A Hidden Historical Gem

Photos by Charly SHELTON and Mary O’KEEFE Ann Denis of The Day of Verdugos Heritage Association shows off the straw-filled mattress in the bedroom of the Historical Catalina Verdugo Adobe and Living Museum.


In 1798, Don José Verdugo, a corporal in the Mexican Army stationed in San Gabriel, was given the first land grant in California by the King of Spain. The conditions to this land grant were that he farm the land, raise livestock and live in peace with the American Indians of the area. His land boundaries were the mountains on the north, the Los Angeles River on the south, the Arroyo Seco on the east and the San Fernando Mission on the west. This totaled to about 36,000 acres. There were five structures – homes – built on this land and one of these homes remains in the city of Glendale today.

When visitors first enter the Historical Catalina Verdugo Adobe and Living Museum, the first thing noticed is the rich wood furniture and cool adobe walls.

“The walls keep it cool, about 10 degrees cooler than outside,” said Ann Denis, member of The Days of Verdugos Heritage Association. The walls are handmade adobe bricks that are 22 to 24 inches thick.

Catalina Verdugo Adobe Museum gives a glimpse into the history of California.

The Days of the Verdugos Heritage Association is responsible for furnishing the interior. They take great care in making certain the furniture reflects the period of the Adobe. The Association gets some items donated and purchases many others from antique stores throughout California.

“Our sister city, Tlaquepaque, Mexico, donated some [items] to the museum,” Denis said. The Association blended these with the few items that were left behind by the Verdugo family.

During a tour, Denis explained the placement of certain items and also offered the origin of several of today’s common phrases.

“Ladies had to have a fireplace screen. Their makeup was made of beeswax,” Denis said.

Beeswax makeup was used by women to avoid pockmarks that were common due to the lack of creams and skin care. The problem, Denis explained, was if the women were too close to an open fireplace their makeup would melt.

“That is where the saying ‘saving face’ comes from and ‘mind your own beeswax’ for those who would look too close to the faces,” Denis said.

The floor, now wood, was probably put into the home in the early 1900s. Before that, the dirt floor would be treated on occasion with ox blood.

“That would harden the floor and keep the dust from flying up,” she said. “They also broke and cooked seashells to make a paste they would [paint] over the adobe bricks to help protect them.”

The roof was originally made of sticks, straw and other vegetation from the garden. The straw would be kept in place with tar and during the cold nights the cats would find the warmth of the roof inviting.

The site of the Oak of Peace where the treaty that ended the California war with Mexico was discussed and agreed upon.

“Soon dogs and mice would also find their way to the roof. Then, when it would rain the cats and dogs would slide off. That is said to be where the term ‘raining cats and dogs’ came from,” Denis said.

The bedroom includes a four-post bed the Association was able to purchase from actress Mary Pickford’s estate.

History is not contained to just the interior of the home. A significant event happened under a tree in the front garden.

In 1847, Jesus Pico, who was representing Lt. Col. Fremont and the United States, met with his brother General Andres Pico, a member of the Mexican Army, under the large oak tree on the Verdugo property.

“He told his brother the U.S. Army was large and strong, and convinced his brother to surrender,” Denis said.

Terms of the surrender were debated and finally agreed upon while the men sat under the large tree now called the Oak of Peace.

The tree unfortunately died of root rot in 1987. A piece of the trunk still stands and a memorial sign indicates the significance of the site.

With its rich history, Denis said the museum is perfect for third and fourth graders who are learning about California’s history. The Association understands the budget restraints on elementary schools and has set aside funding to help with the some of the costs of school busses to transport kids to the museum.

Once at the museum the students will walk through the old adobe home and learn of California’s history. Volunteers are on hand to oversee the children’s participation in scavenger hunts or a game of tortilla toss or to teach them how adobe bricks are made. It is also a great place for scout troops to visit and can be used as a meeting place for local clubs.

For any interior events, including tours, visitors can contact Ann Denis at (818) 244-2841. For exterior, or large events like weddings, a city permit is required. For information, contact (818) 548-2184.