A satellite view of Casa de Rancho San Antonio in Bell Gardens, surrounded by Casa Mobile Home Co-Op. (Google Maps)
Casa de Rancho San Antonio: the oldest house in Los Angeles County
The oldest house in Los Angeles County is encircled by a ring of aging mobile homes just off the 5 Freeway in the working-class city of Bell Gardens. Hidden from view and largely blocked off to the public, Casa de Rancho San Antonio contains the story of California.
As historians tell it, the adobe structure was built beginning in 1795 by Francisco Lugo, a Spanish soldier who helped found the pueblo of Los Angeles. He passed the property down to his youngest son, Antonio, who became mayor of Los Angeles and at one time owned more land than probably anyone in California. Antonio Lugo was said to be a striking figure.
The biographer Roy Whitehead described how Lugo would ride his horse around Los Angeles “in great splendor” in his latter years:
“He had never adopted American dress, culture or language, and still spoke only Spanish. He rode magnificent horses, sitting in his $1,500 silver trimmed saddle erect and stately, with his sword strapped to the saddle beneath his left leg.”
After Lugo’s death at the age of 85 in 1860, the house was eventually transferred to Henry Gage, a lawyer from Michigan, as a dowry upon his marriage to one of Lugo’s great-granddaughters. Gage would become the 20th governor of California and a U.S. minister to Portugal.
He significantly renovated the home, adding bronze fireplaces, redwood siding, and wallpaper from France. It remained within the family for generations, avoiding destruction even as a vast metropolis rose all around. Then in 1983, the home was sold to the residents of 56 surrounding mobile homes. That’s when one of the last vestiges of Southern California’s Spanish period became the venue of weekly bingo nights at the Casa Mobile Home Co-Op. Little has changed since then aside from the addition of a modest street sign noting, “Landmark #984.”
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