Ilsa Byrnes will be truly missed by us all!

In a decades-long preservation effort that included San Juan Capistrano’s Los Rios Street, San Clemente’s Casa Romantica and what’s now Crystal Cove State Park, Ilse Byrnes enjoyed another marked accomplishment: She fit in with the locals.

The influential historian and conservationist died Jan. 12 at the age of 94, leaving a legacy that longtime friend and fellow activist Jerry Nieblas said is akin to that of a multigenerational family with roots in early California.

“She wasn’t from a historical family, but it was like she had been here forever,” Nieblas said. “It’s going to be a big missing link that we don’t have her as a resource; it’s just going to be huge. There was nothing fake about her. She knew her stuff.”

A Switzerland native and longtime resident of San Juan Capistrano, Byrnes spearheaded efforts to get national recognition for most of the historical properties outside 246-year-old Mission San Juan Capistrano, beginning in 1976 with a seven-year effort to place the Los Rios Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The history that exists outside the Mission walls is because of Ilse Byrnes,” said Nieblas, whose family has lived in San Juan Capistrano since the pre-Mission era. “So much of what I know even about my own family and my own history is because Ilse stimulated that part of my life.”

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