A beautiful engraving of Santa Barbara’s magnificent Mission was chosen as the cover art for The Architect and Engineer for February 1928, no doubt, in honor of its recent restoration after the devastating 1925 earthquake had nearly destroyed the historic structure. Justifiably hailed as the “Queen” of the Mission chain, Mission Santa Barbara was founded in 1786 by Padre Lasuen as the tenth mission of what were to be a total of twenty-one such outposts from San Diego to Sonoma. The imposing structure illustrated above was built over a five-year period between 1815-1820 and is credited to Padre Antonio Ripoll, a kindly Mallorcan who endeavored to keep the neophytes under his care safe even as they were shooting arrows in his general direction during the Purisima uprising of 1824, even later arranging a pardon for the participants once the rebellion had been put down.
In viewing Mission Santa Barbara today it is an awe-inspiring site. One can scarcely imagine what kind of an impression such a graceful and massive structure made to the Californios of the 1820’s as well as serving as a notable landmark of seafarers plying their way up and down the coast. It is even more mind-boggling to contemplate the sort of feat of engineering Ripoll pulled off using only native labor and the crudest of tools. There were no straight edges, levels, blueprints or much else to rely on and it is likely Ripoll had to draw out his elaborate designs with a stick in the dirt, something making this and the other mission structures even more awesome of an achievement. Originally, the Mission had only one tower, but in 1831, after Ripoll had finished his term and returned “tearfully” to Mallorca, a twin tower was added. It was visually a beautiful addition, but it lacked Ripoll’s engineering genius and in 1832 the tower unceremoniously fell off. It was rebuilt the following year and this time it stayed put until 1925 when the Mission, as well as much of Santa Barbara, was heavily damaged in the Santa Barbara earthquake. The people of California, however, would not allow themselves to lose one of the State’s most beloved and historic landmarks and donations poured in to aid in the $400,000 rebuilding project. In 1950, the entire facade had to be taken down and reassembled, this time with a steel frame, further securing and guaranteeing the landmark’s future.
In 1883, Helen Hunt Jackson in recording a visit to the Mission wrote, “The Mission buildings stand on high ground three miles from the beach, west of the town and above it, looking to the sea. In the morning the sun’s first rays flash full on its front, and at every evening they linger late on its western wall. It is an inalienable benediction to the place. The longer one stays there the more he is aware of the influence on his soul, as well as of the importance in the landscape of the benign and stately edifice.”