View of Juana's house on a hill

Stanford Historian's Research Paper
~ Printable version
~ pdf version 46kb

Preventing Demolition

Adobe Mud
House Timeline
Honoring Juana
Not Just For Kids

















The Juana Briones Heritage Foundation

Adobe Mud
Adobe clay as a building material is experiencing a resurgence. It’s plentiful availability, properties of insulation, and light footprint on the environment make it an attractive choice for builders of cottages to luxury homes. The earthen-walled house that Juana built is now over 150 years old, and could provide invaluable opportunities for study, since only one other such structure is still standing in California.


Learn About . . .  

Research On Juana's House
by Professor Al Camarillo,
Stanford University History Department
~ Rare Building Technique
~ Destruction Of Adobe Structures

~ Houses Owned By Women
~ Nott’s Changes Documented

Building With Mud

Adobe Homes Today

Rare Building Technique
The Juana Briones de Miranda House is a truly unique artifact of nineteenth century California. The construction of the original house is not of the typical adobe brick style commonly used in Spanish and Mexican California. Indeed, it is a rare construction style that involved the encasing of earthen adobe material inside a wooden framing (a crate-like or lathe-like construction). I have consulted with Edna Kimbro, an expert on historic adobe structures in California who is familiar with the Briones House. She concluded that the type of construction in some of the interior walls of the Briones House contain a “very rare” style of construction. According to Ms. Kimbro, she knows of only one other structure with a comparable construction style that still exists anywhere in the state (the Search Ranch house in Carmel Valley).
Destruction of Adobe Structures
In the wake of the American annexation of California and subsequent migration of tens of thousands of Americans into the former Mexican province, newcomers wasted little time in destroying most of the adobe structures that stood in the path of development as Americans acquired rancho and pueblo lands from Mexican landowners. Those abode structures of varying type that survived the early American period from 1850 to about 1880 were typically covered over with wood siding and adapted to the architectural designs reflective of the regions from which the new Americans had originated. The Briones House, under the ownership of Charles Nott, was one of the structures that survived though it was significantly modified over time.

Houses Owned By Women
In addition to its “rare” construction-style status, the inner walls of the home at 4155 Old Adobe Road belonged to a person who was among a small, select group of women landowners in Mexican California.

According to Ernie Garcia (Los Californianos, Expediente Co-chair), Briones was one of only thirty-four women who received patent to their land grant claims as required by the U.S. Land Commission. She was also one of the very few Mexican women who actually purchased a land grant rather than inheriting the property from a deceased husband or other relative. Few, if any, of the original structures located on the lands of these Mexican women currently remain standing.

The Briones House must be considered, on these grounds, and on the basis of its rare type of construction, a singularly unique structure of unusual historical significance.

Nott’s Changes Documented
The personal correspondence of Charles Nott to his fiancée in the early years after he purchased the property from Briones’ daughter provides further unequivocal evidence that he retained the main portion of the home as he planned modifications and construction of additional rooms.

“It is absolutely useless to try to fix up all those little rooms,” Nott noted in a letter dated November 11, 1900. “It would amount to building a new house,” he claimed. But, importantly, Nott indicated that “the only part it will pay to spend a little money upon is that comprised in the main three rooms. These I shall try to fix.” Indeed he did, for photographs from 1908 reveal the exposed north walls of the construction site of the original house built in a construction style involving an earthen interior framed within a wooden cribbing. The Nott family photo was included in the 1997 report entitled “Site of the Juan Briones House Historic Structure Report” by Barbara Judy.

Building With Mud
The plentiful adobe clay in California is mixed with sand, and other materials such as straw or even manure to make a strong material when hardened. Recipes and methods of mixing vary. Cob house builders mix the clay with their feet on tarps, while traditional indigenous people used clay pits in the ground. Clay, sand and straw are mixed by foot on a tarp or with a cement mixer to speed up the process.  Clay acts as the glue, sand hardens the structure, and the straw works like rebar to give the walls tensile strength.             

About Adobe Homes Today
Cobb Houses 1549 - 2005
Sunset Magazine's archived article
Earth Architecture's archived article

Comments to WebMaster
Copyright 2005 © The Juana Briones Heritage Foundation. All rights reserved.
Copyright 2005 © Web Design by InnerVision Design
Hosted by