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11 Of The Oldest Buildings in California
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11 Of The Oldest Buildings in California

The oldest buildings in California are a reminder of how this place became the golden state it is today. Check out the top 11 now.

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5 min read

November 23, 2021

Shedding light on the early urbanization of the Golden State, the oldest buildings in California uncover the history of an area that once had rugged topography, marked by mountain ranges and deserts. Lucky for us, the state remains true to its history and has kept alive many of the structures that tell the story of how it grew to have one of the strongest economies in the world. The oldest buildings in California are a reminder of how this place became the golden state it is today.

Oldest Buildings in California

The Ritz-Carlton Club and Residences are built atop the historic Old Chronicle Building, which was constructed in 1890.

Old Chronicle Building

The Old Chronicle Building is a Romanesque Revival-style structure that has adorned the San Francisco skyline since 1889—it was the headquarters of the San Francisco Chronicle until 1924. Designed by architectural firm Burnham and Root, the Old Chronicle may not exactly be the oldest building in San Francisco, but it’s the oldest skyscraper on the West Coast. In 1905, the building’s four-story clock tower was destroyed by skyrockets during a mayoral victory parade, but the structure stood still even during the 1906 earthquake. The completely restored building now is a luxury residence owned by the Ritz-Carlton Club and Residences.

Lady Adams Building

Walking down the streets of Old Sacramento, you’ll come to realize it’s hard to guess which one of the historic buildings is the oldest. Most of Sacramento’s historic structures were burned during the 1852 fire, and the only one that survived was the Lady Adams Building, built just five months earlier. The California Historical Landmark was built by architect Julius Fiedler as a wholesale and import house for four German merchants—they named it after the ship they arrived in, Lady Adams. Today, the building serves as a retail space (just as it was meant to be) and is one of the must-see sights in the state capital.

The Bradbury Building's narrow entrance lobby, with its low ceiling and minimal light, has the look of a Parisian alley of arched windows.

The Bradbury Building

Downtown Los Angeles is as unique as can be with its mind-blowing skyscrapers and striking architecture. What makes it even more special is the iconic Bradbury Building, the oldest commercial building in Los Angeles. Since its construction in 1893, the Bradbury Building has served the sole purpose of being an office space, and a gorgeous one while we’re at it. The five-story building has a skylit atrium with elaborate ironwork, stairs, and elevators, making it one of the best places to pose for pictures in L.A.

Oldest Houses in California

Peralta Adobe

Built in 1797, the Peralta Adobe is the last standing structure from El Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe, the first municipal government in California. In fact, it was built by one of its founders, Jose Manuel Gonzeles. The Apache settler built his adobe home near the market, which is located in modern-day Downtown San Jose. Later, Luis Maria Peralta bought the mansion and renovated it. Today, the house sits proudly in the middle of the tech hub, reminding the world of the city’s humble beginnings.  

Avila Adobe is located in the paseo of historical Olvera Street, a part of Los Angeles Plaza Historic District, a California State Historic Park.

Ávila Adobe

In the heart of Olvera Street sits the Ávila Adobe, one of the oldest homes in California. Constructed in 1818 by Francisco Ávila, the house is now a treasured California Historic Landmark and an iconic architectural site in the City of Angels. Ávila and his family lived in the house until 1868 before being overtaken by a U.S. Navy Commodore. Over the following years, the mansion was used as a hotel, lodging, and a temporary home to the U.S. troops. During the late 1920s, the now-abandoned house was on the brink of demolition when preservationist  Christine Sterling turned it into a museum, where visitors get to witness how life was back in the 1800s. 

Cedar Cabin

The cedar cabin in the Wrightwood Mountains is one of the oldest houses in California. Built in 1801, the home sits on an elevation of 5,900 feet above the Mojave Desert. The original log cabin was California’s first ranger station—throughout the years, it served as a home to forest rangers, cattle ranchers, and philosophers. When the Rajagopal family acquired the cabin in 1945, they turned it into a salon—Actress Greta Garbo, Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, and Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti have all been guests here. 

The Abner Phelps House is currently the oldest house in San Francisco, constructed in approximately 1850 by Abner Phelps and his Augusta Roussell.

Abner Phelps House

The Abner Phelps House is the oldest unaltered house in San Francisco. The origin of the  Gothic Revival house has two contradicting but equally interesting stories. It’s said that the house was constructed in 1850, but how and where it was originally built is not clear. The official story says that real estate company John Middleton and Sons built the house for Abner Phelps and his wife Augusta Russell in S.F. The unofficial one told by Phelps' great-granddaughter in 1960 says that the house was built in New Orleans and then shipped in pieces to California, because Augustina was homesick. Which one of the stories makes more sense? You tell us. 

Oldest Cultural Centers In California

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá was the first Franciscan mission in The Californias, a province of New Spain, located in present-day San Diego.

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá

The Golden State’s oldest standing and functioning mission, Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá was built in 1769 by Junipero Serra. Fully restored in 1931, the structure is a graceful combination of history and religion. Its striking 46-foot-tall tower holds five bells, the largest weighing 1,200 pounds. Signs guide visitors through the bougainvillea-covered buildings including the parish, museum, and secluded gardens. A visit to the historic shrine is one of the top things to do in San Diego

Part of a historic district, California's First Theater is a preserved adobe structure that staged plays in the 1850s.

California’s First Theater 

Monterey State Historic Park houses the oldest theater in the county. Jack Swan built it in 1846 as a lodging house and tavern for sailors. However, when the U.S. Army officers started producing plays in 1850, Swan added a stage and benches for the actors to perform. After Swan died in the late 1800s, the theater is where whalers sought shelter. During Monterey’s 167th anniversary in 1937, the Troupers of the Gold Coast revived old-time melodramas on the stage of California’s very first theater. Today, the structure is a California Historical Landmark and the pride of Monterey.

Santa Clara University 

Ever wondered which university is the oldest in California? The answer is Santa Clara University, which was built in 1851. As the oldest operating institution of higher learning in the Golden State, the University’s campus surrounds the historic Mission Santa Clara de Asis and mimics its architectural style. According to history, the bishop of Monterey Joseph Sadoc Alemany gave the area surrounding the mission to Italian Jesuits John Nobili and Michael Accolti. The bishop’s only condition was that they build a college for California's growing Catholic population.

The museum once had a bowling alley, skating rink, and billiards room on the ground floor; a natural history museum and library on the first floor.

Crocker Art Museum

California’s unparalleled art scene owes so much to Edwin B. Crocker, the founder of the first art museum. Located in Sacramento, the Crocker Art Museum opened in 1890 and has since served as the primary regional resource for the study of fine arts— it’s also home to the famous Gerald Hansen Library. If you’re interested in European, Asian, African, and Oceanic art, ceramics, and photography, this is your go-to destination.

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