(Mr. Watson is an architect who has practiced in the greater Santa Barbara area for more than 25 years. He currently works and lives in Montecito. The following is the latest installment in a series of water color renderings of buildings and objects in Montecito and Santa Barbara that Watson thinks deserve attention and that he deems architecturally significant.)


The Santa Barbara Mission we see today is actually the third set of buildings on the same site. The original buildings were temporary wood structures. The second set of buildings was adobe and was built in 1789. Five years later the friars enclosed the first cemetery with an adobe wall capped with tile. All of the abode structures at the Mission were severely damaged in 1812 by Santa Barbara’s first major earthquake of the “modern era.” Not to be defeated, the friars rebuilt the mission between 1815 and 1820. Taking note of nature’s power, they built the new structures out of stone. It was during that time that they enlarged and enclosed the cemetery we see today with a stone wall that included the wooden gate depicted here.

Always church builders, the Franciscans’ aesthetic sensibilities can be seen in this delicately detailed stone wall and gate. The pediment over the gate could have been constructed as a simple arch, but instead, the builders created a bilaterally symmetrical “S” curved stone structure crowned with their symbol of devotion, the cross. The door could have been constructed as many gates of that era using a simple “Z” structural back frame veneered with wood plank, but instead, these builders provide a stile and rail frame with an inset panel similar to most cabinet doors in use today. This quality construction runs throughout the Mission and is one of the reasons that it is admired with such high regard.