The large open grassy area bound by the Mission on one side, the El Camino Real and the Plaza Stables on the other as part of the town plan, is a very good example of a 19th century village during the Spanish colonial era. It is the only Spanish plaza left in California one source has said. The plaza was used as parade ground for Spanish troops. More recently the plaza and the surrounding historic buildings were part of the setting for the 1950's Alfred Hitchcock film, Vertigo.
One would think this plaza would be full of tourists and children playing but other than being a pretty kind of grassy area, the plaza is quite empty of tourists. In fact, when we visited on a warm August day, the whole historic area was mostly empty and awfully quiet. I expected it to be buzzing with people, more like the former Old Town section of San Diego. In this aspect of solitude, the plaza, mission and surrounding buildings also took on the same atmosphere as that in the movie, "Vertigo."
The only historic building which were able to get a guided tour of was the Castro ~ Breen Adobe. This was quite a large 2-story house which was built in 1838 in the old style with the Spanish red-tiled roof overhanging a full-length balcony. There were many windows/doors on both floors which aided the ventilation on hot days. The Adobe is furnished today as it might have been in the time period roughly of the 1840's - 1870's. Although apparently not original, the rooms had quite alot of furniture, clothing and personal items on display which the guide explained about and which added so much interest to this historical house.
The Castro ~ Breen Adobe was originally built for the son of the civil administrator of the mission, Jose Tiburcio Castro. At the time, the building served as an administrative headquarters as the son wished.
The story of the second owners, the Breens, is quite an amazing one. Patrick & Margaret Breen and their 7 children were survivors of the ill-fated and famous "Donner Party" which had been stranded in the Sierra Nevada mountains for 111 days during the extraordinary snows in 1846. The Donner Party is now remembered because it is known that the survivors remained alive because of cannibalism. That the entire Breen family survived was a miracle! The Breens came to San Juan Bautista penniless and were given free room & board in the mission, but when gold was discovered in those same mountains, 16-year old John Breen set his sights on bringing home gold himself. And he did -- $10,000 worth of gold dust. Thanks to his iniative, the Breens purchased the Castro Adobe and an additional 400 acres of land. The descendants of the Breens lived in the Adobe until 1933 when it was acquired to be a part of the State Historic Park.
A walk to the rear of the Adobe will bring you into a nice garden area with caldrons used for making tallow during the Spanish-Mexican period.
I think the Plaza Stable is quite a beautiful building, personally. The Plaza Stable was built around 1861 during the time when stagecoaches and wagons traveling on the El Camino Real made San Juan Bautista a very busy place. By the very fact that San Juan Bautista was on the main route between the the San Benito Mountain quicksilver mines and Hollister, Watsonville, Monterey and Santa Cruz, people came here for supplies, etc., and their horses needed care. Since the El Camino Real connected all the California missions and virtually went right past its front door, this also meant that San Juan Bautista became a primary staging, trade and supply center in a big way. At one time there were at least 7 stage lines operating through San Juan Bautista and as many as 11 coaches arriving or departing each day. Almost all western towns had stables but San Juan Bautista obviously needed one more than most. Behind the stable is a blacksmith's shop.
The Plaza Stable looks today almost exactly as it appeared in many famous scenes in Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 movie, "Vertigo, even the interior. The Stable has been restored to its appearance of the 1870's, though no horses live there today. Wander around the inside as you like and look at some of the old remnants there of the building's past life & useful history. It was exciting to think that we were standing in the same place as some of my favorite Hollywood stars -- Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak.
After an almost 2 hour drive down from San Francisco, we arrived hungry! Mission Cafe was a quaint looking place from the outside ( I think the windows had little lace cafe curtains) and so we decided to eat there. Inside the decor reminded me of the 1950's or early 60's. Our hostess showed us to a nice little table for four with a gingham table cloth and bentwood chairs. The chrome and leather seats and formica counter really looked like this would have a typical 1950's road stop diner.
We all ordered sandwiches with chips and soft drinks. The meal was fine. The service was not exactly friendly and I had the (probably mistaken) feeling that all the locals were looking at us, but we enjoyed the place anyway. Mission Cafe serves breakfast & lunch only. I don't remember the prices, but believe they were reasonable.
Open Monday - Friday 7:00 am to 3:00 pm
Saturday & Sunday 8:00 am to 3:00 pm
Favorite Dish: The food here was not gourmet but it hit the spot. I liked the place for the retro decor. The service could have been so much friendlier--it wouldn't have killed them to smile! This being said, I would probably have lunch here again.
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