Campo de Cahuenga showcases historic Los Angeles

“Exit here for Universal Studios, CityWalk and Campo de Cahuenga.”

Metro Red Line riders hear this every day at the Universal City station, but as most visitors use this stop to catch the shuttle up to CityWalk and Universal Studios, they miss one of Los Angeles’ most important historic and cultural monuments.

Slice of history · Angelenos can visit a replica of the Campo de Cahuenga, a 19th-century ranchero from the Mexican-American War. – Stephanie Byrd | Daily Trojan

Tucked away behind a wrought-iron fence and sandwiched between the station’s north side entrance and the Park and Ride lot, the Campo de Cahuenga, a 19th-century adobe home, offers Angelenos a glimpse into California’s history.

The first thing visitors should be aware of is that the building housed on the site is a commemorative structure, not the original Campo. The new structure, dedicated in 1950 as an interpretive replica using the same style as the original Campo, acts today as an informational visitor’s center with special exhibits.

Scholars have dated the original adobe’s construction date sometime between 1795 and 1810, but it has long been demolished. The exact date of the building’s disappearance is unknown, but by 1900 the area was covered in fruit orchards and the home had vanished.

The Campo was first a part of Mission San Fernando’s rancho extensions into the L.A. pueblo, but its claim to fame is the 1847 “Articles of Capitulation” that ended hostilities of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) in California, paving the way for California to become a state in 1850.

Leading up to the treaty, American commanders Stockton and Kearney organized an effort to acquire Los Angeles by having forces march from both San Diego and Monterey to attack the city from both the north and the south. John C. Fremont, who was leading the  force from Monterey, was approached by the severely outnumbered Californio leader Andres Pico.

The Campo de Cahuenga Historical Memorial Association,  as the operator of the museum,   hosts an annual re-enactment event for the public to experience this special piece of California history.

“The document was signed on January 13, 1847,” staff member Beth Perrin said. “Every year we do a commemoration of that signing. We have actors who do a re-enactment, we have dancers, we shoot off a canon. It’s just a fun-filled day.”

The event, free to the public, marks one of the organization’s biggest events every year. This upcoming year, it will take place on Sunday, Jan.13.

Though the treaty is the most well-known event to occur at the Campo, the Campo de Cahuenga Historical Memorial Association also advocates for other periods of the Campo’s history.

“The Campo is actually the site of a few interesting things,” Perrin said. “There was a stagecoach stop here. There was a Civil War encampment here. It’s quite significant historically.”

The current visitor’s center works to illustrate the Campo’s long, complex history. Friendly staff members and volunteers help showcase several paintings and items that bring the history of the site to a relatable and approachable level for visitors with an exceptionally appropriate exhibit on the flags of California.

Since many scholars consider the Campo the birthplace of California, what better way to display such an honor than through a series of flags that have flown over the region?

“12 Flags Over California” features the expected amount of flags. It seems natural to include the Spanish (flown 1542-1785), Mexican Republic (flown 1823-1846) and First Bear flags (first flown 1846), but it’s a nice surprise to also feature the Russian and Russian-American flags (both flown 1812-1842), which highlight the Russian trade interests and influences in the L.A. region.

The Campo’s history and significance remains constant, with 1997 Metro construction for the Red Line unearthing original foundation stones that hadn’t seen the light of day in more than 100 years. Through Metro excavations underneath Lankershim Boulevard, a large portion of the original Campo has been recovered. Since the Campo runs through Lankershim Boulevard, reconstruction efforts would be simply impossible. After the excavations, however, stones have been placed in the sidewalk and in Lankershim Boulevard to delineate where the original structure stood. And with similar markers hinting at the home’s 19th-century tile pattern, guests can imagine the home in its contemporary context without obstructing a major vehicular artery through Los Angeles.

Visitors will notice the sudden cut of the stones at the halfway point across Lankershim. This area marked the end of the Metro impact zone during excavation, but Perrin shows faith in the continuation of the project.

“We know that it goes at least halfway across Lankershim, but the other half has not been excavated,” she said. “We don’t know if it goes further, but we believe that it does.”

The only true fault of the museum is its hours. Unfortunately, the museum is only open the first Saturday of every month, from noon to 4 p.m. With its strong relevance to the state and national history, this site deserves the attendance and full attention of Angelenos.

And with finals  just around the corner during the museum’s operating hours on Dec. 1, it’s important for students to remember to take some time for themselves and to take a break. This semester, let the Campo de Cahuenga be that escape.