterday – on Rios Street, in San Juan Capistrano – near the Mission and the train station.

O’Neill Museum in the Los Rios Historic District // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

My favorite house was built in 1870 by Jose Dolores Garcia, as a gift to his wife. He wanted to build a unique home, so he did extensive research on horseback, in Anaheim, looking at other homes built in that era. It was the first wooden house built in San Juan Capistrano and is now the O’Neill Museum.

O’Neill Museum // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsPink Rose // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

O’Neill Museum // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Pink Bougainvillea // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

A wrap-around porch with pink Bougainvillea..

Bougainvillea // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsO’Neill Museum // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

O’Neill Museum // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsOverblown Rose // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I’m a big fan of the Victorian penchant for mixing flowers and fruit – if you look at the art from the era, still life paintings, with ripe succulent fruit and overblown flowers were extremely popular. They also combined the two in their front yards – as witnessed here – an orange tree, with a few oranges still clinging to the bottom branches, and one overblown, past it’s prime, rose. Perfectly Victorian!

Amtrak Train // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The train still runs through the center of town, just as it’s done for over a hundred years. The Metrolink is a commuter train that can take you to Los Angeles, Riverside, or San Diego.

Rios Street, San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsTwisted Vine // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Old San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Red Santa Fe Railway Caboose // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsGraffiti Cactus // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Hidden House Coffee // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Orange Flowers // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsTrain Station // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Chains // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsYellow Berries // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Artist Courtyard // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Pretty Alpaca // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsWhite Alpaca // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

There’s a petting zoo right on Rios Street – and I did a portrait session with a very pretty Alpaca who posed for me. We did a few headshots, and then a full length shot. She has that hair in the eyes thing going on that I just love!

Alpaca on Rios Street // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Brown Alpaca // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsOrange Bougainvillea // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Eventually one of her Alpaca friends wandered over, and wanted in on the action…

/ Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The houses in the Los Rios District range in age from 50 to over 200 years old. You can read more about the individual houses, and the Los Rios District at

Rios Street, San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsRios Street // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Rios Street, in San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

White picket fences seem to be quite popular on Rios Street.

Rios Street, San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

San Jaun Capistrano Train Station // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsOld San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I arrived on Rios Street just before sunset, and by the time I left the sun had set, and the the restaurants were hopping, and the movie theater across a side street was open for business…

My new project…

I’ve started a new site, for my new city – and I’m filling it with beautiful images, and photo essays, and stories!

So far I’ve blogged about Winchester Farms, Little Lake, Valle Vista, the Hemet Carnival, Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church, and one of my favorite old houses.

If you’re at all interested in life in Hemet, California, check it out!

Sheep Grazing on Gilman Springs Road // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Orange Groves in Valle Vista

Newport Beach, California

Back in September I spent some time in Newport Beach, and never posted the images – so why not do it now? These were shot just after sunrise, downtown.

Newport Beach, California

Reflecting Clouds // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsPink Bougainvillea // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Evening Star // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Weeds Growing in SidewalkSpiral Staircase // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Morning in Newport // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Downtown Newport Beach // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsAn Alley in Newport // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The Stimulus with Clouds // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Downtown Newport // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsDocking in Newport // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

More from Idyllwild

Just a few more images from Idyllwild last weekend….

Idyllwild RedwoodIdyllwild Wildflowers

I love this old redwood tree – it may not be as large as some of the giants up in Northern California, but it’s still massive – and beautiful. I also love the moss growing up the side. If viewed from the right angle, the redwood resembles a person with arms reaching up. It reminds me of the trees in fairy tales – not the scary trees that reach out and grab you – but the friendly good trees who are wise and kind, and shelter you from the elements.

And of course I have to include a few images of wildflowers! In idyllwild the wildflowers get a late start, since the elevation is so high, so they’re still going strong in the beginning of July.

Idyllwild WildflowersRedwood Tree in Idyllwild

Idyllwild Flowers

Lily Rock, Idyllwild, California

And finally, the obligatory shot of Lily Rock. When most people think of Idyllwild, they think of Lily Rock – or Taquitz as it’s sometimes called – depends on who you’re talking to! I’ve personally never made an image of it that really excites me. Maybe it’s because everyone who comes to Idyllwild feels compelled to photograph it? Maybe it’s because I’ve seen some really excellent images of it? Maybe because landscape photography is not really my forte, and a shot like this is best left to the professionals? I’m not sure why I’ve never quite hit it – but I can pretty much guarantee that I’m not done trying. Someday I’ll get it!

Estudillo Mansion in San Jacinto | 2010

In February of 2006, in one of my very first blog posts, I blogged about the Estudillo Mansion. An old family friend was deeply involved with helping to save it, and gave me and a few of my family members a private tour – it was incredibly cool! I got to see it in the middle of the restoration – and shoot it…

Since then a lot has changed at the mansion! I was there this weekend on Sunday, so I wasn’t able to go inside this time, but I was able to roam the grounds freely, and they’re beautiful. Hopefully soon I’ll get there on a Saturday – the only day it’s open – so that I can see the inside again. I’m excited to see what they’ve done to the interior.

Estudillo Mansion

If you know me, you know how I feel about fruit trees used in landscaping – I love it! It’s very Victorian – fruit and flowers – all mixed together. Just lush… And oranges? Just so Southern Californian!

Estudillo Mansion

The mansion was built in 1885 by Fransisco Estudillo, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001, and dedicated in 2004. The plaque above is located on a stand in front of the house and reads… “May all who visit this distinguished edifice enjoy it’s beauty and remarkable history.”

Estudillo Mansion100-year-old Pepper Tree // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The pepper tree on the right is huge, and old, and I’m definitely not an expert but I do know that pepper trees this large can be 100-years-old, so I like to imagine that this tree was planted right around the turn of the last century, and has been there almost as long as the house. Known as the California Pepper Tree, they were actually brought here from Peru by the Franciscan Friars – they were planted at the California missions – so they’re definitely historically correct! The whole inside of this particular tree is hollow, so I’m not sure how much longer it will survive, but it’s lovely to see still standing – so many people are so quick to chop down trees that are not “perfect looking” but this tree is still beautiful in it’s own way – and all the huge old trees make the back yard at least ten degrees cooler than the front yard – it was 95° F in San Jacinto on Sunday, but in the shade of all those trees in the back yard? It was wonderful!

Old Bricks // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

If you look closely you can see all the different shades of mortar that have been used to repair this wall over the years.

Garden at the Estudillo MansionGarden at the Estudillo Mansion

These guys are located out in the side garden – if I remember correctly this garden was originally the “kitchen garden” – meaning it was where they grew spices and vegetables – and when it was time to start a meal, the cook would wander out in the garden and pick whatever was ripe and ready, and then go cook it in the kitchen – which was not attached to the house – too much of a fire danger. The attached kitchen was added to the house much later.

Estudillo Mansion

Sorry, We're Closed // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Yeah, only open on Saturday afternoons… Oh well!

Green BranchEstudillo Mansion // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Brick wall at the Estudillo Mansion

I was surprised by the number of donors with the last name of Estudillo. This wall is located in the garden, it’s not part of the house – as you can see it’s made of modern bricks – not the more narrow vintage bricks of the main house.

Cactus FlowersLilly Pads

Garden at the Estudillo MansionVIP Parking

Above is a garden, where every plant has a little plaque. It could be worth exploring all on it’s own – on another day…

And isn’t the sign on the right cute? I don’t know who it refers to? But it’s definitely fun!

For more on the Estudillo Mansion, there was an article in the Press Enterprise in 2008, that describes the 15-year-old mission to save it, and mentions my grandparents’ old friends, Dick and Del Kroker.