Dr. Julianne Burton-Carvajal
Even for fans of Monterey’s unparalleled history as capital of Alta California under both the Spanish empire and independent Mexico, Casa Boronda is a well-kept secret. Just two minutes from Highway l, it is tucked away on its own private hillside where, for nearly 200 years, it has overlooked the site of Monterey’s original Presidio, the military garrison founded in 1770. San Carlos Cathedral, California’s first cut stone church, completed in 1794, can still be glimpsed from the front garden. Seven generations of Borondas would be baptized there.
Built either by founding patriarch José Manuel Boronda circa 1818, or by his Irish-bom son-in-law Miguel Allen a generation later, Casa Boronda is among the least altered of Monterey’s many adobe residences. Unlike its cousins, it still occupies its original solar (building lot), now treed with live oak and cypress. The almost four acres were legally subdivided as the Petra Boronda tract by the youngest of the first generation’s eight surviving siblings. Petra, wife and long-surviving widow of Miguel Allen, saw the birth of three more generations at her adobe homestead.
Casa Boronda was handed down through female heirs until 1939, when it was sold by fifth-generation heir Maria Gertudis Bennett Davis Westfall. Artist Tulita Westfall was named after founding matriarch Maria Gertudis Higuera de Arredondo. Tulita’s granddaughter, a 7th generation Boronda descendant and now a grandmother herself, still lives in the area. Descendants of Petra’s brothers and sisters now populate California north to south. Two second-generation Boronda adobes survive in Monterey Country: one near Carmel Valley Village, the other anchor of the Monterey Country Historical Society, Inc. in Salinas.
Posterity is fortunate that subsequent owners have respected the integrity of this unique property. Tulita sold it to a fellow artist, theatrical designer Alexander Tiers. Born and raised in New York City, Tiers pursued his career in Los Angeles before relocating to Santa Barbara. During the few months he owned Casa Boronda, he guaranteed its survival by hiring Carmel-based master builder Michael Murphy to bring plumbing and heating into the house without damaging the building fabric. Murphy also constructed the two board-and-batten outbuildings. Tiers left his most enduring stamp on the property by installing the walled Moorish-Andalusian water-garden and two other white-stucco adobe focal points - all of his own design.
Tiers sold Casa Boronda to Dr. Mast Wolfson, a prominent Monterey physician who, although middle-aged when he purchased the property with his first wife Charmaine, would spend four happy decades in that simple four-room residence, which he left unchanged. Casa Boronda’s fourth owner, a specialist in the restoration of period homes, purchased the property in 2000 and dedicated several years to overseeing a meticulous and much-needed restoration of buildings and grounds. With his cooperation, this author organized four public events that opened the property to hundreds of visitors, including two in cooperation with the Monterey Museum of Art and another benefitting the Monterey History & Art Association. An exhibition on the history of Casa Boronda and neighboring Casa Buelna was featured at the Monterey Maritime and History Museum in 2004 under my curatorship, with a companion exhibition at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.
Casa Boronda has the most complete historical record of any residence in Monterey. It also has the distinction of having been painted by (at least) three leading artists: Francis McComas, M(ary) Evelyn McCormick, and descendant Lester Boronda. For more historical information on this landmark property, see Julianne Burton-Carvajal, The Monterey Mesa: Oldest Neighborhood in California (City of Monterey, 2002) and Pride of Place: Tales of Two Adobes (Monterey History & Art Association, 2004).