April 13-17, 2015
Written April 14+
Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,
Marianne has had a goal of seeing all the California Missions, not perhaps for
a great religious zeal, but for a good excuse to travel a bit in our
home state. That's why we have started on a full week of
driving. We will try to keep this record up-to-date, but that's
not always practical - or fun. And fun is our purpose here.
Monday (13th), we left Fresno early, before breakfast even, and headed
down Highway 99. As anyone who has traveled these parts knows, it
is a not-very-exciting route, surrounded by farms and farm
industry. However, we have now done this a few times and it feels
like a familiar road trip, including our standard breakfast stop in
Tulare at Apple Annie's. Nothing special, just tradition and, in
California, traditions set in quickly.
Refreshed, we headed to "The Grapevine", the high pass that separates
the LA Basin from the rest of California. The first time over,
it's interesting, but I think we've passed that stage. Just into
the basin, we turned toward the Pacific and our first mission: Mission San Buenaventura.
I'll try to tell our story with pictures:
Buenaventura was first founded in 1749 and, like most of the missions,
has been repeatedly rebuilt and restored over the years. Today,
it is an almost-modern church, serving the people of Ventura.
has a traditional quadrangle form, with walls and buildings enclosing a
courtyard, originally the farm and workshop yard, but today a very
pleasant garden. It includes a statue of Fray Junipero Serra, the
most famous of the Mission founders. Buenaventura was the ninth
and last of the missions he founded. (I graduated from Junipero
Serra High School, so I have a soft spot for the man.)
inside of the church was like most of the mission churches we would
see: a long, narrow, adobe-walled room, colorfully painted.
Buenaventura's had some of the relics, even from Serra's time, behind
glass in a niche off the main hall. All mission churches also
seemed to have confessionals, although not always very private ones.
Each mission tour also included a museum, with relics of the old
California past. Here, I was impressed by the old wooden bell, a
standard feature before missions were rich enough to order brass
bells. A humble start.
Overall impression? A good start. Very nice garden.
Humble museum, but it did give some background, much of which I will
Mission #2 would be up in Santa Barbara, where we would also spend two nights as a base for other missions.
After two churches, we stopped for the night in downtown SA at the Hotel Santa Barbara.
mission building may be the most grand of the entire 21 in (US)
California. It is one of the few that was built of local
sandstone, but only after the adobe walls were almost destroyed in the
Father Serra welcomed us here too, and the inner courtyard was very
traditional. The graveyard featured a massive 130-year-old fig
tree, imported from Australia.
the church was almost ornate, at least by poor mission standards.
Only Santa Barbara has a burial crypt, who's two closure stones list the
residents. (It seemed like European churches buried whole
religious communities underneath church floors. The colonies were
Santa Barbara Mission museum was pretty complete, including restored
rooms from the colonial era. There were also three stone statues,
carved by a Chumash Indian carver, the only locally-carved stone art
works in the mission system. Marianne continued on her
quest for a souvenir cross from every stop.
Overall impressions? A wonderful structure, set in a beautiful
area of a very beautiful city. Everything done "right", perhaps
beyond the budgets of other mission churches.
The Andersen's Cafe.
Great cakes and pastries, up to fine European standards.
Unfortunately, their dinners, while offering Continental dishes, did
not quite hit the European mark for execution.
have few pictures of the Hotel Santa Barbara because it really was not
as picturesque as we had hoped. Nice, but probably not a stop we
will make a family tradition. The old elevator was fun though,
slow and calm, kind of like the people we ran across in SB.
Our first dinner was at Holdren's a steak and fish restaurant. Great meal.
After our Holdren meal, I needed to walk off calories, so set off for Stearns Wharf,
about a half-dozen blocks from our hotel. Some of those blocks
were a bit seedy, but even these locals acted friendly enough.
The wharf and beach and even a rough slough I passed, all glowed in the
Overall impression of Santa Barbara? Of course, a lovely place with fantastic weather. Relaxed.
Our Tuesday missions were different from those in urban Ventura and Santa Barbara. Our first of the day was Mission Santa Ines.
This mission is set on the outskirts of Solvang, a smallish farming and
tourism community. The approach to the mission is past fields and
vineyards, perhaps not much changed since the 1807 founding of this
The pleasant courtyard offered a fountain for the local crow to wash down breakfast.
The graveyard gave poignant memories of old families and very young lives.
The portico, a standard in sunny California.
The museum explained the Spanish empire. A history lesson. There were also Latin song books and scriptures.
Marianne's cross shopping.
Overall impression? Beautiful garden and setting. A graveyard with stories.
Our second Tuesday mission was La Purissima Mission State Historic Park
(Near the town of Lompoc) - a completely different experience from our previous missions.
All the others were run as current-day churches, to a large degree, but
Purissima is a state park run as a detailed history lesson.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation
Corps (CCC) rebuilt Purissima using largely authentic methods.
Visiting the mission really was a step back in time.
Purissima was constructed in a long line after the 1812 earthquake
destroyed the more traditional quadrangle structures. The 1930's
reconstruction tried to be historically accurate, down to using leather
straps to hold the roof together.
The mission had a church and a smaller chapel, authentically redone
without modern pews. Old parishioners were tougher and didn't
need comfy seating.
The long residence building was filled with reconstructed rooms, such
as this soldiers' quarters. It looked ready for inspection, 80
years after the re-staging.
Other rooms held a kitchen, saddlery, living room, and dining room.
Several signs told the story of the CCC reconstruction work.
Details included an old bell (standard for these mission displays),
hide displays (unique) and authentic corrosion of the plaster
(something we remember from our 18th century farm buildings in
The reconstruction of a Chumash family dwelling might illustrate how
advanced the adobe mission structures would have seemed. The
mission also has a collection of farm pigs, horses, chickens, and
turkeys, all raised in traditional ways. I also spotted a field
mouse, responsible for hundreds of holes throughout the property
(again, something that reminded me of the Pommersfelden yard.)
Overall impression? Clearly our favorite mission. The detail of the reconstruction made history come alive.
Wednesday. Two goals: Mission San Luis Obispo and lunch with friends. First, the mission.
San Luis Obispo bought us back to a mission in a town setting.
This makes a lot of sense since it was missions that formed the basis
for settlements that became towns and cities, but it is harder to
envision missions in modern settings as the rural outposts they
San Luis Obispo's gardens were among the best. We are jealous of
this coastal climate. Fresno weather bakes plants in the summer
The inside of the church looks like it was painted yesterday, it is so clean and fresh. but reproducing an original style.
The little museum has an extensive collection of kitchenware and
shards. We used to joke in Europe when small town museums made
such a big deal of broken pottery and other bits, so this must be
universal museum practice. (There were some more-complete displays as
Overall impression? Great gardens. Bright and cheerful church interior.
to San Luis Obispo, or SLO as it is sometimes called, we drove past
huge farm fields with workers bent over the current strawberry
crop. Later berry crops waited under acres of greenhouses. This made us hungry enough to stop at the Santa
Maria farmer's market!
best part of the day was lunch, with Susan and Jerry
Ebner. Jerry was my college room mate, 50 years ago.
Unfortunately, our paths seldom cross, not more than once every 25 years,
I'm afraid. Despite the intermission, we were welcomed into their
home and felt in minutes like regular, everyday friends. We told
grandkid stories, as is required of our generation. We compared
maladies, as also seems de rigor. We ended with a promise to get
together much more frequently -- AND WE WILL, I promise.
Thursday - More Missions
would be our most ambitious mission-day: Three missions. The
third, San Miguel, was a repeat from a previous visit, so we hoped it
would be little more than a drive-by. Speaking of driving, we
chose to start the day with La Mission de Maria Santisima, Nuestra
Senora de la Soledad ("Soledad" henceforth). The hour-and-a-half
drive from our hotel in San Luis Obispo took us through dry California
hills and irrigated farm fields, orchards, and vineyards. Water is all
that is needed for settlement in this area, maybe in all of California,
and we hope rains return next year, or these fertile farms may not
|La Mission ... Soledad was our smallest and most remote mission so far, and because of that it became an instant favorite.
The garden and front courtyard were small but well tended. The
bell signs we had been seeing at each mission and, from place to place,
alongside the highway, had been erected in 1906 to help early
automobile adventurers find the old mission highway. Today, some
are replicas and others, like this, are originals.
Inside was a modest church. The pleas on the cross were modern
and touching. The 14 stations of the cross were originals, from
the old mission days.
The Soledad museum was small like the mission itself, but it was not
without real touchstones of the old world. Brass bells seem to be
a feature of all the old mission museums, presumably because everything
else rots or washes away.
Soledad is an active archaeological site with work continuing to define
the extent of the original walls and workshops. It makes it easy
to see how adobe simply melts away, unless protected by plaster and
Overall impression: A very personal scale. Location is a special part of the California farm valleys.
San Antoinio de Padua had an interesting location: in the middle of
Army Fort Hunter Liggett. Frankie, the docent, later told us the
entrance actually causes a significant fraction of visitors to simply give up
rather than approach through the forbidding entrance. For us, it was a
bit like being back on Marianne's old German bases, but I'll admit it
did take some getting used to.
Eventually, we came to the mission entrance, marked with historical markers and the mission's cattle-branded water trough.
The grounds held the almost-standard Serra statue. More
interesting were an olive tree and a grapevine dating from the 19th
Elsewhere on the grounds were remnants of the days as a working home to
padres and Indians. Today, it is possible to rent this "casita"
($200/night) or one of the Franciscan friar cells ($60 to $125/night)
for a personal retreat. An interesting idea.
The church itself was the standard long, narrow layout. This sign
says that the first wedding in California was held at Mission San
Antonio in May, 1773.
The museum, like the mission, was small but with an authentic
feel. Frankie, the docent, asked us to make sure we spread the
word that Mission San Antonio is worth seeing so they can have more
customers to support the restoration and maintenance work
Consider yourself told!
The museum held a large collection of Indian baskets, many with very fine details.
Overall impression: My favorite. A feel of a real mission
and the thought of retreating here for a few days is interesting.
Maybe another time.
San Miguel was our last and none too soon. We arrived shortly
before their 5pm closing time, but I'll admit I was more than happy to
not spend more time on our mission mission -- two mission per day is
enough, three is too many! Mostly, we considered the stop
successful because Marianne could add the eighth element to her
Overall impression: Nice, village-church mission.
We made it back to San Luis Obispo tired, but not yet finished.
For dinner, the hotel had recommended a visit to the Thursday evening
downtown market. Sounded good. However, this was a big
student-recruit weekend and the downtown was packed with folks a third
our age -- even their parents seemed young! We grabbed a bratwurst
and returned home and crashed.
On Friday, we drove
the two-and-a-half hours to Fresno, crossing some of the most desolate
territory in California. Downtown Fresno actually looked like an
oasis and we were glad to really be home.
Overall impression: A good trip, contributing to our
understanding of our new country. Religiously inspiring?
Probably not, but a retreat at San Antonio could provide that in the
John and Marianne