Historic homes and buildings on San Juan Capistrano's Los Rios Street


Oldest Neighborhood in California, Los Rios District

The Combs House The Ramos House
The Mary Wandell House The Labat Houses
The English House Montanez Adobe
Jailhouse Rios Adobe
Olivares House
The Rodman House Ito Nursery
O'Neill Museum-Pryor House

The Los Rios Historic District is an example of neighborhood life at the turn of the century and before, and is continuing as the oldest neighborhood in California.

It was not that long ago that the streets were dirt. The large trees at the lot corners were used to denote property boundaries, and many go as far back as the beginning of European settlement in the area. There are about 40 homes, which vary in age from 50 to 204 years old. Most of the homes are private dwellings and may be viewed only from the street-please respect residents' privacy. The Montanez Adobe, the O'Neill Museum, the Ramos House Cafe, the Lobo House, the Rodman House, and the Lupe Combs House are businesses and are open to the public during business hours. The Olivares House is Millie Jones' china painting studio. Think of what life must have been like during the long period when the original mission, its' outbuildings and the Great Stone Church were being built. It was a time when the Spanish and the Acjachemen Indians were beginning to merge their cultures. The Montanez, the Rios, and the Silvas adobes are all that remain on Los Rios Street of the about 40 adobes that were here at that time. This neighborhood was then the home of the mission builders and workers on the mission ranch, for the economy was centered around the mission. A second significant wave of homes, was built by European immigrants to the area in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Although this area was always a West Coast "melting pot," one significant thing was that a large group of Basques from the Pyrenees Mountains settled here at that time. Included among those immigrants is the Lacouague family.

The San Juan Capistrano community of earlier times was much larger than it is today. The Los Rios neighborhood played an important role in California's history. River Street, part of the Ito Nursery land is an unimproved road 600 feet long and 25 feet wide. It starts at Los Rios Street and goes west to Trabuco Creek. It used to cross Trabuco Creek and extend all the way to Dana Point, approximately four miles west. Early settlers of the Los Rios District used this road to go to the beach and San Juan Bay (now called Dana Point Harbor). Cowhides were carted from this processing area at the mission down the road to the cliff tops for the shipment to the East Coast. Today, only 600 feet of the original road is left.


Written by Jan Bolen and Sheree Ito



The Combs House

The Combs House on Verdugo Street is now a unique gift shop called Hummingbird Cottage (circa 1865). It was moved here in 1878 from an abandoned boom town called Forster, which, if it were in existence now, would be on the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base. In the 1920's, the house was a candy store. It gets its' name from Jack Combs, an early town constable who lived here. The building behind housed weekend prisoners during constable Combs' tenure.

The Ramos House

Next to it, the Ramos House is now the Ramos House Cafe (circa 1881). The Ramos family, one of the oldest families in the area, was raised here. There is a hideout room under the main bedroom, reached by a trap door. The yard is now an American Gourmet outdoor patio restaurant - wonderful food at reasonable prices.

The Mary Wandell House

The Mary Wandell House has new life as The Art Garden (circa 1910). Originally built and owned by Mary Wandell, it is now a fine gift shop specializing in upscale, unique and affordable pieces for your garden & home. The shop also showcases miniature Victorian tea sets, dolls and other unique gifts for children. This home was made famous by Chief Clarence Lobo, the chief of the Juaneno Indians, born in 1912. At one time in early San Juan, this house was a grocery store.

The Pedro Labat & Steve Labat Houses

The Pedro Labat House
31661 Los Rios St. (circa 1887)
Pedro Labat moved his family to California in the late 1800s from the Pyrenees Mountains in Southern France. The Labats brought sheep ranching and grove farming to the area in a big way. There was a time in San Juan when sheep flooded the streets of downtown. Many people were employed in the sheep business, and for a long time it was the major economic factor in the area.

The Steve Labat House
31600 Los Rios St. (circa 1908)
Steve Labat was a master carpenter, building homes, commercial buildings, caskets and crosses.

The English House

English House
26652 Ramos St. (circa 1910)
Moved here from Camino Capistrano across from the mission in 1976, it was once a restaurant. The English family, who built the house and lived here, was in the construction business. William English rebuilt the damaged "Harmony Hall", Judge Egans' home (still standing on Camino Capistrano) after a major fire.

Montanez Adobe

Montanez Adobe, 31745 Los Rios St. (circa 1794). Listed on the National Historic Register, this adobe was the home of Dona Polonia Montanez. Religious services were held inside during a period when the mission was inoperative. Open to the public.


Moved next to the Montanez Adobe from other locations, this old SJC jail cell now reminds children to be good all the time, not just before Christmas.

Rios Adobe

Rios Adobe
31781 Los Rios St. (circa 1794)
Santiago Rios came from Spain in the 1780s to be a soldier in the mission garrison, and built the adobe in 1794. The Blessed Olive Tree, which is in the Rios Adobe front yard, was brought as a seedling from the Holy Land by FR. St. John O'Sullivan as a gift for Mrs. Damion Rios, "Nana Tula," for all of her good work for the mission church. The adobe has been occupied by the Rios family since 1794, which makes it the oldest continually occupied home in the western United States.

Olivares House

Olivares House
31791 Los Rios St. (circa 1900)
This building, restored by Gil and Millie Jones, is now the studio and classroom of the world-renowned china painting artist Millie Jones. Millie's husband, Gil, is the former mayor of San Juan Capistrano.

The Rodman House

The Rodman House
31731 Los Rios St.
Recently restored and enlarged by the Niccola family for use as "The Tea House on Los Rios Street." A charming, genteel place to while away the time with a variety of teas and treats to soothe the soul. Open to the public.

Ito Nursery

Ito Nursery
31825 Los Rios St. (entrance on River St.)
San Juan's oldest existing nursery, owned by the Ito family since it opened in 1970. It has a large selection of outdoor plants and sells to both retail and wholesale.

The O'Neill Museum-Pryor House

The O'Neill Museum-Pryor House
31831 Los Rios St. (circa 1880)
Originally located across the tracks behind the El Adobe de Capistano Restaurant. It was the home of Jose Dolores Garcia and later in 1903 to Albert Pryor family. Now the offices of the SJC Historical Society, it is open to the public.

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