The oldest house between LA and Stockton (part 2)
October 28, 2023
The Ridge Route Communities Museum and Historical Society recently offered a destination luncheon that gave participants a look at one of the oldest buildings between La and Stockton, La Liebre Adobe. This is a continuation of the story of Edward Beale and La Liebre that was in The Loop newspaper's Oct. 14 issue.
After being stationed in California during the Mexican-American War in 1846, the famed Navy Lt., and later the Commander of the Pacific Squadron, Edward Beale purchased an old Mexican land grant near Quail Lake called Rancho La Liebre. Beale added a second wing to the small adobe on the ranch and raised his family in the home. La Liebre Adobe is a fully functioning hunting lodge today and is widely believed to be the oldest standing house between LA and Stockton.
The largest earthquake ever recorded in California happened in 1857 along the San Andreas Fault, which happens to run right through the La Liebre and El Tejon ranches. By today's metrics the earthquake was a 7.9, nearly two times stronger than the 7.7 measured in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Eye witness reports from the Gorman and Frazier areas describe the ground rumbling loudly and splitting open into a 20-foot gaping crevasse over the span of a couple minutes that then violently snapped back together within a few seconds. The earthquake was so powerful that it temporarily reversed the flow direction of the Kern River and beached hundreds of fish in surrounding lakes, leaving behind a 40-mile-long rift in the land that is still observable today. It's unknown if Beale was at home during the quake, however La Liebre reported no substantial structural damages or personal injuries.
La Liebre Adobe remained standing strong after the quake and Edward Beale continued to live in it with his family and build political influence, eventually earning the title of Surveyor General of the West in 1861. During this time he would manage land disputes and survey land for the transcontinental railroad. His position as surveyor general gave Beale the perfect opportunity to purchase up remaining Mexican land grants in the area, creating the current-day Tejon Ranch. At one point Beale owned all of the land going in and out of the San Joaquin Valley. Other land grants got rolled into the Tejon Ranch borders, but La Liebre was kept as its own ranch.
Beale would live split between La Liebre and his D.C. home during his time as surveyor general, returning to D.C. to campaign for the likes of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Beale was anti-slavery and joined the Republican party due to his beliefs and concerns, which led him to give a warning speech to Congress about the South turning to thievery and violence to preserve slavery a year before the Civil War broke out.
The assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the end of the Civil war would far from mark the last of Beale's political involvement, though. Ulysses S. Grant and Beale were long-time friends and it was said the two could often be heard racing down the main streets of D.C. in their horse-drawn buggies. When Grant became the 18th president of the United States, he sent Beale to Austria as ambassador in 1876 for a year. In 1885, it would be Beale to arrange Grant's funeral and deliver the eulogy.
Beale chose to retire on Rancho La Liebre, declining three different offers when attempting to sell it in his later years, unable to let go of his little adobe. In 1893, Edward Beale died in his D.C. home and left La Liebre and Tejon Ranch to his son. The Decatur Mansion, Beale's D.C. mansion, is tourable to this day. Among other grand gestures, guests are treated to the sight of an elaborate wooden-floored ballroom featuring the earliest version of the California insignia framed by wood panelling made from Californian trees.
Beale's son sold La Liebre and Tejon Ranch in 1912 to a group of businessmen in LA. Over the years, La Liebre Adobe fell into periods of abandonment and disrepair between cattle bosses taking temporary residences, cowboys camping in the living room and the financial impact of World War I impeding repair and restoration projects. The High Desert Hunt Club, now owned by Tejon Ranch, leased the property in 1995 as a hunting lodge and spent the money to faithfully and carefully restore La Liebre Adobe to its original state.
Today the house isn't regularly available to the public to tour, though events like the Ridge Route Communities Museum and Historical Society's fundraising luncheon provide occasional opportunities to peek inside. The High Desert Hunt Club still maintains the adobe as both a hunting lodge and historical building. The Ridge Route Museum and Historical Society is an organization dedicated to protecting Kern history and is located in Frazier Park. They host a small museum and substantial library of local historical and geographical books and files. Events like the La Liebre Adobe luncheon serve as both an educational opportunity and fundraiser for historical preservation.
Guided tours are available throughout the year and are by reservation only. Visit Ridge Route Communities Museum & Historical Society online at http://www.ridgeroutemuseum.org to see their upcoming events and to read more about La Liebre Adobe, or call them for more information at (661) 245-7747.