Pedro Zabala

Pedro Zabala: One of the Oldest Pioneers of Monterey County

(Bilbo, Bizkaia, 1824 – Salinas, California, 1917)

Pedro Zabala studied business and worked as a salesman in his native Bilbao before traveling to Valparaiso, Chile in 1843. There, he settled at the age of 19 and to work in a large import and shipping company. After five years of service, he was sent by his firm to San Francisco to dispose of a large cargo, and determine the suitability of establishing a new company branch in the city. He disembarked in San Francisco on February 20, 1849.

After delivering the load, Zabala, like many 49-ers, became lured by the mines. He prospected for gold in and around Calaveras County for a few months, but he got tired of the ill-fated mining life and had at first decided to return to Chile. On his way to San Francisco, however, he was told about Monterey, California, with agreeable weather and a harbor, where “business was brisk and inviting there.” Zabala changed destinations, arrived in Monterey on October 1, 1849, and made California his home forever. 

Pioneer of Monterey County

Once in Monterey, Pedro, in partnership with José Abrego, engaged in supplying goods to the miners. The highly profitable business lasted nine years. With his substantial earnings, he bought large pieces of land at a low price in Salinas and other regions of Monterey County. Mr. Zabala eventually abandoned all his other ventures to focus solely on farming and especially, the cattle business. In 1866, he bought Paraiso Hot Springs, which became a luxury spa at a later time, from a Franciscan order, and sold it in 1874. He lived in Salinas, where he had convenient access to some of his largest holdings.

Pedro Zabala married Anna Hartnell, daughter of pioneer William E.P. Hartnell, in April of 1859. They had 15 children, some of whom occupied high-level positions in the community. Their oldest son, Pedro, was appointed District Attorney of Monterey County in 1892.

The Basque pioneer’s obituary that was published in the San Jose Mercury News on March 13, 1917, noted: “Mr. Pedro Zabala, well-known landowner and one of the oldest pioneers of Monterey County, drew his last breath on Tuesday evening.” As the death notice explains, only six of his 15 children survived the Basque pioneer.

Traces of the Zabalas

Celebrated author John Steinbeck, who was born in Salinas, mentions a Zabala House in his book East of Eden: “He walked to Stone Street where the Catholic church is and turned left, went past the Carriaga house, the Wilson house, the Zabala house, and turned left on Central Avenue at the Steinbeck house.”

Other traces of the Zabalas can still be found around Salinas, such as Zabala Road . In the 1970s, Pedro Zabala’s descendants planted grapevines in their great-grandfather’s property in Soledad. It was an ideal place to grow Chardonnay grapes. Today, the Zabala Vineyards are one of the oldest independent vineyards of Monterey County.


Barrows, Henry D., ed; Ingersoll, Luther A. (1893). A Memorial and biographical history of the coast counties of central California. Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago. 269-270.

Guinn, J. M. (1903). History of the State of California and biographical record of Coast Counties, California. The Chapman Publishing Company, Chicago.

External Link

Photo Captions:

History of the State of California. J. M. Guinn.

Hot Springs, c.1911.

History of the State of California. J. M. Guinn.

San Jose Mercury News, 03-16-1917

San Carlos Cemetery, Monterey

John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

Zabala Vineyards