The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1992, Volume 38, Number 3
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

by Alexander D. Bevil
Winner of the Tarasuck-Foley Architects Award, and the Best Student Paper Award, in the 1992 San Diego History Center Institute of History.

Images from the article

On Sunday, September 13, 1931, a Pontifical High Mass was held at Mission San Diego de Alcala as part of a two-day celebration rededicating the one hundred-and-sixty-two-year-old mission church. Thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics attended the ceremonies; thousands more heard them over a special radio simulcast, a technical innovation for its time.1 The history of the events which led to the partial restoration of Mission San Diego de Alcala in 1931 reveal the somewhat stormy and often controversial symbiotic relationship that often exists between historic preservation, religious faith, and local boosterism.

Sixty-five years earlier, during his forty years as pastor of San Diego’s Catholic community (1866-1907), Father Antonio Ubach longed for the time when he would be able to garner enough funds and support for the restoration of Mission San Diego de Alcala—the Mother Mission of the Alta California Franciscan mission chain. In the late 1880s, Father Ubach relocated his school for Indian children, originally located in Old Town San Diego, to a site adjacent to the ruins of the mission, where it operated for over twenty years. Later, the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet were given charge of the school, but, after the death of Father Ubach in 1907, the school declined and was again relocated.2 However, other forces would be at work to garner interest in the crumbling mission ruins.3

It was not until 1899, when Charles F. Lummis, Los Angeles journalist and president of the Land Marks Club, came to San Diego to promote the Club’s work in its attempt to help preserve California’s Hispanic origins.4 Lummis, through the Land Marks Club’s (California Mission Restoration Committee), offered to donate $500 to the club’s San Diego chapter if it could raise an additional $500 in matching grants to help initiate the stabilization of the ruins of Mission San Diego de Alcala.5

No doubt influenced by Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel Ramona, Lummis, as editor of the Land of Sunshine, had embarked upon what seemed his own personal crusade to preserve the California missions. He regarded them as mythic symbols of California’s romantic past, and the models for the then in vogue Mission Revival Movement. In a series of newspaper articles and pamphlets, Lummis produced a mountain of literature distributed nation-wide romanticizing the missions as the “sole staunch survivors of those old days of romance…..”6 Unfortunately, most of the original California missions were either deteriorating rapidly or were already lost through neglect or vandalism.7 In order to save the missions, in 1895 Lummis organized and chartered the Land Marks Club, the first incorporated historic preservation society in the United States.8

A Los Angeles-based organization, the Club worked first to stabilize the mission ruins at San Fernando and San Juan Capistrano. However, the Mission restoration movement, led by Lummis and the Land Marks Club, was directed state-wide and kindled public interest in the historic Spanish missions of Old California. The missions were regarded as local landmarks—material remnants of the past—which served as attractions and destinations for the ever-growing multitudes of tourists coming to California by rail and, later, by automobile.9

In 1900, the San Diego chapter of the Land Marks Club was able to match the $500 offered by Lummis. Its president, George W. Marston, and Lummis approached local San Diego architect William S. Hebbard, who, in collaboration with Arthur B. Benton, the Land Marks Club’s consulting architect, worked to stabilize the mission ruins. They reinforced the bases of the mission’s existing adobe walls with brick foundations and capped them with either concrete copings or red tile pent roofs in order to prevent them from further disintegration. While by no means an attempt at full restoration, they hoped to save what was left of the mission ruins until funds were available for future preservation efforts.10

While attempts were being made to stabilize Mission San Diego de Alcala, the Land Marks Club was also giving aid to Father O’Keefe at Mission San Luis Rey near Oceanside. Father O’Keefe had almost singlehandedly restored the mission church and outbuildings. With this additional aid from the Land Marks Club, Father O’Keefe was able to continue his restoration work. In addition to its aid to Father O’Keefe, the club had purchased the site of Asistencia San Antonio de Pala and, after repairs were made, returned it to the Catholic Church for the benefit of the Indian and Mexican-American families of the area. No compensation was paid to the Club officials, architects, engineers, or others who served on the Mission Restoration Committee. Many local building contractors and suppliers donated their time and materials, as did the Santa Fe Railroad, whose line ran into San Diego from Los Angeles.11

Concurrent with the efforts of the Land Marks Club in San Diego, in 1913, residents of the Grantville school district—the school district in which the Mission site was located, formed its own Mission Restoration Committee. Originally formed to propose a bond issue for a new schoolhouse, the Grantville Committee hoped to lobby the bishop of the Los Angeles and San Diego diocese, the Rt. Rev. Thomas J. Conaty, as well as the local San Diego Chamber of Commerce, the Park Commission, and the officials of the upcoming 1915 Panama-California International Exposition, to appropriate $10,000 towards restoration.12

The Grantville Committee hoped that a newly restored Mission San Diego de Alcala would act as a magnet, drawing large numbers of Exposition visitors to the Grantville area.13 It should be noted that the Grantville Mission Restoration Committee was not operating on purely altruistic principles—all but two members of the committee were ranchers owning property adjacent to the mission.14

John D. Spreckels, owner of the San Diego Electric Railway Company, also showed an interest in the mission. Previously, in 1910, Spreckels sponsored the restoration of the old Estudillo House in Old Town San Diego. Capitalizing on the Ramona Myth, the streetcar company referred to the Estudillo House as “Ramona’s Marriage Place.”15 Although based on real events and people in the novel by Helen Hunt Jackson, the real Ramona never existed. The streetcar company was using a restored historic site with an embellished history as a drawing point for increasing ridership. The idea of utilizing the mission as a tourist destination for an electric streetcar line was first realized by the George B. Kerper of the Citizen Traction Company of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1896. After purchasing and electrifying the former cable car line of the defunct San Diego Cable Railway in 1895, Kerper restored the pavilion and grounds at the line’s terminus at Park Boulevard and Adams Avenue overlooking Mission Valley. Formerly known as “the Bluffs,” it was renamed “Mission Cliff Park.” Kerper had hoped to build an inclined railway, similar to the one on Mt. Lowe in Los Angeles County, from the park down to the valley floor below. Here an electric car line would run to the old mission ruins. The Spreckels’ company bought the operations in 1898 but plans to extend the line to the mission were abandoned.16

Spreckels assured everyone that, if no obstacles presented themselves, he would restore the mission and extend the streetcar line out from Ramona’s Marriage Place to the mission site. An obstacle did show itself, however, in the person of Bishop Thomas J. Conaty, who let it be known that the Catholic Church saw no immediate practical use for the mission site and was unwilling to have it used as a tourist attraction.17

Despite the failure of the Grantville Mission Restoration Committee to secure funding, the original San Diego Mission Restoration Committee of the San Diego chapter of the Land Marks Club was actively pursuing its attempts to preserve the mission site. Three years before the Grantville Committee was formed, in 1910, the Land Marks Club’s Mission Restoration Committee had been reorganized under the presidency of George W. Marston.18 William Clayton, one of the Executive members of the committee (and the operating manager of the San Diego Electric Railway Company), made it explicitly clear to Bishop Conaty that the Committee would confine itself to the securing of money for the restoration of the mission only. No stocks or profits were to be sold or obtained. The property would remain in the possession of the Catholic Church and was to be at its disposal for such uses as it may make of it.19

Again serving as consulting architect, Arthur B. Benton noted that there had been little disintegration of the ruins since their reinforcement back in 1900. He believed that the mission church building, the chief architectural feature of the site, as well as the main reason for the existence of the mission, should be the first building restored. He also felt that, as part of the restoration process, it was necessary to try to preserve the original architectural character of the building. Future restoration efforts, if any, would no doubt be based on their initial work. If this could be intelligently accomplished, thought Benton, San Diego would be noted, not only for being site of the first Spanish mission in Alta California, but would also be able to claim the honor of pioneering the proper restoration of historic Spanish Colonial structures.20

Efforts to stabilize the mission ruins continued until the United States’ entry into World War I.21 After the Armistice, in 1919, George Marston again reorganized the local Landmarks Club’s Mission Restoration Committee into the Old Mission Committee. The new Catholic bishop, the Right Reverend John J. Cantwell, was made honorary president.22

While efforts to preserve the mission ceased during the War, preservation efforts in the eastern part of the United States were encouraged. Groups of local preservationists organized to reconstruct significant examples of historic sites and buildings throughout the East. They believed that visits to historic sites would instill a loyalty to traditional American values.23 For example, between 1917-19, the lost village of New Salem, Illinois, President Lincoln’s home town, was reconstructed through the efforts of the Old Salem Lincoln League. Likewise, immediately after his death in 1919, efforts were undertaken by the Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association to restore President Theodore Roosevelt’s New York City birthplace at 28 East 20th Street.24

At the time California had more historic sites and buildings than any other area of the Far West, and a rapidly growing post-war population which could support strong attempts at preservation; it soon became the most active area in regards to historic preservation west of the Mississippi. By far, the major preservation projects undertaken were the rehabilitation and restoration of the Franciscan missions. It was during this milieu that the Old Mission Committee sought to prepare Mission San Diego de Alcala for complete restoration.

Between 1919-22, the Old Mission Committee raised approximately $6,000 for restoration work. Consulting architect Arthur B. Benton worked closely with local architect, Robert Halley, Jr., as well as landscape architect Ralph D. Cornell. Close to $3500 was spent on building materials and repairs to the walls and baptistery, while $2500 was used for grading, roadways, and general landscape work.26

However, when the call went out to a public subscription, the people of San Diego showed a particular reluctance to contribute to the restoration fund. Editorials in the San Diego Union lamented that, “Thus far the (restoration) effort has been in vain….” Perhaps, the paper explained, it was because most San Diegans were new to the region. They might not have the same feelings of nostalgia towards the mission ruins as towards their own former home towns. The newspaper regarded the mission ruins as the only surviving landmark left from San Diego’s Spanish origins.27 The newspaper also noted that the mission’s architecture had been “adopted (in California) as the base of structural design…(and) that it has come to be regarded as distinctively Californian….”.28 This high regard for mission architecture, as well as other Spanish Colonial architecture, would be a new factor in the forces which helped rekindle interest in the mission’s restoration.

By the mid-1920s, a major transition was taking place in California’s urban landscape. Architects, city planners, and real estate developers combined to create an architectural expression best representing the flamboyance and prosperity of the post-war boom of the 1920s. Local architects were enamored by the introduction of richly ornate Spanish Renaissance, as well as Mexican Baroque style architectural design elements, in the buildings of the 1915 Panama California Exposition in Balboa Park.29

Carleton Monroe Winslow, who had assisted head architect Bertram Goodhue in the design of these buildings, was one of the first of the local California architects to connect this interest in Spanish Colonial Revival architecture with the preservation of local Spanish Colonial landmarks. In 1920, he restored the century-old Casa Flores Adobe in Pasadena. By including as much of the ancient adobe’s original walls in the restoration as possible, Winslow sparked a wave of historic restoration of many other pioneer Spanish and Mexican Colonial adobes in California.30

In the neighboring city of Los Angeles, the restoration of the Avila Adobe, as well as other historic adobes from the time of Los Angeles’ pueblo days along Olvera Street, pioneered the concept of restoration and preservation through adaptive reuse.31 This second wave of restoration and preservation, focusing on surviving Spanish and Mexican adobe structures in California, was reinforced, not by the Ramona Cult or the Mission Myth, but by their offspring, the “Zorro Myth.”

Again, just as the earlier writings of Helen Hunt Jackson and Charles F. Lummis gave birth to the Ramona Cult and the Mission Myth of the late 1880s, the Zorro Myth presented a California that never existed. White-washed Andalusian adobe walls, gracious and chivalrous Dons, beautiful dark-eyed senoritas, and the ubiquitous padres with their Indian charges were backdrops to several popular Zorro novels. These images were further materialized into several extravagant and highly popular silent films starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.32 It was this second period of Hispanic romanticism which nurtured renewed interest in a second drive for the restoration of Mission San Diego de Alcala.

In 1920, a benefit ball for the restoration of Mission San Diego de Alcala was held in Balboa Park by the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West.33 Primarily a nativist organization composed of native-born Californians of Anglo-Saxon or other Northern European stock, it sought to promote the study of California history, in order to instill regional and state pride, by preserving historic California landmarks.34 More than $1,000 was raised towards the restoration of the mission. The money was kept in trust as the nucleus of a new Mission Restoration Fund sponsored by the organization.35

The work of the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West towards the restoration of Mission San Diego de Alcala was focused on by its Deputy Grand President Albert V. Mayrhofer.36 More importantly, since 1911, Mayrhofer was also special agent for the Bishop Cantwell. He was able to coordinate the efforts of both the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West and the Catholic Church in their efforts to preserve and restore Mission San Diego de Alcala.37

To the Baltimore-based Catholic Church in the United States, the decaying missions stood as living reminders of the decline of Hispanic Catholicism in California. The installation of a new, predominately Irish-Catholic clergy after California’s entry into the Union displaced the former Mexico City-based clergy. A deliberate reformation program was transforming the Church in California. Besides the expected changes in diocesan organization and personnel, there was an increased emphasis on the establishment of Baltimore-influenced institutions such as parochial schools, orphanages, and hospitals. The Church collaborated fully with the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West throughout the state in order to promote this feeling of reform and pride in its accomplishments in the Far West.38

Four years after the benefit ball, in 1924, a cornerstone was laid for an orphanage no less than two hundred feet from the old mission ruins. The orphanage would be operated by the Sisters of Nazareth, an order based in Hammersmith, England. The sisters would help in solving one of the chief problems facing all previous efforts in preserving the mission—maintenance of the restored site. Traditionally, all prior attempts at restoring the mission were handicapped because whatever meager money that could be raised would only be enough for to cover the stabilization of the ruins. Funding usually ran out before any means to maintain the site after its improvements could be found. Mayrhofer was able to convince the sisters to agree to guarantee the maintenance of the mission site. A major hurdle in the attempt to restore the mission was finally cleared.39

With the problem of maintenance resolved, Mayrhofer began his fund raising campaign in earnest. In 1927 he was officially appointed head of the mission restoration movement by Bishop Cantwell, and given $5,000 personally by the Bishop to inaugurate the campaign. Every penny raised was to go towards the restoration fund; expenses incurred through the fund raising campaign were to be paid out of Mayrhofer’s own pockets.40 Two years later, in 1929, Mayrhofer appeared before the officers and delegates of the Native Sons Grand Parlor in San Francisco. He was gratified to receive a pledge of $25,000 toward the restoration fund. He also appealed to the sisters of the Nazareth House, as the new orphanage was now referred to, and was able to secure an additional $25,000 from the sisters towards the restoration effort.41

However, when he returned to San Diego, the well had again run dry. Most San Diegans failed to contribute to the restoration fund. It may not have been a lack of interest on their part, though. Throughout the economic boom of the 1920s, the economic health of San Diego, as well as that of the rest of the state, was precarious at best. Despite huge speculative gains made between 1923 and 1928, wages throughout the state increased by only 12 per cent. Much of a person’s personal salary was tied up in relatively heavy mortgage payments or dependent on small entrepreneurial roadside businesses, such as gas stations, fruit and vegetable stands, and small shops. Many of these businesses depended upon the tourist trade, and after the stock market crash of October 1929, tourism in California dried up, forcing many of these businesses to close.42

Undaunted, Mayrhofer turned to a friend of his, James Wood Coffroth, and with his help secured $5,000 from two benefactors he knew in the Mother Lode District of Northern California. He then appealed to San Diego’s Brahmins. From Ellen Browning Scripps, George W. Marston, Col. Ed Fletcher, and others he received over $18,000. However, with close to $60,000 collected in funds and pledges, disaster struck.43

In 1929, due to the stock market crash, one of the local San Diegan banks containing $7250 of the restoration funds collapsed. This threatened to undermine the entire mission restoration effort. In response, Bishop Cantwell advanced that amount which covered the loss and took assignment of the account. Bishop Cantwell also produced an additional $15,000 in 1930 when, after restoration efforts began, it was found that additional excavations and increased work would add considerably to the original estimates. Therefore, there already was enough money and talent accrued by 1929 to carry the restoration over into the 1930s before the full effects of the Depression finally struck San Diego.44

The physical restoration of Mission San Diego de Alcala began on July 16, 1930, the 176th anniversary of the founding of the mission by Fray Junípero Serra. Architect for the restoration project was I. E. Loveless, who had designed the Nazareth House in 1924. Loveless, considered to possess an extensive knowledge of mission architecture, previously had been engaged in the evaluation and study of the California missions for the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West. The contract for the restoration work went to J. E. Lowerison and H. A. Wolstencroft, who had previously worked with Loveless on the construction of the Nazareth House in 1924.45

While preparations were being made to restore the mission, J. Marshall Miller was retained as an architectural advisor and superintendent of construction. Miller, a student of the University of Southern California majoring in architectural history, gave particular attention to the study of the San Diego mission. Using the research facilities of the California State Historical Association in Los Angeles, Miller researched the history behind the planning and construction of the mission, uncovering many architectural details that were not generally known at the time. In order to construct a scale model of the mission, Miller came to San Diego to view the mission site. Here he learned of the restoration and, since he knew more about the mission than anyone else, he was approached by the restoration committee to act as Loveless’ assistant. He was given the job of project manager of the restoration project, under the supervision of Loveless.46

Miller proceeded to survey the mission ruins, documenting, measuring, and photographing all extant walls, foundations, and other architectural details. He consulted a plat map made of the area in 1862 as well as a survey done by Dr. Owen C. Coy in 1920, and delineations made by Rexford Newcomb and Francis Rand Smith since then.47 However, the only architectural features remaining from the original church structure were the front facade of the church, with its wing-like buttresses radiating out away from the doorway. West of the facade were the remains of the baptistery with a surviving tile-arched entrance. Adjoining this was a fired brick and cobblestone bell tower base.48

Since most of the original mission church was nothing more than a pile of melted adobe walls, Miller searched for other reference sources for his model. Initiating a systematic photographic and architectural study of the other California missions, what Miller found particularly useful were those missions which had not yet been restored. They revealed original architectural detailing as well as the construction techniques of the early builders.49

Other reference sources utilized by Miller were the various libraries and private collections of preservation organizations, historical societies, and individuals specializing in the study of early California and the Franciscan missions. The most valuable material useful in studying architectural details, according to Miller, were several line drawings and paintings made of the Mission San Diego de Alcala before 1865.50 Photographs taken of the mission since that time were located and studied, revealing the various stages of deterioration over the decades.51

While Miller was researching the architectural history of the mission, an excavation of the floor of the church building was underway. Over the years, collapsing roofs and walls had covered the floor of the church with yards of debris. Once all of the debris and prior attempts at restoration were removed, final plans and detailed drawings could be made at the site. Besides providing a constant reference to the ruins themselves, they would serve as an accurate record of newly unearthed portions of the mission site. Subsequent excavations revealed old tile floors and cobblestone foundations in a high degree of preservation.52

Other interesting architectural details were revealed while crewmen were removing sixty years of alterations to the building’s facade. In the removal of a wooden window frame around the small window above the main door, a once-obscured niche and a section of an original tile-arch in the window above the niche revealed itself. By projecting the curves of the arch past their imposts, the shape of the original opening was determined.53

There was some confusion as to whether the original bell tower was either a free-standing pierced wall (campanario) or a stepped tower (campanile) topped by a domed belfry. The surface of the top of the bell tower base was excavated in an attempt to determine the true character of the bell tower. Removal of the fill material revealed a platform with tile flooring and a four-foot-deep trench running east-to-west across its midpoint. The trench verified the construction of a narrow campanario, serving as its footing. In addition, a low, tile parapet was revealed bordering the side and rear of the platform. Evidence of a stairway was also revealed which originally lead the bellringer (campanero) up to the parapeted platform.54

Much emphasis was placed on making the reconstruction as historically accurate as possible by utilizing building materials and techniques similar to those used by the early builders. Nonetheless, in areas where stresses and building loads were the greatest, modern, more durable building materials and techniques were utilized. For instance, structural units within the five-to-seven-foot thick adobe walls, where the loads and stresses were the greatest, were of reinforced concrete.55

Adobe clay bricks, as well as fired adobe clay floor, wall, and roofing tiles were used throughout the reconstruction in all non-critical areas. All of these were hand-made using the centuries-old formula of locally obtained adobe clay mixed with water and cut straw. After mixing in a mechanical mixer, the material was formed into 3 x 10 x 20 inch brick shaped blocks through the use of wooden molds.56 Hundreds of these bricks were laid out on level ground at a brickyard in San Juan Capistrano.57

Fired adobe clay tiles were manufactured nearby at the La Jolla Canyon Tile Plant. Made from the same material as the adobe bricks, but with the addition of a small quantity of sand in the initial mixture, the tiles were kiln-burned making them especially hard, durable, and water-resistant. The finished walls were plastered and whitewashed, making sure that an effort was made to avoid regularity in their application, adding to the authenticity of the restoration.58

Hand-hewn wood for the ceiling beams, roof trusses, and rafters were obtained locally (probably oak or sycamore). The wood was subjected to a special “antiquing” process. After being treated for termites, the wood was covered with wet adobe. As the wood was uncovered, a dun-colored patina revealed itself on the wood, giving it the appearance of centuries of use.59

Another special formula and procedure was created for the replication of the massive redwood doors of the main entry. After completion, the hand carved doors were set upon sawhorses where they were wire brushed by an electric sander. They were then hung on their recreated hand-wrought hinges and subjected to a brushing of a dilute solution of creosote, followed by a coat of white wash. The doors were then wire brushed by hand, after which they were sprayed with a solution of adobe, lime, and water.60

In addition to the restoration of the exterior of the Mission church building, replicas of mission-era church pews were installed in the nave. Original wood-carved stations of the cross, brought over from Spain by Father Ubach, and three paintings brought to the mission by the original Franciscan padres, were hung on the walls of the nave.61 Two warehouse rooms of the mission were made into sacristies and a chapel was built for the sisters of Nazareth House, as well as a cloistered garden patio between the old mission and the Nazareth House.62 Three former mission bells, and one recast from the remains of several smaller ones, were rehung in the campanario from rawhide- wrapped cables.63

On Saturday, September 12, 1931, nearly four hundred visitors attended a historical pageant on the grounds of the restored mission, while thousands of others attended the Fiesta de la Mission in Balboa Park that night.64 The following Sunday thousands of celebrants and visitors gathered around the mission compound to witness a solemn pontifical military high mass held in the newly restored mission church. A special radio hookup allowed the service to be heard throughout the western half of the United States.65 The Most Reverend Pietro Fumasoni-Biondi, archbishop and apostolic delegate from the Vatican to the United States, led an entourage of Catholic prelates from around the Far West in the blessing of the mission walls rededicating it as a place of worship.66

Four flags representing those which flew over California during the time of the missions—Imperial Spain, Republican Mexico, the Bear Flag of the California Republic, and the Flag of the United States —were presented by members of the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West.67 A commemorative bronze plaque, set in concrete formed from cement from all of the cement mills, gravel from all of the counties, and water from all twenty-one Franciscan mission sites throughout the state of California, was set into the tile floor in front of the mission.68 As the plaque was being set, Edward H. Dowell, chairman of the dedication ceremony, paid tribute to restoration chairman Albert V. Mayrhofer’s dedication to the project.69

Today an active parish church, Mission San Diego de Alcala also acts as an interpretive center displaying relics and artifacts illustrating the period of contact between the two cultures—Native American and European—whose contact with each other changed both their worlds forever. The restoration of Mission San Diego de Alcala represents the culmination of sixty-six years of cooperative energies expended by various secular and religious organizations and individuals—Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Combining historicity with marketability, is it one of California’s most important historic landmarks, as well as one of the most marketable images of the City of San Diego.



1. “Pontifical High Mass Marks Rededication of Old Mission,” San Diego Union,14 September 1931, 1; and “KGB to Originate Mission Program,” San Diego Union, 12 September 1931, 6..

2. Msgr. I.B. Eagen, San Diego de Alcalá: California’s First Mission (April 1972), 9-10, Diocesan Archives, Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego-Imperial Counties Archives, San Diego, California.

3. J. Marshall Miller, “Restoring California’s First Mission,” Historical Society of Southern California 15 (1932): 321-323. Although Mission San Diego de Alcala was founded on July 16, 1769, on the western slope of Presidio Hill, in 1774 it was moved six miles upstream near a bend in the San Diego River. The ruins were of the fourth mission to be built on that site. Built between 1808 and 1813 by Colonial artisans from Mexico with Mission Indian labor, its overall design can be attributed to Father Jose Bernardo Sanchez. Following Mexican Independence in 1821, the decree of secularization of 1833, the Mission was stripped of most of its vast land holdings and remained unoccupied until 1847. It was then occupied by elements of the U. S. Army during the American occupation of San Diego during the Mexican-American War and suffered many changes while it was used as barracks and stables. After the evacuation of the soldiers in 1858, it remained unoccupied and unprotected as it slowly deteriorated through acts of vandalism and the elements. By 1900 all that remained of the site was the south wall of the church, the base of the bell tower, and a few remaining adobe walls of the surrounding outbuildings.

4. Dudley Gordon, Charles F. Lummis: Crusader in Corduroy (Los Angeles: Cultural Assets Press, 1972), 225.

5. Arthur B. Benton, “Mission Conservation in San Diego County,” Notes for the San Diego Union, 3 December 1922, 1. George Marston Collection, Civic Activities, 1919-24, MS 219, Research Archives, San Diego History Center .

6. Gordon, Charles F. Lummis, 225; and Karen J. Weitze, California’s Mission Revival, (Santa Monica: Hennessey & Ingalls), 8. The “Ramona” or “Mission Myth” was based upon Helen Hunt Jackson’s immensely popular 1884 novel Ramona. Its pastoral view of early California as a land of whitewashed adobe walls, kind paternalistic padres overseeing the care and protection of the docile and obedient Mission Indians, was interpreted by local writers, artists, and architects into a stylized version of a California that never existed.

7. Gordon, Charles F. Lummis, 118, and Weitze, California’s Mission Revival, 3. No longer the overseers of vast fields and cattle ranges given to them by the King of Spain after their secularization by the Mexican government in 1833, the missions deteriorated rapidly. The Mission Indians, who were supposed to be the eventual beneficiaries of the mission lands and livestock, were exploited by Mexican and American speculators.

8. Benton, “Mission Conservation,” 1; and Gordon, Charles F. Lummis, 225.

9. Gordon, Charles F. Lummis, 225.

10. Ibid., 226-7. and Benton, “Mission Conservation,” 1. Marston, owner of the successful Marston Company Department Store, was well-known for his remarkable record of philanthropic endeavors aimed at improving the quality of life for all San Diegans. His particular achievements were the founding of the San Diego History Center, the Serra Museum, and the development of Presidio Park.

11. Gordon, Charles F. Lummis, 226-27.

12. “San Diego Mission May Be Restored to Old Glory,” San Diego Union, 14 October 1913, 1. Initiated in 1909, the Exposition would celebrate San Diego’s position as the first port of call north of the newly opened Panama Canal. Bereft of the traditional California resources—gold, timber, level fertile soil, or oil—the Exposition hoped to sell what San Diego did posses—its natural harbor, healthful climate, and a romanticized view of its Hispanic origins.

13. Ibid.

14. Msgr. I.B. Eagen, San Diego de Alcalá, 9-10.

15. Elise Hutton, “The Lure of California’s Southland,” Marston Collection, Research Archives, San Diego History Center Research Archives.

16. Richard V. Dodge, Rails of the Silver Gate: the Spreckels San Diego Empire (San Marino: Golden West Books, 1960), 29.

17. Albert V. Mayrhofer, “Restoration of Mission San Diego de Alcala,” The Historical Society of Southern California, 15 (1932), 317.

18. Benton, “Mission Conservation,” 2.

19. William Clayton to the Rt. Reverend Thomas J. Conaty, postal telegram, 25 March 1910, Restoration History, Mission San Diego de Alcala (1909-1946), Diocesan Archives, San Diego.

20. Benton, “Mission Conservation,” 2; Arthur B. Benton to George W. Marston and Edward T. Lannon, 3 February 1914, 2, Restoration History, Mission San Diego de Alcala (1909-1946), Diocesan Archives, San Diego.

21. Ibid. Most of the Committee’s time and money went into the excavation of the mission grounds in order to determine the exact layout of the mission site. These excavations revealed a rather extensive arrangement of ancient foundations and tile pavements which confirmed the accuracy of an original plan of the mission site loaned them by Father Theodore Arentz, O. F. M., of Mission Santa Barbara.

22. George W. Marston, “Statement by George Marston,” 7 Mar. 1941, n.p., Marston Collection, MSS 219, Research Archives, San Diego History Center Research Archives. See also Viola Hoge, “Only $3000 Needed to Finance First Step Toward Restoration of Mission; Citizens Urged to Aid Restoration,” San Diego Union, 2 July 1919; Marston Collection, 4-5, San Diego History Center Research Archives.

23. Charles B. Hosmer, Presence of the Past: History of the Preservation Movement in the United States Before Williamsburg (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1965), 299.

24. Ibid., 146-48.

25. Ibid., 125.

26. Benton, “Mission Preservation,” 3.

27. “Preserve the Mission,” San Diego Union, 30 July 1919, n.p.; “Restore the Mission,” San Diego Union, n.d. #46. Marston Collection, MSS 219, Research Archives, San Diego History Center Research Archives;

28. Ibid. See also Virginia and Lee McAlester, A Field Guide to American Houses (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), 409, 418.

29. Nathan Gerald Weinberg, “Historic Preservation and Tradition in California: The Restoration of the Missions and the Spanish Colonial Revival,” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Davis, 1985), 172, 177-180.

30. Kevin Starr, Material Dreams: Southern California Through the 1920’s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 176.

31. Ibid., 205-6. Olvera Street, where most of the historic adobes were located, was blocked off and turned into a street of art galleries, restaurants, and retail shops. Close to Union Station, it was visited by hundreds of tourists. Starr comments that although Olvera Street might not have been an authentic recreation of Old California, “…it was better than the bulldozer.”

32. Ibid., 277.

33. Mayrhofer, “Restoration,” 317.

34. “Aims and Objectives of the Order of Native Daughters of the Golden West,” 22 November 1948, n.p. VF 449.25, Organizations: Native Daughters and Sons of the Golden West, Research Archives, San Diego History Center.

35. Mayrhofer, “Restoration,” 317.

36. Carl L. Heilbron, ed. History of San Diego County (San Diego: San Diego Press Club, 1936), 121-2.

37. Mayrhofer, “Restoration,”317. See also Heilbron, History of San Diego County, 121-22, and the letter of the Rt. Reverend Charles F. Buddy, D.D. to Charles A. McQuillan, S.J., 5. Mayrhofer had served as the grand organizer of the Native Sons of the Golden West as well its recording secretary and treasurer. As chairman of the History and Land Marks Committee of the local San Diego parlor, Mayrhofer was responsible for the identification and marking of several important historical sites in San Diego County.

38. Leonard Pitt, The Decline of the Californios: a Social History of the Spanish-Speaking Californians, 1846-1890 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), 216-17.

39. “Bishop Cantwell Will Officiate at Corner Stone Laying on Saturday at Orphanage at Old Mission,” San Diego Union, 26 October 1924, 16. See also the text from talks given by Albert V. Mayrhofer while President of the California State Historic Association, (ca. 1934), Mayrhofer File—1913-45, 4, Diocesan Archives, San Diego.

40. Mayrhofer, “Restoration,” 318; “Golden Mass Will Dedicate San Diego Mission,” San Diego Union, 13 September 1931, 2.

41. Mayrhofer, “Restoration,” 318.

42. Ibid. and Ralph J. Roske, Everyman’s Eden: a History of California (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1968), 502.

43. Mayrhofer, “Restoration,” 318.

44. Ibid., 319. See also Raymond G. Starr, San Diego: A Pictorial History (Norfolk, Virginia: The Donning Company, 1986), 166.

45. “Mission Restoration Begins July 16,” San Diego Union, 13 July 1930, 1. The Nazareth House was considered one of the finest reproductions of mission style architecture in Southern California.

46. Miller, 321, and “Mission Restoration Nears End; Primate to Attend Dedication,” San Diego Union, 25 January 1931, 1.

47. Miller, “Restoring California’s First Mission,” 325.

48. Ibid.

49. Ibid.

50. Miller, “Restoring California’s First Mission,” 323. See also Neuerburg, “The Changing Face of Mission San Diego,” Journal of San Diego History 32 (Winter 1986): 13. Professor Neuerburg stated that there were no pictorial representations of the Mission which antedate the beginning of the American period (1848 to present). The earliest known drawings are those of H. M.T. Powell, dating from 1850.

51. Miller, “Restoring California’s First Mission,” 323.

52. Ibid., 326.

53. Ibid., 326-7. However, Professor Neuerburg feels that Miller’s interpretation of the width of the window is of a proportion too tall and narrow than other examples of its kind found in the architecture of the mission period. See Neuerburg, “Changing Face,” 18.

54. Ibid., 327. The top of the campanario base provided a platform for a big freestanding church bell set in an iron carriage which was determined to have been installed by Father Ubach, ca. 1894.

55. Ibid., 328.

56. Ibid.

57. Photograph Collection of the Restoration of San Diego Mission From J. Marshall Miller, 1930-31, photograph 87:16068- 112, 22 Oct. 1930. In 1973 Miller donated his own personal photo collection of the 1930-31 restoration of the mission to the San Diego History Center. Each photograph has comments made by Miller at the time on its reverse. Henceforth, each photograph will be cited as Photographs of the Restoration of San Diego Mission From J. Marshall Miller, 1930-31, followed by its catalog number and date. Jane and Larry Booth, interview by author. 9 Nov. 1991, San Diego History Center.

58. Miller, “Restoring California’s First Mission,” 328-329.

59. Ibid, and Photographs of the Restoration, 87:16068-104, 17 Oct 1930.

60. Photographs of the Restoration, 87:160068-231, 10 Oct. 1931, and 87: 16068-104, 10 March 1921.

61. Ruth Taunton, “Old Mission Becomes Parish Church Again after 100 Year Lapse,” San Diego Union, 2 February 1941, B1.

62. Albert V. Mayrhofer, “Old Mission Is Rehabilitated,” San Diego Union, 1 January 1932, 6.

63. Miller, “Restoring California’s First Mission,” 333. See also “Bells That First Called San Diego Indians to Worship Are Restored,” San Diego Union, 20 November 933, 1. None of the original mission bells remained at the site prior to the restoration.

64. “Thousands View Mission Pageant and Attend Big Fiesta in Park,” San Diego Union, 13 September 1931, 1.

65. “KGB to Originate Mission Program,” 6.

66. “Pontifical Mass Sung at Service,” San Diego Union, 13 September 1931, 1. However, it would be another ten years before another religious service would be held in the mission church. See Taunton, B1.

67. “Mission Plaque is Set in Floor by Native Sons”, San Diego Union, 14 September 1931, 1.

68. Ibid.

69. Ibid.

70. The author would like to recognize an earlier study of the restoration of Mission San Diego de Alcala written by Rev. C. Douglas Kroll, “The Decline and Restoration of Mission San Diego de Alcala, 1821-1931,” Southern California Quarterly 68 (winter 1960): 315-28.


Alexander D. Bevil, an historian currently working for California State Parks, has written several award winning articles for the Journal of San Diego History regarding San Diego’s architectural history. His current article on the California China Products Company was the result of a generous grant from the Tile Heritage Foundation. Located in Healdsburg, California, it is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting an awareness and appreciation of ceramic surfaces throughout the United States. Mr. Bevil hopes to continue his research on San Diego’s contribution to California’s ceramic products industry in order to produce a directory of historic brick, tile and art pottery companies.