Olompali State Park has an identity crisis. Is it a Native American Miwok site? An early California rancho? A gilded age country retreat? A Jesuit center? A center of music history? A hippie commune? On a tiny portion of Camilo Ynitia's Rancho de Indios on Highway 101 north of Novato, California, sits Kitchen Rock Olompali State Park, occupied first by Coastal Miwok people who made it a major trading center. By mid-19th Century it had become a thriving rancho with cattle and orchards. It saw ever more rapid changes until the exhausted estate fortunately was preserved as a state historic park in 1977. This is its story.
Native Americans were on this land for at least 8000 years; the Coast Miwok people settled at Olompali around 1500 B.C. One of the most interesting ancient relics is "Kitchen Rock," which was evidently used simultaneously by several people to grind acorns and seeds into meal. Kitchen Rock suggests these people had a strong interest in social intercourse as they worked to prepare food. "Olompali" is a native word meaning "southern people," and the location became a major trading center for the Miwok as early as 1300 A.D. A Kotcha made of tule replica of a Miwok village is under construction at the Park, and Miwok houses, or "kotchas" were made either of tule or redwood bark.
The first hard evidence of European contact with the Miwok comes from a silver sixpence coin depicting Queen Elizabeth, dated 1567, and found at Olompali in a soil layer dated to approximately 1600 A.D., which was roughly the time of Sir Francis Drake's landing in Marin County.
Spanish missions were intended to "civilize" the native people and convert Wild turkeys them to Christianity. Mexican governors ultimately disestablished the missions in favor of large land grants, or "ranchos." All but one of these ranchos was granted to a European landholder, but in 1843 some 8,900 acres at Olompali were granted by Mexico to Camilo Ynitia, the last head man of the village. Imagine what qualities this man must have had to win the trust and backing of General Vallejo and receive this grant of land!
Ynitia built a small adobe home on his rancho, which remained a gathering place for Miwoks and Mexicans, and in 1846 the only fatality of the Bear Flag Burdell's garden fountain Revolt started by then-Major John Charles Fremont occurred at Olompali.
Ceded to the United States in 1848 by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, California quickly became the fastest-growing state, and the gold rush brought an enormous influx of wealth. In 1852, Ynitia sold most of his land for $5,000 to James Black, the county assessor and land speculator. Black, in turn, gave the land in 1863 as a wedding present to his daughter Mary, who married an early San Francisco dentist, Galen Burdell.
The ranch remained in the Burdell family for 80 years, becoming a noted estate A Burdell ranch barn with a 26-room mansion built in 1911 and extensive formal gardens. Oddly enough, the mansion was built around the core of Ynitia's adobe. The Burdell ranch featured pillars and brickwork, gazebos, exotic plants and trees, a lily pond, and an immense stone fountain, fed by water running down from the 1500-foot Mt. Burdell.
Court Harrington bought the Burdell ranch for use as a beef cattle ranch, but after five years Harrington sold out to the University of San Francisco in 1948, which initially used the land as a Jesuit retreat. This plan was not successful, and throughout the 1960s USF tried to sell or lease the property, which resulted in a great deal of fame and notoriety! The year 1964 saw the construction of a swimming pool for the short-lived Olompali Swim Club. Then, in 1966, the estate was rented by the Grateful Dead, who in Charred wood from 1969 turn entertained Janis Joplin and Grace Slick at Olompali, and featured the land on one of their album covers.
Finally, in 1967, Donald Crawford McCoy leased the property. McCoy was the developer of the first modern houseboat marina at the Sausalito heliport, and good friends with Bill Cosby and Otis Redding. McCoy "dropped out" after his 1966 divorce and founded a hippie commune at Olompali, named "the Chosen Family," with dozens of participants at one time or another. The children attended a "Not School" run by a pot-smoking nun, and the mansion earned the nickname, "the White House of hippiedom." The commune supplied bread baked in large cans and shaped like mushrooms to residents of the Haight-Ashbury. What's left of the mansion
Olompali's increasingly rapid evolution went up in smoke in the fall of 1969, when the main ranch house was destroyed by an electrical fire. The damage was never repaired, and the ruined estate was fought over by developers until a local group of historians and preservationists persuaded the State and County to purchase the property in 1977.
So you might say Olompali State Park has an identity crisis. Is it a Miwok site? An early California rancho? A gilded age country retreat? A Jesuit center? A center of music history? A hippie commune? Since it has been all of these things, Olompali offers unique challenges to park developers. Any one of these identities would require a large capital investment to restore and document, and California has a seemingly unending 1850 adobe walls financial crisis.
The nineteenth-century Burdell ranch house was separate from the Ynitia adobe, and has been renovated into the current park headquarters, a two-story frame building. The resident park ranger has little budget, and doubles as the supervisor of the regional park district, with offices on the second floor. At least efforts were made to preserve the oldest link with the past: a shingled building was erected over the burned-out mansion with windows in place to reveal the pure adobe walls of Camilo Ynitia's home, buried within the Burdell mansion.
Somehow, Olompali appealed to our curiosity, and we supplemented the park brochure with some internet research in preparing this report. The task remains to the future friends of Olompali to find the planning and the money to enable this amazing history to be fully shared with park visitors.