Above: Amestoy family at the ranch in 1906. Photo: Courtesy of Los Encinos State Park
A California park featuring a historic Basque ranch is facing closure because of state budget cuts.
Los Encinos State Historic Park was part of the early Basque settlement of California. The park, in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, is one of dozens slated to be shuttered because of a state budget crisis. Activists, including the Los Encinos Docents Association, are fighting to save the historic landmark, which is considered the birthplace of the sprawling San Fernando Valley.
In the late 1800s, two brothers from France, Phillippe and Eugene Garnier, who may or may not have been Basque, operated the ranch on Ventura Boulevard, which was then El Camino Real, the main road through the region.
The Garnier family held large barbecues that were attended by Basque ranching families in the area, according to a “A Travel Guide to Basque America,” which was authored by Euskal Kazeta Editor Nancy Zubiri.
In 1878, Basque immigrant Gaston Oxarart bought the ranch to raise sheep. Oxarart had first migrated to Argentina before making a grueling trip by boat to California. Like many other later Basque immigrants who ended up in California, Oxarart was born in the village of Aldudes in the French Pyrenees, according to the Los Encinos park website.
Gaston Oxarart was born in the Basque village of Aldudes. Photo: Courtesy of Los Encinos State Park.
Oxarart’s nephew, Simon Gless, took over after his death and started dry farming. Later, he sold it to his father-in-law, another Basque, Domingo Amestoy. Gless and Amestoy had accompanied Oxarart on the ship to California.
The ranch stayed in the Amestoy family for many years, and in fact, a street in adjacent Northridge was named Amestoy after this family. In the 1940s, the ranch was scheduled to be sold and a group of local women formed an association to save the historic property.
The nine-room adobe, built in 1849, and an adjacent two-story limestone house built by the Garniers, sit near a guitar-shaped pond on the 5-acre park. The buildings have been decorated with authentic period items and photos of the original families to reflect the ranch’s early history. The 1994 Northridge earthquake seriously damaged the property, but money was raised to repair the buildings. Docents offer guided tours, and park staff stage living history Old West re-enactments for the public.
The park, located at Ventura Boulevard and Balboa in Encino, is among 70 state parks slated for closure in 2012 because California is trying to save money. Los Encinos Park landed on the list because it’s free to the public and doesn’t generate revenue, according to the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The park costs about $210,000 to operate annually.
Basque immigrant Domingo Amestoy operated the ranch. Photo: Courtesy of Los Encinos State Park.
Those interested in helping save Los Encinos Park can contact state Sen. Fran Pavley and Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz. Both elected officials, whose respective districts include the park, are trying to prevent it from being shuttered.
Pavley described the park as a “hidden treasure” in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times.
Another effort to save the historic site is being spearheaded by The Los Encinos Docents Association.
The docents are trying to raise $150,000 by July 1, 2012. That amount, according to state officials, is the minimum funding that is needed to keep the historic park open.
People interested in making a donation to save the park can check out the “Save Los Encinos Historic Park” website. Additional information about the park was researched by Basque American journalist Zubiri for her book, “A Travel Guide to Basque America.”
Editor’s note: An anonymous donor offered the park $150,000 to keep it from closing. Updated Jan. 6, 2012
See related Euskal Kazeta report.
This Franciscan monk is part of the annaul re-enactments staged at Los Encinos State Park. Photo: Courtesy of A Travel Guide to Basque America.