EL CERRITO -- A rare piece of local history has arrived at City Hall in the form of a gift from a descendant of Francisco Castro, whose family received the land that is now El Cerrito, Richmond, San Pablo and Kensington in a grant from the governor of Alta California in 1834.
The artifact is a redwood door to a shed that was once part of a cattle ranch owned by Francisco Castro's grandson Patricio. Patricio Castro started the ranch near what is currently Castro Ranch Road in El Sobrante in 1868 when he was 25. The ranch remained in the possession of Castro descendants until 1994.
"Patricio had 100 acres deeded to him by his dad and built the ranch buildings on the property," said Joanne Rubio, a director of the El Cerrito Historical Society.
John Brennan of San Lorenzo, whose father Herb worked on the Patricio Castro ranch, donated the door to the El Cerrito Historical Society.
Herb Brennan, came home from the ranch one day in the late 1940s to their home in East Oakland with the door, his son said. Herb Brennan used the door as the top of a dining table for the family for about 20 years before it was taken out of use in 1967, according to Tom Panas of the historical society, who accepted the door from John Brennan.
Herb Brennan's mother was Victoria Castro, a great-granddaughter of Francisco Castro.
The door is 31 inches wide, 1.5 inches thick and 72 inches high. It was made from tongue-and-groove planks fashioned out of milled lumber.
The back of the door has been treated to look like hand-hewn wood, Panas said.
The door was created in about 1900, according to an expert estimate. It now belongs to the historical society and will be kept in the Dorothy and Sundar Shadi Historical Room at El Cerrito City Hall.
"This is a unique and genuine artifact of that period," Panas said. "I don't think the society currently has anything from that period."
The Patricio Castro ranch is still undeveloped, with a ranch house and a meat plant on the site having been demolished, said Janice Castro, a living descendant of Patricio Castro.
"The developer who bought the land from my Dad ran into financial difficulties shortly thereafter and never built the homes and commercial properties he had in mind," Janice Castro said. "The ranch can easily be seen from the very top of the high hills across the way, which are now covered with homes and streets."
Two-year-old Francisco Castro accompanied his father on the historic Anza Expedition to California from Mexico in 1776.
Missionaries from the Anza party founded Mission Dolores in San Francisco. Anza party members settled the area and in succeeding decades Spanish settlers, such as the Castros, Moragas and Peraltas, received grants of large tracts of land from the Spanish and Mexican governments.
Very few other significant relics of the Castros remain in the area that was once Rancho San Pablo.
The Alvarado Adobe, built for the widow of Francisco Castro in 1842 in the area that is now San Pablo, was demolished in 1954 to make way for the expansion of a motel, Panas said.
San Pablo later incorporated a reproduction of the home into the city center complex it built on Church Lane, he said.
"At first they were going to make the adobe bricks for the reproduction there, but it was too time-consuming so they had them made in Mexico," Panas said.
The Castro Adobe, built by Francisco Castro's son Victor, the father of Patricio Castro, was destroyed in a fire in 1956, shortly before the El Cerrito Plaza Shopping Center was built on the site.
Construction on the Castro Adobe began in 1837 and was completed in 1839 and it was considered one of the most historic buildings in Contra Costa County.
There was an effort being mounted to preserve it at the time of the fire.
"We have one brick from the Castro Adobe in the Shadi room and a portion of a couple others, and some nails that were picked up after the adobe burned," Panas said.