150 Years on the Gaviota Coast

PROFILE:  Oldest Ranching Family Celebrates 150 Years on the Gaviota Coast


Story by Guner Tautrim and Eric Hvolboll, images courtesy of Orella family archives


Family farmers are an anomaly along the Gaviota Coast – an anachronistic remnant of the past. Of the few ranching families left today on the coastal plain west of Goleta, only a handful date back into the 1800s. The most deep-rooted of these is the Orella family

Five ranches in the Refugio area are still owned and operated by descendants of Bruno Orella and his wife, Mercedes Gonzales y Guevara.  

Bruno Orella was Basque, born in Spain in 1830. After arriving in California during the gold rush era, he worked in the 1850s for the Gonzales family at their cattle ranch on the Oxnard plain, which they had received as a Mexican land grant in 1837. In 1858, Bruno Orella married Mercedes Gonzales y Guevara, the daughter of his employer, Leandro Gonzales.

Mercedes Gonzales y Guevara was born in Santa Barbara in 1841. Her family arrived in Santa Barbara and San Buenaventura in 1782. They were soldiers and settlers in Spain's colonization of California, and included indigenous Cahitan, Mexican, Black, Spanish and mestizo people from what is now Mexico. 

One hundred and fifty years ago, in 1866, Bruno and Mercedes Orella moved to the Ortega adobes at the mouth of Corral Canyon between Refugio and El Capitan. The adobes are County Historical Landmarks, and are now owned by ExxonMobil.  

Beginning in 1866, the Orellas purchased Refugio Canyon and then Venadito and Corral Canyons from the Ortega family, that had received the ranchos as land grants before the American conquest of California. The Orellas' ranch spread from the Tajiguas ridgeline to El Capitan Canyon, and included Refugio Beach.

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The Orellas also maintained an adobe home on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara at the southwest corner of Figueroa Street. The adobe has been remodeled, and is now Aldo's Italian Restaurant.

In the 1880s, Bruno Orella invited three of his nephews from Spain to come to California and seek claims on public lands north of his ranch. All three, Julian Orella, Patricio Alegria and Ramon Saralegui, established ranches in upper Refugio Canyon before 1890.

When Bruno Orella died in 1901, his land was subdivided into 10 ranches for 10 of his children. The ranches produced sheep, cattle and then in the early 1900s, walnuts, lemons, lima beans and tomatoes. Garbanzos and avocados were farmed after 1950.   

Over the ensuing century, eight of the 13 Orella family ranches were sold. Five, however, are still owned by Orella descendants. 

In upper Refugio Canyon, Frank Alegria and Joyce Saralegui Orsua and their families live on their ancestors' two ranches, which their families have owned for about 130 years.  

On the coast just west of El Capitan, the Erburu family, descendants of Juana Orella Erburu, have maintained their ranch overlooking the channel for 150 years.

At the mouth of Venadito Canyon and on the hills overlooking Refugio Beach, Mark Tautrim and his family operate Orella Ranch. In upper Venadito Canyon, Mark Tautrim's aunt, Elizabeth Erro Hvolboll and her family raise avocados on her grandmother Josefa Orella Erro's La Paloma Ranch, with its iconic 114-year-old single-board wooden ranch house. Both ranches date from 1866. 

These five families have lived, ranched and farmed on the Gaviota Coast as neighbors and cousins for six and seven generations. While this span of time is very significant in California history, it of course pales to the Chumash people’s occupation of the coast for over 10,000 years. In fact, the historic period since the late 1700s is probably less than 2% of the time the land was occupied by Chumash people. Two of their largest villages, Kuyamu and Mikiw were located on the ocean bluffs at the mouth of Dos Pueblos Canyon. “Dos Pueblos” translates as “two villages” – named for these two villages. 

There are a number of interesting historic sites on the coast in addition to the Corral Canyon adobes, including Refugio Cove, which was a prominent smuggling site during the Spanish and Mexican eras, the Vicente Ortega adobe at Arroyo Hondo (1842), Gaviota Pass and pier, built for Hollister/Dibblee cattle shipping (1875), Point Conception Lighthouse (1881), Vista del Mar School (1927) at Alcatraz, the World War II German POW camp (1944) on the Edwards Ranch, and the Pico adobe (1871) atop Refugio Pass – Ronald Reagan’s Western White House during the 1980s. Sadly, other landmarks such as the Den Adobe and the Naples Chapel at Dos Pueblos, as well as the 1916 Gaviota Store, have been lost.

Other families, including the De la Guerra-Dibblee family northwest of Gaviota Pass, the Giorgi family near Las Cruces, and the Dreyfus family in Eagle Canyon, have also operated ranches in the area for over a century.

Local stories and history are recounted in J. J. Hollister’s book, Gaviota Boy, Elizabeth Erro Hvolboll’s book, Mi Refugio, and artist Chris Chapman’s books, Portraits of Gaviota and earlier this year, Stories of Arroyo Hondo.

If you spend enough time on the coast, you’ll undoubtedly meet some of the Orella family or visit their isolated ranch homes. If you’re familiar with the rugged beauty of coast and nearby mountains, you’ll understand why they’ve stayed living there now for 150 years! 

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GCC and One Percent for the Planet

The Corporate Benefits of One Percent for the Planet

or the World’s Largest Donor / Non-profit Dating Service


Assisting businesses to support Gaviota stewardship

by Greg Karpain

The Gaviota Coast Conservancy has been a non-profit member of One Percent for the Planet for over five years. Why does a non-profit join another non-profit like One Percent for the Planet? It's a good question, and one we’re happy that One Percent answered.

One Percent for the Planet has quickly become the largest environmental network in the world! It’s an international non-profit organization, whose corporate members pledge and contribute at least one percent of their annual sales revenue to support environmental causes, and the non-profits behind those causes, such as the Gaviota Coast Conservancy (GCC).

Their One Percent for the Planet mission is to build, support and activate an alliance of businesses financially committed to creating a healthy planet. One Percent for the Planet corporate members assist non-profit organizations, such as GCC, that protect land, forests, rivers, oceans, and also encourage sustainable methods of energy production.

The result? More than 1,200 member companies in 48 countries are currently giving one percent of their sales directly to more than 3,300 nonprofits. Donations totaling more than $130 million dollars are now helping our environment (and future). One Percent works with corporations to find a non-profit, to which the company feels most aligned, and introduces the two for further discussion. It’s kind of a dating service and match-maker for environmental companies that want to create change, and those non-profits whose sole purpose it to effect those changes.

Yvonne Chounard, the founder of Patagonia Corporation, and cofounder of One Percent for the Planet, says, "[We] have a responsibility to the planet. Give to the people who are willing to do the good work." 

Global Social Marketing and Increased Sales Revenues

Companies can participate in the One Percent global network at a variety of levels, including

  • Whole company participation (e.g. Patagonia)
  • Branding (e.g. Planet Petco)
  • Product line marketing (e.g. Honest Tea)

Associating your corporate brand with the One Percent for the Planet concept and network is solid global social marketing. For example, 1 billion impressions have been stamped on member packaging annually, helping promote $100 billion in network sales over the past 10 years. By donating one percent of annual sales revenue, your company gets double value on the dollar: increased brand recognition and sales, as well as pro-actively involvement to help non-profits meet your corporate environmental goals. 

As a small business owner noted, "It's helped my sales a lot to be part of One Percent, and given me added exposure, and easier access to some markets that I might not have entered into." 

The bottom line for profit: One Percent for the Planet helps companies grow their member’s businesses and revenue by being socially responsible.

Ask your company to join and donate to the Gaviota Coast Conservancy

In 2008, the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, as well as the Naples Coalition, applied for and underwent the One Percent rigorous application process, and were accepted as a non-profit member of the organization. If you are a member of a local, national, or international business, we ask that you bring One Percent to the attention of your company and see if they would like to join One Percent and add the Gaviota Coast Conservancy to its annual giving list (see below for contact information as to how we can help you with your presentation to your company). 

If your company is interested in becoming an approved One Percent corporate partner and donating to the Gaviota Coast Conservancy (or other member non-profit of your choice) please call Janet or Brook. Donating to the Gaviota Coast Conservancy helps to preserve the rural character and habitat of our unique and stunning Gaviota Coast.  

Or contact Janet Koed, Gaviota Coast Conservancy, 805-683-6631 gavcoast@silcom.com
Or Brook Hopper, One Percent for the Planet, 805-340-5034, brook@onepercentfortheplanet.org
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2016 SCAPE Benefit Art Show for Gaviota Coast Conservancy



Don't miss our annual Gaviota Coast Conservancy benefit art show by Southern California Artists Painting for the Environment (SCAPE), "Visions of the Gaviota Coast: The Jewel in our Backyard", featuring photography by Reeve Woolpert and paintings by SCAPE painters, with silent auction and art sales to benefit Gaviota Coast Conservancy. The Bacara Resort and Spa is sponsoring this event, with locally-handcrafted wine by Standing Sun, live music, a silent auction, high-value raffle and great schmoozing. 

This event is free to the public!

Friday, 5/13: 1-8p, reception at 5p

Saturday, 5/14: 10a-5p, raffle at 4p

Raffle prize: a one-night stay and a spa treatment at the Bacara Resort and Spa! 

Please RSVP here for Friday and RSVP here for Saturday so we know around how many to plan for, and thanks.



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