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Only Pieces Remain: the Juana Briones House
The Juana Briones House, parts of which were built in 1844, has been completely torn down by property owner Jaim Nulman, who fought off historic preservationists, latino activists, and descendants of Briones for years. Feminists joined in the struggle for the home's preservation as well. Jeanne McDonnell, biographer of Juana Briones, stated that historic buildings associated with women are more likely to be demolished than those associated with men.
Juana Briones was part of the 19th century California population of people with Spanish, Mexican, Native American, and African heritage. She was a famous curandera (traditional folk healer) who used native plants and remedies to help the sick. Among other things, she helped manage a smallpox outbreak in Marin County, owned and managed land at a time when it was extremely unusual for women to do so, and raised seven children.
On June 29, preservationists had a chance to visit the site of the recently torn down house. Artifacts of significance to historians and architects were stacked up on the property, and visitors were escorted around the site to see what little remained of the former home.
On view were pieces of the original adobe walls, and examples of the rare rammed earth style of construction. A portion of wall built in the encajando style lay on its side. Bits of rawhide, early 19th century square head nails, and mortise and tenon joints were on display. A single china shard that may have even sat on Juana's dining table gave pause for thought.
A descendent of the Bernals and Peraltas, who were contemporaries of Juana Briones, gave a brief tour of the native plants on the property, some of which have medicinal properties and may have been used by Juana in her healing practice.
Scroll down for this set of photos courtesy of the Raging Grannies.
(Previous coverage on the Juana Briones House on indybay: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/06/04/18681121.php)
Pointing out the peruvian pepper plant, a native species that has medicinal uses. Belladonna may also be one of the plants that Juana used to heal the sick, as it has been seen on the property as well.
Briones' descendants recently visited the site and reminisced about the abundant nopales on the grounds.
On the left, blocks of rammed earth. Stacked up on the right adobe bricks
Rammed earth (tapial in Spanish) is a technique used in the building of walls using the raw materials of earth, chalk, lime and gravel. It is an ancient building method that has seen a revival in recent years as people seek more sustainable building materials and natural building method
...used during the construction process. Visitors to the site commented that the style of construction may have been influenced by or actually done by sailors familiar with shipbuilding techniques. Juana helped sailors who entered San Francisco Bay sick or left ships for a better life.
Seeds up to 200 years old have been extracted from adobe brick buildings in California and northern Mexico.
Information gained can help anthropologists, botanists, climate change specialists and others in their research.
...and a china dish shard
...fought to preserve the house.