The Orella family had its origins in the north of Spain and is a Basque noble family. In Basque the name means Spacious Estate or "Solar Espacioso" in Spanish.

The family's ancestral home was the Palacio Orella at Arriba in the Val de Araiz in Navarra. Here the family lived "from time immemorial". The Palacio was largely rebuilt in 1850, as the ancient building suffered fire damage in the Carlist Wars of the early 19th century. Irreplaceable family records were also lost to fire at this time. The old Palacio boasted a magnificent carved facade, including the family coat of arms, which was not included in the rebuilding. Descendants of the family still own the building, which has a chapel or "Ermita" across the road, still used occasionally for family weddings. The chapel is known as Our Lady of the Way or Our Lady of Orella.

Palacio Orella
Palacio Orella

Altar in Orella chapel, Arriba
Altar in Orella chapel, Arriba

Family wedding in Ermita
Family wedding in Ermita

The valley of Araiz is about 44 kilometers from Pamplona, bordering the province of Guipúzcoa and the mountains of Aralar, Larraum and Betelu. It is a verdant and hilly country filled with woods of oak and beech, which climb the slopes of the two highest mountains of the area: Ardigain and Aldaon.

The photo below is of the parish church of Arriba, San Miguel, where many generations of Orellas were baptized.

San Miguel Church
Church of San Miguel

We know that knights of the Orella Barony went to Aragon towards the end of the XI century to take part in the wars of the Reconquest of Spain from the Moors. Later the family extended to other places in the Navarrese region, as well as Guipuzcoa, Alava, Vizcava, and into Valencia, where Orellas inherited country estates in Ruzafa. Miguel and Martin de Orella were recognized as nobles by the Royal Chamber of Pamplona in 1562. In later times, in 1830, the father and uncle of the immigrant Don Bruno Orella (of whom see below) received a like recognition by the province of Viscaya. The family's many branches expanded to the new world, where it became established in Chile, Argentina, Mexico and the United States.

The Orellas have a significant maritime history. (The Basques in general were great navigators and mariners.) In the 17th century, Don Lorenzo Ugalde de Orella, native of San Sebastian, died 1659, was commander of the ship "Encarnacion" in the famous sea battles in the Philippines, 1645-1646, called La Naval de Manila. Don Lorenzo, Spanish Army officer, rose to the rank of General. Distinguished for his valor and talent against the "Moros" (Muslims) of Mindinao and Jolo and against the Dutch. He commanded the Spanish forces in a desperate naval fight of two Spanish ships against six Dutch ships March 15, 1646, off the west coast of Luzon and again in a second series of naval fights from July 29-31, 1646. Upon return to Manila, he was celebrated as a great victorious hero. The Battle is still famous in the Philippines today. Don Lorenzo was granted one of the largest encomiendas in the Islands. His brother Filipe de Orella was Almirante (Admiral) of the Philippines.

The family is also descended from the Bonechea family. Domingo de Bonechea, 1713-1775, was a Captain in the Spanish Royal Navy and an explorer for the Spanish Crown. He is known for having tried to incorporate Tahiti into the Spanish Empire. His younger brother Francisco was also a naval officer, mentioned as Lieutenant aboard one of the frigates escorting King Carlos III (under whom Santa Barbara was founded) from Italy to Spain in 1759 on his accession to the Spanish Throne. Don Domingo was commissioned by the Viceroy of Peru to go the South Seas only weeks after Captain Cook's First Voyage to pursue Spanish interests. He died in Tahiti.

In the 19th century, Captain Manuel Orella of Chile won great fame for his victories in the War of the Pacific against Peru.

In the United States, Don Bruno Orella, arriving in 1849/50, began a California branch of the family. The Orella clan of Santa Barbara County represents an interesting microcosm of the region it adopted as its home. The family is not the most famous here; however, in a state of shallow roots and brief histories, the family might be a novelty –a family that can closely clutch and loudly proclaim 160 years of local history.

Orella Adobe, State Street, Santa Barbara -Circa 1902, John Fritsche Collection
Orella Adobe, State Street, Santa Barbara -Circa 1902,
John Fritsche Collection

Plaque at Adobe site, 1990
Plaque at Adobe site, 1990

On July 7, 1990, the family, friends and local officials from far and near gathered together to celebrate the history of the family in Santa Barbara. A beautiful plaque by Judy Sutcliffe was placed on an outside wall at the former site of the old Orella Adobe at 1029 State Street (the site is on the National Register of Historic Places). The 24-tile plaque gives the property's history and is considered by the artist to be one of her finest tile works. There was a Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving that day at the Orellas' parish church of Our Lady of Sorrows and following that, participants attended the opening of a family exhibit at the Santa Barbara Historical Society.

Ricardo Pérez-Rasilla, a cousin from Spain, was present for the occasion, as was the Consul-General of Spain for Los Angeles. Elizabeth Hvolboll of Santa Barbara, Michael Haines of San Francisco and Tracey Orella of New Jersey were the main organizers of the event.

Robert Erburu, Eric Hvolboll, Elizabeth Hvolboll, Michael Haines Tracy Orella, and Ricardo Pérez-Rasilla at Plaque dedication, July, 1990
Robert Erburu, Eric Hvolboll, Elizabeth Hvolboll, Michael Haines,
Tracey Orella, and Ricardo Pérez-Rasilla at Plaque dedication, July, 1990

Don Bruno Orella y Mendizábal was born in Viscaya, Spain, in 1830 and came to California during the Gold Rush of 1849/50. No doubt he was fleeing the civil wars of the time as well harsh economic conditions in his homeland. The lure of gold must also have played a part in his decision to journey to the New World. So in his early years Bruno set out to sea, working his way around the Horn, stopping to stay with relatives in Chile and finally arriving in California in the fabled year of 1849/50. He had no means other than a keen native intelligence, a strong work ethic and a determination to succeed.

He went to work for the González family, which possessed extensive land grants in what is now Ventura County—and in 1857 married a daughter of that family, Doña María Mercedes González y Ladrón de Guevara. Mercedes was descended from the González, Guevara, Verdugo, Carrillo and Cota families, who date back to the Portola Expedition of 1769, to the founding of Los Angeles in 1781, and to the founding of Santa Barbara in 1782. So Bruno and Mercedes's marriage brought together "new blood" from old Spain with old California stock.

In the last decades of the 19th century, Bruno went on to acquire a large land empire, including thousands of acres of ranch lands on the Gaviota Coast, three parcels of which remain in family hands. The adobes at Cañada del Corral were the Orellas' country home and are now registered as a County Landmark. Don Bruno left a rich inheritance to his family-which was part of the fabric of Santa Barbara commerce and society for several generations. The city acknowledged the patriarch's stature in the community by naming Orella St. after him in the Oak Park neighborhood.

At Bruno's funeral in 1901, the "Morning Press" reported that people came to Our Lady of Sorrows Church "to do last honors to the man who has been as a father to many, and whose superior business counsel was sought by countrymen throughout the region".

Rose window, Our Lady of Sorrows Church, In Memoriam Bruno and Mercedes Orella
Rose window, Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Santa Barbara,
In Memoriam Bruno and Mercedes Orella

The Orellas were one of the few "Hispanic" families to successfully assimilate into the increasingly Anglo-Saxon society of later 19th century California –due in large part to Bruno's business acumen and his great emphasis on education for his children. A schoolhouse was set up on family land in Cañada del Corral; and the sons of the family attended the preparatory school and college at the old Jesuit College of Santa Clara (now Santa Clara University). To this day there is an Orella Prize at Santa Clara given to the graduating student with the highest grades in the sciences. The Prize was begun in 1915 by one of Bruno's sons, Dr. Fermin R. Orella, himself a distinguished alumnus of the college.

Family members branched out into all walks of life, from medicine to ranching to business; but there was always a strong connection with the land: the "tierra adorada" of Santa Barbara County. That love persists to this day-and the Orella descendants who gathered at the 1990 Reunion honored both the city home on State St. and the ranch lands which the family founder acquired and loved so many years ago.

The Orella name is not much heard on the streets of Santa Barbara today. However, family descendants still live there and in many other parts of the United States, conscious of an honorable heritage and determined to preserve its memory.

Cañada del Corral plaque
Plaque at Cañada del Corral

Judy Sutcliffe and Elizabeth Hvolboll at Cañada del Corral
Judy Sutcliffe and Elizabeth Hvolboll
at Cañada del Corral. Photo 1993

Judy Sutcliffe is the artist who created both plaques. She is the co-owner of the Longbranch Gallery in Mineral Pt. Wisconsin.

The above information was taken from Articles by Michael Haines, The Los Angeles Times, Ricardo Rasilla, and Elizabeth Erro Hvolboll. Circa 1990

  Michael Haines - For more about the Orella Family in the US
  Horacio Larreta - For more about the Orella and Saralegui Family in Argentina
  Ricardo Rasilla - For more about the Orella Familty in Spain and Europe

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