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National Historic Landmark SANTA BARBARA MISSION

Location: Santa Barbara County, 2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara.

Ownership and Administration. Roman Catholic Church.

Significance. One of the finest and most distinguished of the 21 California missions from an architectural standpoint, this "queen of the missions" is the only one to escape complete secularization throughout its long history. Its sanctuary light has never been extinguished.

Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuén consecrated it on December 16, 1786, as the 10th California mission, located at Santa Barbara Presidio. The first, temporary structure, erected in 1787, was replaced by an adobe church in 1789, and that in turn by a larger building in 1793-94, which the disastrous earthquakes of 1812 destroyed. In 1815, a labor force of Canalino Indians began to construct the present large stone church, completed for the most part by 1820. The design is classical.

The great church, 179 feet long and 38 feet wide, contained six chapels. The 6-foot-thick sandstone walls were heavily buttressed. The roof and floor were of tile. Two towers were located on the classic facade, the one on the left being completed in 1820 and the other by 1833. Other buildings included a residence for the priests, workshops, and storehouses. In 1803, some 234 adobe huts housing 1,792 Indian neophytes surrounded the mission.

Santa Barbara Mission
Santa Barbara Mission, in 1875. To the rear and left of the church are the remains of an Indian village that in the first part of the 19th century helped house some 1,800 neophytes. Photograph by C. E. Watkins. (Courtesy, Bancroft Library, University of California.)

Between 1806 and 1808, the Indians constructed a remarkable irrigation system. It included a large dam across Pedregoso Creek, 1-1/2 miles north of the mission, and a reservoir that was later also used to operate a gristmill, erected in 1827-28. Aqueducts conducted the water first to a filter, or settling, tank and then to a large, stone-walled reservoir 500 feet from the church. The reservoir, 120 feet square and 7 feet high, had a stone fountain and long laundry trough.

In 1834, the Mexicans secularized Santa Barbara Mission and its lands and in 1846 sold them, but the Franciscan fathers continued to occupy the mission in the interim. Indeed, it became the Franciscan capital of California. It was the home of the last father-president, and in 1842 California's first bishop arrived at the mission to establish the seat of his diocese, which included all of Alta and Baja California.

In 1853, the Church founded a Franciscan missionary college at the mission to train English-speaking priests. The buildings were used, and kept in repair, unlike those at the other California missions, during the period of Mexican and early American administration. In 1865, the United States returned some 283 acres of the original mission property, including the buildings, to the Catholic Church.

Santa Barbara Mission
Reconstructed in 1926-27, and again in 1950-53, Santa Barbara Mission is one of the best preserved missions in California. The only one to escape complete secularization, it houses valuable Spanish and Mexican relics and documents.

Present Appearance. Santa Barbara Mission survived virtually intact until June 29, 1925, when a violent earthquake struck the area. Damage was severe, the east tower being destroyed and the interior furnishings battered by falling rock. Only the seven massive buttresses held the walls in place. The following year, restoration began, nearly half of the entire cost being subscribed by the people of California.

Original materials were used as far as possible, and the arches, columns, wall thickness, and all other details were accurately restored. When the reconstruction was completed in 1927, the rebuilt church and convent were little changed from their original construction. A further reconstruction was found necessary during the period 1950-53, when the buildings were discovered to be settling and the towers cracking because of the disintegration of cement and foundations. The facade and towers were demolished and the entire church front carefully rebuilt to duplicate the original appearance.

The mission is not only an architectural gem but also a major museum of Spanish, Franciscan, mission, and California history. It contains a large collection of original records and objects, including the original altar, the beautiful Stations of the Cross brought from Mexico in 1797, 18th-century Mexican paintings and sculptures, and innumerable religious and secular memorabilia of the mission period. The archives contain thousands of original documents, which Father Zephyrin Engelhardt used to write his histories of the California missions.

The fountain and large reservoir near the church, parts of the original mission irrigation system, are perfectly preserved and are part of the present water system of the city of Santa Barbara. Extensive portions of the remainder of the irrigation system are also still visible in the botanic garden. [11]

NHL Designation: 10/09/60

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Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005