Santa Barbara Missions You’ve Never Seen
By Neal Graffy XNGH
December 6, 2009
Last Friday, Mission Santa Barbara celebrated its 223rd birthday. Now, I grew up thinking, as I believe most residents also do, that the Mission we see before us is therefore 223 years old. But, it ain’t so. The Mission has gone through a lot of changes over the past 2.2 centuries.
The founding ceremony of December 4, 1786 was a very simple one, primarily because the governor, Pedro Fages, had forbidden any structures to be built or formal rites held until he arrived. Father Fermín Lasuén, who had succeeded Fr. Serra as president of the Missions, had been in Santa Barbara since October waiting for Fages, and now here it was, December 4th, the Feast of Saint Barbara, the Holy Patroness for the new mission, and there was no governor.
“Tornillo el gobernador” Lasuén may have thought. Orders or no orders, he was not about to waste this date. Along with Frs. Antonio Paterna and Cristóbal Orámas, the two missionaries assigned to the new mission, Lasuén went to the mission site, raised a cross, blessed the earth, and recited several prayers.
The governor finally arrived on the 14th, and two days later, the first official Mass was said in a brush enclosure built for the occasion. In spite of the governor’s formal recognition of the 16th, December 4 — Saint Barbara’s Day — remains the mission’s official, recognized birthday. (Note that all three padres grew up to have streets named after them, the governor did not.)
Very crude structures made of logs were soon built for the fledgling mission’s needs, including a church, where the first baptism was held in May, 1787.
Change was constantly in motion, and the church was replaced in 1794 by a more substantial structure of adobe with a tile roof. By 1797, the quadrangle encompassing what would later become “the sacred garden” was completed. The late artist, Russell A Ruiz presents the scene around 1800.
Between 1809 and 1811, the roof – at least over the front wing – was removed, the arched corridor familiar to us today was built (though it only had sixteen arches), and a stone parapet crowned the arches.
Massive earthquakes (estimated at 7 to 7.5 on the Richter scale) shook California in December 1812, destroying or damaging a number of the southern California Missions. The two padres at Santa Barbara, Frs. Luis Gil y Taboada and Marcos Amestoy, reported extensive damage to the church, and gained permission to build a new one.
Inspiration for the new church came from a book in the mission library, Los Diez Libros de Arquitectura de M. Vitruvio Polion (The Ten Books of Architecture by M. Vitruvio Polion). Originally written by Marcos Vitruvius Polion, an architect in the first century B.C., the padres’ copy was a Spanish edition of 1787. From a plate showing possible facades for temples, the padres chose style “B”, (top left). In place of the pagan gods adorning the pediment shown on another page, the mission fathers selected to place the statues of Faith, Hope and Charity. Showing their own creativity, they added Saint Barbara in a niche in the center
The completed Mission Santa Barbara was dedicated with a grand fiesta in September 1820. But it wasn’t quite the Mission we know and love today. It only had one tower, and a tile roof had been added over the portico. The new church covered two of the arches leaving fourteen showing. The adobe buildings to the right date to 1802, and were the homes of the tanner and majordomo.
In 1831, a second tower was added, but soon collapsed. It was rebuilt and a buttress was added for strength, which covered half of the fourteenth arch.
A portion of the covered patio was enclosed from 1854 to 1856 to provide rooms for the expanding Franciscan community. Two dormer windows provided daylight. By 1870, the second story was completed to the west end and wooden shingles replaced the tiles. The expanded second story now served as the “Franciscan College” a much-needed institution of higher learning for the young men of Santa Barbara. Class sizes varied from year to year, with as few as 30 students, and as many as 70 being reported. Tuition for the ten and a half month school year was around $200. The school closed in 1877.
Nearing its centennial, the Mission was in horrible condition. Large chunks of plaster had fallen off the front above the arches, revealing the design of the 1811 stone parapet beneath. As early as 1884, the community began raising money for a restoration.
In time for the centennial, new plaster and paint renewed the mission to reflect its status as “Queen of the Missions.” Still, work continued. The wood shingles and dormer windows were removed and replaced with tile in 1888. Many changes also took place around the mission with vegetation being cleared, new gardens planted, fences and vineyards added and removed, palm trees were planted along the front in 1902. In 1905, more changes were made to the mission, as a section was added to the west end, adding four more arches to the front corridor. This photo was taken in 1890.
The Santa Barbara earthquake of June 29, 1925 caused considerable damage to the church. The rebuilding was going to be costly, but the community and the nation rose to the occasion, for the mission was not seen as just a Catholic church, but as an important historic symbol of California. Across the country, school children contributed pennies; movie stars, philanthropists, chambers of commerce and town councils sent thousands of dollars. Newspaper editorials spoke of the many companies – especially the railroads – that had used the mission extensively in their advertising, and it was now time for them to pay back for what they had used for free. Funding secured, the mission was restored and finished in time for the 1927 Fiesta. It was formally consecrated on Saturday, December 3, 1927 though I find it odd that they didn’t wait one more day for Saint Barbara’s Feast Day.
But there was more to come. By 1950, it was determined that a serious problem had resulted from the earthquake restoration. The stonework and mortar were not getting along and were cracking and disintegrating due to “a reaction of the alkalies in the aggregates or in the cement or both.”
The entire front of the church was completely torn down. The demolition had its benefits for historical review, though. The fourteenth arch that had been hidden by the 1833 buttress was exposed, as were the 15th and 16th arches that had been covered up by the 1820 church. Also uncovered were doorways, stairways, and floors dating back to the 1794 church. This time, the church was rebuilt of steel-reinforced concrete, with a facing of Santa Maria limestone, four inches thick. The front was left unplastered to show the stonework, although the towers were plastered. On December 4, 1953, the new church was once again blessed and consecrated.
Now you may think we are done, but there is more. I had mentioned the towers had been plastered over and I know you’re thinking, “No it’s not. I can see the stones and mortar just like on the face of the church.” Well look again next time you pass by (though not driving of course) and you’ll see the pattern was carefully painted on by Steve Nagelmann, for the 1986 bicentennial. But Steve’s work was with precedent; it was his father, A. C. Nagelmann that had first painted the faux stone and mortar on the towers back in 1953!
The mission has been a continually evolving presence over the past 223 years, and we’ve only seen the changes to the most visible portion. Take a day off and be a tourist in your own town and visit the Queen of the Missions for the full story. Oh yeah, and Happy Birthday Mission Santa Barbara!
Photos courtesy Neal Graffy collection except #s 1, 3, and 9 courtesy Mission Archive Library.