The San Juan Capistrano Post Office, ca 1949 (courtesy the Orange County Archives).

The San Juan Capistrano Post Office, ca 1949 (courtesy the Orange County Archives).

San Juan Capistrano Post Office

(June 5, 1867 –        )

This post office was known as simply Capistrano from 1867 to 1905. In the 1860s, San Juan Capistrano was still very much a Mexican village. Richard Egan, for many years the Justice of the Peace in Capistrano, recalled that at the time the post office opened “The padre and I and the postmaster were the only ones here who, for some time after I arrived, could talk English. The postmaster was named William McLaughlin. He had a store and hotel in the adobe across the street from where I live. He and his wife had been here ten or twelve years before I came. McLaughlin used to say that he couldn’t read anything but coarse print. That was his answer whenever occasion arose that seemed to require him to read anything. All the mail that arrived and was left with McLaughlin by the stage would be thrown into a soap-box. McLaughlin would shove this soap-box under the counter, and if anyone came in looking for mail he would tell him to look in the soap-box, he was too busy to look. McLaughlin died a few years after I arrived.” (Register, 11-29-1920)

In 1907 the government announced plans to close the San Juan Capistrano Post Office. “It seems that the post office has not paid well lately because a number of people mail their letters on the train simply on account of personal grudges.” (Register, 9-30-1907) But after complaints for the local residents, the order was rescinded.


William McLaughlin, 1867-1868

Contemporary newspapers echo Judge Egan’s complaints about William McLaughlin. The Los Angeles Star (10-17-1868) claimed he “can barely read and write” and his assistant, Fr. José Mut, “cannot write English.” 

Samuel S. Maben, 1869-1870

The Los Angeles Star (6-15-1870) reported that P.P. Turben had resigned as Capistrano’s postmaster. One of these two names would seem to be in error. 

Andrew Joughlin, 1870-1874

Joughlin (the name is spelled various ways in early records) was running the hotel in Capistrano at the time.

S.W. Iler, 1874-1875

Mr. Iler, an old ‘49er, was a new arrival in town, and bought the hotel from Joughlin. 

Marks Mendelson, 1875-1893

“Max” Mendelson came to Capistrano from Anaheim in 1875, presumably buying Iler’s hotel and getting the post office in the deal. He built a large, wooden, two-story hotel on the east side of the plaza around 1885 and became one of the community’s leading businessmen, running a store, a livery stable, and the local Wells Fargo agency along with the hotel. In 1900 the Los Angeles Times called him, “the leading business man of San Juan Capistrano and the most prominent citizen of the old mission town, barring Don Marco Forster and ‘Gov.’ Richard Egan.” (11-19-1900). He left town in 1904 and his son, Ed, took over the hotel, which he renamed the Mendelson Mission Inn in 1913 and continued to operate for many years. 

Frank A. English, 1893-1899

Frank English was a local storekeeper and school board member. In 1895 he advertised “Groceries, Boots and Shoes, Tinware, Hardware, Gents Furnishing Goods, Hats and Caps,” he also ran a newsstand, sold stationery, and was an insurance agent. But in 1899 he went bankrupt. 

John O. Forster, 1899-1907

John Forster (1873-1939 was the son of Marcos Forster and the grandson of British-born ranchero Juan Forster. He was running a general store when he became postmaster. Later he was involved in ranching and land development, including the first subdivision at Dana Point. “John Forster took a quiet interest in the preservation of the stories of the past,” the Santa Ana Register wrote after his death, “yet he looked forward always to the development of the land he loved. He was always a leader in his community, in various organizations having to do with the marketing of crops, with irrigation and with schools.” (12-2-1939)

Peter Jauregui, 1907-1913

In 1898, “Pedro” Jauregui is mentioned as the “coachman” for prominent local ranch owner R.J. Belford. When the government threatened to close the San Juan Capistrano Post Office in 1907, local residents petitioning to keep it open and to have Jauregui appointed postmaster. Both requests were approved.

Charles F. Von Petersdorff, 1913-1914

Charles Von Petersdorff was something of a soldier of fortune. He was only in San Juan Capistrano briefly, where he had charge of “the principal store and of the post office there.” He had previously worked as a mining engineer in Mexico before being forced out by the revolution. He left for Tucson in 1914 where he became City Engineer.  

Eugene D. Elson, 1914-1916

Eugene Elson was also a mining man in Mexico and Arizona, where he was associated with Fr. Alfred Quetu. He later followed Fr. Quetu to San Juan Capistrano where he was one of the incorporators of the Capistrano Commercial Co. store along with W.B. Taylor and Charles Von Petersdorff. He served as postmaster while running the store. Elson left town around 1918. 

Esther L. Barnes, 1916-1920

Esther Barnes was later a member of the board of trustees of the Capistrano Union High School District. 

Carl A. Romer, 1920-1924

Carl Romer had previously been Jerome O’Neill’s chauffer and was married into the Forster family. He was a storekeeper in San Juan Capistrano for many years and also had a store in San Clemente in the late 1920s. He served a second term as postmaster from 1936-1951 (see below). 

Ferris F. Kelly, 1924-1931

“Kelly came to Capistrano 10 years ago and in company with Carl A. Romer opened a small trading post in a little frame building…. The pioneer firm soon outgrew its first quarters and the business was moved into the historic old building across the street…. For some time the firm operated in the old adobe building, and then moved into fine modern quarters in the Forster block.” (Santa Ana Register, 9-30-1930) After giving up the post office job, he was the last manager of San Juan Hot Springs (1933-36). Later, he had a drug store in Capistrano. 

Marie E. Forster, 1931-1936

Marie Forster (1902-1991) was the daughter of one of South County’s many Spanish Basque families, the Errecates. She married Hugo A. Forster, great-grandson of pioneer ranch owner John Forster. 

Carl A. Romer, 1936-1951 

Grace A. Belardes, 1951-1972 

(You can find more about Orange County’s post offices and postmasters here)