By Mitch Lehman
San Marino Tribune
Marla Felber is a woman on a mission to preserve the Michael White Adobe, the second-oldest structure in San Marino that was built in 1845, before California was officially a state.
The Old Mill, an adobe building completed in 1816, is the oldest structure.
Felber, who spoke at the Rotary Club of San Marino’s meeting on April 13, serves as chair of Friends of the Michael White Adobe. She discussed the Adobe’s past as well as some optimistic plans for its future.
Felber explained how the Adobe was constructed in 1845 and was first occupied by White, who was born in England and served as an apprentice on a whaling ship. He soon changed his last name to Blanco because to own land a person needed to be a citizen of Mexico, which ruled California at the time.
“He was such a significant person his oral history is in the Bancroft Library,” said Felber. The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, contains archives of state historical documents.
The Adobe was substantially changed in the 1870s to accommodate his family moving to the Adobe. Felber, a designer who specializes in historic buildings, pointed out that the Adobe features three different types of construction and at one point had both a two- and three-story structure.
The Adobe sits on land owned by the San Marino Unified School District since 1928, when the district acquired the property to build San Marino High School. Over the years, the Adobe served many purposes, including as a clubhouse for SMHS cheerleaders and pep squads. But in 2008, the SMUSD placed the Adobe on the excess property list, which forced administrators to create long-term plans for the historic structure.
Felber filed for several grants on behalf of the Adobe and was successful in obtaining grants for its preservation. She received a loud ovation when she mentioned that she has received numerous grants from the Rotary Club of San Marino.
Felber pointed out that while the Adobe is located on school property, it cannot be seen nor is it accessible to Huntington Drive, which limits its uses. The Adobe holds an annual open house in the fall that coincides with the school’s homecoming.
The SMUSD had initially been in favor of demolishing the Adobe in order to renovate the SMHS swimming pool.
Also in 2008, the district started a steering committee for the Adobe, which is known as Friends of the Michael White Adobe, or FOMWA, which Felber has chaired since its beginning.
“Our first vision was an outside space that could be used during San Marino High School’s baseball games,” she said.
But the Adobe has benefited from a Los Angeles Preservation grant. The Adobe has also undergone a historic structures report, which found that it suffers from excess moisture. Since then, the building has undergone a retrofit.
But there is currently no resource for adobe material, which forced FOMWA to Arizona, where it is still available.
In 1977, the Adobe became eligible for the National Trust as a “significant building” and is currently listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Felber pointed out that along with the cosmetic improvement needed by the Adobe, it also needs an electrical upgrade.
“The pandemic was good for the Adobe,” said Felber. “It forced us to come up with an informational banner about the Adobe and also coaxed FOMWA to create a 25-page document about its history, which will be used in upcoming educational opportunities.”
Felber used the opportunity to promote a fundraiser for the Adobe, Music from the Parlour, which will be held on April 30 and feature music from local singers and students.