The Santa Barbara Mission has been an iconic source of history and an aesthetic mainstay in our town since 1786, when the mission was founded by the Spanish Franciscan order. More than 200 years later, it comes as no surprise that the mission has undergone several large-scale restoration efforts to maintain its original condition. Beginning with the restoration in 1925 after the major earthquake, and again in 1952 to stabilize the façade and towers, the mission continues to be home to a community of Franciscan friars, a church with an active parish, a cemetery and mausoleum, and a vast garden.
Since 1952, several restoration projects have been in the works. They became possible in 2011, when the mission was awarded a National Park Service conservation grant of the Save America’s Treasures program. Over $1.3 million went into six different projects that conserved and restored different aspects of the historic landmark.
While taking a tour through the many corridors and wings of the mission, Tina Foss, the director of the museum and the cultural resources manager for the mission, pointed out the six different restoration sites. Walking through the portico into the courtyard, Foss illustrated one of three hydrology wells, whose purpose is to measure the water intrusion that had been damaging the mission walls.
Continuing on through the courtyard and into the church, the restored solstice window can be found, along with the only crypt in the floor of a California mission. The crypt’s newly restored ceiling was previously supported by a rusted 19th century streetcar line. Two other major restoration projects include the conservation of the exterior walls and pillars of the front portico and the repair of the frontal façade detailing.
Another major conservation was of the interior walls of the Convento wing, which is one of the oldest structures on the mission grounds. The interior of the Convento had been restored in the past century and painted with bright modern colors. Recent investigations suggest that these new paints, although bright and cheery, make it difficult for the walls to “breathe” and let water vapor pass through them. Part of the new restoration process was to remove the bright paint layer and cover it with lime-based patching material and lime paint — the original materials used in the construction of the mission.
With dollars from local foundations and private donors, several things left unfinished once the grant money ran out can now be restored. The Pearl Chase Society funded the restoration of the four holy water fonts presumed to have been carved by Chumash artists in 1820.