Centinela Adobe, also known as La Casa de la Centinela, is an adobe house constructed in 1834. Operated as a museum by the Historical Society of Centinela Valley, it is considered one of the best preserved of 43 surviving adobes of Los Angeles County, California, USA. It was the seat of the vast Centinela Rancho. The adobe, which is the Centinela Valley's oldest residence, was built by Ignacio Machado in 1834. Since then, farmers, ranchers, a Scotsman and Inglewood's founding father, Daniel Freeman, have lived in the structure. It is the oldest building in the area and has been called the "Birthplace of Inglewood", although it now lies within the boundaries of the Westchester district of Los Angeles. Freeman's land office, built in 1887, has also been moved to the grounds of the adobe, and both buildings are available for docent-led tours.
History of the Centinela Adobe and Ranch
Rancho Aguaje de la Centinela
Centinela Adobe is built on the site of what was formerly the Rancho Aguaje de la Centinela. In 1822, after Mexico won its independence from Spain, Antonio Ignacio Avila acquired the ranch, where he grazed cattle. The cities of Redondo Beach, Inglewood, Hawthorne, El Segundo, Lawndale, Manhattan Beach, and Hermosa Beach were once part of the ranch.
In the early 1830s, Ignacio Machado, one of the "leather jacket soldiers" who escorted the original settlers of Los Angeles, began cultivating a portion of the ranch. Machado acquired rights to of the ranch and built Centinela Adobe in 1834. Machado's brother Augustin ran the nearby La Ballona Ranch, as well as those in Lake Elsinore and Santa Rosa. Ignacio Machado owned the ranch only briefly, trading it in 1844 for a keg of whiskey and a small home in Los Angeles.
The ranch changed hands several times in the 1850s, including a sale in 1859 for $930. Joseph Lancaster Brent bought the ranch the same year for $3,000, but when the Civil War commenced in 1860, Brent returned to his home in the South, where he served in the Confederate Army. Scotsman Robert Burnett purchased the ranch from Brent for $3,000 in 1860. Burnett added to the ranch, acquiring Sausal Redondo for $29,500. By 1872, Burnett had a ranch that encompassed all of the land from what is now known as Playa del Rey
and Redondo Beach
. In 1873, Burnett returned to Scotland, leasing the ranch to Daniel Freeman, a recent arrival from Simcoe, Ontario
. Writer Charles Nordoff stayed at the ranch in 1874 and wrote an article about Southern California ranch life for Harper's New Monthly magazine. Nordoff wrote, "I looked around with some curiosity for this was the first time I had had an opportunity to see how the old Californians of wealth live." Nordoff found the adobe style of living "poor and simple" with a mix of "squalor and splendor."
Freeman paid $7,500 per year in rent, and also had an option to purchase the ranch for $150,000. Freeman raised sheep and planted more than 10,000 trees, including 7,000 orange and 2,000 almond trees on the ranch. When a drought led to the death of 22,000 head of his sheep, Freeman turned to growing barley, and he eventually was producing a million barrels a year. In 1885, Freeman exercised the option to buy the ranch for $140,000 in gold. Freeman amassed a fortune farming barley, olives, lemons, limes and almonds on the ranch, and named his expansive land holding Inglewood, after his birthplace in Ontario. In 1887, the California Central Railway laid tracks to Redondo Beach, and Freeman sold off in small parcels as a settlement that became the city of Inglewood. In 1888, Freeman built a large mansion in Inglewod, and in 1889 he built the land office that now sits on the grounds of the Centinela Adobe. Eventually, all of the ranch were subdivided, and the only remaining portion of the ranch that remains is the one-acre site on which the Centinela Adobe is situated.
For those interested in a more complete history of the adobe, John R. Kielbasa's book, "Historic Adobes of Los Angeles County," includes a chapter on the Centinela Adobe, which is accessible here The gift shop at Centinela Adobe also sells a book on the area's history.
Centinela Adobe Museum
Adobe saved from demolition
The Centinela Adobe Complex has been described as the historical centerpiece of the area known as Centinela Valley, the lands extending from the Baldwin Hills to Palos Verdes, which comprised the Centinela Ranch. Yet, in the late 1940s, the adobe was threatened with demolition when the remaining land was subdivided to make room for new homes. Preservation-minded citizens raised money to purchase the property in 1950 and deeded it to City of Inglewood, which still maintains the adobe through the Parks and Recreation Department. Even though the one-acre site is located in the Westchester
district of Los Angeles
, Centinela Adobe played a central role in the history of Inglewood. Accordingly, the cities of Inglewood and Los Angeles agreed in the 1950s to allow Inglewood to annex the adobe site, so the property is "officially" in Inglewood.
The adobe has been restored and is operated jointly by the Historical Society of the Centinela Valley and the Inglewood Department of Parks and Recreation. The adobe and museum are located at 7634 Midfield Ave., a residential street abutting the 405 Freeway. It is open on Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m. Admission is free, and docents are available to provide tours. The adobe can be toured for groups or special occasions at other times by calling the Historical Society. The adobe is furnished with period furniture and artifacts from the late 1800s. In a 2001 profile of the museum in 2001, the Los Angeles Times
"The long, low, white stucco adobe with its porch and shingle roof looks as if it is sitting right in the middle of the 19th Century. But it's not, as the nearby San Diego Freeway visibly demonstrates. It's really a kind of time warp: the telltale sign of a modern metropolis on one side and the oldest home in the Centinela Valley on the other-still serene, still peaceful amid lawns, shrubs and shade trees."
Freeman Land Office
The Freeman Land Office, built in 1887 for the Centinela-Inglewood Land Company and originally located on Florence Avenue east of Eucalyptus Avenue, is also accessible as part of the tours. The building was used to sell plots of land for what became Inglewood. The building has been moved twice, most recently in 1975 to its present site next to the adobe. The land office building is well-preserved and contains many artifacts and photographs.
Heritage and research center
The grounds also include a heritage and research center which opened in 1980. The research center houses items from the Daniel Freeman mansion, which was demolished in 1972. Items on display in the research center include Freeman's library, safe, and furniture, as well as articles and photos about the history of Centinela Valley.