Best Museum (Non-Art) Orange County 2009 - Blas Aguilar Adobe Museum
31806 El Camino Real
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
Readers' Choice: Bowers Museum
Art museums are often housed in unusually shaped buildings with intriguing architecture that are considered works of art themselves. So a historical museum in a historical structure makes as much sense. In 1794, Mission San Juan Capistrano built adobes outside its walls to house soldiers and the local Native Americans who worked at the mission. Fifty-one years later, Don Blas Aguilar purchased two of the adobes and named them "La Hacienda Aguilar." The south-wing adobe no longer stands, but north-wing adobe Casa de Esperanza ("House of Hope") is still around, well-kept and filled with treasures. The museum is maintained and operated by the nonprofit Blas Aguilar Adobe Foundation, which is run by David Belardes, the local Juaneño Indian group chief who is related to the original Blas and Aguilar families, as is his wife, Cha Cha. For decades, Belardes has taken the American Indian relics unearthed by Southern California developers and reburied them in private ceremonies. But with the knowledge Belardes has gathered, he and his family have painstakingly re-created pieces from different eras and set them up in museum displays. Period photographs and descriptive placards help bring the items to life. A small bedroom is decorated the way it would have been for the original inhabitants, who were obviously much smaller, given the size of their beds. A backroom includes furs, skins and sticks collected locally to make the items on display. The yard features a "conversation stone" where Juaneño women would grind corn while sharing gossip.