ORELLA FAMILY HISTORY
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.
Altar in Orella chapel, Arriba
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.
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,
Viscaya, 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
Later the family and its many branches expanded to the New
World, where it became established in Chile, Argentina, Mexico
and the United States. One of Chile's national heroes is Captain
Manuel Orella, victor in the
War of the Pacific against Peru in
In the United States, Don Bruno Orella, arriving in 1849/50,
began a California branch of the family. The Orella clan of
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
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,
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
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 (nowSanta 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.
Plaque 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.