Bruno Orella

Bruno Orella, a Renowned Pioneer of Santa Barbara

(Muskiz, Bizkaia, 1830 – Santa Barbara, California, 1901)

Biscayan Bruno Orella Mendizabal arrived in California between 1849 and 1850, during the roaring Gold Rush era. “He had no means other than a keen native intelligence, a strong work ethic and a determination to succeed.” (The Orella family website.) He worked for Leandro Gonzalez at Rancho Rio de Santa Clara o la Colonia in today’s Ventura County, and married the owner’s California-born daughter, María Mercedes González y Ladrón de Guevara, in 1857.

Gonzalez passed away three months after the marriage of Bruno and María Mercedes. The couple lived on the property that was bequeathed to Mercedes for many years until they sold it and purchased Rancho Cañada del Corral in northern Santa Barbara County. Through the years, the couple continued to purchase ranch and urban properties, eventually holding extensive property throughout the Santa Barbara/Ventura region. When Bruno died in 1901, the Los Angeles Herald published the following from his last will and testament:

The Orella clan of Santa Barbara originates from the union of the Basque Bruno Orella and Californian Mercedes González. This family deserves a special mention if only because “in a state of shallow roots and brief histories, […] it can proclaim 160 years of local history.”i

The Orella Residences, Registered Historic Places

Today, the Orellas’ urban residence and the one located in Rancho Cañada del Corral, are both listed in the Register of Historic Places.

The Janssens-Orella-Birk Building

U.S. National Register of Historic Places – Reference no. 87001170

The Orella Adobes

Santa Barbara County Landmarks

The Rancho Cañada del Corral purchase of 1866 included the two adobes. The largest adobe was used as their home, and the smallest was the school for their 13 children. A tutor was hired to live with them on the ranch.

The Orella Ranch

After his death, Bruno’s properties were distributed among his 11 surviving children. Today’s Orella Ranch was inherited by son Dr. Fermin R. Orella, who, left the farmland in the hands of his nephew Martin Erro because his practice was in San Francisco. Mr. Erro was son to Fermin’s sister Josefa Roberta and Juan Miguel Erro from Aurizberri, Nafarroa. The ranch was eventually passed on to him, and Miguel farmed there until his death in 1960.ii

Bruno and Mercedes Orella’s daughter, Juana Antonia also married a Basque from Aurizberri: Mariano Erburu. The couple were aunt and uncle to Robert F. Erburu (1930-2014), former chairman of the Times Mirror Company.


Bruno and Mercedes were patrons of Santa Barbara’s Catholic churches and religious orders. All sons of the family attended Santa Clara College and to this day there is an Orella Prize given at that university to the student with highest grades in the sciences. The prize was begun in 1915 by Bruno and Mercedes’ son Dr. Fermin Orella.

Before his death, Bruno Orella sold some of his Santa Barbara parcels to help develop Oak Park. They named a street in the neighborhood “Orella Street” in his memory.


Douglas, William A. “Robert Erburu and Becoming a postmodern Basque” in Etulain, Richard W.; Echeverria, Jeronima ed.: Portraits of Basques in the New World, University of Nevada Press, 1999, 230-256.

External Link

Website of the Orella family:

iWebsite of the Orella family.

iiErro Hvolboll, Elizabeth. “Mi Refugio. Elizabeth Hvolboll remembers growing up on the Gaviota Coast.” (Memories of Bruno and Mercedes’s great-niece).

iiiWoo, Elaine. “Robert F. Erburu, former Times Mirror chairman, dies at 83.”

Yardley, William. “Robert F. Erburu, Who Led Times Mirror Company, dies at 83.”

Photo Captions:

Bruno Orella

Los Angeles Herald, 05-29-1901. California Digital Newspaper Collection.

Los Angeles Herald, 05-29-1901. California Digital Newspaper Collection.

The Janssens-Orella-Birk Building, 1029-1031 State Street, Santa Barbara. “Janssens-Orella-Birk Building” by Ymblanter – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

12000 Calle Real, Goleta. Between the State Parks of Corral Canyon, El Capitan and Refugio. After 1968, the location is private property of ExxonMobil and public access is not permitted. 

Orella Ranch now: journal/index.php/eij/article/ orella_stewardship_institute/

“In Memoriam Bruno and Mercedes Orella”, the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows in Santa Barbara.

Orella Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, USA