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Historic Basque Ranch in L.A. Faces Closure

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Amestoy family members at the ranch in 1906. Photo: Courtesy of Los Encinos State Park

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.

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.

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.

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.

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9 Responses to “Historic Basque Ranch in L.A. Faces Closure”

  1. Frank Lostaunau on February 1st, 2013 6:48 pm

    Frank Amestoy had a bar in East Bakersfield that was very loud and crowded on weekends. Several of my uncles made the rounds, got drunk and would often end up at the Wool Growers because on weekends there might be live music. Fred Olague was one of the bartenders at Amestoy’s and the father of my Uncle Donald. I visited the bar a few times with my father but the smell of smoke was enough to keep me out.

  2. Frank Lostaunau on February 1st, 2013 6:55 pm
  3. Frank Lostaunau on February 1st, 2013 7:10 pm
  4. Frank Lostaunau on February 2nd, 2013 10:37 am

    Baker St. was once a very happening international business district.

    In addition to the Basque restaurants and hotels, etc, there were Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Jewish, and Greek owned businesses.

    The Chinese Kitchen was owned by the Chow family. A few steps away was a Chinese Laundry. Gene Weiner had a clothing store across Baker St. from the Chinese Laundry and up Baker Street was George’s Greek owned bakery. Then there were the Banducci owned businesses like the Granada and Tejon theatres. The Granada and Rialto showed Mexican movies and I remember going to the Granada with my parents to see Maria Felix in Amor Indio and movies starring Pedro Infante, the great Mexican cowboy actor/singer. Incidentally, there were always Basque shepherds that attended the Spanish speaking movies. My mother would ocassionally take along a can of sardines and was politely asked to sit away from the rest of the civilized folks! I enjoyed hanging out with my mom so I joined her and could we smack her lips! When I was sent to pick up bread at either the Pyreenes or Georges bakery, something extra was always tossed in! The smells of baking bread were so intoxicating that I didn’t want to leave so ocassionally I would hang out until somebody offered me something extra special. Across the street from the Santa Fe Depot was a drug store and I recall practicing French with a Basque employee and I don’t recall her name? She was so kind.
    At age 70 I don’t seem to remember all the details.

  5. Frank Lostaunau on February 2nd, 2013 10:51 am

    I forgot to mention Rivera’s Bar and Trones which was at the corner of Baker St. and California Avenue. My uncles would also hang out there. Incidentally, my uncle Victor Avalos was the cook at the Spanish Kitchen which was next door to the Woolgrowers and across the street from Rivera’s.

    I attended East Bakersfield High School, Bakersfield College and eventually graduated from the California College of Arts and Crafts, BFA/Painting 1969 and MFA/Painting 1971. I taught painting at CCAC/1971 and then taught art at Cal State University, Humboldt and Cal State University, San Jose. Later I attended the Graduate School of Social Welfare, UC Berkeley, and graduated with an MSW in 1978.

    Takada Gallery:

    I sure miss my parents.

  6. Frank Lostaunau on February 2nd, 2013 10:56 am

    I forgot to mention that my Aunt Lena Irene Apodaca was born at the Tejon Ranch. Her father was Paul Apodaca.

  7. JILL TIPTON on March 8th, 2015 8:31 am

    Frank, your stories are endearing. Few Bascos recall these places & stories. Good to record, and pass along. Domingo Amestoy is my great-great grandfather. His son, JB Amestoy married my grand-mother, Francoise Hauret. My albums have various photos & papers I am compiling, and pass along to Los Encinos State Park and the Docents. They keep the Rancho alive. It is a fine, small museum & lovely park with natural pond, a tribute to our Basque heritage.

  8. Jill Tipton on March 9th, 2015 8:24 am

    OH,… My GREAT-Grand Mother is Francoise Hauret Amestoy. So many Bascos, I get the generations confused! Pardon me.

    My GRANDmother, Grace E. Amestoy Tipton, made two photo albums from 1909, when she was a teenager and young adult. Her photos include outings at the Encino Ranch, aka the Amestoy Ranch.

    A Tongva-Gabrieleno Indian lived on the ranch, he had his own camp, near what is now Ventura Blvd. They affectionately called him “Napoleon.” Grace’s photos depict the young girl cousins hiking to “Napoleon’s Camp” for picnics & outings. He always has a happy face, with an endearing smile. He must have had a great sense of humor, as the people seem to be laughing and having a great time together.
    Such great days, those early-California days, of 1912-15. I treasure these memories. The albums are archived in the Braun Library, at the Autry Museum in Griffith Park, Los Angeles. Thank you, J.Tipton

  9. Sabrina Oxarart on January 19th, 2019 2:28 am

    Doing some research and stumbled upon this pitifully low comment count forum & felt sad because I am an Oxarart. Gaston Oxarart was my great-grandfather. Amestoy was a good friend. My grandpa could speak fluent Basque French & had charted out our ancestry (pre-23&me,, etc) so I have seen the pictures from Encino Ranch since I was growing up. Gaston died under suspicious circumstances or so the 1890s-1900s LA newspapers would have you believe. I don’t live in California so I am the only Basque French person I am aware of in Illinois. All the others I’m related to or have researched live in California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, & Montana. There are very few people left in the world with Basque French blood. -end rant- Anyways hope they ended up saving this place, always sucks when history is pissed on for $$.

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Historic Basque Ranch in L.A. Faces Closure