Exploring Mariano Vallejo’s magnificent home

The name may not mean much to most Nevadans, but General Mariano G. Vallejo was once one of the most powerful men in the American West.

In 1834, Vallejo was sent by the Mexican Governor in Monterey — at the time California was part of Mexico — to establish a community and military outpost at Sonoma, located 30 miles north of San Francisco (and about five hours west of Fallon).

The settlement was intended to discourage Russian settlers at nearby Fort Ross from expanding into the region. By 1836, Vallejo’s Sonoma Pueblo was the chief military base for the Mexican government in Northern California.

The community of Sonoma formed around the outpost and by 1845 had a population of about 300, including 45 houses.

In the early 1840s, however, American settlers began streaming into the region, overwhelming the Mexican government, which had unsuccessfully attempted to prohibit them for owning land or holding office.

In June 1846, a group of disgruntled settlers seized Sonoma, imprisoned Vallejo, and declared the creation of the independent Bear Flag Republic.

The crisis was resolved about a month later, when the Bear Flag was removed and replaced by an American flag—signifying that the United States was assuming control over Northern California.

As for Vallejo, he was soon released and remained one of Sonoma’s most prominent citizens. While Vallejo owned 175,000 acres in Sonoma and Petaluma, including vineyards and a quarry, he gradually lost influence (and land) after the region became part of the U.S.

In 1851, however, he decided to build a large home for his family—he and his wife had 16 children, of which 10 survived—in Sonoma, which is still standing today and open for tours.

Known as “Lachryma Montis” or “Tears of the Mountain,” after a nearby spring, the Vallejo home was unique because it was a “kit house,” meaning it was ordered from a catalog and the pieces were shipped from New England to Sonoma, where it was assembled.

Vallejo, however, modified the plans to reflect his Mexican heritage. While the home has a New England-style Gothic Revival Victorian exterior, the interior is lined with stucco, a material usually associated with Mexican buildings.

The result is a clever marriage of the two influences. The white, two-story home has the classic appearance of an ornate Victorian with the insulating qualities of adobe, meaning it is generally cool and comfortable inside regardless of how hot it is outside.

Visitors touring the Vallejo house, which is now operated as a California State Historic Monument, will find that most of the elegant furnishings inside the home are original.

The guided tour of Lachryma Montis begins in the Vallejo front room on the first floor. There, you can see the family’s piano, draperies, wall paintings and overstuffed chairs and sofas, all of which reflect the designs of the Victorian era.

The next stop is in the dining room, which boasts a magnificent marble fireplace as well as a large dining room table covered with fine china (a British “Willow” pattern) and other utensils. Cooking was done by servants in a separate building at the rear of the house.

Nearby is the study room with wall-size bookshelves, a fireplace, secretary, lamps and end tables.

From here, the tour moves upstairs to the family bedrooms. The master bedroom has a massive walnut bed and other furnishings, including a large portable toilet—the house had no indoor plumbing or toilets.

The grounds of the Vallejo estate are also quite lovely. In addition to the kitchen and servants building at the rear, there is a separate one-room Victorian “doll house” adjacent to the main house, which served as a private reading room for Vallejo and his wife (after all, they did have all those kids!).

Additionally, the grounds boast several original fountains and a large Swiss Chalet building, now a museum filled with exhibits about Vallejo’s life, which was originally used for wine and olive storage.

Following Vallejo’s death in 1890, his 15th child, Luisa Vallejo Emparan, owned the house. Although the state of California acquired the property in 1933, she continued to live in it and served as a tour guide and caretaker until the mid-1940s, when she died.

The Mariano Vallejo home, operated by California State Parks, is directly west of the main part of downtown Sonoma at Spain Street and Third Street West. The home is open for tours on weekends. For more information go to http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=479.

Rich Moreno covers the places and people that Nevadans love to visit.


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