The last remaining piece of a Spanish land grant took on a surprisingly French Basque flavor.
In the days when Spain still owned California, Rancho Los Encinos (sometimes called Rancho El Encino) was given to Francisco Reyes, Los Angeles’s first alcalde (mayor). Reyes promptly lost the ranch when it was discovered he was mistreating Tongva and Chumash laborers. The ranch was later sold to Don Vicente de la Osa, who raised cattle on the property and built the adobe house (the San Fernando Valley’s second oldest structure). When the cattle market collapsed, de la Osa turned the house into a stagecoach stop and roadhouse, but he eventually sold it to Jim Thompson, a Yankee buyer.
In 1869, Thompson sold Rancho Los Encinos to French Basque immigrant brothers Eugene and Philippe Garnier. Like most of the Basques in 19th-century Southern California, the Garniers were sheep ranchers.
The brothers kept up the hospitality business, and had imitation marble panels painted on their dining room walls. The Garnier brothers’ excellent cooking drew visitors from what is now downtown Los Angeles, requiring a rough horseback or wagon ride of nearly 20 miles.
Opposite the de la Osa adobe, the brothers built a two-story limestone house resembling their family home in France. The house, which served as a bunkhouse for ranch hands and lodging for travelers, is now a visitors’ center. Eugene also built a brick-lined pond to collect water from a naturally occurring spring on the property. Sharp-eyed visitors will note its deliberate resemblance to a Spanish guitar.
Then the wool market collapsed. The Garniers kept up a tavern and roadhouse, but stagecoach business declined (and ended when the railroad came to Los Angeles). They tried dryland grain farming, which came to an abrupt halt when employees of neighboring Rancho El Escorpion burned their new wheat fields and beat up their ranch hands. By 1878, the Garniers were in foreclosure.
Another French Basque, Gaston Oxarat, bought the ranch. He left it to his nephew Simon Gless when he died a few years later. The Gless family is said to have planted the silk oak trees that still grow on the property (Encino is Spanish for “oak tree”).
Gless, according to local legend, bought a block of ice downtown and discovered, upon arriving back at the ranch, that it had already melted. Fed up with the Valley’s then-remote location and hot weather, he moved his family to Boyle Heights.
Gless’s father-in-law, Dominique “Don Domingo” Amestoy—another French Basque—was already a land baron with large properties all over Los Angeles County. He bought the ranch, and the Amestoy family owned it until 1945. The Amestoys had sold smaller pieces of the ranch here and there, but after World War II, they sold the ranch to be subdivided into modern-day Encino and Sherman Oaks.
The de la Osa adobe was repurposed as a sales office and slated to be torn down after the new tract houses were sold. Concerned neighbors fought hard to preserve the last piece of the ranch, and it became a state historic park in 1949.
The Northridge earthquake of 1994 severely damaged the adobe (an outside wall collapsed), but there was a silver lining: the earthquake shook off some of the plaster covering the forgotten imitation marble panels in the dining room. Because the building is so old and delicate, the remaining plaster has been left in place.