By Michael P. Sampson

Casa de Estudillo (site CA-SDI-18591), a National Register of Historic Places property, National Historic Landmark, and California Historical Landmark No. 53, is a historically significant adobe building familiar to all who visit Old Town San Diego State Historic Park and tour this house museum. The Casa de Estudillo lies at the east end of the Old Town Plaza and adjacent to the Cosmopolitan Hotel, Seeley Stable, and the Casa de Pedrorena y Altamirano. The construction of Casa de Estudillo was completed sometime in 1829 on a land grant received by José Antonio Estudillo, the son of José Maria Estudillo, the commandante of the San Diego Presidio (Walsh 2004:1-2). José Antonio Estudillo, María Victoria (his wife), and their family occupied this one-story residence. Although José Antonio died in 1856, members of the family continued to live here until 1887 (Walsh 2004:6). A caretaker managed the property on behalf of the Estudillo family after 1887.

Casa de Estudillo

Importantly for future archaeological investigations, the Estudillo yard at the time the family resided there in the 19th century was a place for everyday work that held outdoor ovens, stable buildings and corral in the rear, and where gardening, adobe brick making, clothes cleaning, making cloth, horse grooming, and other chores took place (Walsh 2004). These tasks potentially could leave “signatures” or physical evidence that archaeological studies here can detect.

Casa de Estudillo was sold by José Guadalupe and Salvador Estudillo, two adult sons of José Antonio and María Victoria who had inherited the house, to John Spreckels, a wealthy businessman, in 1906; the Estudillo family had ceased residing there by the late 1870s. Wanting to restore the house as a tourist attraction, Spreckels’ company hired local architect Mrs. Hazel Wood Waterman, a protégée of noted San Diego architect Irving Gill, in 1908 to oversee the restoration; the restoration of Casa de Estudillo took place in 1909. [See Thornton (1987) for more details about Mrs. Waterman’s life.] Mrs. Waterman apparently took great care to create a well planned restoration that was faithful to the historic period, although, Waterman’s landscaping was no doubt more elaborate than that used by the Estudillo family. Significantly, the 1909 restoration did affect the yard of Casa de Estudillo and the integrity of any archaeological remains there, as did later State Parks construction activities.

Archaeological excavations were first conducted within Casa de Estudillo by students from University of San Diego (USD) under the direction of Ray Brandes and James R. Moriarty (1976) in the backyard in October and November 1976. By this time, the historic adobe was owned by California State Parks and stood within Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Initially, a waterline trench, measuring 18 inches wide, three feet deep, and 110 feet long, was excavated by the USD workers; that trench ran from the garden wall doorway on San Diego Avenue up to the northeastern corner of the yard where a garage/storage building stood. The 1937 Historic American Buildings Survey map of the site identifies this same building as “Tool House.” This corner of the Estudillo yard, located on Calhoun Street, was at the time the intended location of a new State Parks restroom.

The proposed location of this new restroom, situated in the northeastern corner of the Estudillo yard, was next examined by the USD archaeological team in November 1976. A garage/storage building, measuring approximately 28 feet by 20 feet, stood at this spot then, but was demolished just prior to the 1976 archaeological excavations. The latter building was apparently constructed soon after the 1909 Waterman restoration, as it does not appear on Waterman’s original restoration plans, but appears in photographs of the yard dated to 1910. The entire 28 foot by 20 foot area proposed for new construction was excavated by the USD crew. The restroom excavation showed a layer of sediments to a depth of 21 inches that were interpreted by Brandes and Moriarty as “fill materials.” An underlying 21 to 26 inches layer apparently contained minimal artifacts except for “a few pieces of broken roof and floor tile.” Brandes and Moriarty (1976:25-26) hypothesized that the layer they identified as “fill” was placed in the Casa de Estudillo yard during the 1909 Waterman restoration to level out this area to aid in making it a garden. The 1976 USD excavations yielded 1135 objects, most falling into the categories of consumer items and household items. Portions of the 1976 collection are illustrated in A Guide to Artifacts of California by Ray Brandes and James R. Moriarty (1977); these particular items are missing from the 1976 USD collection currently curated at California State Parks.

Back end of Estudillo

At the request of local State Park staff, archaeologists from State Parks headquarters under the direction of D. L. Felton conducted archaeological excavations within the Casa de Estudillo yard plus one unit against the garden wall on the Casa de Pedrorena side in February and March 1989. Stated purposes of the 1989 archaeological and historical research consisted of seeking (1) physical evidence of historic structures and gaining an understanding of building history within the site, (2) evidence of the historic grade, and (3) evidence of historic features within the yard. Historic structures for which evidence were specifically sought included the building addition on the north wing, the so-called “adobe barn,” observed in 19th-century photographs (e.g., the 1869 Schiller photograph) and walls surrounding and within the Estudillo yard.  An artifact-rich feature was uncovered along the north yard wall during the 1989 excavations that dated between 1830 and 1850, based upon the artifacts found there, while other units within the Estudillo yard uncovered a late 19th century trash deposit and a trash deposit dating to the 1909 restoration. The 1989 work also revealed that the ca. 1909 construction grade lies from six inches to one foot below the present-day grade, and that a “substantial” wall foundation of river cobbles and mortar was employed in the 1909 Waterman restoration (Felton 1989; D. L. Felton, personal communication, 2007). The 1989 excavations found neither clear evidence of the north wing addition seen in an 1869 photograph nor evidence of 19th century yard/garden walls (Felton 1989). The collections resulting from the 1989 fieldwork are stored at the State Archaeological Collections Research Facility in Sacramento. The findings from the 1989 excavations indicate Brandes and Moriarty’s interpretation of the site stratigraphy made during the 1976 USD fieldwork likely was in error.

In 2007, California State Parks archaeologists from the Southern Service Center office in San Diego under my direction conducted excavations next to the 1976 bathroom in the corner of the Casa de Estudillo yard (Smith et al. 2009). These excavations showed no evidence of significant architectural remains and no evidence of buried 19th century landscape features, e.g., a well, a trash pit, or a privy. Experience told me such features might be encountered at the far corner of a residential lot. While no landscape features were found, a total of 1,263 artifacts was recovered during the 2007 excavations, from five units and two shovel test pits placed around the old restroom. This yield of artifacts seemed remarkably good given the considerable amount of disturbance observed in all the 2007 excavation units. The sources of previous ground disturbance in the 2007 project area included the 1909 restoration, the 1976 restroom construction, the previous USD excavation project, a 1996 States Parks remodel of the restroom, and miscellaneous landscaping work since 1910. Also, the 2007 excavations showed no stratigraphic evidence to support the Brandes and Moriarty hypothesis that large amounts of fill had been imported onto the Estudillo backyard during the 1909 restoration. This conclusion is consistent with findings from the 1989 excavations. The 2008 construction of the new bathroom was monitored by a State Parks archaeologist, Rachel Ruston, and resulted in the recovery of an additional 220 artifacts (Ruston 2009). Artifacts ranging in age from the Estudillo family residency, the Waterman restoration, use of the building as Ramona’s marriage place, and the later 20th century construction activities were recovered during the 2008 restroom construction monitoring.

The artifacts from the 1976, 2007, and 2008 collections were cataloged by function and analyzed using attributes employing categories of “activity groups.” The “activity group” classification facilitates the definition of site and feature functions and the comparison of data with other sites. Consumer items proved to be the most abundant in number of items and total weight in both the 1976 and 2007 collections, while household items, building materials, and kitchen items were slightly less numerous (Smith et al. 2009: Table 1). Such findings would be expected in a residential site such Casa de Estudillo. Industrial sites, for example, will manifest few or no consumer, household, and kitchen items, but, relatively large numbers of objects fitting into the building materials, forge materials, hardware, tools, and machinery activity groups. The higher amount of building material/architecture items in the 2008 construction monitoring can largely be attributed to remnant modern-day construction materials originating from park maintenance activities and a 1996 restroom remodel by park staff (Ruston 2009:128, Table 1).

A surprising and noteworthy variety of ceramic types were recovered from the 1976 and 2007 excavations and the 2008 monitoring work, albeit in a fragmentary condition (Smith et al. 2009:44-50; Ruston 2009:130-131). A significant number of the transfer print patterns date in the early to mid-19th century range, when the Estudillo family would have occupied the adobe. Hand painted ceramics of this same era, e.g., Brunida de Tonala, sponge ware, and others, were present in the artifact collections. Majolica, Willow ware, Mocha ware, Export China, Flow Blue ware, and white ware are also represented in the three collections from Casa de Estudillo. I thank local archaeologist and historic ceramic expert Susan Walter for her generous assistance with the identification of the latter ceramic assemblage. Most of the ceramic items from the 1976 and the 2007 excavations and the 2008 construction monitoring then range in date from 1835 to 1849, and reflect use by the Estudillo family. The variety of patterns and the stylishness of the ceramics are a clear indication of the relatively elevated economic status the Estudillo family enjoyed in historic Old Town. A small number of other materials recovered from the 1976, 2007, and 2008 work in the backyard of the Casa de Estudillo can be reliably dated to the time of the Estudillo family’s residency, such as bone butchered in a Californio manner, shellfish remains, and a glass shard with an embossed cross identified as either a communion host jar or holy water bottle.

The 1976 and 2007 projects at Casa de Estudillo produced a small amount of evidence for historic-period Native American occupation, including, flintknapping debris, five manos, and pieces of aboriginal ceramics (Smith et al. 2009:50-52). According to Historian Victor Walsh (2004:2), local Indian people built Casa de Estudillo. It is known that a sizable number of Indian people worked as household servants within Old Town San Diego in the 19th century, including, the Estudillo household, and thus Indian people played an important economic role in 19th century Old Town San Diego (Farris 2006; Sampson 2011:60-70; Walsh 2004:2).

One rewarding aspect of performing archaeological fieldwork in Old Town is the opportunity to discuss one’s work with the general public and school kids. The park visitors who stop to view such work in progress seem to enjoy learning about archaeology by first-hand observation. And, finally, I wish to acknowledge the excellent fieldwork and laboratory analyses by Rachel Ruston and Erin Smith during the 2007-2008 archaeological work at Casa de Estudillo. Erin took a lead role in the analysis of the 1976 and 2007 collections, while Rachel analyzed the collections resulting from the 2008 construction monitoring. D. Larry Felton, a now retired State Parks Archaeologist, directed the 1989 excavations at Casa de Estudillo.


Brandes, Ray and James Robert Moriarty, III

1976    Historical/Archaeological Survey of the Estudillo House Patio, Restroom Site and Utilities Trench, Old Town State Park, San Diego, California. Report on file California Department of Parks and Recreation, Southern Service Center, San Diego.

1977    A Guide to Artifacts of California. University of San Diego. Manuscript on file, California Department of Parks and Recreation, Cultural Resources Division, Sacramento.

Farris, Glenn

2006    Peopling the Pueblo: Presidial Soldiers, Indian Servants and Foreigners in Old San Diego. Presented at the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference, January 13, 2006, as a part of a symposium entitled “Mexicans, Indians and Extranjeros in San Diego, 1820-1850.” Report available on California State Parks Website: Accessed August 2008.

Felton, D. Larry

1989    Field Notes for 1989 excavations at Casa de Estudillo in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Manuscript on file, California Department of Parks and Recreation, Southern Service Center, San Diego.

Ruston, Rachel

2009   Appendix F: Results and Summary of Archaeological Monitoring at Casa de Estudillo during the Removal of Comfort Station #2. In Archaeological Findings for the Comfort Station #2 Replacement Project, Old Town San Diego SHP by Erin Smith, Michael Sampson and Rachel Ruston. California Department of Parks and Recreation, Southern Service Center, San Diego.

Sampson, Michael P.

2011    Continuity in Stone Tool Use during the Historic Period in San Diego County, California. Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly 45 (1-2):49-78.

Smith, Erin, Michael Sampson, and Rachel Ruston

2009   Archaeological Findings for the Comfort Station #2 Replacement Project, Old Town San Diego SHP. California Department of Parks and Recreation, Southern Service Center, San Diego.

Thornton, Sally Bullard

1987    Daring to Dream: The Life of Hazel Wood Waterman. San Diego Historical Society, San Diego.

Walsh, Victor A.

2004   Una Casa Del Pueblo: A Town House of Old San Diego. The Journal of San Diego History 50 (1 & 2):1-16.






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