Fiesta Day celebrates the Centinela Adobe’s storied role in the evolution of Los Angeles
Story Jessica Koslow | Photos by Maria Martin
Where did the phrase “pulling out all the stops” come from?
From an 1879 pump organ like the one inside the Centinela Adobe, Historical Society of the Centinela Valley President Diane Sambrana will tell you on a tour of the house, located just west of the 405 Freeway between Florence Avenue and La Tijera Boulevard. “Each one of its knobs gives you a different sound,” she explains, “and when they’re all out, you have a grand finale.”
This and hundreds of other interesting historical facts about Westchester, Playa del Rey, Inglewood and beyond flow from Sambrana, who lives in Inglewood next to the house where she was born.
The Centinela Adobe, where you’ll see and hear about the many inhabitants of this three-room homestead and how they shaped local history, is open for free tours from 2 to 4 p.m. Sundays and by appointment. So are the adjacent Haskell Heritage Center and Freeman Land Office, where books, photographs and artifacts illustrate the story of the Centinela Valley.
From noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, the historical society hosts its annual Fiesta Day at the adobe and the land office. The grounds will be alive with the sounds of Mariachi Alfaro, dancers from Grupo Folklorico Mexicaltitan, plus live weavers, spinners, lacers, butter churners and a piñata. Homemade tortillas are the star of the menu, either as a base for tacos or with fresh-churned butter.
It isn’t hard to see that Sambrana loves this landmark and its history. As she takes you around the buildings, she punctuates her sentences with “How cool is that?” and “Just bebop over there… .” She’s here on a Saturday, scrubbing the copper kitchen sink that Robert Burnett, a shepherd from Scotland, installed for his bride in 1860. Sambrana’s work is 100% volunteer. In exchange, the three buildings offer seemingly endless opportunities for discovery.
Historical Society of the Centinela Valley President Diane Sambrana leads a tour of the Centinela Adobe, Freeman Land Office and Haskell Heritage Center. Photos by Maria Martin.
The Centinela Adobe was built in in 1834 by Ygnacio Machado, a land grant owner who grew crops such as corn and grapes here as part of a 24,000-acre rancho. The property now occupies a single acre, and visitors enter through what was originally the back — the front no longer faces Centinela Creek and surrounding farmland, but the rushing 405 Freeway.
One of the more interesting owners of the adobe was Daniel Freeman, an attorney from Canada whose innovations in farming and land development helped grow the population of Greater Los Angeles. When Freeman leased the ranch in 1873, the sheep Burnett had brought in were struggling to survive a drought. Freeman decided to grow barley, and soon he was shipping a million bushels of it to New England and Europe. He bought the ranch in 1885, built the land office, and started selling small parcels of land for a settlement he called Centinela, which later incorporated as Inglewood.
Freeman also planted thousands of trees. One of his big initiatives as president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce was sending carloads of fresh citrus back to New England. In the post-Gold Rush era, oranges and lemons were California’s new treasure, and their sweet lure seduced many back East to resettle in Southern California.
Freeman’s daughter, Grace, built the Holy Faith Episcopal Church on Locust Street at Grace Avenue, and was involved in founding the former Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital.
Even though the Centinela Adobe is a history lover’s sanctuary, it’s surprisingly kid-friendly. There are dolls in the bedroom, where you’ll hear the story of how Barbie and Hot Wheels came to be, and a hair wreath (from Manuela Cota Machado’s head) framed on the wall. In the land office, the antique phone — the kind where you pick up the earpiece and talk into the box on the wall — really works!
Even if kids don’t want to be there, they should be. As Sambrana points out with sorrowful eyes and a hand over her heart, times are changing fast and some kids are missing vital information. Like, one student on the tour didn’t know the first three words of the U.S. Constitution, which is on a poster on the back of the door of the adobe’s Veterans Room, which pays homage to local soldiers and their supporters.
Two years ago, my husband and I bought a house in Inglewood that was built in 1922. When we told Sambrana, she looked at us with a smile.
“Do you want to know who lived there in the ’20s?” she asked.
At the end of the tour, she looked for our answer in a worn directory in the Haskell Heritage Center: 1927, John L. Pulliam, chauffer, and his wife, Ruby.
How cool is that?
The Historical Society of Centinela Valley hosts Fiesta Day at the Centinela Adobe (7634 Midfield Ave., Westchester) from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8. Admission is free. To schedule a tour, call (310) 649-6272 or visit centinelaadobe.org.