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Casa de la Guerra

Social History

De la Guerra familiy and others at the Casa, circa 1924, courtesy of the Presidio Research Center.

Casa de la Guerra has been at the heart of Santa Barbara's history since its construction between 1818 and 1828 by José de la Guerra. In 1804 José married, Maria Antonia Carrillo y Lugo, daughter of Raymundo Carrillo who was the comandante the highest ranking officer, at the Santa Barbara presidio at the time. Spanish-born José de la Guerra took the post of comandante himself in 1815. In time, José acquired many properties, including four ranches totaling 258,606 acres, and developed an active business with coastal trade ships and assisted nearby missions with the sale of their hides and tallow. José and María raised thirteen children. To house this growing family, José built his adobe home, Casa de la Guerra, nearby the Presidio and with a view to the coast to monitor the arrival incoming trade ships.   


During his lifetime José served as a patriarchal figure in the community due to his wealth and political influence. Casa de la Guerra was the site of many important 19th-century events including community festivals, religious celebrations, weddings and visits by explorers, dignitaries and merchants. The Casa and the de la Guerra family were documented in several period accounts.  One of the most famous of these is the description of Jose’s daughter Anita de la Guerra’s wedding to Alfred Robinson, recorded by Boston seaman Richard Henry Dana in his book, Two Year’s Before the Mast. Dana’s ship happened to be in port at Santa Barbara during the event, and he describes it:

The bride's father's house was the principal one in the place, with a large

court in front, upon which a tent was built, capable of containing several

hundred people. ...for on these occasions no invitations are given, but

everyone is expected to come.


The de la Guerra’s large household was supported by a number of laborers. Many of the people who built and worked at Casa de la Guerra were Chumash and other indigenous peoples, either contracted from nearby missions or employed directly by the de la Guerras and became dependents of the family. Missions, which contracted out indigenous labor, took the wages “for the good of the community.” The family also employed convicts working off their sentence and sailors who left their ships, and, after secularization in 1834, former Mission Indians. Servants conducted the majority of work of the household, including cooking, cleaning, laundry, gardening, working with animals, construction, maintenance, and childcare.

With José’s passing in 1858, several of the de la Guerra children rose to prominence both locally and on a state level. Pablo de la Guerra, for example, served as a local judge, lieutenant governor and state senator. He is remembered for advocating for the protection of the rights of Californios after California became a state of the U.S. in 1850. Pablo’s brother, Francisco, assisted in the managing of the family lands and held minor local political offices. Due to a combination of severe droughts between 1862 and 1864, internal family disputes and lawsuits, much of the de la Guerra family ranchland and fortune was whittled away during the later 19th century, an experience shared by many Californio families.


The third generation of de la Guerras, dozens in number, continued to maintain ties with the family seat in Santa Barbara, although by the time of the construction of El Paseo beginning in 1922, only two of Pablo’s daughters, Delfina de la Guerra and Herminia de la Guerra Lee, still lived at Casa de la Guerra. During this period Santa Barbara experienced a revival of appreciation for its Hispanic Past, and the Casa became an important historical touchstone. Delfina was honored as the first woman chosen to represent St. Barbara in the Flower festival of 1891, which culminated in a large gathering at the Casa. When the first modern Old Spanish Days Fiesta was held in 1924, parties and teas in honor of members of the early families were held at Casa de la Guerra. Herminia, a social worker, was beloved by the local Spanish speaking community for her work as an interpreter for people seeking help at social service agencies.


The history of other de la Guerra descendants is equally rich, and the family legacy continues, with de la Guerra family members residing locally, and the world over. 

For more information on the history of the de la Guerra family, see Louise Pubols, Father of All: The de la Guerra Family, Power and Patriarchy in Mexican California and Eds. Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz, Testimonios: Early California through the Eyes of Women, 1815–1848.

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