The oldest of the two Oreña adobes, at 39 East De la Guerra Street, was built by José de la Guerra in 1849. He used it as a storehouse. Sometime around the mid 1850s, de la Guerra sold the building to Gaspar Oreña, who built a 1½-story adobe next door at 27-29 East De la Guerra Street, circa 1858. Oreña used the older building for a number of commercial purposes; the newer adobe became the family home.
Gaspar Eugenio de Oreña Gómez de Escaudon was born in Spain in 1824. At the age of 16, he was sent by his father to Cadiz to study medicine. Cadiz was one of Spain’s major ports, and the call of the sea compelled Oreña to abandon his studies and petition his father for permission to immigrate to America. Despite his misgivings, the elder Oreña eventually wrote a letter of introduction for his son to José de la Guerra, Gaspar’s maternal uncle and, at that time, comandante of the presidio in Santa Barbara.
Oreña arrived in Boston in 1840. Here he met one of José de la Guerra’s daughters, Ana María, whose marriage to Alfred Robinson in Santa Barbara was described by Richard Henry Dana in his book, Two Years Before the Mast. Oreña then journeyed around the southern tip of South America with stops in Chile, Peru, and Mexico. He also spent a short time in Hawai‘i. He arrived in Santa Barbara in 1842. Here, he entered into a profitable two-year business arrangement with José Antonio Aguirre, one of the area’s most prominent residents. This allowed Oreña to amass a tidy nest egg.
In 1848, at the tender age of 24, Oreña, in partnership with a young Frenchman, Cesario Lataillade, began to purchase ranch lands. It was a propitious time to become a rancher. The Californio cattle industry was being transformed by the gold rush with its thousands of new arrivals. Formerly dependent on the hide and tallow trade, the rancheros now raised cattle as beef on the hoof for the hungry newcomers. It truly was a golden age for cattle ranchers.
In 1849, Lataillade was accidentally killed while cleaning a loaded firearm. Oreña supervised the settlement of his partner’s estate and then in 1854 married the widow, Antonia María de la Guerra Lataillade. The couple would go on to raise 13 children, 10 of their own and three by Antonia María’s marriage to Lataillade.
The family split their time between Santa Barbara and their numerous ranch properties, which, at one time or another, included Los Alamos, Cuyama, and La Espada near Point Arguello. In 1878, Oreña engaged Peter Barber to design a magnificent mansion on property Oreña had purchased just below Mission Santa Barbara. Barber was Santa Barbara’s foremost architect of the period, responsible for the first Arlington Hotel, the domed Santa Barbara County Courthouse, the Lincoln home (now Upham Hotel), and the grand Thomas Dibblee mansion on the Mesa. Barber’s design for Oreña was an eclectic mix of Italianate, Queen Anne, and Second Empire styles. This towering home was a landmark of the upper Eastside until its demolition in 1923 to make way for Roosevelt School.
In 1889, Oreña and his wife moved to San Francisco, where he became a successful banker. Their home on Geary Street became a gathering place for the city’s elite.
Eventually, the couple returned to Santa Barbara and moved into a home on West Victoria Street, and here Gaspar Oreña passed away in 1903.
The adobes that bear his name were restored in 1921 by James Osborne Craig, the primary architect of the El Paseo office/retail complex. They have housed a variety of businesses over the years; both are designated City of Santa Barbara landmarks.