Historic occasion at Visitor’s Center

Restoration of the Garcia House, which will house the Jack O'Donnell Visitor's Center, is close to being completed and will have a grand opening June 4 at the San Benito County Historical Park. In the weeks leading up to the opening, volunteers and park s

Restoration of the Garcia House completed at county park
The Jack O’Donnell Visitor’s Center at the San Benito County
Historical Park has been a long time coming. The center will be set
up in the front room of the Garcia House, a historical home that
has been under restoration for several years.
A grand opening will be celebrated at the park June 4, at 1:30
p.m., to commemorate the opening of the Visitor’s Center and the
completion of renovations on the Garcia House.

It sat here after it was moved for three to four years before
any work was done,

said Delbert Doty, the Historical Park director,

before it was even set on the foundation.

Restoration of the Garcia House completed at county park

The Jack O’Donnell Visitor’s Center at the San Benito County Historical Park has been a long time coming. The center will be set up in the front room of the Garcia House, a historical home that has been under restoration for several years.

A grand opening will be celebrated at the park June 4, at 1:30 p.m., to commemorate the opening of the Visitor’s Center and the completion of renovations on the Garcia House.

“It sat here after it was moved for three to four years before any work was done,” said Delbert Doty, the Historical Park director, “before it was even set on the foundation.”

Don Pidd, the park caretaker, and Doty, said the delay came in raising the funds needed to make the renovations to the home. Pidd said the home had a strong redwood frame that made it possible to gut much of the house and rebuild the interior walls.

“We really started moving forward last year,” Pidd said.

Pidd showed a piece of baseboard used in the original construction in 1907 that had writing from McKinnon Lumber on it, with notes that the wood was for the Garcia job.

“It’s actually the quality of the original construction and the old redwood that allowed us to restore it,” Pidd said. “It’s what helped save the building so we could restore it. It kept the building solid and intact.”

The primary goal of the renovation was to turn the front room of the home into a Visitor’s Center.

“It will be the only one in San Benito County between here and the Pinnacles,” Doty said.

The room will include brochure racks with information about other sights in San Benito County, such as the San Juan Mission, Pinnacles National Monument, the San Benito Historical Museum and more, as well as display cases about the history of the home. The Garcia House also includes a small research room and a small meeting room that will be available to the Historical Society or other nonprofits by reservation. The house serves as a home for the park caretaker.

“We are working with the chamber of commerce to use their brochures,” Pidd said. “People will see some small displays. We can use it to get people to go to the museum (on Fifth Street.)”

Pidd and Doty both said volunteers have been integral in helping with the renovations, as have donations and grants from the Community Foundation.

“They have been extremely important,” Pidd said. “It couldn’t be done without volunteers who helped move it and keep it alive until we started the restoration.”

Some of the volunteers included Calfire, local boy scout troops and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, among others. Pidd and Doty said they had some volunteers with construction experience and others without. The Women’s Club of Hollister planned to plant roses around the exterior of the home to prepare it for the grand opening.

The Visitor’s center is named after the late Jack O’Donnell who was active in starting the San Benito Historical Village. According to a history written up by family members, he was born in 1912 and was a lifelong resident who was active in service organizations such as Knights of Columbus and the Elks. O’Donnell became involved with the San Benito County Historical Society after he retired. He worked with other residents, Fred LaSelve and Dick Hill, to reassemble the buildings at the park, with help from state prison crews.

“They took on the responsibility of moving, repairing, painting and re-furbishing buildings such as the Sullivan House, Willow Creek School, the Ferrando House and the Dance Hall,” according to the biography. “They also collected farm equipment, built fences and planted gardens. Jack’s keen memory, longevity in the county and service to the community have been priceless treasures as the Historical Society works diligently to maintain ties with our County’s past.”

Current members of the Historical Society have continued to grow the park by bringing in new buildings, such as the Garcia House.

The Garcia House, was built at 3570 Airline Highway in the early 1900s by Joseph Rodrigues Garcia and his wife Maria, according to a history written up at the park. The couple were immigrants from the Azores Islands, in Portugal. He came to the United States at 18 and worked as a stockman east of Paicines. He bought more than 800 acres of the Mellon Ranch, near Paicines before marrying his wife Maria. As their family grew, they decided to settle closer to Hollister. In 1907, he bought 51 acres between Tres Pinos and Hollister where the Garcia home was built.

Decades later when the Sunnyslope Water District purchased the property, they contacted the Historical Society about donating the home. In October 2000, volunteers and ABCO Moving lifted the 35 foot by 60 foot home onto a trailer and drove it south on Airline Highway to the park. Donations of $25,000 from such sources as the Community Foundation for San Benito County, Graniterock, two local Portuguese societies, and more supported the efforts.

The activities at the Historical Park on June 4 extend beyond the grand opening and mark the kick off of the San Benito County Historical Society’s 55th anniversary. Other events for the day include an Early Day Gas engine and tractor show sponsored by the Early Day Gas Engine and Tractor Association and Tractor Supply of Gilroy, a barn sale to raise money for the Historical Park and a wine tasting fundraiser.

Even with the Garcia House completed, Pidd and Doty were thinking ahead about other projects for the coming year. The next big renovation will be the Dunneville Dancehall that was destroyed by a storm a few years ago. There are smaller projects to be completed at other buildings on site, as well. They are also looking for other buildings to add to the park as well as a brochure rack that can be put on the porch of the Garcia House.

“What we need is a bank building,” Doty said. “If anyone knows of a one-room bank building, let us know.”

As the park continues to grow, Doty and Pidd said they hope that locals will visit more often.

“The ultimate goal is to create a living history village,” Pidd said.

Activities at the Historical Park, June 4

The San Benito County Historical Park will host several events June 4, including an Early Day Gas Engine and Tractor Show that will be open all day. Admission is free and will feature antique engine and tractor displays, and demonstrations. Food will be available for purchase and there will be entertainment and a playground area for kids. There will also be a barn sale, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Spaces are available for $10. Residents can sell items or search for a special treasure to buy. A grand opening of the new Jack O’Donnell Visitor Center will be held at 1:30 p.m. To reserve a space or for more information, call Don Pidd at 902-9349 or e-mail [email protected]

A wine tasting will also be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., with entertainment, hors d’oeuvres and door prizes. Food will be provided by “Spice of Life Catering” and entertainment will be provided by the San Benito Stage Company and Mr. Ostenson’s Save the Music Drive. Tickets are $20 and proceeds benefit the San Benito County Historical Society. For wine tasting tickets, call Patricia Wheland at 636-0122 or Nic Calder at 637-9855. To reserve a space, purchase tickets to the wine tasting or for more information, call Don Pidd at 902-9349 or e-mail [email protected]

Leave your comments