In 1784, California Governor Pedro Fages granted Juan Jose Dominguez a tract of more than 75,000 acres of land extending from the Los Angeles River west to the Pacific Ocean‹an expanse which today would include not only the city of Carson, but the cities of Torrance, Redondo Beach, Lomita, Wilmington, and a portion of San Pedro as well. Dominguez was a grizzled soldier, who had formerly served under Fages’ command. In 1769, he was among the men who journeyed some 400 miles from the Presidio of Loreto in Baja, California, to San Diego, and soon was earning his keep protecting Junipero Serro and his Franciscan padres as they established a series of missions. The land grant he received upon his retirement was the first issued by the Spanish in Southern California. He called the property Rancho San Pedro.
When Juan Jose died in 1809, his will specified that the property should be divided between his nephew Jose Cristobal Dominguez, who was also a soldier, and another man who had sometimes assisted him in managing the ranch. During the years that followed, Manuel Gutierrez, Juan Jose’s former steward, controlled the ranch and arranged for a man by the name of Sepulveda to live and raise cattle on a portion of the property. It wasn’t until 1817 that Cristobal Dominguez became sole owner of the ranch, now reduced in size to roughly 45,000 acres, after initiating a number of legal challenges to Gutierrez’s actions. When Cristobal died in 1825, his son Manuel Dominguez took over the ranch.
In 1826, Don Manuel built the “Dominguez Rancho Adobe,” a one-story, six-room structure which soon became his home and that of his new wife Maria Engracia Cota. They would live in the adobe more than fifty-five years. In the days before the railroad arrived, travelers often stopped at the home while en route from the harbor to Los Angeles, and because Don Manuel was an influential man, many simply came to discuss political and business matters. When the Mexican War swept California in the mid 1840s, three military councils convened at the adobe. At one point, moreover, United States Marines actually occupied the building for two days during a confrontation that was later called the “Battle of Dominguez Ranch.” Three times, Don Manuel served as alcalde, or mayor, of Los Angeles, and, once California became a United States possession, he traveled with six other delegates from Southern California to Monterey to assist in the writing of a state constitution. Fluent in Spanish and English, he was among the few men who held office under both Mexican and American rule. His ranch, too, endured the transitions. In 1858, Rancho San Pedro was the first of Los Angeles County’s original land grants to obtain from the United States government a clear Patent of Title, confirming Don Manuel’s ownership.
Don Manuel died in 1882 and his land was divided between his six daughters: Ana Josefa de Guyer, Guadalupe, Maria Victoria Carson, Dolores Simon Watson, Susana Del Amo, and Maria de Los Reyes de Francis. In 1922, the Dominguez family donated the home and seventeen surrounding acres to the Congregation of Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, or the “Claretian Missionaries.” The Claretians have since operated it as Dominguez Memorial Seminary, a school for candidates for the priesthood. In 1976, the adobe’s six original rooms became a museum, with additional rooms later also restored and opened to the public.
Learn more about Rancho Spanish Heritage
Learn more about the Historic Dominguez Rancho Adobe