Moraga Historical Society Rallies to Preserve Adobe
By Sophie Braccini
FJMA members speak with Michael Olsen in the living room of the
Moraga Adobe Photo courtesy Friends of the Joaquin Moraga Adobe
At the March 10th meeting of the Moraga Town Council, Ron Louis, President of the Moraga Historical Society, asked the Council to attend a meeting to which the Society invited the Friends of the Joaquin Moraga Adobe (FJMA) to present the proposed real estate development that threatens, in its opinion, the preservation of the historic structure. On March 25th, when the meeting was held at the Hacienda de las Flores, a large crowd from the Society displayed a keen interest in preserving the future of the original estate of the namesake of their town, Joaquin Moraga. Moraga Council Member Dave Trotter, a past president of the Historical Society, chimed in and urged the participants to get involved and follow developments where decisions will be made, in the City of Orinda, where the Adobe is located.
Kent Long, President of FJMA, was born and raised in Orinda, and is the archivist of the Orinda Historical Society. "The Adobe is located in Orinda, but it is a Moraga landmark," said Long, "its preservation is a perfect opportunity to build cooperation between the two communities."
Long gave a historical presentation of the Adobe, starting with its construction using clay-water-and straw bricks in 1841 by Joaquin Moraga on the land granted to his family by the Mexican government, called the Rancho Laguna de los Palos Colorados. Long explained how legal fees bankrupt the family as it tried to maintain the estate when California became part of the United States. Using historical pictures, he showed the decay of the original building in the early 1900s, followed by restorations in the 1940s and 1960s by subsequent property owners.
A year and a half ago the 20-acre property where the Adobe sits was purchased by Michael Olson and three partners, with the expectation to subdivide and develop the land. This plan and the uncertainty that surrounds it resulted in the formation of FJMA in 2009. The non-profit now counts more than 70 members, about a third of whom are from Moraga.
"The development proposes 13 to 16 houses surrounding the Adobe that would sit on only 1/2 acre," said Long, "the Adobe would be too close to the road and it would be too cramped." He urged the Moraga Historical Society to join in to help preserve and enhance the historical benefits of the Adobe. "We want this oldest site in the East Bay to be an asset to the public," added Long, "it could become a museum of Moraga and Orinda life where educational program would be run."
That vision was shared by Trotter, who added a few words after Long concluded his presentation. "The real game is in Orinda," he said, "You will have to show up at meetings there, and make your views known."
Trotter recommended that the group also speak directly to the developer and indicated what he saw as the four goals that a preservation action could have. "There should be a big enough buffer zone between the Adobe and any future homes to preserve the current spacious look and feel as well as the view down the slope across the Moraga valley and toward Mt. Diablo in the distance," said Trotter. He also suggested that conditions for approval of any future development should include requiring the developer to provide paved public access and on-site parking, that the Adobe parcel should be dedicated to a public agency or local historical preservation group so that in the future it can be open to the public as a historical resource, and that as a condition of subdivision approval the property owner provide funding to start the restoration of the Adobe.
Trotter stressed the need for residents and historical societies to mobilize and work together to persuade the developer of the need to "play ball" with the community to preserve the Adobe. "The Adobe is a big piece of Moraga's history, and the current development proposal offers a real opportunity to finally save the Adobe from years of physical deterioration." Trotter said. For more information or to join FJMA emailing list go to their web site: http://moragaadobe.org/.